The Dodecanese islands have long been popular destinations for British holidaymakers, and it’s easy to see why. Their location at the south-eastern end of the Aegean Sea provides them with the warmest, sunniest climate, while it is this strategically important location which has led to a procession of battles, invasions and conquests, which in turn have created a colourful legacy in the form of architecture, archaeology and culture.
While Rhodes and Kos get the lion’s share of visitors to the Dodecanese islands, there are many smaller islands nearby which appeal to those seeking a quiet destination where they can explore on foot, indulge in local cuisine and encounter the traditional Greek way of life. Here’s a look at five of the smaller islands in the region.
Designated ‘The island of peace and friendship’ by UNESCO in 1983, it’s certainly not hard to encounter the renowned Greek hospitality wherever you go on Halki. The bulk of the island’s 478 residents live in Emborio, a pretty harbour village with Venetian houses along its waterfront. There are a handful of tavernas and cafes, with narrow lanes winding up from the harbour. Swimming is possible just beyond the harbour. Many visitors take a bus into the mountains for the 5-mile journey to the Monastery of St John, and then walk back to the coast. Halki is reached by ferry from Rhodes.
This circular island is dominated by the pair of volcanic craters at its heart. They are dormant (having last erupted in 1888) and while the craters themselves resemble a barren, lunar landscape, the volcanic slopes are fertile and they provide great walking opportunities (as the island is small you can cover a lot of ground in a day); look out for the pigs which roam free here. Nissyros is reached by ferry from Kos.
At the northern end of the Dodecanese, Patmos is a must for history buffs. It was here that St John is said to written the Book of Revelations, and the magnificent hilltop fortress of the Monastery of St John forms an unforgettable backdrop to the port town of Skala. Patmos has sandy beaches and many hidden coves, making it ideal for gentle exploration, while the hilly interior is crossed by several good walking trails (if you use the good local bus service you can plan a one-way hike which covers much of the island). Patmos is reached by ferry from Samos.
Roughly halfway between Samos and Kos, Leros is a laid-back island where fishing remains one of the main activities. Pretty tavernas dot the waterfront and there’s never a shortage of good, fresh seafood. Leros has one of the best natural harbours in the Mediterranean, and this made it a busy port during WW2. A bitter air and sea battle took place here, and was the inspiration for the classic book and film The Guns of Navarone. Leros is reached by ferry or fast cat from Rhodes or Kos.
Offering a classic Greek island escape, Lipsi is a perfect option for those wanting to explore a small island at a gentle pace. You’ll find a number of old monasteries and churches, and many of these are best discovered by taking to the island’s walking trails. The harbour is, as always, the focus of village life and it’s here that you’ll find the small selection of tavernas and shops. A popular excursion from Lipsi is to explore the tiny unpopulated islands nearby. Lipsi is reached by ferry from Kos, and an overnight stay in Kos may be needed.
See our website for more information about holidays in the Dodecanese with Sunvil Holidays.