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Kastelorizo

Kastelorizo

So you think you know the Greek islands? Here's a test. Find Kastelorizo on the map. No cheating. OK. How'd you do? If you were using an actual paper map like the one the Greek National Tourist Organization used to give out then you have probably given up so I will save you the shame of spending the rest of the day searching for it. It is not actually on the map. There is a little box insert southeast of Rhodes because it is so far from the rest of the Dodekanese Islands that to include it a quarter of Turkey would have to be on the map too. If you cheated and searched Google and found it on the map how many times did you have to click on the zoom-out button before you saw any other familiar Greek Island? Kastelorizo is so far off the beaten path that if it was in Siberia it would be at the North Pole. But Greece is not Siberia and Kastelorizo is a much more pleasant place to visit than the North Pole, in fact it may be one of the most beautiful places you have never been.

Kastelorizo

Located off the coast of Turkey between Marmaris and Antalya, Kastelorizo is just one mile from the coast of Turkey and around 78 miles east of Rhodes. It is actually not the most eastern island of Greece. Stroggili holds that distinction but it is uninhabited, though it has a lighthouse which is the eastern most building in Greece. A third island in the vicinity is called Ro which is also uninhabited though up until 1982 a woman named Despina Achladioti lived there with her husband and her mother. She was known as The Lady of Ro and every day until she died she would raise the Greek flag. There are ruins of fortifications from the Hellenistic period on Ro too.

These three islands along with the other Dodekanese were Italian from the time the Kingdom of Italy, as it was known then, occupied them during the Italian-Turkish War of 1911. The 1919 Venizelos-Tittoni Agreement stated that Italy was to cede these islands which had primarily Greek inhabitants to Greece.  Unfortunately the treaty was never implemented because of the Asia Minor Catastrophe; the defeat of the Greek Army in Anatolia which led to the exchange of populations. The Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, formally annexed the Dodecanese to Italy. (See Venizelos and the Asia Minor Catastrophe in Matt's History of Greece)

The Convention between Italy and Turkey, signed in Ankara on January 4, 1932 made Kastelorizo, Stroggili, Ro and several smaller islands (islets) Italian and gave Turkey several other islets off the Turkish coast. In 1947 the Dodecanese islands became part of Greece. But because of a poor island economy many of Kastelorizo's inhabitants moved to Perth and Sydney, Australia where they are known as "Kazzies". There was a Turkish minority on the island during the Ottoman period though during the exchange of populations of 1923 they were relocated to Antalya. But they left behind a small cemetery, a hamam (bath) and the mosque that is now a museum. At its peak there were more than 10,000 people living on Kastelorizo mostly involved in sea trade, sponge fishing and production of charcoal. By the 1920's most of the population had moved abroad and today there are less than 500 year round inhabitants though many more in the summer.

Kastelorizo 1836-38
 Kastelorizo 1836-38 Carne, John. Syria, The Holy Land, Asia Minor by W.H. Bartlett

The island's original Greek name given by the Dorians is Megisti which means large, even though it is the smallest of the inhabited Dodecanese islands. It is however the largest of the small archipelago of which it is a part of, and being the only inhabited island it is the administrative center of the Municipality, known as the South Aegean Municipality of Megisti known as Kastellorizo.

Kastelorizo is the Italian name, Kastelo means castle, and was thought to come from the 14th Century Castle built by the Knights of Saint John which overlooks the harbor and several small islets in the bay outside the harbor. However the name was used in the 12th century. So common sense would tell you that the Knights built their castle on the site of an earlier, Byzantine or Hellenistic castle or Acropolis.

The rizo part is even less clear with some people believing it comes from rosso, meaning red, so Castel Rosso means Red Castle in Venetian. Others believe that it came from Kastel Ruggio, based on old maps. Anyway it doesn't really matter unless you are an historian. It is called Kastelorizo  or Megisti though to further complicate things it is called Meis in Turkey.

