SYMI or SIMI is one of the smaller holiday islands in the Dodecanese group and it lies just 9km off the Turkish coast, about an hour by boat north of the major Greek holiday island of Rhodes.
Symi is a popular destination for day trippers from Rhodes and there are regular daily sailing excursions from the Rhodes port of Mandraki. Boat building and sponge diving once made the island of Symi a haunt of the weathly; now tourism has taken over.
Once famed for boatbuilding and for its sponges, the trees have long gone - hacked down for building - and the sponges that once made the island famous have been killed off by disease.
Symi island is today noted for its peace and tranquillity rather than for beaches, which are in short supply and not particularly attractive. The beaches are mostly shingle with larger stones underwater, have little shade and few facilities.
Symi is also much noted for the very high summer temperatures, which can soar to 40°C or more in July and August and make the sheltered main port a sizzling cauldron.
The neo-classical mansions that hang off the hills around the main port of Symi are a reminder of the rich pickings once enjoyed by the inhabitants and they make a splendid sight for visitors as they arrive in the main port. In the early morning and late evening the bay is a haven of calm but for most of the day is thronged by day trip visitors.
Another of the main tourist attractions on Symi is the huge monastery at Panormitis, a favourite with the tourist boat day trippers who find a spectacular building at the end of a huge enclosing bay on the southwest tip of the island.
Sizzling Symi is one of the hottest Greek islands. Symi lies just off the Turkish coast and most visitors stay in the steep sided horseshoe bay of Gialos where summer temperatures can soar above 40:deg;C . Even the Greeks will tell you that the climate in Symi is hot. A wide sunhat and a water bottle water are pretty much essential wherever you go, whether wandering the maze of alleys in the Chorio or climbing the heights of Mount Vigla. The harbour of Gialos is often called the most beautiful in the Greek islands. Pastel painted neo-classical houses climb up the surrounding hills, a reflection of the days when Symi was a thriving island made wealthy from wooden shipbuilding and its sponges. The sponges were killed off by disease so Symi now relies almost entirely on tourism. Most visitors are day trippers from Rhodes here to see Gialos harbour and the splendid Panormitis Monastery as Symi has no notable beaches.
Cameras start clicking as soon as the ferry pulls into the main Symi island harbour at GIALOS or YIALOS. It is a very impressive sight. A semicircle of Venetian mansions and houses tumbling down the steep hillsides to the shoreline. The ferry hoots madly and the sound echoes around the horseshoe of hills. Gialos, Symi is a favourite destination for day trippers from Rhodes and three or four big ferries arrive every day.
As a result, Gialos is often packed with visitors poking their way around the stalls that are set out on the long harbour front to meet the ferries. Sponges and spices are the main goods on sale. Symi was once famous for its sponges but those on sale in Gialos today are mostly imported. There are also the usual souvenir shops and waterside tavernas. I counted at least 25 tavernas in Gialos.
The resort is divided in two, Gialos is the harbour area and Chorio sits on the hill above. The harbour seems huge, given how small the island is, but this is a reflection of how important Symi once was as a major trading centre for sponges and shipbuilding. Gialos now has about 2,500 inhabitants mostly engaged in tourism or fishing.
The former wealth is reflected in the large houses and mansions that rise up around Gialos bay. Many fell derelict as traditional trades died out but have since been snapped up by foreigners. Many have been tastefully restored. The heat can be stifling around the harbour where the amphitheatre of hills seems to trap the heat and prevent any sort of breeze.
Worth seeing in Gialos are the Nautical Museum with its old maps, models ships and other maritime stuff - open daily 10am to 3pm. The Cathedral of Timios Prodromos was built in 1830 and has a wonderful pebbled courtyard.
Also worth a visit is the Folklore Museum which has paintings, photographs and traditional costumes. It opens daily 8:30am to 3pm except Monday. The house next door has some impressive wall paintings. At the entrance to Gialos is the Roloi clock tower, built in 1881.
