‘Oooh! Hope the crossing’s not rough when you go,’ said a member of the reception staff. ‘My mother goes often and she always worries about the sea being rough. If you’re worried take sea sickness pills,’ he advised.
Husband and I dismissed his worries. Even on the days when the sea looked slightly choppy it was nothing we hadn’t experienced hundreds and more times in Scotland. Besides we had sailed across the North Sea on many occasions, even during storms, so we though we could manage a two hour sail to the island of Symi, north west of Rhodes.
As it turned out, the day we went the sea barely rippled. Nor was it cold sitting on deck. Only the smell of diesel from the boat’s engines disturbed us – until we changed seats.
The barrenness of the small islands we passed amazed us. Sheer sides of cream coloured rock like pumice stone plummeted into the sea. Here and there hardy tufts of vegetation sprouted from clefts or depressions, but there looked little chance of much else growing. And as we sailed along the coasts we could see where the rock had been eroded by sea and storms into bays folded behind protective buttresses.
In fact we didn’t realise we had reached Panormitis until we headed for what looked like a wall of rock and found a narrow entrance into a sheltered bay on the shores of which stood what appeared an attractive hotel. It was the monastery dedicated to Archangel Michael, Taxiarchis, Michael Panormitis and its accompanying accommodation.
It’s now no longer a monastery but remains a church of significance, one of the wealthiest in Greece. Pilgrims from Greece visit here regularly, and many stay in the former cells where once monks slept, or in other rooms.
Because of pilgrims flowing into the church we didn’t spend much time inside, instead we wandered around its other parts, enjoying the stroll along the quayside and the views of the bay.
Back on the boat we headed for Yialos, Symi’s main town, in the north of the island. In another secluded bay we gasped at the beauty of the houses stacked up the hillside, in places even built into the rock.
Symi is a town of steps that have to be climbed to reach many of the houses, or the castle that can be visited by walking up the 357 steps of the Kali Strata.
We gave the steps a miss as there was plenty to see at sea level where my camera was kept busy clicking the rainbow-coloured houses stacked around the bay, and shops selling herbs, leather goods, sponges and loofahs. And of course food and drink.
In ancient times Symi was famed for its boat building. The Argo for Jason and the Argonauts was built here, as were fast moving skiffs for the Turks who used them for raids. The sponge fishing industry thrived, its profits financing the building of the mansions tiered above the harbour. But the advent of the steam ship hit the economy badly, and in the early 20th century sponge blight decimated the sponge fishing, leaving the island mainly dependent on tourism.
We lunched at a tavern where our guide extolled the variety of fish on the menu. However we stuck to our Greek salad (it seemed the sensible dish for hot weather lunch) accompanied by a glass of chilled local wine.
On the sail back the sea remained calm. And as a fitting end to a glorious day we watched the sun dip to the horizon and provide us with an eminently photographic sunset.