Kastellorizo, a far-flung Mediterranean island east of Rhodes, is a tiny outpost just two miles off the southern Turkish coast. It is so remote from Greece that it is usually put in its own box in Greek maps. The locals joke that when the wind is right, you can smell the kebabs being grilled from the Turkish side, and for this reason it comes as little surprise that the island was one of the last to join independent Greece having been signed over to the nation in 1947.
The Turks call it Mais, the Arabs call it Mayas, whereas in antiquity it was Megisti. Nomatter what you call picturesque Kastellorizo, there are many reasons as to why it is unique. We’ve picked eight:
1. THE UNSPOILT LANDSCAPE IS MAGICAL
The fact that it is hard to get to has been both a blessing and a curse for the island, helping it to maintain its authentic spirit unspoiled by tourism. With just 250 permanent residents, the lack of interference has helped the region’s flora and fauna flourish. A number of animals, such as turtles, dolphins and the monachos seal inhabit the exquisite landscape.
2. THE PROMENADE IS PART OF A LISTED SETTLEMENT
The multi-colored harbour is charming thanks to the bustle of homes clustered together with strings of color in Kordoni (coast in front of the port) to give the illusion of crowdedness.The neo-classical narrow mansions on the promenade are left over from the island’s early 20th-century heyday and now house picturesque cafes, restaurants and shops that cling together. Thanks to strict rules that restrict interventions, the impressive architecture can still be admired and there are many gems that include the Sandrapeia Urban School, inspiration for the University of Athens, and New Market and City Hall constructed during the Italian occupation of Greece.
3. SWIM IN THE BLUE CAVE, A FAIRY-LIKE GROTTO
The Blue Cave, also known as Cave Parasta or Fokiali (due to “Fokia” – seals found here), is a unique natural phenomenon. Boat trips take travellers to the area when the sea is calm as the boats just manage to slip through the cave mouth, entering a world that is lit up by an astonishing shade of irridescent blue. The grotto’s fairly-like decor is richly adorned with stalactites that reflect the rays of the sun, creating an astonishing aqua-blue colouring witin the 75-metre long, 40-metre wide and 35-metre tall cave. The best time to visit is when the early morning light mutes together the blue hues in a flowing embrace.
4. THERE ARE LAYERS OF BURIED HISTORY
The 14th century castle, above the quay towards the eastern side of the island, can be reached via a pathway from the harbour. All that remains of the Castle of the Knights are a curtain wall, part of a square tower and the remains of a cylindrical reddish tower at the east corner from which the island got its name (Castello Rosso). There’s a Doric inscription carved on one of the rocks that attests to the existence of an earlier fortress there during antiquity. The Stone-hewed Lycean tomb at the foot of the castle that dates back to the 4th century BC is well-preserved. The tomb is a remnant left behind by inhabitants of Asia Minor that worshipped Apollo Lycios.
To find out more about the castle ruins, visit the nearby Archaeological Museum that features exhibits from antiquity.
Paleokastro (old castle) – the island’s acropolis – is west of the town, beyond the summit of the island known as Vigla (270 metres).
The Byzantine church of Aghios Yeorgios on the eastern side of the town was built in 1906 and can be reached by climbing 401 steps. Once up, the view over Turkey is exquisite. Inside there is a small catacomb, the church of Aghios Haralambos that can be visited. TIP: Make sure you ask the locals for the keys before you set off as it is often locked.
5. THE WATERS ARE CRYSTAL-CLEAR
The island has no sandy beaches to boast of, apart from a little bit of sand at Mandraki, though it is weedy n some areas. Further down Mandraki there is a graveyard in an area called Nifti – that is also a nifty swimming spot. Most people take a sea taxi to Aghios Georgios, a swimming area with a taverna. There are numerous bathing ladders from the rocks around the harbour that lead into crystal-clear and deep waters around the island.
6. A DAY TRIP TO NEARBY RO IS INSPIRATIONAL
During 2nd World War, Despina Achladiotis, decided to reside permanenly on a rocky islet off Kastellorizo known as Ro. She refused to abandon the island even when Germans bombarded Kastellorizo, causing many of its inhabitants to emigrate. This brave-hearted woman had raised a Greek flag on the island every morning for forty years. In August 1975, Turks took advantage of Despina’s few days of absence and raised their flag on the island just for a day. She died in 1982 but is forever remembered as the “Lady of Ro”.
7. THE ISLAND INSPIRED DAVID GILMOUR
Mediterraneo (1991) was filmed on the island, it also lends its name to David Gilmour’s instumental “Castellorizon” from his album “On an Island” (2006) after he was inspired by the place when he stayed there in the Nineties.
8. AN AUSSIE WIND BLOWS THROUGH EVERY SUMMER
Each summer, the population explodes as many Kastellorizians visit the island of their ancestors. The promenade is filled with Aussie accents on account of the fact that many of the inhabitants had left to go Down Under when the island’s economy fell into decay,accelerated by the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the deportation of Anatolian Greeks in 1923. These days, expat Kazzies have done well for themselves in Perth and Sydney where they call themselves “Kazzies”. Their majestic yachts that pull in during their vacations add a mood of luxury to the modest harbour.