kalymnos

Information about the island of Kalymnos Greece

kalymnosKalymnos is one of the Dodecanese Islands in Greece located in the Aegean Sea 300 kilometres south east of Athens and 100 kilometres north west of Rhodes. It’s known as the sponge diving island because the men folk here still practise this most hazardous of professions which was the island’s prime source of income for centuries.

Tourism is starting to take over as the main money generator these days but the island has managed to retain much of its Greek charm and age-old traditions. Most tourists by-pass Kalymnos in favour of nearby Kos.

Those who stop off here as part of their island hopping tour will find rugged mountainous scenery interspersed with fertile valleys, some of the finest fresh fish tavernas in the archipelago and lovely unspoilt beaches, some of which can only be accessed by boat.

kalymnos pothiaThe capital Pothia is home to the last sponge diving fleet in Greece. It’s an age-old profession which lingers in the blood of the local men despite the advent of synthetic sponges and a blight which devastated the eastern Mediterranean’s sponge supply in the 1990s. The fleet used to travel as far afield as Africa to fish for sponges but these days the divers restrict themselves to Greek waters.

If you visit in the spring when the divers are about to set sail on their seven-month sponge fishing tour you’ll be able to join in the elaborate send-off which involves much feasting, dancing, general merrymaking and more than a few tears shed by wives and girlfriends.

Beyond the capital you’ll find starkly beautiful mountains which are a magnet for rock climbers, lush valleys carpeted with vines, lime and mandarin trees, pretty fishing harbours and some awe-inspiring stalactite caves.

The west coast has a couple of busy beach resorts geared to the needs of the package holiday market. From here you can take an excursion boat over to the striking, traffic-free islet of Telendos which was separated from Kalymnos by a cataclysmic earthquake in 554 AD.

History of Kalymnos

Kalymnos has been inhabited since the Neolithic era. The oldest inhabitants of the island were the Kares who came to Kalymnos from Asia Minor at the beginning of the geometric era.
Homer calls it Kalydnes and mentions that the island participated in the Trojan War by sending together with other islands 30 ships led by Pheidippus and Antiphon.

After the Trojan War (according to Diodorus), four of Agamemnon’s ships sank on their return.
Their crews settled permanently on the island of Kalymnos nd built a settlement on the plateau of the island, which, in memory of their distant homeland, was named Argos. For a long time Argos was the capital of the island.

Apollo was the patron god of Kalymnos, while his sanctuary was its political and religious center throughout antiquity, from the beginning of the 1st millennium BC until the first Christian centuries.
In the 6th century BC, Kalymnos minted silver coins, depicting the head of a bearded helmeted warrior on the obverse and the lyre of the god Apollo on the reverse.

During the Persian Wars (early 5th century BC) the island was occupied by the Persians and Queen Artemisia the Elder. It was liberated in 477 BC, became a member of the Athenian Alliance, along with Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Rhodes and paid taxes to the alliance fund located in Delos.

Kalymnos does not seem to take part in the Peloponnesian War, since Thucydides does not mention it at all among other islands. In 357 BC. Kalymnos ceases to be free. It submits to the power of the king Mausolus. After about 15 years, Kalymnos revolts, gains its freedom and becomes an ally of the Athenians again.

During the 3rd century BC, Kalymnos minted silver and bronze coins, which have a rude helmeted warrior head on the front and a guitar on the reverse.

During Hellenistic times the island was often involved in extermination struggles between Alexander’s successors, due to its geographical location.
In fact, at this time forts and prisons were built in various parts of Kalymnos, for the protection of the inhabitants, due to the unstable socio-political conditions of the time.

At the end of the 3rd century BC Kalymnos and the neighboring island of Kos were united under the common state regime of the Federation.
Kalymnos was subjugated to the Romans in 44 BC. Read more about the History of Kalymnos.

What to see in Kalymnos

Archaeological Museum

archaeological museum of KalymnosConsidered by some visitors as one of the best museums in the Greek islands you will be fortunate to find it open. The Archaeological Museum of Kalymnos has been operating for years with only a single member of staff and so opening times are few and varied.