The church of Moni Agiou Michail Roukounioti is 3km south-west of the Gialos. It was built by the Knights of St John in the 14th century on the ruins of a 5th century monastery and has frescoes from the 14th century and a 15th century religious icon by the Cretan artist Stylianos Genis.
Above the harbour is CHORIO, which is the older part of the town. You can reach Chorio by road or attempt the steep climb up the scores of steps on twin stairways to get there. Day trippers rarely bother to climb the hill so it tend to be much quieter.
Many of the houses in Chorio have been well restored. They are all crammed together, creating archways and alleys just about everywhere and it is easy to get lost wandering the Chorio streets .
The main stairway to Chorio is called the Kali Strata and at the top there are many whitewashed alleys and stepped streets, with virtually no access for cars and tremendous views to be had over the bay.
Many of the Chorio buildings have had a fresh coat of paint and there are tavernas, cafes and mini-markets to be found, mostly in the vicinity of Chorio village square.
The east road out of Gialos leads to the small fishing village of PEDI. Pedi has a narrow beach of shingle and a little sand, three tavernas, a hotel and a small shop. The popularity of Pedi is more a function of it being only 3km from Gialos and a 10min walk from Chorio than any intrinsic merit, although it is a pleasant enough spot.
Pedi was once a thriving fishing village but very few people live there now. Pedi beach is a narrow strip of shingle with sunbeds and some natural shade from a line of tamarisks.
Apart from Nos at the other end of Gialos, Pedi is the easiest beach to visit by foot, car, taxi or boat. There is also a daily bus service from Gialos which stops right on Pedi beach.
The resort is strung around the end of a large and sheltered inlet and the quay is big enough to take the boats that bring fresh water over from Rhodes, the island of Symi having no natural springs of note.
There is a steep and rocky marked track leading out of Pedi to Agios Nikolaos beach which is about a 20 min walk and boats leave here most days for Agios Nikolaos and Agia Marina. A short distance inland is a catacomb complex known locally as Dhodheka Spilia
For those that prefer there beaches even quieter there is AGIA MARINA, a tiny islet of rock on the northern side of the long inlet that leads into Pedi beach. Agia Marina can be reached by water taxi and there are several that arrive each day from Gialos, or you can walk to it from Gialos in about 45min.
There is a taverna here and sunbeds are laid out along a concrete yard that curves around the resort. There is just a little natural shade from a few trees, but not much, and the blinding white umbrellas and grey concrete can give Agia Marina a desolate air.
The main attraction of Agia Marina is that this is one of the few beaches on Symi that has sand underfoot when you get away from the shoreline. The sand is also gently shelving and the water shallow, so Agia Marina offers safe swimming for children, although there is not much else for them to do here except paddle in the sea or lie on a sunbed.
Well served by taxi boats but within walking distance of Pedi is the shingle and coarse sand beach of AGIOS NIKOLAOS. It lies in a sheltered bay on the southern side of the long inlet that leads into Pedi and has the advantage of tree shade from a neat line of tamarisks at the back of the beach.
At the furthest end, near the chapel to Agios Nikolaos, the sea is very shallow, warm and gently shelving so it this is a popular spot for families with children. It is also the only beach on Symi that can claim to have some sand.
There are sunbeds beneath the tamarisk trees at Agios Nikolaos, often favoured by goats as well as tourists, and a beach taverna that offers the basics, including toilets. You can walk to it from Pedi in about 30 min but the route is quite rocky and it's a very steep drop over large rocks to get down to Agios Nikolaos beach. A water taxi from Gialos is a better bet and the journey takes about 20 min.
Heading south along the east coast is a narrow inlet at DISSALONIAS, also called AGIOS GIORGIOS. It has no overland access and is visited only by those in their own boat or by water taxi.
Agios Giorgios beach is a narrow strip of shingle and pebble and there is no shade. There are also no facilities here so bring food and water of you intend to stay. The beach is desolate and exposed, offering no shade until mid afternoon.
Agios Giorgios beach is backed by a sheer 300m vertical cliff drop that was used in location filming for the 1961 war movie 'The Guns of Navarone'.
