The Greek Dodecanese Islands, or the Dodecanese, are located in the southeastern part of the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Turkey. Although the word “Dodecanese” means “twelve islands,” but in fact, there are many more: about one and a half hundred. Only inhabited – more than twenty. Another name for these islands is Southern Sporades. Together with the Eastern, Northern, Western, and Thracian Sporades, they make up the bulk of the Greek islands. The word “sporadic” means random, impermanent, singular. That’s how they are arranged: sporadically, that is, as it happens.
In the Middle Ages, knights-Ioannites settled here. They are also Hospitallers, who were even called Rhodes at that time. On the island of Rhodes, the main island of the archipelago, you can see the castle of the chief master of the order, and on the other islands, many guard fortresses have been preserved in one form or another. Then for a long time, the Southern Sporades belonged to the Ottoman Empire, from 1912 to 1943 – Italy. Both left a noticeable mark here. After the end of World War II, the Dodecanese Islands were reunited with Greece.
If the largest islands – Rhodes and Kos – are relatively well studied by our tourists, the rest are mastered much worse. In the article, we will talk about the most interesting islands of the Dodecanese archipelago. We will move from north to south.
This is perhaps the most famous island of the archipelago. In 97 AD, John the Theologian wrote the Apocalypse, the final book of the New Testament. In the cave where he lived, his bed, carved in stone, was preserved. Above the island rise the impregnable walls of the fortress-monastery, founded in the XI century. The monastery is surrounded by Chora, a snow-white labyrinth city, almost deserted and mysterious.
Social life is centered around the main port of Patmos, which is called Skala, as well as in the towns of Grikos and Kampos. Many international young people crowd around coastal cafes and move on scooters between numerous beaches. And very close to Patmos, there are three small paradise islands – Arches, Lipsi and Agafonisi. There are almost no people here, and the secluded beaches are exactly the cold Russian winter dreams of.
The main city of Leros – Platanos smoothly passes into the resort village of Agia Marina, stretching along the coast for several hundred meters. Above it, as expected, rises a medieval fortress, which offers stunning views of the numerous harbors and bays.
But the main thing for which it is worth coming here at least for a day is the port city of Lakki, built by the Italians as a naval base in the early XX century. Most of the public buildings and private homes in which the families of naval officers lived are now in desolation. The view of this ghost town is absolutely surreal. It seems to be a chic seaside town, and on the streets and embankments – not a soul, will flash incomprehensibly from where the flock of teenagers came from, and a rare regular bus will make a joke.
The feeling that you are either in a dream or among the scenery for some post-apocalyptic film: empty cafes and restaurants, shops and souvenir shops, huge mansions in which no one lives … And at the same time – the sun, summer, sea.
The capital of Kalymnos by island standards is almost a metropolis. Most of the houses are also built by Italians, so you will not immediately know where you are – in Greece or Italy.
The island is relatively large but a bit messy. The word “sporadic” fits him best. More recently, Kalymnos was known as the island of sea sponge catchers. These sponges are still littered with all the island shops, but only now are they brought from somewhere in China, and the locals are no longer engaged in such pampering, completely switching to the tourism industry. But if you are lucky, and you get to some village holiday, you will see preserved from those times a hilarious traditional “diver’s dance.”
Recently, Kalymnos has become popular with climbers and speleologists. And if you are one of them, then you need to get here by all means.
Once in Kalymnos, be sure to try the local specialty – murri – lamb stuffed with rice and herbs.
On the tiny Nisyros, you can go to the mouth of an active volcano. The most surprising thing is that you do not need to go up to it, but, on the contrary, go down. In the middle of the vast “moon-Martian” valley is a funnel with a diameter of three hundred meters. At the bottom, several small yellow volcanoes are cheerfully smoking. The poster gives acuity to the sensations: “You carry out the descent into the crater of the volcano at your own risk.”
Buses to the volcano depart from the main pier of Nisiros. But try to make an excursion to this underworld not in the heat, because otherwise you are threatened with heatstroke.
Another interesting attraction is to take a local bus to the mountain village of Nikiya and look at the volcano from above. And then sit in one of the coziest squares of the Dodecanese with a glass of ice rakia or a glass of retsina.
Symi is an incredibly homely island. Here you need to go for beauty and peace. In its central part, there are small valleys, and steep and rocky shores form many tiny bays with sandy beaches.
The capital of the island of Symi is perhaps one of the most photogenic towns of the Dodecanese. It is all made up of the stunning beauty of colorful houses with bay windows, tympanums, balconies, ladders, etc. From the Lower Town (Yialos) to the Upper (Ano Symi) rises a steep street-staircase Kalistrata, which means “beautiful way.” It leads to a traditional medieval fortress with the same traditionally stunning views.
The island’s main attraction is the monastery of Panormitis, dedicated to the archangel Michael and standing right on the embankment. Its multi-colored bell tower, replicated by many postcards, is reflected in the waters of the Aegean Sea, and the interiors are decorated with Byzantine frescoes.
Another natural wonder of Symi is the beach of Agios Georgios Disalonas, surrounded by three hundred-meter cliffs. It is considered one of the most impressive beaches in the world.
And, yes, don’t forget about the food. Symi is famous for its shrimp toasted in olive oil.
The easternmost of all inhabited Greek islands. It lies just two kilometers from the coast of Turkey and seven kilometers from the nearest Turkish city of Kas, which attracts many European tourists vacationing in Turkey. There is only one settlement in Kastellorizo, Meyisti. This is sometimes the name of the whole island. In translation, this word, not without irony, means “the biggest.”
The island became famous after the release in 1991 of the Italian film “The Mediterranean Sea,” which received the “Oscar” as the best film in a foreign language. This military comedy was filmed entirely on Kastellorizo, and the flow of tourists, especially Italian, did not take long to wait. If in 1991 Meyisti looked almost the same as in 1943 (the time of the film), today it has become quite modern.
Kastellorizo is home to one of the most beautiful sea caves in Greece. This is the cave of Parasta or the Blue Cave. You can get into it only by boat. On the same boat, you can go to one of the many uninhabited islands located in the neighborhood. The beaches there are just excellent. And no one.
This is the largest island in our review. It is, of course, much smaller than Rhodes but is comparable in size to Kos. Most of the settlements are located in the southern, flat part of the island, and in the north, there are real mountains, the tops of which rise more than a kilometer.
Karpathos is worth going to lovers of antiquities. In many mountain villages of the island, the traditional way of life is still preserved. Especially the inhabitants of the town of Olympos are famous for their commitment to tradition, who even speak their own special Dorian dialect. To Olympos from the capital and the island’s main port to get on the mountain serpentine for more than an hour. However, you can get here from the port of Diafani, located only ten kilometers away.
The main tourist entertainment is to dine in one of the many taverns of Olympos overlooking the sunset. Needless to say, all the products here are only local and natural, and the dishes are made according to ancient recipes. Bread is baked here, right in front of you, in a wood-fired oven, and wine from a nearby vineyard.
All the islands are connected, and the administrative center – the island of Rhodes – by ferry service. In the summer, it’s two or three, or even more ferries every day. Tickets can almost always be bought just before departure or the day before. The schedule of the main ferries can be found here.
From the big islands to the nearby small islands, you’ll be tossed by boats from local agencies, usually located near the island’s main port. Most often, it has the same name as the island itself. On many islands, ferries are met by locals to rent out housing. If desired, you can find a room for 20 euros. There is a good bus service inside the islands. Taxis are relatively inexpensive. You can also rent a car, scooter (need a license), or bicycle. Unlike the rest of Europe, hitchhiking works well on the Greek islands.