The museum, which covers an area of 1,000 square metres , is found in the Agia Oriada district of Pothia, and is housed in a two-storied mansion house donated by the Vouvalis family. It has a good collection of significant artefacts and archaeological finds all beautifully displayed.

The interior is a reconstruction of a typical 19th century mansion house with dining room, living-room, storerooms, service rooms and the Vouvalis family photographic archives on account of they are the ones who donated the building.

The courtyard outside has some marble pillars and various statues while the ground floor has many artefacts, some dating from as early a 5,000 BC. The first floor has any amount pottery and china, some very good paintings and statues and busts galore. Among the best exhibits are a statue of Isis, and marble heads of Aphrodite and Ygeia.

Maritime Museum

maritime museum of kalymnosThis free museum is in the coastal resort of Vychladia west of Pothia and one of the richest private collections in the whole of Greece.

There are showcases packed with sponges, shells and corals. You can also see the wreck of an ancient ship, amphorae, stuffed fish and various of finds from the sea bottom

Virtually all the exhibits were collected by former sponge diver Kostas Valsimades who is often on hand to show visitors around the museum.

Sanctuary of Delios Apollo

The heart of Ancient Kalymnos beat exactly at this point, as it was its political and cult center: the temples of Apollo and Asclepius, statues of gods and statues of mortals. Take a tour of the area and admire the two large Christian churches of the 5th and 6th centuries.

Church of Panagia Charitomeni

It was once the metropolis of the island. It was built in the 18th century from the building materials of the ancient temple of Delios Apollo. You will be impressed by the wood-carved golden iconostasis of the early 19th century and its post-Byzantine icons.

Kalymnos House

It is located on the road to Vlychadia, at the turn of Agios Savvas. It is a representation of a traditional house of the late 19th century. In this private folklore museum you will have the opportunity to admire exhibits of the popular culture of the area as well as objects of daily use.

What to do

climbing in kalymnosWith hundreds of hiking trails, 77 climbing fields and special rock formations, Kalymnos certainly gathers a large number of adrenaline lovers out there. Its beauty, however, is not limited only there. The low-key island of the southeast Aegean has found its own corner in the Dodecanese, excels in sponge-making,  hence the title “the island of sponges”  and is waiting for people to prove to it that the 10 hours away from Piraeus is nothing in front of what it has to offer.

It is one of the most densely populated islands in Greece, even though its size is moderate and it is surrounded by many small islands, some inhabited and some uninhabited, everything you need for excursions and baths. But let’s take a look at the assets of this beautiful island.

Kalymnos is a favourite with climbers thanks to challenging climbs in the most picturesque locations. Rock formations are excellent quality.

Climbing

Climbing took off on Kalymnos in 1997 and new crags and routes are being tested every year. The best of the climbing is concentrated around Massouri with some high quality routes with some spectacular climbs.

As well as around 200 single-pitch routes (5/2000), there are many cliffs of 10 to 200 metres offering new routes. The climbing is always varied with overhangs and roofs with holes and demanding stalagmites.

You can generally climb on Kalymnos all year round and you get pleasant sea breezes to keep cool in summer. Most pitches are west or southwest and get morning shade.

All tourist facilities – hotels, restaurants – are open until mid-October. Approaches to the various sectors climbs average 20 to 30 minutes.

Visit Pserimos

pserimosPserimos is a small island about half way between Kos and Kalymnos. It would be an idyllic place but for the day trippers that descend in droves throughout the season. A few lucky visitors can find rooms to stay but not many as there are a mere 30 or so houses.

The main beach on the island is at Avlakia, a lovely stretch of golden sand, quickly covered in sunbedded bodies. Day trippers arrive like locusts and snap up all available sunbeds.

They also pack the tavernas and generally make a noisy addition to what would otherwise be a peaceful islet. Even the ferries have been known to queue to tie up to the small quay.

