Knowing Greece well, I also knew a family trip to a Greek island in high summer would mean inflated prices, crowded beaches and suffocating sunsets. I was not keen to be one of the two million tourists who squish into Santorini annually. Even back in the summer of 1983, when I was working in Athens as an au pair, my friends and I were forced to sleep a night on the black sand beach of Santorini when we couldn’t find a place to stay.
So after a year of living in Athens and a honeymoon in the Greek islands, here I was bringing my grown children to gorgeous Greece for the first time and trying to choose an island where we wouldn’t become victims of the country’s “overtourism”.
Some friends suggested Kalymnos. They’ve been making an annual pilgrimage there for the past 15 years. “It’s nothing like any of the other Greek islands,” they urged us, “you’ll see.” We took their advice, and when Athenians kept asking us: “How did you even know about Kalymnos?” we felt reassured we’d made a good choice.
The fourth largest island in the Dodecanese group, Kalymnos is 12km from the better-known island of Kos and only a 45 minute ferry ride from Turgutreis on the coast of Turkey.
Despite the hair-raising smack of a landing on the short runway atop the mountain airport, I was grateful for the 50 minute flight from Athens compared with the prospect of a 10 hour ferry ride from its main port of Piraeus.
A 20 minute taxi ride brought us to the western side of the island, home to the string of popular beaches Mirties, Massouri and Melistahas.
Of course location is everything on a beachside holiday, and our AirBnB in MelitsahasBeach completely over delivered. We were 100 metres from the shore in a two-storey house with stacks of space for our tribe, and stunning views across the water to the majestic little island of Telendos. Our vista, though, was a hundred times better from our rooftop, where we felt truly privileged to have a private sunset viewing each evening, gin and tonic in hand.
Summer sunsets on the Cycladic islands mean sharing the scenery, shoulder to shoulder, with hundreds of others. On Kalymnos however, your spacious sunset view is guaranteed if you find yourself accommodation - or even a spot in one of the numerous tavernas - looking towards Telendos from Mirties or Masouri. Yes it’s busy in summer, but it’s beautifully bearable.
What gives Kalymnos its unique wow factor is its landscape. Immense, barren limestone cliffs plunging into the blue, blue sea; and off its dusty, windy oleander-lined roads, are some of the prettiest, emptiest beaches you’ll find anywhere in the Aegean.
The island’s cliffs attract around 10,000 international climbers every year, and it stages a climbing festival each October. Look closely as you drive around and you’ll see the brave souls dotted over the rocky hillsides.
Climbing was not for us. Beach exploring was though, so a hire car for a couple of days meant we accessed some of the island’s best beaches. Like so many other visitors here, our eldest daughter hired a motorbike – but be warned, those hairy, cliff top roads can be perilous, with unforgiving edges and regular rock falls.
Check the map first then put these on your list. Emporeios Beach has a row of olive trees for shade; Arginonta is a brilliant blue cove crowned by those magic cliffs; while Vlychadia – 6km south west of Pothia is very pretty, with a funky taverna called Paradiso offering bean bags and a couple of free
kayaks along with their fare. My favourite day trip was Vathis on the eastern side, where we hired kayaks for a spectacular paddle around the bay on clear water dwarfed by arid cliffs.
It’s a windy, slightly scary trek on mountainous roads to reach the pebbly Palionisou Beach but this is again, another divine spot for a swim and a local lunch.
Regardless of the remoteness of a beach, you’ll always find a family run taverna. Always ask what the specials are. You can’t go wrong with dishes like freshly fried sardines or octopus; or the traditional zucchini balls or moussaka, with the bill usually coming in at a very reasonable 10€ per head, inclusive of a 500ml local beer like Fix or Mythos.
For a magic dining experience, though, head over to Telendos at sunset. Only accessible by boat, the island - population 49 - broke off from Kalymnos in an earthquake in 554AD.
From the jetty at Mirties, boats chug over and back every hour for two Euro per person. You can dine at one of the handful of tavernas along the water’s edge, looking across to Kalymnos as the evening lights come on. No need to rush your meal – the boats will take you back well after midnight.
The port town of Pothia is worth a full day trip to take in the island’s sponge diving history, its architecture and to pick up local products like thyme-infused honey and of course, a real sea sponge to remind you of this beautiful, uncrowded island, every time you take a shower.
IF YOU GO
Kalymnos is a 10 hour ferry trip from Piraeus; a 45 minute ferry ride from the island of Kos; or a 50 minute flight from Athens on Sky Express.
We stayed at Villa Mela , Melistahas Beach, and booked through Airbnb. Our host was the lovely Irini.