From Tzortzis Milias*, edited by Eleftheria Alavanou
This account is part of a series of insider takes on the islands of the Dodecanese. For more on these islands, click here.
Arriving in Symi, you are left speechless. As the ship approaches you can make out only rocks and thorny bushes, and just when you are wondering where the port is, it appears in front of you. Two-story, high-ceilinged neoclassical homes, with tall windows and doors are built amphitheatrically on the slopes surrounding the blue sea, creating charming color combinations: ochre next to brown and with blue, green, red shutters.
The residents of Symi built these homes with money from sponge-diving or the shipyards, creating the stone steps and paving their courtyards. They took care of their island and at the prettiest spots – those with the best views – they built churches.
In the early 20th century, the economic crisis forced many locals to emigrate. Some, however, remained on Symi, preserving everything that had been built. One of them was my uncle, Kostas Farmakidis. A dentist by profession, at the same time he was a passionate amateur archaeologist who played an active part in ensuring the village did not lose its character. Symi remained a unique architectural gem, and Gialos resembles a theatrical set.
These wonderful buildings today house restaurants, shops, bars and guesthouses, and some in particular stand out for their history and quality. Pachos is a classic traditional kafeneio, while the restaurants Manos and Pantelis have built a reputation of serving good fish. You can find authentic homestyle food at Pedi, in the taverna Tolis while for gourmet flavors and a unique environment head to Petalos.
To see the entire island from above, a pretty and interesting route that involves a 10-minute drive and a 20-minute walk along a well-marked path will take you to the Stavros tou Polemou Monastery (War Cross Monastery) on Symi’s highest point with a view of the Aegean and to the west.
I wasn’t born on Symi, but I have spent every summer of my life there, in one of those pretty neoclassical homes, which belonged to my grandmother’s family. With our wooden boat, the “Argos”, we would go to then-deserted beaches to swim and fish. Now you can get there via the wooden boats that make regular trips in the summer months.
If I had to choose one I would pick Ai Giorgis Dysalotos, a fairy-tale beach without any facilities, ringed with cliffs that make reaching on foot impossible unless you are an experienced climber. The place is simply magical with a snow-white church at the base of the cliff presiding over the beach. 200m up painted on the rock face, a Greek flag faces east towards Turkey which almost entirely surrounds Symi!
*George Milias’ family is from Symi; he is a mountain guide and the author of the Greek novel “Odysseus’ Voyage to Symi”.