The Greek islands have always provided the chance of escape for me. Sunshine and Mediterranean living in abundance has been the preserve of generations of Europeans - I spent a late summer travelling around some of the lesser known Dodecanese Islands.
Here is a summary of an article I wrote on the joys of approaching a new island by boat in the depths of a Greek sunset.
Flying to Rhodes was an simple affair. The airport, typical of all Greek points of arrival, in that there’s a lot of concrete and not much else. I hadn’t booked any accommodation for the first night, it shouldn’t be an issue, it was still October, the ferries were still running to the islands I wanted to visit and by that I assumed there were still tourists around and hotels and hostels would be open.
The bus into Rhodes Town itself was easy and hassle free. I’d predicted a sense of dismay upon reaching the town, but as is often the case with these scenarios, I was actually fairly impressed. Hoards of tourists and kebabs aside, it was a fairly attractive and likeable place. Indeed; hunt out the impressive enclaves amongst the crowds and you'll seldom forget them.
Wandering down to the harbour to catch the rather impressive mini fast-cat to Symi (tickets can be bought from a lady on a plastic chair in front of the boat - very Greek) I was on my way to this enchanted Venetian island - a place I’d heard an awful lot about and dreamt about through the realms of Paul Theroux and Patrick Leigh Fermor. As set off from Rhodes harbour and the sun started to set, the was a collective realisation on the boat that getting there was going to be half the fun. The beautiful sunset lit up the entire boat, with everyone predictably cramming along the side to sample the orange glow.
Turning the corner and arriving on the island of Symi was a pretty special experience. It loomed out of nowhere, with the great Venetian fascias bearing down on the tiny harbour. Excessive yachts and other vessels filled what little space there was, and arriving on a small ferry I almost felt like an intruder. Make no mistake; in the high season, this is a rich man’s playground.
I thought a hotel wouldn’t be too difficult to find, and predictably, even in October, it wasn’t. I didn’t have to scout too hard, although be prepared to pay slightly more than some other Greek islands for the beauty and luxury of Symi. The hotel was a family run affair – and a very friendly one at that. Because it was October and quiet, I had a family room for the price of a double. It was huge, and provided access to a fantastic balcony looking down to the tiny fishing harbour of Pedi.
Symi town and harbour are in themselves quite small on the outside. They don’t seem to hide much – the town doesn’t go back a long way but appearances are in many ways misleading. Although it’s small, the action happens in the midst of the steps and alleyways you can’t see. There are fascinating shops, boutiques, cafes and restaurants to be discovered almost everywhere, and a generous smattering of British ex-pats who have upped sticks to retreat to the artists community within the town itself. There is no sense that the place has been ‘tarted up’ – the beauty of derelict buildings and crumbling walls are left on show as a monument of pride to the island’s history.
Although the town has its own charm, the heat in October was still intense, and I was beginning to think I’d go in search of a beach. Luckily, the little fishing harbour of Pedi, a small walk downhill from Symi Town, had some perfect swimming opportunities. Walk round the bay even further, and you’d be welcomed by virtual seclusion and turquiouse water. If you can put up with the scramble across the rocks to get here, this is pretty much beach Nirvana.
Getting accustomed to the speed of living wasn’t exactly difficult. A mixture of sun and sea during the day followed by red wine and seafood in the evening. All fresh; nothing taking up the space enjoyment and the smell of freshly caught crab fills.
Moving on to the next island is always part adventure, part sadness. The experiences, memories and feelings you’ve had from the previous place never leave, and of course in many ways you do whatever you can to replicate them somewhere different. Symi is the one place which stuck in my mind, the mixture of beautiful architecture, interesting people, perfect weather and glorious food means it’s definitely somewhere I’ll be heading to again. Considering it’s a relatively easy and stress-free place to get to completely independently, it’s worth thinking about if you’re going to be in Europe and the western reaches of Greece is on your list.