For sheer breathtaking beauty, the Greek islands can offer nothing to beat arriving at SÝMI. While the island as a whole is largely barren, its one significant population centre, Sými Town, is gorgeous, a magnificent steep-walled bay lined with Italian-era mansions.
With its shortage of fresh water and relative lack of sandy beaches, Sými has never developed a major tourist industry. Sými Town however holds a wide range of small hotels, as well as abundant delightful rental properties, while day-trippers from Rhodes – and yachties lured by the wonderful harbour – mean it can support some very good restaurants too. In the height – and searing heat – of summer it can get uncomfortably crowded, with a large influx of Italian visitors as well as mainland Greeks, but in spring and autumn it’s wonderful, and even in winter a substantial expat community keeps many businesses open.
Visitors who venture beyond the inhabited areas find an attractive island that has retained some forest of junipers, valonea oaks and even a few pines – ideal walking country in the cooler months. Dozens of tiny, privately owned monasteries dot the landscape; though generally locked except on their patron saint’s day, freshwater cisterns are usually accessible. Near the southern tip of the island, the much larger monastery of Panormítis is an important pilgrimage destination.
Little more than a century ago, Sými Town was home to more people than Rhodes Town, thanks to the wealth generated by its twin ancient skills of shipbuilding and sponge-diving. Many of the mansions built during that age of prosperity have long since tumbled into decay – a process hastened in September 1944, when an ammunition blast set off by the retreating Germans levelled hundreds of houses up in Horió. While restoration is gradually bringing them back to life, the scattered ruins lend the island an appealing sense of time-forgotten mystery.