Kastelorizo

There is one town on the island, a beautiful harbor town called Megisti by the locals but also known as Kastelorizo or Hora. It is one of the best natural harbors in the Mediterranean and is pretty much automobile free. The colorful buildings, many of which were destroyed by bombs in the Second World War, are mostly old and similar to the style you will find in Anatolia with wooden balconies. There are a couple buildings left over from the Italian occupation, notably the remnants of the former Italian government house, the Palazzina della Delegazione.  It was built in 1926 by the Italian architect Florestano Di Fausto, considered the most important architect of Mussolini's Fascist regime, whose buildings can be found in Rhodes, Leros, Kos, Tripolis (Libya), Albania and of course in Italy.

Kastelorizo, Megisti, Greece

There is very little modern development, no ugly apartment buildings or ostentatious summer homes though there is some recent restoration work going on. A waterfront of fishing boats, cafes, restaurants and small hotels make this an ideal island for people who enjoy the old style of Greek island entertainment, sitting, eating and drinking and walking and then doing it again. On the eastern side of town is the neighborhood of Horafia, where there is a square with two churches, the Byzantine style Agios Georgos, built in 1906, and the Cathedral of Saints Constantine and Eleni built in 1835. There is also Ta Platania Taverna, probably the least touristy and most authentic traditional restaurant on the island.

Mandraki, Kastelorizo

If you continue on the road going east past Horafia on the southeast side of the castle is another sheltered bay called Mandraki where there is a marina for boaters, a couple restaurants, a small shaded beach very nice for families and children, some rooms to let and the church of Agios Stavros and its cemetery.

Kastelorizo and castle

Things to See in Kastelorizo

The castle which the island is named for is above the harbor on your left as you sail into the bay. It is not the most spectacular castle in Greece but if you have not seen a lot of castles in your life you will be impressed, especially if you take the time to go up there and look around. The Knights of Saint John arrived on the island from Cyprus in 1306, three years before they got to Rhodes, and they built or restored this castle from previous fortifications around 1380. In 1440 Mameluk Sultan Djemal-el-din Yusef of Egypt destroyed the castle but in 1450 Bernat de Villamari of Aragon restored it. In 1523 Kastelorizo was captured by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I along with the other islands of the Dodecanese. In 1659 the castle was bombarded and destroyed again by a French-Venetian fleet. The Turks returned and reconstructed some, but not all of it. The castle is known as Agios Nicholaos for the two adjoining 17th century churches, one for Saint Nicholas and the other for Saint Dimitrious, which were partially destroyed by bombing in the Second World War but restored in 1995. On the same headland is a hamam (Turkish bath) and an 18th century windmill. There is a 4th-century BC Lycian tomb below the castle, the only one in Greece.

The Archaeological Museum of Kastellorizo is located in Konaki which is part of the Castle complex. It is in the district on the left side when entering the harbor, in a two-story building, the ground floor of which dates back to the years of the Knights, while the second floor is an addition of the 19th century from during the Turkish occupation. The museum contains sculptures of the early Christian period, stone anchors and amphorae collected from the sea, findings from ancient Megisti, samples of early Christian sculpture, frescoes from Ag. Nikolaou, icons, drawings and photographs of post-Byzantine monuments of the island, and traditional costumes, embroidery, ceramics, and other folk art items. It is open Tue-Sun 8:30-15:00. Just a few steps away is the Old Mosque Popular Art Museum housed in a former Turkish Mosque on the waterfront.

Paliokastro which means Old Castle, is the oldest fortification settlement on the island dating from the 3rd century bc. Located about a mile from town on the top of a hill there was a Byzantine settlement here with several houses and 5 churches of which 3 remain. The other two were destroyed in the Second World War along with the houses. Panagia tou Kastrou and Agios Stefanos churches are within the castle grounds and there are ten cisterns built during the Turkish period below.