Those boats that can’t find a berth head off to neighbouring Platys which has a similar, but smaller, sandy beach and far fewer trippers.

There are a couple of other beaches, not as attractive but much quieter. One is at Vathy in the north, reached with a 30min walk along a well marked path to a cove of sand and pebbles. Another is at Marathounda to the west, a 45min walk to a small pebble cove. Indeed, the island is so small that nowhere can be more than an hour’s walk in any direction.

Day trippers make up almost all the visitors as there is so little accommodation on the islet. There are rooms to be had above the tavernas and one small store which gets stocked up by the daily boat that leaves Pothia on Kalymnos around 9am each day.

Nearly all the other boats that pull in are taking trippers on daily cruises between Kos and Kalymnos with a short stop both here and at Platys.

Telendos

kalymnos telendosThe islet of Telendos soars out of the sea opposite Myrties like a giant volcanic plug. It was actually formed by a massive earthquake in 500AD that split it off from the mainland, destroying the ancient capital of the island as it did so.

Today Telendos is one of the best reasons for visiting Kalymnos, with a smart new quayside packed with good tavernas and tiny beaches dotted about in the islet’s many coves.

Every hour during the day small caiques take a dozen or so on the 10-minute journey from Myrties jetty to Telendos.

There are no roads on Telendos and no traffic. The wide quayside is paved and a dozen or so tavernas place tables along the shore. It’s a romantic setting and a favourite of couples enjoying evening views across the water to the twinkling lights of Myrties and Massouri

The last ferry leaves around 10.30pm although they run later in the high season if the tavernas look full. A few rooms can be rented here, mostly above the tavernas.

Telendos lives, like Pserimos, in calm rhythms. The kindness of the inhabitants, who are not over sixty, and the harmony of the images will be the best gift for you who are looking for the ultimate relaxation.
On the occasion of your water tour, finally, visit the ruins of Roman and Byzantine times, the rock-carved Roman theater and the fortifications of Historical times in the north of the island.

Visit the villages of Kalymnos

Chora, the old capital of the island, was built far from the sea because of pirates and gathers important attractions, such as the Castle of Chora, the Castle of Chrysocheria, the church of Panagia tis Haritomeni, but also the monasteries between the Castle with the panoramic view . Pothia is an extension of Chora, it is the capital and port of the island and spreads out amphitheatrically at the foot and slopes of two hills.

There you will find a densely populated place with taverns, cafes, restaurants, rooms and tourist facilities, while you will be impressed by the traditional white houses with colored windows. And after feeling the pulse of the island, head towards the southwest and Therma, where you will find hot springs with healing properties and continue towards the rest of the settlements.

Argos, Skalia with its cave, the green Panormos with its beautiful beaches, the Myrties opposite the islet of Telendos, the touristic Masouri with its nightlife, which is also a good choice for accommodation, the quiet and remote Emporios, the seaside Vlychadia and beautiful Vathi have a lot to show you about life in Kalymnos.

Swim in the beach of Arginotas

Pack your beach bag, apply your sunscreen and get ready for long dives in the wonderful Aegean waters that surround Kalymnos. For youthful situations head to Kantouni, Linaria, Platy Gialos in Panormos, while in Masouri you will find one of the most popular beaches. You will find shallow waters, suitable for children and shade at Vlychadia beach, about 5 kilometers from Pothia, as well as at Myrties. On the beach of Emporio with its strong winds you will find pebbles and plane trees, as well as many windsurfing, water-skiing, diving etc., while for crystal blue waters, greenery and relaxation you will go to the beach of Arginotas, in the north-west of island.

Diving and snorkeling

Kalymnos is famous for its rich seabed, which attracts diving and snorkelling enthusiasts every year. An ideal destination for this type of diving is Vlychadia, the Therma-Pithari area, the sponge farms in Kastelli and Kambi, as well as the southwestern coast of Telendos, among others. In Kalymnos you will also find diving centers if you need help or are not familiar with the sport.