NANOU is another beach that is 'blessed' by a more than usual share of goats. They sit under the trees while Nanou itself sits in a picturesque bay, an attractive but steeply sloped pebble beach with some cypress behind but otherwise very little shade.
The bay at Nanou is larger than most so you get a sense of wide open spaces though there are steep cliffs either side of the east facing inlet. There is quite a steep drop into the sea, so it's not particularly good for families or for weak swimmers but great for snorkeling as the water is very clear.
Nanou has a small beach taverna, fenced in from the goats, toilets and a few sunbeds. Nanou is a regular dropping off point in round-island boat trips and can be reached by walking, but the route by foot is long and difficult across the centre of Symi island. The walk takes about three hours.
Just south of Nanou is a narrow bay of bright water with a shingle beach at MARATHOUNTA or MARATHOUNDA. It is a short distance off the main road so taxis can drop you here or you can hop on a daily water taxi. Visitors also make it by foot from the bay at Panormitis, over the hill, or arrive on overland island trips for a picnic lunch.
Marathounta is a very attractive bay with a beach of pebble and shingle. The water gets deep rather quickly so this is not a beach for children. There is a beach cantina, fenced off to stop the goats pestering guests at the tables. Marathounta also has a few sunbeds and a small jetty for boats to tie up.
Just a little way south of Marathounta is an even less visited bay at FANEROMI with another strip of pebble and stone but no facilities
The west coast of Symi is almost entirely composed of rocky and inaccessible cliffs. There is only one small beach of any note, about halfway down the coast where cypress trees offer a little shade on the shingle beach at AGIOS VASILIOS. This is a beautiful but remote beach with no facilities. There are a few patches of sand but not many.
Agios Vasilios lies directly south-east of Symi port and well off the main island road. There is quite a walk to get there with a scramble down a rocky gorge to reach it. Water taxis do drop off at Agios Vasilios, but it is usually only visited by the weekly round-island cruises as the beach is the furthest one from Yialos.
Agios Vasilios is an idyllic spot if you like lonely and isolated beached. It is hemmed in by rocky cliffs and scree with underwater stones and shingle.
The only other beach of note in the west is at AGIOS EMILIANOS, a favourite port of call for round-island boat trips where the attraction is the dramatic setting of the monastery on an islet connected to the shore by a small causeway.
Agios Emilianos has a small, shingle beach below the whitewashed chapel and the stones must be a popular spot for beach barbecues given the mounds of blackened ash to be found along the shoreline.
Picturesque Agios Emilianos may be, but the beach is very scruffy, stony and dotted with gobs of oil and various bits of rubbish. The sea is also stone underfoot and home to hundreds of sea urchins, so it's not great for swimming.
Agios Emilianos monastery is not particularly attractive either, despite the magnificent setting - just some utilitarian whitewashed cubes surrounded by bare high walls.
There are a few other scraps of shingle to be found around the bays of Skoumisa and Maroni but all have a scruffy, unkempt air and are hardly worth visiting.
Otherwise called NIMBORIO or EMBORIO, NIMBORIOS is a large bay with a small pebble beach that is relatively popular with visitors as there is a good road from Yialos and it takes only about 20 min on foot. That said, it rarely gets crowded.
You can get to Nimborios by following the coast road past the clock tower or head inland, following the steep path that rises behind the Yialos town square. If you don't fancy walking there are regular taxi boats.
Nimborios is an old fishing village and there are plenty of summer apartments to let in the area, but no shops. There is a taverna with sunbeds and it's a regular port of call for water taxis. Nimborios beach is only a narrow strip of stone but it's recommended for the views across the bay.
The popular sand and shingle beach at NOS is close to the harbour at Yialos and so often referred to as the town beach. You get to Nos beach by walking past the clock tower at the end of the key heading along the Emborios coast road.
Nos is also called Paradise Beach, probably as a sop to tourists. It is a narrow strip of shingle and sand with a double line of sunbeds. There is a pleasant taverna at one end that overlooks Nos beach and rocky outcrops at the other end that add interest. The main road is just behind and above, so Nos beach is not particularly private.