The main reason to venture to the atypically green, pine-covered hills surrounding the little gulf of Panormitis is to visit this unexpectedly grand monastery dedicated to Symi's patron saint, the protector of sailors. The site's entrance is surmounted by an elaborate bell tower, of the multilevel wedding-cake variety on display in Yialos and Chorio. A black-and-white pebble mosaic adorns the floor of the courtyard, which is surrounded by a vaulted stoa. The interior of the church, entirely frescoed in the 18th century, contains a marvelously ornate wooden iconostasis, which is flanked by a heroic-size 18th-century representation of Michael, all but his face covered with silver. There are two small museums devoted to Byzantine and folk art. The Byzantine includes a collection of votive offerings, including an enchanting collection of wooden ship models and bottles with notes containing wishes and money in them, which, according to local lore, travel to Symi
on their own after having been thrown into the sea. A trip to the monastery can be accompanied by a refreshing swim at the designated edges of the deep-blue harbor. There's bus service twice a day from Yialos, which passes through Chorio, and boats from Yialos and Rhodes daily. You can also hike to the monastery along a well-marked route from Chorio; the distance is about 10 km (6 miles) but can certainly seem longer if you don't set out early enough to avoid the heat of the day. Several tour companies organize day trips to the monastery, with time for a swim and a hike and lunch in the surrounding countryside.
If a day trip isn't enough for you, the monastery rents 60 spartan rooms (22460/72414) with kitchens and private baths. Though the price doesn't include a towel or air-conditioning and there are insects (some rather large), the spiritual aspect makes for an enriching experience. A nursing home as well as a market, bakery, restaurant, and a few other business make up the rest of the settlement. The monastery is at its busiest for the week leading up to November 8, Michael's feast day., an event that draws the faithful from throughout the Dodecanese and beyond.
Symi's south side, at harbor, Symi, 85600, Greece