When you catch your first glimpse of Kalymnos you’ll notice one breathtaking vista that overshadows everything else – Kalymnos’ craggy, exotic-looking sheer-faced cliffs kissed by a blue-green, crystal-clear sea. And in that instant you’ll witness a landscape that symbolizes everything this Aegean island offers visitors and everything that has shaped the locals’ lives, traditions, history – and their future. Because despite Kalymnos’ stark rugged aridness punctuated by lone trees that almost impossibly cling to cliffs, it is within this rough wildness that you’ll find a richness and generosity of culture, eco-sports and hospitality that will astound you. And all of a sudden, Kalymnos’ rough landscape transforms itself into a soft touch that will welcome you into its fold – and into its beautiful contradictions.
Part of the Dodecanese island complex, Kalymnos is still a jealously well-hidden jewel nestled between the ever-popular holiday destinations of Rhodes and Kos. And it’s right there for you to discover – once you’re in on its secrets. If you want the best of traditional Greek hospitality combined with adrenaline-spiked sports, hikes that make you feel like you alone are exploring an untouched, sun-caressed landscape, and the possibility to discover beautiful seascapes with some of the best divers in the world, then you’ve found your own personal custom-made corner of paradise. Cliffs dripping with stalactites offer an unparalleled rock-climbing experience that has become a world-famous destination for the top names in the sport. A multitude of caves lies in wait for you to find during your hikes across the island. Pastel-colored traditional homes huddle around winding alleys that snake through the island’s towns and charming villages. And along the length of its coast Kalymnos unrolls a tapestry of sparkling white-pebble or black-sand shores caressed by azure waters that will forever tempt you off your path to take a break and run in for a dip.
And always, no matter where your adventures take you in Kalymnos, you’ll be surrounded by the island’s rugged mountains above you and serenaded by the siren-sound of Aegean waves below. Because these two forces are what created the beauty of Kalymnos and its people – a beauty that will become a part of you once you get a taste of island life in Kalymnos and the love of life shared by all its natives. This island’s rich history was forged by the mountains and the sea with nothing fertile in between. Faced by an almost hostile landscape for agriculture, the Kalymniotes turned to the sea and sea-sponge diving. And now, millennia after the time when Homer first spoke of Kalymnos and its sponge-industry, the Kalymniotes look to the mountains and rock-climbing for a future as a world-famous eco-destination.
Knights Templar, sponge-dancers, churches – stories folded within towns and villages
Are you in search of a traditional, authentic Greek island experience? One that makes you feel like a local? If that’s the case, if you’re looking for the “real thing”, then look no further than Kalymnos. This beautiful island clings to its uniqueness and stubbornly defies the latest trends. Woven through the multitude of pastel-colored two-storey homes that crawl up the mountains they’re cozily hugged between are whispers of the island’s past: glimpses of the Knights Templar in the stunning architecture, statues and traditional dances in town squares that honor the island’s famous sponge divers, neoclassical mansions belonging to shipping magnates, and churches built from shipping fortunes. Kalymnos offers it all to you along with the locals’ unlimited warmth and hospitality.
Begin by exploring the village of Vathis – because here you’ll find Kalymnos’ only lush-green oasis and Greece’s only fjord. Located 11 km from Pothia, the island’s capital, this little-known and even less-visited village lies within orange, lemon and tangerine groves that give the otherwise arid island swaths of deep-green color. If you’re a hiker, take the day to explore the groves – and pop into the multitude of churches that dot the valley. The breath-taking murals that decorate these churches will definitely reward you. Follow this beautiful valley as it gives way to a stunning sea-water canal that in turn ends in a little harbor that offers visitors the option of wrapping up their hike with a canal-side stop at a quaint taverna. If you’re in the mood to explore the village, pop into the local shipyard or in a few of the many shops.
If you’re an architecture buff, take your time and get lost in the many winding alleys of Pothia. Built between two mountains, the island’s capital is a living museum where you’ll be able to follow the history of Kalymnos through its buildings. Here you’ll see the vestiges of the Knights Templar’s in coats-of-arms, municipal buildings built in Venetian style and finally opulent neoclassical mansions. Take a tour through the Vouvalis family mansion for a peek into the life of Kalymnos’ affluent shipping families. Then make your way to the harbor that doubles as another living museum of nautical history. You’ll be able to see fine examples of all kinds of ships and boats that are part of the largest fleet in the Aegean. If the sea fascinates you, drop by the shipyard and ask for a tour. You won’t regret it! If you’re into castles and their allure, venture outside the town and visit the island’s two castles, the Castle of 9 Churches and the Castle of Hrisoherias, along with the three gorgeous stone windmills that stand between them.
As you meander through Pothia and other villages, talk to the locals. Let them regale you with their sea-faring stories and legends. Because if you want to understand the heart and soul of Kalymnos, you’ll have to let yourself get swept away by the Kalymniotes’ strong links to the sea and sponge-diving. Ask the Kalymniotes about the Sfougarades (the sponge divers) and you’ll see the island in an entirely different light. Sponge-diving established Kalymnos as a shipping and exporting force, and from the age of Homer the Kalymniotes retrieved and processed the best sponges in the Mediterranean. Their fame reached the shores of Russia and Western Europe. With a scarcity of fertile land for agriculture, it was this lucrative business that helped the islanders survive and built the island’s homes and churches. But it all came at a cost – the very lives of the island’s sons were often claimed by decompression sickness. Except despite the risks, these young men braved the dangers as a matter of honor. They pressed on to honor their own name, their family’s livelihood, and their island’s fame and fortune. Contests were held for the best divers. Statues throughout the towns and villages were sculpted in memory of the fallen.