Blue Cave, Kastelorizo

The Blue Cave, also known as the Perasta Cave is about a 20 minute boat ride from the port. The cave has a very low and narrow entrance which a boat can enter on calm days but if it is rough be prepared to swim in. If you are not a good swimmer stay in the boat or go on a day when you know for sure the boat can get through the opening. There are several boats in the port doing excursions for about 10 euro a person. Once you get inside it is whole other world, the interior of the cave is impressively large and the blueness of the sea ilumnated by the light from the entrance is quite dramatic. Some people come to Kastelorizo just for this experience and say that it is more beautiful than the more famous Blue Grotto in Capri. Go in the morning when the light inside the cave is at its best. Further south is another cave at Kolones.

The Church of Agios Panteleimonos is a former Monastery, located a mile from town, near Paleokastroi. This fortified complex also includes some ruins from the Byzantine period. The church celebrates its panigiri on July 27th, the feast day of Saint Panteleimon.

The 18th century fortified Monastery of Aghios Georgios tou Vounou is a half hour walk from the town with splendid views along the way though you have to climb around 400 steps to reach it. (Ask at your hotel if you will need the key from the priest or caretaker because it is a long way to go and find it locked). Bring water too just in case. The monastery contains the Crypt of Saint Haralambos and some beautiful mosaic floors. If you are thin you may be able to go into the nearly vertical crypt though most people will probably chose not to because it looks kind of scary.

Though it is closed and can only be admired from outside Agios Georgos tou Horafiou is a beautiful but neglected church that was started in 1904 and never completed because the island ran out of money. It was built on the foundations of another church that was built in the 17th century and destroyed in 1902, close to Mandraki bay.

Kastelorizo swimming

Swimming and Snorkeling

Kastelorizo is not an island where you will find those iconic beaches you have seen in all the tourist brochures. Like Hydra in the Saronic Gulf, people swim off the rocks, usually on platforms, small docks with ladders like you find in swimming pools to get in and out. You can find nice swimming areas in the harbor in front of the Megisti Hotel and, right across, at the Faros Café. Another good spot is the concrete platform next to the Agnanti Hotel on the road to Mandraki, in Mandraki and at Plakes, Faros and Kavos. While some might find this disappointing those who prefer being underwater to being above it will discover some of the best snorkeling in Greece. Those who like me find sand to be a nuisance will be fine.

Agios Giorgos Island, Kastelorizo

The Island of Saint George is one of the best places to swim and the water taxi boats go there regularly. It is a 15 minute trip that costs about 5 euros and they will drop you off and pick you up at a designated time. The island is named for the small white church and there is a restaurant, sun-beds for rent and some pebble and sandy swimming areas in a sheltered bay. You can even see caretta-caretta turtles here and swim with them. Bring a mask, snorkel and flippers if you have them. If you don't then buy a set. There is lots of sea life and if you are used to the underwater desert-scape of some of the other islands you will be pleasantly surprised at what there is to see here. Keep your eyes open for monk seals. They are here too. The excursion boats also do other trips to small islets and beaches around the island. Captain Antonis gets high marks for reliability and character and he has a fast boat. There is also a sandy beach on the uninhabited island of Ro that can be visited.

Kastelorizo-Megisti restaurants

Restaurants

The family owned Alexandra's Restaurant is located right on the waterfront overlooking the sea and may be the best place to begin your eating experience and then compare the meals at other restaurants to. Known for its fresh seafood and their use of the fresh and healthy ingredients, the dishes people keep coming back for are the grilled octopus, stuffed kalamari, seafood risotto, vrithopites (chickpea fritters), the fried red baby Symi shrimp (which are popular in this part of the Mediterranean), grilled thrapsala (large squid), grilled skaros (ask them to grill them as they are, guts scales and all-trust me), grilled swordfish steaks and fresh lobster with pasta. For those carnivores try the kontosouvli (rotisserie pork), paidaikia (grilled lamb chops) or whatever whole beast they are roasting be it lamb, goat, pig or chicken. As for kakavia or psarosoupa (fish soup) and if they have it get it to share. Sit by the sea and watch for turtles. They also know where to find good food. This restaurant was recommended by many people in my Greece Travel Group on Facebook for their excellent food, fabulous setting and friendly service.