The most widespread activity on the island, however, is climbing, since it is an island that has made use of its mountainous mass, with easy access to climbing routes, limestone rocks, with sharp points, everything you need for this activity.

On the island you will find 77 climbing fields and if you are interested in doing this activity, try contacting a Climbing School, especially if you are a beginner, attending summer classes. On the island you can also engage in hiking, discovering its mountain paths and its hundreds of walking routes, while you also have the opportunity to explore the island’s caves, such as the Cave of Kefalas, the Cave of the Seven Virgins, the Cave of Skalia , the Hoiromantres Cave etc.

Swim in Telendos

If you find yourself in Kalymnos, don’t forget to go outside, taking boat trips and visiting the surrounding islands with their beautiful beaches. A breath away from Kalymnos and specifically from Myrties, is the islet of Telendos, where in addition to beautiful beaches, you will find a small picturesque settlement, abundant remains from the late Roman period and of course tavernas for plenty of fresh fish and seafood. Also, from Kalymnos, you can “fly” to Pserimos in about 50 minutes and swim on its isolated sandy beaches.

Taste the local food

In Kalymnos you will enjoy, if nothing else, fresh fish at good prices. Try stuffed squid, dried lobster tail, carp, i.e. salad with salachi meat, spinialo (meze with sea urchins, salachi etc. made by the locals with seawater), octopus meatballs and many other seafood creations.

However, if you want to get away from eating fish, there are plenty of local mouth-watering dishes waiting for you, such as muuri, which is stuffed lamb roasted in a clay pot, dolmades, mirmizeli, i.e. local village bread with barley roll, oil, tomato and cheese and other luscious dishes, everything you need for after the bath. In Pothia you will find taverns for every taste, since most of them are there.

Nightlife and entertainment

On the island you will not miss drinking and entertainment, even if your day is full of swimming and activities. The island’s evening options are mainly divided between Pothia beach and Masouri, where you can have fun without breaking the bank, since the prices are relatively low.

Towns and villages of Kalymnos

Pothia the capital of Kalymnos

pothiaThe island’s capital of Pothia is squeezed between steep grey mountain slopes in the south-east of the island and the ferry sails in past cement works and other industrial eyesores.

The town is colourful and lively amphitheatre built around the harbour with a complex of public buildings at the centre of the waterfront.

The posh end lies to the south, full of tourist shops, bars, hotels and yachts while the more interesting northern area has a market, traditional fish tavernas and booze shops.

Wherever you are in Pothia expect lots of noise. This is a busy place, with a reputed 6,000 motorbikes and most of them whining along the sea front or growling down side streets.

Apart from a dual carriageway that skirts the shoreline, Pothia’s streets are a narrow maze of bars, cafes, pool halls and bike shops. It’s easy to get lost in back streets lined with crumbling neoclassical houses, many with extraordinary wrought iron balconies.

An Archaeological and Folk Museum sits on the northern hillside and the Nautical Museum at the west end of the port with details of the lives of Pothia sponge divers.

A beach just beyond the museum is little more than a strip of rubble dotted with a few tamarisk trees. About a kilometre south are the warm water springs at Therma where a spa offers modern bathing facilities. Above Pothia are the ruins of a Byzantine castle and the remains of a 4th century church within.

Vathy

vathy-kalymnosThe coast road heading east out of Pothia winds along the coast past ugly cement factories, oil terminals and gasworks before heading up into the hills where the views improve dramatically.

After four kilometres a concrete track plunges down the hillside to the small bay at Akti and a delightful shingle beach with a couple of large tamarisk trees for shade.

It’s backed by a single taverna and a peaceful rest from the turmoil of Pothia, although boat trippers can fill the place quickly during the high season.

Beyond Akti, about 10 kilometres out of Pothia, the short, fertile valley of Vathi snakes down to the sea covered in groves of olive, tangerine and lemon.

On the shore lies the pretty port of Rina where a clutch of big tavernas take care of the visiting tourists and boats line the long narrow inlet with hills rising sharply each side.