And a very unique dance native to Kalymnos was choreographed to praise their courage. As you walk through the villages, wait for this stunning performance. Men in black trousers and white shirts fill the squares for the Horo ton Mihanikon (the Dance of Divers). These men represent the healthy divers who gather to dance before a crumpled, doubled-over man who sits to the side. At one point, this lone dancer stands, pushes himself up on his cane and hobbles over to join the others. Acting the part of a sponge diver struck and crippled by decompression sickness, he tries to keep up but falls. Yet he waves off help from the others and stands on his own to complete the dance as a healthy man. Because this is how the Kalymniotes continue to honor the struggles and courage of their fallen sponge divers who gave up their lives for their island.
A world-class destination for adrenalin junkies
Rock climbers, divers, hikers and mountain bikers – you’ll come to believe the Greek gods put this island on this earth for you alone. Because your adrenalin spike will rarely let up.
If there’s one sport that’s emblematic of what Kalymnos has to offer, it’s rock-climbing. The island’s rugged terrain is made up of limestone mountains and cliffs, dotted with stalactites and caves that make the climb more than interesting. If you’re a rock-climbing aficionado and seasoned professional, you’re in good company as the top names in the sport swarm the island’s cliffs each year, looking for a real challenge. If you’re a beginner, you’re in luck as Kalymnos’ mountains offer a multitude of easier climbs that can be undertaken under the watchful eye of experienced instructors. And either way, with over 80 routes for all levels, you’ll find the perfect climb for you and be rewarded by absolutely stunning views when you reach the top.
And with all these hills and mountains, if you’re a hiker or mountain-biker you’ll be tempted to either walk or cycle your way around the island. There are no mapped out routes, which is exactly what makes Kalymnos so special for all you adrenalin junkies. You’ll feel as if you’re the first to discover each tucked-away chapel on pebbled mountain-side paths, each hidden cove and sandy beach, each breath-taking sea vista. Take this once-in-a-lifetime chance to feel like a true adventurer and do a little bit of sight-seeing during your trek. Explore some of the island’s 50 caves. Stop by Kalymnos’ archaeological gems, including the site of Daliou Apollo and Christ of Jerusalem. Seek out the island’s two castles and admire the set of three stone windmills that will take you back to another era.
Divers will revel in Kalymnos’ clear waters and colorful marine life. This island’s illustrious diving history has yielded some of the best divers in Greece – and they’ll be more than willing to take you to some of the best diving sites around Kalymnos. Famed for its extremely clear waters, you’ll be able to explore sea-caves, shipwrecks and stunning reefs. The country’s only state-run diving school is in Kalymnos, and the island boasts a large number of diving schools that assist and train divers of all levels. So go ahead, feel like a true Kalymniote and get lost in the deep blue sea that’s become a lot like a second home to most of the locals.
Thermal springs, stunning beaches, and unique shopping
After action-packed days that will leave you breathless but happy, you’ll need some quality rest and relaxation. And what’s special about Kalymnos is that you’ll be able to do this within a peaceful setting that will make you feel like a local.
Begin to unwind by taking a leisurely swim in the waters that flow into the sea from a natural thermal spring at Therma. Famed for its therapeutic qualities, the sea at Therma beach is perfect for a quiet family outing or a laid-back swim. Trees offer much-needed shade, while those who can’t tear themselves away from more athletic activities will find Therma’s little jetty perfect for refreshing dives into blue-green waters.
But this isn’t the only beach that will entice you in Kalymnos – in fact, you’ll be tempted to tour the island just to take a dip in as many of these stunning beaches as possible. And you shouldn’t expect anything less from an island whose name in Ancient Greek meant “beauty of the sea”. If you can’t imagine anything more thrilling than swimming right under Kalymnos’ dramatic cliffs, then make sure you explore the hidden coves near Therma. If you’d love a more exotic feel to the beach, then take a swim at Platis Ialos where blue-green waves lap up against a shore of thick black volcanic sand. And this isn’t the only thing that will astound you here – big volcanic boulders dot the water and double as perfect springboards for diving enthusiasts. And all you water sports fans will surely become regulars at Kalymnos’ most popular beaches, Masouri and Melitsahas. Masouri beach also offers swimmers a unique view as they enjoy their refreshing dip in its crystal-clear waters – Kalymnos’ tallest rocks.
And before you head to one of the island’s many quaint tavernas for dinner, take a stroll through the streets and select some local products to take back with you. Sea-sponges, honey, and sesame-sprinkled rusks are all highly-prized. If you’re fascinated by Kalymnos’ sponge-diving history, you can take a tour of one of the family-owned sponge-processing workshops. And of course let the men sweep you away with their tales of the sea.
The cliffs and the sea – this is what Kalymnos is all about. Fall into the arms of these two extremes and let them embrace you. Climb the mountains of Kalymnos and touch the bright-blue Greek sky above. Then take in the view and look to the sea below. Dive into the Aegean’s blue-green depths and explore this underwater heaven. And when you’ve experienced both, you’ll carry a little bit of what being a true native of Kalymnos is all about.
The Kalymnos TopoGuide, a fantastic new hiking app, has just been released for the island of Kalymnos, Dodekanese. Great images, 17 wondrus hiking routes, geological curiosities and even roadmaps will guide users on amazing island journeys. www.ecotourism-greece.com is proud to have contributed its insights to this app! You can download this app from Google Store here!