Symi Greece Review – Rugged and Beautiful

As the ferry leaves Symi
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Having opened the door to Greece in Athens and walked through the door in Rhodes, we were on our way to our next stop, Symi, 18 miles away.  And the only way to get there was by sea.  Of the several ferries that go from Rhodes to Symi we were advised to take the catamaran, which travels this route in less than an hour twice a day.  Sitting on the deck, I watched as the hills of Rhodes moved into the distance and the mountains of Symi arose before us and there were hills further away which we were told was Turkey.

The beautiful Symi harbor

My husband’s role in a special symposium was our reason for coming to Greece and to the island of Symi.  As the ferry approached Symi,  the neo-classical buildings surrounding the harbor caught our attention.  This was our first view of what is reputed to be the most picturesque of the Dodecanese Island group.  Stepping onto the island, we saw the bus from the  Pedi Beach Hotel waiting for us.

Xanthippi Markenscoff captured Pedi Beach waking up ready to begin a beautiful day

Soon the Pedi Beach Hotel Shuttle was climbing the hills and the view of the homes and the harbor was spectacular. Driving higher into the hills and heading down again, we reached our destination before long.  After we registered and settled into our lovely room, we saw Pedi Beach before us.  The perfect view from our room revealed a small beautiful cove surrounded by hills where yachts visited from time to time.

The lovely cove at Pedi Beach

Familiarizing ourselves with the hotel, we found it to be very user friendly.  The entrance area was spacious and included the check in desk, an all-purpose bar, and the dining area.  Behind this area was a great lobby space comfortable for work and relaxation. Here one could chat with friends, watch TV, use a computer, either the desktop or a personal laptop (for a small fee), read or just relax. Stepping outside, there was a very large patio/deck space with umbrellas to protect from the strong sun and just beyond was the beautiful small bay with clear water and great swimming opportunities.  The weather was perfect for swimming each day.

The small chapel next to the Pedi Beach Hotel

The Pedi Beach Hotel website says: “The Pedi Beach Hotel stands on a quiet sheltered cove with crystal clear water and a truly local atmosphere. All the rooms have their own bathroom, radio and telephone. The atmosphere is friendly everywhere: in the dining-room, the snack bar, the TV room, the sitting room and the verandas facing out to the sea. The Food is excellent, the personnel very friendly, and of course the Management is always at your Service. If what you are looking for is relaxation, peace and comfort, then our hotel is just what you need. We shall try to make your stay unforgettable and hope to see you coming back again and again.”

During the time that we were in Symi, the news referred to the “ SymiSymposium”.  It is true that our group was attending a symposium in Symi but the “Symi Symposium” we were hearing about was taking place on another island.  It did, however, begin in 1998 at non other than the Pedi Beach Hotel in Symi and took its name and format and has continued for thirteen years.  The Pedi Beach Hotel was great for that symposium and for ours, as well.

The Symi Festival the year the Symi Symposium began

Note: The Symi Symposium, which has been led since its inception by the Greek Prime Minister George A. Papandreou, brings together leading intellectuals, politicians, Nobel laureates, entrepreneurs, diplomats, scientists, and activists to discuss some of the most important issues of our times. It was first held in 1998 on the island of Symi, which has lent its name to our retreat ever since. symi symposium  

The participants had the opportunity to learn about what their colleagues were doing in some depth.  Modeled after the original Symi Symposium to some extent,the special aspects of this meeting was the chance for participants to spend time together- at the buffet breakfast, meals at nearby tavernas at the water’s edge, swimming together, walking, taking the bus, sitting.  This was an opportunity to “solve world’s problems”, discuss specific aspects of papers presented, share information about colleagues not attending, catch up on families and just enjoy.

Three cats enjoying the Pedi Beach Hotel

My extensive experiences have become wonderful memories.  In the week I was there I enjoyed: several beaches, the meals everywhere, the gorgeous views, the yachts from all over the world passing through the Harbor at Symi, finding the small chapel next to the hotel, and the walk I took from the hotel to the village. In addition, I loved the look of the homes and seeing people working on them, the walk I took across the hills barren except for the wild oregano and some stubborn bulbs no longer blooming, and seeing the fig and olive trees. I also enjoyed the chance to take a small boat, like a water taxi, from one beach to another.

A beautiful home along the “Kali Strata”

One day I walked with a small group from the conference center (formerly the high school) to the harbor, down the famous “Kali Strata”, the road with old mansions and many, many steps.  As we approached the town going down the stairs, a line of donkeys was heading our way up the stairs, carrying dry cement to be used on homes that could not be reached by motorized vehicles. We were glad they turned before we had to pass them.

Donkeys carrying cement

A few members of our group went to visit the Archaeological & Folklore Museum (Chorio) and later the Naval Museum which put us in closer touch with Symi’s past. In the early 1900’s, this beautiful island was bustling with 25,000 inhabitants, sponge divers and wealthy merchants and now there are about 2,000 residents.  The island is filled with tavernas, restaurants, cafes, and clubs in unexpected places during tourist season but shopkeepers depart for Athens when tourist season ends.

Archaeological and Folklore Museum

There were two very special events that were arranged for the symposium participants and accompanying members.  One was a bus tour of the entire island.  Essentially, one road connects the two major areas and along the route there is the holy Monastery of the Archangel Michael of Panormitis.  Majestically located in the middle of the bay of Panormitis, it is one of the largest shrines of Orthodoxy in the Dodecanese islands and is well known all over Greece. 

Monastery of the Archangel Michael of Panormitis

The other event was a dinner set up on the hotel deck.  We each had our wonderful buffet dinner and brought it out to the “banquet table”.  After a while, we enjoyed traditional dancing which has been preserved by the local society dedicated to preserving traditional dance.   The influence of Turkey was suggested in the dress.  The air outside was beautiful and the dancing continued a while, and one of the hotel waiters who was an excellent dancer joined our festivities.  Pedi Beach Hotel was, indeed, the perfect setting for a perfect symposium.

Traditional dancing

Jean-Baptiste Leblond says,” I am particularly fond of this photo of Symi Harbor which I took just before twilight”.

Photos: Leon Keer unless otherwise specified

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