Plop and drop

Jump ship on a small and se­duc­tive Aegean is­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - MIKE DOLAN

IR­RE­SISTIBLE LURE: Like a siren on a colos­sal rock, Symi plays havoc with the itin­er­ar­ies of un­sus­pect­ing trav­ellers. Named after the nymph who cap­ti­vated Po­sei­don, Greek god of the sea, it’s the first port of call on the high-speed cata­ma­ran between Rhodes and Pat­mos in Greece’s Dode­canese ar­chi­pel­ago, which skirts the Turk­ish coast. It’s easy to un­der­stand why the star­tlingly beau­ti­ful port sinks so many travel plans. In­stead of white ser­ried ter­races splashed with cobalt blue (the usual Greek is­lands palette), the port is a rare beauty painted in apri­cot and peach, colours more fa­mil­iar on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Ar­rayed around the rim of a nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre that’s been flooded by the sea, it’s as if in an­cient times the is­land broke its moor­ings on the west coast of Italy and drifted into the Aegean Sea. More: vis­it­

SITES FOR SORE EYES: Un­like many of the smaller is­lands in the Aegean, Symi is only a 50-minute f ferry ride with Dodekanisos Sea­ways from Rhodes and its busy in­ter­na­tional air­port. But un­like most is­lands close to a run­way, Symi has es­caped mass tourism, thanks to its sta­tus as a “his­toric site that re­quires spe­cial pro­tec­tion”. Its largest ho­tel, the Nireus, has only 37 gue­strooms and its pretty neo­clas­si­cal fa­cade is easy on the eye. No con­crete eye­sores here. More:

SPONGES CEN­TRAL: On ar­rival, the clar­ity of the w wa­ter in shades of lapis lazuli and bot­tle green will have you yearn­ing to take a dip with the swirling shoals of snap­per ev­i­dent in the har­bour. Thanks to the sea’s pris­tine qual­ity, the sea sponges that flour­ish off its shores first brought riches in the 19th cen­tury when ev­ery­one in Euro­pean so­ci­ety with a bath­tub and a bank ac­count had to have one. Symi sponges are among the best in the world and are on sale in a string of shops on Agge­lidi Quay, close to the lit­tle stone bridge in front of the town square. Avoid the bright yel­low ones and opt for those the colour of Di­jon mus­tard as they’re softer and more durable. More: nat­u­ral­

CAFE SO­CI­ETY: Though the port looks Ital­ian, the is­land is quintessen­tially Greek (ex­cept for the espresso, of course). It is neatly di­vided into Yia­los, the pint-sized town that en­cir­cles the har­bour, and Cho­rio, the vil­lage hov­er­ing like a sen­tinel above, reached via the 380-plus steps of the Kali Strata or the “Good Way”. At the top is Tav­erna Ge­or­gio and Maria, a lo­cal haunt painted blue and white where the lo­cals flock for lunch and din­ner. Note the fish­er­men dressed in som­bre shades and flat caps re­lax, al­ways with their backs to the shim­mer­ing sea, snack­ing on piles of tiny pink prawns. While the seafood is sub­lime so is the lamb kleft­iko and mous­saka. Nearby is The Olive Tree Cafe, a favourite among Aus­tralian trav­ellers, which serves hearty

Panor­mi­tis Monastery, above; houses on the water­front, far left; sponges for sale

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