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With no “musts” to be seen (just one optional monastery) Symi is devoted to the unabashed enjoyment of Greek life in some style. In the 19th century it was a thriving community of sponge fishermen who built the elegant traditional “sea captains' houses” which still grace the steep sides of the harbour, Gialos, one of the finest natural anchorages in the Mediterranean. In WWII Symi suffered considerable damage and that, combined with a decline in sponge-fishing caused wholesale emigration, mostly to Australia.
In the early seventies, however, the charm of the island was rediscovered and houses, ruined either by war or left to decay by emigrants, began to be bought up and repaired. Thanks to strong pressure from the “archaeologics” the island has retained its traditional style making Symi one of the most picturesque places in Greece, rivalling even Hydra.
It has now become quite sophisticated with smart bars and restaurants supplementing traditional tavernas, a wide range of hotels from luxury to simple and a huge stock of studios and apartments. At the top of the 450 steps of the Kali Strata, Symi’s main thoroughfare, is Chorio, where most of the locals live. A swathe of greenery sweeps down from here to Pedi Bay, where there is a man-made sandy beach. A bus runs from the harbour via Chorio to Pedi and less frequently down the length of the island to the monastery of Panormitis.
Bays abound all round the coast, served by local caiques offering all-day picnics. This lets you escape from the harbour during the mid-day period when excursion boats deposit day trippers from Rhodes. Walking on Symi is another option, enabling you to pass through surprisingly green patches to remote bays along the coastline. In the evening Symi’s harbour-front bustles, as does Chorio, the upper town.
A stay on Symi can easily be combined with Rhodes; and Tilos, Halki or Kastellorizon can be added. The gateway airport is Rhodes.