Boat excursions leave here for the stalagmite encrusted Dhaskilio cave, set in the cliff along the gorge and there are tiny beaches at Almyres and Dhrasonda, accessible only by boat.

The valley behind, looks beautiful from a distance, but closer inspection reveals series of moribund, flyblown hamlets of old houses set behind high brick walls

Where to stay

Most visitors arrive at the large port of Pothia, the island’s capital and the second biggest town in the Dodecanese after Rhodes. Pothia is a busy, bustling town, sandwiched between two mountains on the hillsides which curve around the bay. There are plenty of hotels and other accommodation as you would expect in a busy port on a major ferry route.

Most holiday accommodation is found along the west coast which has the beach resorts geared to the package holiday market. Visiting rock climbers stay in the beach resorts of Massouri, Armeos and Myrties, as these are located below many of the most popular crags. The resorts have a wide range of accommodation from expensive hotel complexes through to budget hotels, self-catering apartments, villas and rooms to let.

It is recommended to book accommodation in advance especially when visiting Kalymnos in May or October, the most popular months for climbing and the Kalymnos Hoteliers Association has a website

The monasteries of the Evangelist and St Catherine have hostels for visitors. There are no campsites on Kalymnos and casual camping is not encouraged.

Getting around Kalymnos

The two main roads on Kalymnos run along the south coast through Pothia and north-west from Pothia to the west coast resorts. Another small road that runs north-west from the east coast village of Vathi to Stimenia.

Steep bends and narrow roads make driving difficult. The streets of Pothia were resurfaced in 2005 after years of neglect.

Taxis cruise the main route from Pothia to Massouri but disappear around 11pm when the last ferries have pulled in from Telendos. Buses are cheap and punctual, though not very frequent, and you must get a ticket before you board from the local supermarket or kiosk. Kalymnos bus timetables can be found here.

The rugged limestone landscape makes Kalymnos ideal for walkers and rock climbers. In spring, the hillsides are swathed in thyme and oregano making for pleasant aromatic walking and food for the Kalymnos island bees and flavour for the honey on sale in many island shops.

A paved donkey track that leads from Pothia to Vathi is considered one of the best walks in the Greek islands.

How to get to Kalymnos

By air

A small Kalymnos Airport (JKL) is located at Argos, a few kilometres from the port capital of Pothia on the west coast near the resort of Panormos. There are scheduled services daily from Athens International airport.

The nearest international airport is on the neighbouring island of Kos, which not only takes domestic flights from Airlines but is also served by UK summer charters and some low-cost airlines during the summer months.

Kos International Airport (KGS) is located 26 kilometres west of Kos Town and about 10 kilometres south of the ferry port at Mastichari and many holidaymakers choose a flight to Kos and a ferry to Kalymnos.

The recent growth in cheap flights to Kos by no frills carriers such as easyJet and Ryanair have made a flight to Kos and a ferry to Kalymnos a popular option.

By ferry

Kalymnos is on the main Dodecanese ferry route for long and middle-distance traffic so trips to nearby islands like Kos, Leros, Patmos and Samos are not a problem.

The fast catamarans of Dodekanesos Seaways run daily services to and from Kos Town with a crossing time of around 45 minutes.

Blue Star Ferries also has three sailings week from Kos Town harbour with a journey time of about one hour and four sailings on the Piraeus to Kastellorizo route calling at Kalymnos, Kos and Rhodes.

Daily ferry services operate from the small port of Mastichari on the north coast of Kos. ANEK Kalymnos runs car ferries, the ‘Olympios Appollon’ and ‘Olympios Zeus’ while the smaller, faster passengers boat Kalymnos Star travels to Pothia on Kalymnos via the islet of Pserimos. There are several sailings daily but times depend on the season. It also runs services to Samos three times a week and to Astypalia on Monday to Thursday.

The Bodrum Ferryboat runs service from Kalymnos to Bodrum and Turgutries in Turkey with a crossing time of about 75 minutes.

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