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Halki (Chalki)

The island of Halki (Chalki) is one of the smallest islands in the Southern Aegean, lying west of Rhodes in the Dodecanese Islands. At only 28 sq. km. it is easily possible to take in all of the island’s beauty in one holiday, and it’s 34 km of coastline and numerous hidden caves provide the ideal backdrop for lazy boat trips in its calm coastal waters.

The first sight of Halki for visitors making the 75 minute boat trip from Rhodes is the main town & port of Emborio (Halki Town) where all of the island’s accommodation is situated. Emborio is a quaint and traditional, typically Greek settlement, home to around 350 permanent residents, rising up from the centuries old harbour to resemble an ancient classical amphitheatre. Hidden amongst its cobbled streets a traditional baker and numerous fishermen can be found carrying on the family vocations at a pace unaffected by the growing tourism found elsewhere in the Dodecanese.

Beyond the main town Halki rises to the rocky peak of Mount Maistros at nearly 600m above sea level and the surrounding inland areas provide spectacular walks and views in every direction.

Beaches

For the sun worshipping visitor there are four beaches on the island, none of which can ever be called busy! The closest to Emborio is Pondamos Beach, which is also the only sandy beach on Halki. Only a gentle ten minute walk away the beach enjoys warm waters with family-friendly swimming and has both an excellent and traditional taverna and had sunbeds and shades available to hire.

A little further beyond the rocky coves can be found Ftenagia Beach, made up of small smooth pebbles. Although this beach again has a taverna and facilities to hire sunbeds and shades, the peace and quiet here is unparalleled and it can be easy to forget that there is anyone else on the island as you spend lazy afternoons listening to the waves breaking against the shore.

The two other beaches, Kania to the north and Yiali to the south, are both smaller pebble beaches and even quieter than the previous two. Relying on nature’s shade and your own refreshments these two provide the ultimate refuge for those hoping to ensure no interruption whilst turning the pages on the holiday paperback.

At all four the waters are some of the cleanest in the Southern Aegean and, with the exception of Yiali where the still waters sometimes belie some stronger under-currents, they provide excellent swimming for all ages.

Sightseeing

For one of the smallest accessible islands in the Dodecanese the island can not be said to be lacking in sightseeing opportunities, whether that’s man-made or nature’s own special sights that you are interested in.

The closest to Emborio for an early morning or late afternoon stroll is Chorio, the now abandoned settlement which up until the 19th century was the ‘capital’ of the island and home to over 3,000 people. Concealed from the shoreline the ruins clearly tell a tale of prosperity past and are a must see for those with even a passing interest in the history of the island and well worth the thirty minutes or so leisurely stroll. Chorio still plays an important role in Halki life as it is here that all the island’s residents make a pilgrimage once a year on the 14th August for the Festival of the Virgin Mary. One this special day the church doors are thrown open, the bells rung loud and the dancing continues long into the night. This taste of genuine Greek passion has to be experienced to be believed and with all visitors more than welcome to join in with the locals it is one not to be missed.

Looking above from Chorio you will spot Panormitis, a Byzantine monastery, which in recent times has undergone considerable restoration work to help slow the affects of the ages upon it. As it’s name suggests the views from here are beyond description and it is not hard to see why this was chosen as holy land by early settlers.

High above Emborio is Kastro, the ruined castle built for the Medieval Knights of St. John. The reward for the climb is again panoramic views which can not be done justice here and it is becomes immediately clear why this spot was chosen as the ideal lookout to protect the island from would be invaders crossing the horizon.

At the western end of the island, a good two hours on foot from Emborio, can be found the Monastery of St. John which is today still tendered by the Caretaker and his wife. One of the more sacred spots in the Southern Aegean the monastery is surrounded by a picturesque courtyard with the thankful shade of a huge pine tree, and speaks to the former riches of the island with intricate carvings and murals still in situ, as well as the sacred idols. To make a return trip will take a full day and is not advised during the high heat of the early afternoon, but for a donation towards its upkeep lodgings can be sought from the Caretaker in one of its simple rooms. This experience is just about as authentic as it can get in Greece and brings home to visitors the dedication that residents over the centuries must have held. If the walk seems a little too much after you have settled into the Halki pace of life, the islands lone taxi can be hired for the journey but although this will save your legs and ensure you can be back in time to enjoy dinner around the harbour you will miss out on the spectacular views that those intrepid walkers will experience along the way!

Eating out

The handful of traditional tavernas on the island have extensive menus containing all of those authentic Greek dishes you would expect to find but, as with most Greek islands, Halki has its traditional dishes which surely must be tried on your visit. Amongst these are Ofto, lamb stuffed with rice & kidneys slow cooked in the wood-fired oven, Halkitiko Macaroni, a fine cut fresh pasta dish served traditionally with fried onions, and the ever-popular salted & fried small-fry caught and prepared each day on the harbour-side.

Tilos

Tilos

Tilos is a small Greek island and municipality located in the Aegean Sea. It is part of the Dodecanese group of islands and lies midway between Kos and Rhodes. It has a population of 790 inhabitants (according to the 2011 census). Along with the uninhabited offshore islets of Antitilos and Gaidaros it forms the municipality of Tilos. The islands main port is Livadia where all the Nissia Holidays accommodation can be found.

