Is Symi, Greece, the most beautiful small town in the world?
I’ve always regarded Antigua, Guatemala, as the most beautiful town I’ve seen. Situated at the base of three volcanoes and encircled by cliffs, it enjoys a stunning natural setting. Grand Spanish colonial architecture, which is painted an assortment of bright colors, nestles up to cobblestone streets. To top it off, there are about 40 cathedrals in various states of photogenic ruin strewn about the city, reminders of violent earthquakes from the past. Throw in the Mayans with their colorful clothes, the gaudy chicken buses, and the always bustling Parque Central, and Antigua is pure magic.
Being in Symi the last few days, I found a place to rival it in my mind. Symi is essentially three towns in one – a harbor town, a village of stacked houses that climb up a vertiginous hillside, and a beach town called Pedi in the adjacent valley. Controlled by the Italians until World War II, it boasts polychromatic edifices more like those in Italy and different than the white wash so common in other Greek Isles.
The sea is beautiful and clear before falling off into an intense blue. The mountains are scrubby and daunting, rising up high above the town in all directions. In the distance the rocky shores of Turkey are visible. There are over a dozen churches in town, all brightly painted in orange, yellow, white and blue.
Like Antigua, Symi has a scruffy side. Symi was bombed during World War II, and the population of 2000 people is about 10 times less than in its heyday. As a result, there are many grand homes that lie in ruin. Often these ruins are adjacent to beautifully restored villas.
Symi is peaceful and charming. There is an easy pace of life. I went to the grocery store to buy something and the cashier was out front drinking a beer but paused to ring up my order. Another time at the same store the cashier was rolling a cigarette when I went to pay. The sidewalk cafes are filled with some visitors, but being tourist low-season, there are many locals there also. They are taking back the village.
I don’t know if Symi is the most beautiful small town in the world, but it has to be on the short list. What I do know is that when it comes time to get on the ferry, Kristi may have to drag me kicking and screaming. This place is special and it will be hard to leave.
Symi photo gallery
Click on any photo to open a slideshow view.
What is your favorite small town?