Plop and drop
Jump ship on a small and seductive Aegean island
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: visitgreece.gr.
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: 12ne.gr/en.
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: naturalsponge.eu.
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