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Late October. There was barely a scrap of cloud amid the endless blue sky, and the heat of the long, hot summer could still be felt in the glittering Aegean Sea. The summer crowds had all but dispersed, with just a few stragglers taking advantage of the cooler days to hike the island’s barren paths. I’d been invited to join one of my clients, Nissia Holidays, on the tiny island of Halki as they closed up for the season. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

An hour or so from Rhodes by ferry, Halki feels a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the largest and most popular Dodecanese Island. Despite living on nearby Tilos for seven months back in 2006, I’d never seen Halki and was excited to explore this quirky island and see for myself why UNESCO called it the ‘Island of Peace and Friendship’.

Halki fishing boats and the silent clock tower
Halki fishing boats and the silent clock tower

As the ferry chugged in we passed rows of striking Italianate houses, bathed in warm Mediterranean hues and stacked against the side of the barren hills that surround the harbour like an amphitheatre. Three sail-less windmills preside over the island’s only town, Emborio, from their hilltop vantage point, while the white wedding-cake spire of St Nicholas and silent clock-tower stand proud above the town roofs.

Halki harbour with the three windmills in the distance
Halki harbour with the three windmills in the distance

The story behind the silent clock tower says a lot about the essence of Halki. The bells once chimed, noisily, every 15 minutes until the people of Emborio cried, ‘no more!’ A decision was made to stop the clock and peace was restored, save the cawing of jackdaws that flock around the tower, coming to rest on the mute bells within. As someone who’s sensitive to noise and rather partial to a good night’s sleep, I wholeheartedly approve.

The bell tower of St Nicholas Church at Emborio, Halki
The bell tower of St Nicholas Church and Halki harbour

Emborio’s main church is, fittingly, dedicated to St Nicholas, patron saint of sailors and fishermen. The gorgeous mansions lining the harbour illustrate the island’s wealth in the late 19th century, thanks to its thriving sponge-fishing industry. While those days are long gone, fishing is still an important part of daily life on Halki.

Fishing nets on Halki harbour
Fishing nets on Halki harbour

In the lazy days of late October, many of the tavernas had closed for the season, reducing the demand for fish and seafood. While the occasional boat puttered in and out to sate the appetite of the islanders, many of the boats bobbed silently, the water beneath so clear they looked like they were floating on air.

Tree and empty taverna
Harbourside taverna, Emborio

Every morning, I slipped in the water next to my house for a refreshing dip, gliding between boats as fishermen pottered onboard to close them down for winter. On my favourite morning swim, I was joined by a different sort of fisherman. A brilliant electric-blue-and-orange kingfisher darted past, looping around me twice as if to check me out before landing on the tree outside my house and peering at me curiously.

Fisherman pottering on his boat in Halki harbour
Fisherman pottering on his boat in Halki harbour

I followed my morning swims with a cheeky sunbathe, greedily soaking up the warmth of the late autumn rays until they left the cosy confines of my terrace. Later, I spent my time wandering slowly around Emborio, admiring the beautiful houses with their colourful shutters and marvelling at how even tumbledown buildings could be so beautiful.

Shutters, Halki
Shutters in Emborio, Halki
Abandoned building, Halki
Tumbledown beauty in Emborio

On my final days in Halki, I left the peace and tranquillity of Emborio to explore the old village and a few of the pretty churches and monasteries dotted around its barren interior. As we puttered up the steep road out of town, we stopped at a viewpoint where I hopped off the bike to drink in the glorious view. From this vantage point just behind the small church of Stavros, I marvelled at how an island so close to Rhodes could be so different in character.

View over Emborio with Rhodes in the distance
View over Emborio with Rhodes in the distance

Huge thanks to Daffy, Meni & Steve at Nissia Holidays for inviting me to join them for their end of season party on Halki (it wasn’t a noisy party, don’t worry!), for their philoxenia (Greek hospitality) and island tour. Nissia Holidays are specialists in the unspoilt Greek islands of Halki and Tilos – I’ve been working with them over the past year under my copywriter’s hat, providing blog posts and rewriting parts of their website. I was invited to stay at the cosy Villa Nikos throughout my visit, so I could see for myself why this little island is so special. 

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  1. Looks wonderful – we are Greek Island hopping in May from Andros to Symi. How do you get to Halki – is it only from Rhodes ?

    • It is a wonderful slice of magic in the Aegean and will be superb in May! But yes, it’s mainly from Rhodes. The Dodekanisos Pride runs twice weekly from Rhodes Town, there are three locals ferries that run from Kamiros Skala in Rhodes, and Blue Star usually has a ferry there at least once a week, I think. Try Tilos too while you’re down this way – it’s another wonderful, quiet little island.

  2. Thanks for the advice. We have visited Symi many times and heard about Halki and Tilos but never made it there so hopefully will be able to include them in our itinerary this year.

    • Hi Metta,
      Thanks for dropping by! Yes, Halki is a breathtakingly beautiful island with such friendly people. Have you ever been? And thanks for the photography compliment – I’m working to improve all the time! 🙂

  3. You take amazing pictures. The way that you describe Halki makes it seem like a very beautiful place to be. Your words are very descriptive and i could almost see the beauty from here.

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      Ah, thank you! I think it’s difficult to take a bad picture of Halki – it’s such a beautiful island and Emborio is so photogenic! Have you ever visited? Really glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

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