LIVADIA

As previously mentioned this is the island’s main port and hub of the touristic activity on Tilos. Livadia was established around 1930 as a village although it had existed as a harbour before that. Most of the buildings are modern mixed with a few traditional ones. Livadia has lovely horseshoe bay which is excellent for swimming and snorkelling. There is also shade along the beach beneath the Tamarisk trees. These trees were originally planted as a windbreak to protect the crops grown in the very fertile soil along the front. The North winds are so dry they can “burn” the crops. Above the village is the remains of a 15th century castle – Agriosikia and in the valleys below the old monastery Politissa which hosts a festival in August.

MEGALO HORIO

Megalo Horio is the capital of the island with just 180 full time residents. Megalo Horio (translates as Big Village) is much older and a more traditional Greek village with winding alleyways and traditional houses. There is one road that runs past the village but the majority is inaccessible by car. There are some beautiful churches here – the Church of Archangel Michael (Taxiarchis) (celebrating its name day on the 8th November) opposite the Council offices and Panagia (celebrating its name day on the 15th August) on the top of the village. On the summit above the village is the most complete of the seven Crusader castles on the island. It’s a steep climb up with no shade but has stunning views from the top. Also here is the Dwarf Elephant Museum – where the finds from the Harkadio Cave are displayed. If the museum is closed, ask at the council offices which is to the left of the museum. There is also a pharmacy / doctors surgery.

MIKRO HORIO

Mikro Horio was the original capital of the island and was once home to 1700 people. The village is now desserted – the residents wither emigrated or moved down to Livadia to be closer to the developing port. Nowadays the village is like a time capsule showing results of a life that no longer exists. It is strangely atmospheric to wander around. The bus does not go to Mikro Horio but it is not too long a walk.

HARKADIO

On the left hand side of the road to Megalo Horio is the Harkadio Cave where the remains of dwarf elephants were discovered in 1971. The cave is not open to the public as excavations are still not completed. However, the view from outside the cave is wonderful and underneath is a small amphitheatre which is host to concerts during the summer months. Stand in the centre to experience the perfect acoustics. Nearby the entrance, you will see the construction of a new museum which will eventually contain the finds made in the cave. Some are presently on display in the small museum in Megalo Horio. The bones of thousands of elephants have been found in the cave and this discovery was one of the first to establish the existence of elephants in Europe.

BEACHES

ERISTOS

Eristos Beach is easy to reach by car or bus or you can walk from Livadia (about 2.5 hours) Eristos is the largest beach on the island and still largely unspoilt. For shade there is a wonderful row of tamarisk trees along the beach ( In August the beach is quite busy so it may be hard to find shade – so be early) Beware of a variable seabed and rocky reef and swim with caution. There a few tavernas nearby for lunch. The far end of the beach tends to be a nudist area.

AGIOS ANDONIS (San Antonio)

Agios Andonis is an interesting area since just below the sea level is the remains of a Byzantine cemetery. Indeed along the access road on a calm day you can make out the indent of bones in the rocky seabed. It was this area which drew paleontologists here in 1971. The sea here tends to be colder and often rougher but when calm it is good for swimming. There is also a small harbour area with a couple of tavernas and is a very peaceful spot.

PLAKA BEACH

Plaka Beach is a quiet unspoilt beach which is excellent for swimming and snorkelling. Behind is the Plaka Garden area which the Mayor rents from the church – he has preserved the area and brought in a variety of birdlife (including peacocks). Again the far end is a nudist area (don’t be deceived by the “Nuddism is Forbidden” sign). The bus does not go here but you can walk from Agios Antonios or get the bus to drop you off on the way to the Monastery on a Sunday (High Season only) There are many other little beaches which are accessible only on foot – Lethra, Red Beach, Skafi, Tholos and Stavros are the most accessible (details of walking routes are available) Often you may find that you have the beach to yourself for the day.

WALKING

Explore the full diversity of landscape that Tilos has to offer. Tilos is a marvellous island for walkers as some of the original mule tracks remain and you can walk along them through a wonderful landscape alive with birds and flowers. Many flora and fauna groups have visited the island and have listed numerous varieties of flowers and birds. The National Park and no hunting rule ensures the precious landscape and birds are preserved for ever.

AGIOS PANDELEIMONAS

This beautiful Byzantine Monastery is a “must see” place. It is a haven of tranquility tucked just under the highest point of the island (651 m above the sea level). The lovely church is almost buried in luxuriant vegetation halfway up an almost vertical cliff where a fresh water spring flows from the mountain side. The Monastery was named after the patron saint of the island (celebrating its name day on the 27th July) and building commenced in 1430. Various stages of renovation have taken place – most notably are the frescoes added in the 17th and 18th century. It is no longer a working monastery – a caretaker is appointed by the church. Before the present church there was a temple dedicated to the god of the sea – Poseidon (Neptune).

EATING OUT

The social life of Tilos is usually found in the tavernas and coffee shops of Livadia where the atmosphere is very Greek and can be quite lively. All the tavernas offer an excellent variety of local food and good service. In most of them the home cooking is second to none and a warm welcome always awaits you. Most tavernas have the local speciality of goat and their menu of the day listed outside of their entrances. Often there is Greek music and impromptu entertainment – singing and dancing – to highlight your evenings.