11km (7 miles) N of Rhodes

Tiny, rugged Symi is often called "the jewel of the Dodecanese." Arrival by boat affords you a view of pastel-colored neoclassical mansions climbing the steep hills above the broad, horseshoe-shaped harbor. Yialos is Symi's port, and Horio its old capital. The welcome absence of nontraditional buildings is due to an archaeological decree that severely regulates the style and methods of construction and restoration of all old and new buildings. Symi's long and prosperous tradition of shipbuilding, trading, and sponge diving is evident in its gracious mansions and richly ornamented churches. Islanders proudly boast that there are so many churches and monasteries that you can worship in a different sanctuary every day of the year.

During the first half of this century, Symi's economy deteriorated as the shipbuilding industry declined, the maritime business soured, and somebody invented a synthetic sponge. Symiots left their homes to find work on nearby Rhodes or in North America and Australia (a startling 70% eventually returned). Today, the island's picture-perfect traditional-style houses have become a magnet for moneyed Athenians and Italians in search of vacation homes; and Symi is a highly touted off-the-beaten-path resort for European tour groups trying to avoid other tour groups. The onslaught of tourists for the most part arrives about 10:30am and departs by about 5pm.

In recent years, the Symi Festival, which goes on intermittently from July to September, has put Symi on the cultural map as an attractive seasonal contender, offering an eclectic menu of international music, theater, and cinema. Some of the performers have major international reputations.

By the way, Symi has no natural source of water—all water has to be transported by boat from nearby islands. Day visitors will scarcely be aware of this, but everyone is asked to conserve water. Symi is also one of the hottest places in Greece during the summer, so come prepared with everything from a hat to sunscreen.