Rebecca Hall indulges in some Greek island hopping to the quieter side of the Dodecanese islands
Located in the south-eastern Aegean Sea, very near the Turkish coastline, the Dodecanese islands are a group of fifteen large islands, plus many much smaller islands, some not even inhabited.
They’re one of my favourite island chains to explore as due to their geographical location, they offer a mixture of unique beauty, and varied culture due to the many people that have left their mark over the centuries such as the Ionians, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Ottomans, and Italians, also influencing its gastronomy.
The capital of the Dodecanese islands–Rhodes–is a good starting point with its international airport that accepts flights throughout the year from Athens and swells in numbers with package and charter flights in the summer from various European destinations.
Don’t be fooled though. Despite Rhodes’s package holiday pull with beaches to suit all tastes, there are several hidden gems to explore such as the UNESCO Old Town–created when the Knights of St John came to the island and a labyrinthine of cobbled streets and the Palace of the Grand Masters–once home to one of Europe’s most powerful orders, The Knights Hospitaller.
I enjoy spending a few days on Rhodes, using it as my base/starting point then heading out to the quieter, more untouched Dodecanese islands.
A mere hour’s ferry ride from Rhodes, Symi usually has people gasping at the initial view as the ferry rounds the headland into the harbour–Symi Town. Those houses that seemingly tumble from the island’s Upper Town into the sea are of a Venetian, neoclassical design as the island was ceded to the Italians between 1923-1943, influencing its architecture.
The ferry also stops at Panormitis, a small harbour where you’ll find the main holy monastery of the island, dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Inside there are wall paintings dating back to the Byzantine period and it’s thought that the Monastery is built on top of an ancient temple, but that’s not proven.
Panormitis is a huge crowd-puller, I much prefer heading off to the much quieter Monastery of Michael Roukouniotis. This 15th-century fortress-style site is about three miles from Symi Town by car or taxi, hidden away in the hills. An alternative way to reach it is to hike in the spring or autumn–summer is way too hot. Symi is a popular island for hikers of all ages and difficulty levels.
The monastery’s two levels have a lower and upper temple with 15th-century murals that are very well preserved. It’s a cool respite to go inside on a hot day–be sure to cover your arms and legs in respect for the religion and after a wander around, rest under the 100-year-old Cypress tree.
Of course, not everyone’s a fan of visiting temples and although Symi’s not noted for its many beaches, there are some gorgeous spots to swim from.
Two miles from Symi Town is Nimborio, a small, sheltered cove with a narrow strip of sand and throwing you back to nature as it’s surrounded by vegetation. It’s a completely natural beach so don’t expect sun loungers or facilities. One mile from Symi Town is Pedi–a slightly more touristic bay with sun loungers and tavernas lining the front. Pedi is great for families.
One thing’s for sure, the water around Symi, whether you choose a beach or to swim from the harbour, is crystal clear, making for great snorkelling.
I love to see the shoals of fish from the edge of the harbour and see down to the bottom of the seabed.
Halki is Symi’s much quieter sister. If Symi is relatively untouched by mass tourism, Halki is positively virginal.
Halki exudes an authentic Greece vibe with its pastel-hued Venetian captain’s mansions with their red-tiled roofs clustered around a horseshoe bay. Choose one of the many tavernas scattered along the harbour to flop down and enjoy a locally caught fish lunch, overlooking the colourful fishing boats.
As Halki is only eleven sq. miles, it really is an island to chill out and relax. No rushing to see all the sights–there are few. Highlights include remote bays, the deserted ghost town of Horio, several monasteries, churches and chapels dotted around the wilderness and herbs growing in the wild.
Halki is truly a destination to take you back to live on island time.
Tell Me More About Island Hopping in the Dodecanese Islands
Where to stay in The Dodecanese Islands
I love the unique Hotel Grande Albergo Delle Rose, right next to Rhodes Casino on the waterfront and a stone’s throw away from the Medieval Old Town is the perfect location, and one to spoil yourself in.
For a true medieval experience, base yourself in the Old Town, behind the castle walls at Kokkini Porta Rossa, a 14th-century Knight’s House lovingly converted into a six-suite intimate residence. Perfect for a romantic getaway.
Grecotel LUX ME Dama Dama is a 4-star all-inclusive resort on Falaraki Beach, approx. 20 minutes from Rhodes Airport.
Olympic Holidays has several properties it recommends, including:
Taxiarchis Apartments–a brightly coloured, intimate family-run abode within walking distance of Pedi Beach and the Chorio (Upper) village.
Nireus Hotel–just past the clock tower on the harbour in Symi Town, set in a neoclassical style building with 37 rooms and a delicious tavern open to all with tables right on the water’s edge.
As a smaller island, some of the loveliest properties are set in the old Captains’ Mansions, rented as studios or whole properties. Check out:
Fourlanou House–three separate modern apartments within a traditional Halki House, less than 100 metres from the harbour.
Aretanassa is one of Halki’s only hotels and an institution in itself. It’s the terracotta-hued building you’ll see on your left as you glide into the harbour and used to be the island’s sponge factory back in its sponge diving heyday–now a 19-roomed sea-view hotel with a swimming platform straight into the sea.
Island hopping holidays in The Dodecanese Islands with Olympic Holidays
Olympic Holidays–market leaders in selling Greek island holidays with over 50 years’ experience–can tailor-make a Dodecanese Islands hopping experience for you, including flights from several UK airports.
T: 020 8492 6868 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rhodes – Symi- Rhodes- Halki Olympic Holidays is offering a 10-night Dodecanese Islands hopping holiday from £1,925 per person based on two people travelling. The package includes a 3-night stay at the 4* Grecotel LUX ME Dama Dama, Rhodes on an All Inclusive Ultra basis, a 3-night stay at the 4* Pedi Beach, Symi on a Bed & Breakfast basis, a 1-night stay at the 4* Grecotel LUX ME Dama Dama, Rhodes on an All Inclusive Ultra basis and a 3-night stay at the 3* Fourlanou House, Halki on a Self-Catering basis. The package includes return flights to London Gatwick airport, baggage & all connecting transfers. Departures are available on 3rd June 2023. For bookings call 0208 492 6868 or visit Olympic Holidays