Ta Platania is located away from the harbor close to the 3 churches of Saint George of Horafia, Saint George of Santrape and Koimisi Theotokou half way between the harbor and Mandraki. It serves authentic home-style Greek cooking and lots of local specialties as well as many familiar dishes. Try the stuffed onions known by the Turkish term souam dormasi, and the vrithopites (chickpea fritters), papoutsakia (stuffed eggplants), dolmades, octopus stifado, and lots more in this family owned restaurant in a remote village setting, compared to the more touristy restaurants in the port. Order the horiatiki salad with kritamos and spicy peppers. Meat lovers should go for the roast lamb and potatoes.

Mandraki Seafood Restaurant is hidden away in Mandraki Bay serving fresh fish (they have a boat), oysters, clams, shrimp and lobster pasta, and lots of mezedes. Great spot for ouzo and meze. Then some more ouzo and meze. Then wine and dinner. It is a 5 or 10 minute walk from the main harbor and is right on the sea.

Old Story-Old Time is a traditional family run taverna on the waterfront with friendly service and familiar dishes like mousaka, soutsoukakia, oven baked lamb and potatoes, and other simple foods cooked to perfection, like Yaya used to make, if your Yaya (grandmother) happened to be Greek.

Little Paris is a friendly family owned restaurant away from the others on the far side of the harbor, serving fresh fish at very reasonable prices and the usual Greek and island dishes. They also have very nice home made wine. They have perhaps the best view of any of the waterfront restaurants.

There are at least a dozen other restaurants, most if not all of them serving traditional Greek dishes with an emphasis on seafood. If the above are full and you don't want to wait for a table chances are if you pick another at random you will be quite happy. Remember that like any island you want to always look at the fish before you order it and that expensive fish is sold by the kilo so get it weighed first so you are not surprised at the bill. What does a fresh fish look like? The eyes are clear. If the eyes are cloudy you don't want it. By the way, I forgot to mention this but from 10:30 am to around 3pm there are visitors from Kars, Turkey who arrive by daily excursion boat, so the waterfront restaurants can get crowded.

Blue Star Ferry

Getting to Kastelorizo

For being such a remote island there are a surprising number of ways to get here. The easiest way is to fly. Yes there is an airport and there are flights from Athens though you have to stop in Rhodes. Check with Aegean Air or Olympic (kind of the same thing) and note the length of the flight. There are some flights that have a short stop in Rhodes and some that have you waiting for hours for your connection. Some days the flight takes a couple hours and other days as many as 20 hours.

Blue Star Ferries goes from Pireaus to Kastelorizo a couple times a week and takes about 23 hours. (Get a cabin!) It stops at 6 islands before you get there so think of it as a cruise. Blue Star Ferries are pretty nice so with a cabin its not a stretch. The Sunday ferry stops in Astypalia, Kalymnos, Kos, Nisyros, Tilos, Rhodes and finally Kastelorizo. The Thursday ferry stops at Ikaria, Fourni, Patmos, Lipsi, Kalymnos, Kos, Nisyros, Tilos, Symi, Rhodes. So as you can see it is an entertaining trip though  it being 23 hours long that means half of it is at night. There are also local boats from Rhodes and Symi during the summer. The Rhodes boat is a hydrofoil, one of the larger ones but still not fun in rough weather. The Symi route is a real ferry.  Use Ferryhopper to find all direct and indirect ferry routes to Kastelorizo.

There are also daily boats from Kas, Turkey which is not included in Ferryhopper but you can check their website. They are a ferry company but they also do day tours. There are also boats in the harbor that will take you to Turkey. Ask at Papoutsis Travel and Eleonora Boat Trips, both in the harbor.

Beyond Borders Documentary Film Festtival
Beyond Borders International Film Festival

Launched in 2016 by the Hellenic History Foundation (IDISME) in Athens ,co-organized with the Region of South Aegean and internationally supported by the Association Ecrans des Mondes in Paris, “Beyond Borders” offers European, Mediterranean and overseas audiences once a year, a collection of compelling films dealing with historical, cross-cultural events, trends and personalities that have shaped our countries, peoples and civilizations. The objective of this “boutique” documentary festival is to celebrate the excellence in cinematographic storytelling centered on History and Society. Beyond Borders is about History now and before, here and everywhere.

The one-week Festival is rooted on the idyllic island of Kastellorizo on the edge of the Aegean Sea, a place of breath-taking natural beauty that is perpetually neglected and mostly unknown. It offers the chance to celebrate culture and innovative cinematography all the while organizing a multitude of cultural side-events that appeal to island natives and visitors alike.

Prizes for Best History Documentary, Best Socio-political Documentary, Best Greek  Documentary, Best Short Length Documentary will be awarded by the Hellenic Parliament.  EKOME, Aristotle’s Univesity of Thessaloniki & SteFilm Post Production will also provide awards.

Beyond Borders has also instituted Partnerships with Media Organizations and Academic Institutions that uphold the values it represents. Without neglecting its roots, the Festival continues to seek partnerships with other institutions, conferences, screenings and festivals across the globe, dedicated to historical and geo-political programming. But above all, it is about discovering necessary and unforgettable films and meeting with the people that make and share them.  For more information visit Beyond Borders Festival

Speaking of film, the Academy Award winning film Mediterraneo took place here. This Italian war comedy-drama film directed by Gabriele Salvatores and written by Enzo Monteleone is set during World War II and is about a group of Italian soldiers who are left behind by the war. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1992.

Agnanti Studios, Megisti
 Agnanti Studios

Hotels, Rooms and Houses

Built according to the local architecture, the seafront Agnanti Studios is located in Megisti, a short walk from the taverns and right on the sea with its own swimming and sunbathing platform. It offers self-catering units with free Wi-Fi and unobstructed views over the Aegean Sea. Housed in 2 neoclassical buildings and just 100 feet from the beach, the seafront Poseidon is 1,000 feet from the main port in Kastelorizo. The studios are equipped with dark wood furnishings, free Wi-Fi and a balcony or terrace.  They all include a kitchenette, fridge, coffee-tea-facilities and a flat-screen satellite TV with DVD player. The traditionally-built Moments Apartments offers self-catering units with free WiFi access and balconies. It lies within 1,300 feet from the Archaeological Museum of Megisti. Each unit features an open-plan kitchenette or kitchen with dining and living area. A fridge, a washing machine, an electric oven and a flat-screen TV are included in all units. Maria's Apartments provides air-conditioned accommodations with a balcony and free WiFi. The apartment is located on the ground floor and features 1 bedroom, a flat-screen TV and a fully equipped kitchen that provides guests with a fridge, an oven, a washing machine, a stovetop and a toaster. Located in the picturesque harbor and beach of Mandraki, Mandraki Paradise features a patio. The kitchenette is equipped with an oven, a toaster and a fridge, as well as a coffee machine and a kettle. Megisti Hotel is located on the east side of Kastellorizo’s beautiful natural harbor between the cape of Agios Stephanos and Nifti. Because of its incredible location, Megisti Hotel boasts a private area for one to enjoy swimming or snorkeling in Kastellorizo’s crystal clear waters. Located on the main square, Alexandra Pension is just a 5-minute walk from Megisti Port and 350 feet from the beach. It is surrounded by a garden and offers simple accommodations with mountain views. Rooms at Alexandra include a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, a mini fridge and electric kettle. A hairdryer and free toiletries stock the modern bathroom. Some rooms are more spacious with wooden floors and a dining area.

You can find more hotels, rooms, apartments and villas by using Matt's Kastelorizo Hotels Search

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