Greece's best kept secret
Halki island: the Hidden Paradise
Characterized by Unesco as the island of Peace and Friendship,Halki(Chalki, Khalki)is a jewel of an island, small and rocky, situated some 6 km (4 miles) west of the island of Rhodes in the Dodecanese Archipelago. With an area of 28 km2 (11 sq miles) and a population of a few hundred people in the summer, it is one of the smallest inhabited islands not only in the Aegean but in all of Greece.
This unspoiled, unique, colorful and undiscovered by mass tourism fisher-island is lately seeing a steady flow of visitors who come for its relaxation value. Almost abandoned at the turn of the 20th century, when the sponge-fishing industry took a nosedive, Halki existed in forgotten silence for many years.
The climate of Chalki is very dry and therefore very pleasant for vacationing. Normally the last rains fall by the end of April and start again at the end of October, providing ample opportunity for swimming in the meantime. The region is famous for long, sunny summers with temperatures ranging between 25° and 35° Celsius.
Halki is an “anti-stress” destination where bibliophiles, poets, writers, spiritually motivated individuals, religious walkers, romantic couples, families with kids or just people that want to get away from “it all”, swim in crystal clear waters, take a deep breath of sea breeze, sit by the port, hear and watch the fishing boats leave or return, hear the church bells inviting them to Liturgy, observe the night sky with the countless stars, and the glowing moon reflected in the sea. The days in Halki are filled with calmness, romance, sea dives, fishing, snorkeling, exploring the island, tasting the local Greek cuisine and enjoying the local aperitifs and wines.
The impressive Emborio (or Nimborio) is the only inhabited village of the island. A quiet fishing port village amphitheatrically built around the harbor with traditional island-style mansions of extreme beauty. Most of them are recently restored to their former glory. Made out of stone with colored shutters and white frames or entirely painted in bright colors, they signify the old prosperity of the island. Even those that are still in a state of disrepair – yet slowly being renovated – overgrown with weeds and decrepit, contribute to astonish the visitor. Car traffic is prohibited once the ferries have come and gone, so the waterside always enjoys a relaxing, vehicle-free setting.
Most commercial services and accommodation options are within 200m of the harbor. The streets of the village are paved with stones, and the village justifiably holds a leading position in the list with the most picturesque villages of the Greek islands.
The inhabitants, two hundred and fifty in total, are occupied with fishing, farming and tourism. Summer evenings are “filled with life”, but not with noise.
Cars are not needed and there is no pollution at all. The water is crystal clear even inside the “harbor” and the houses are built on the seaside, giving the unique opportunity to jump into the water even directly beneath your house.
Worth visiting in Emborio are: the church of St. Nicolas, the building of the City Hall, recently renovated; in front of it, the impressive Clock Tower (the clock was stopped years ago by the inhabitants because it was… too noisy);and nearby the only School of today, that constitutes a special and impressive building. Halki’s traditional house-museum is also nearby. From traditional embroideries and crochets to crockery, from the olden-day cooking utensils to the delicate yet beautiful decoration of the rooms, the traditional house of Halki opens a window to all visitors who wish to learn more about the lives of the people on this glorious and much loved island.
...is the heart of the village of Emborio and takes on the role of a market square: there, people gather to talk, drink coffee, play tavli (backgammon) or have a drink at one of the café-bars and pastry shops, or eat fresh fish and local specialties at one of the traditional tavernas enjoying the magnificent view to Halki’s colorful mansions and listening to the sound of the wind flowing through the masts of the sailboats moored at Halki’s small marina. Strangely enough inside this couple of hundreds of square meters you can find everything that you could possibly need at one of the supermarkets, local shops, pharmacy, and kiosk or at the traditional bakery.
Cars or motorcycles are banned in the center after 19.00 unless there is a boat coming or leaving. During August more traffic is to be seen caused by the many boats that are coming or leaving. There is not much of nightlife. Nevertheless the café-bars play, at a lower volume, international or Greek hits till the early morning hours. There are also two small sound isolated air-conditioned “clubs” where the younger ones transform the heat (or the alcohol) of the day into dancing sweat.
- Transport: Boats arrive and leave daily from or to Rhodes (1 hour) and three times a week from Athens and Crete. One mini bus, one taxi and water taxis are available at reasonable prices (rates per person)
- Excursions: Beside the island’s excursions (beaches, castle, monasteries etc) the main destination offered for excursions is Rhodes (old town, Butterfly valley, Ancient Kamiros, Castle of Monolithos, Lindos etc) and the neighboring islands Alimnia, Karpathos, Kos, Nisiros and Tilos
- Fishing: For a small fee fishermen accept visitors to accompany them for fishing on their “caique”. Caught fishes are consumed either on site at some makeshift barbecue next to the sea or packed to be backed at home. Tavernas allow the customers to bring their own fish and bake it for them
- Local Kitchen: Fish, veal, pork and chicken cooked in the tasteful Dodecanese-Mediterranean way are served at the Tavernas. Pizza and Pasta also easy to find. Dishes are cooked in olive oil using local herbs. Many fruits and vegetables are available at the super markets as well. Try the local dishes: Halki pasta (with onions and goat cheese), Giaprakia (very small stuffed vineleaves), Halki shrimps (small unique shrimps caught around Halki), Stuffed Kalamari, Ofto (local lamb stuffed with minced meat, pine nuts, small pieces of liver, local herbs), yoghurt with Halki’s famous Thyme Honey. Halki is a fishermen island and there is daily plenty of fresh fish that you can either fish, buy or consume at the restaurants such as mullet, grouper, sea bream, cuttlefish, sword fish, small shrimps, squid (kalamari) and many others
- 1st of May : The inhabitants of the island scoot with their families in the fields, and especially in Pefkia, picking flowers, make amberjack wreaths and revel.
- Eastern: Throughout the Holy Week, Easter is celebrated in Halki’s unique traditional way in an atmosphere of devotion, with a impressive procession of the epitaph, the two resurrections culminating in the burning of Juda’s effigy in the church yard of St. Nicholas on Easter Sunday.
- St George: Especially celebrated in Alimnia where pilgrims are going from the previous days and sleep in the cells of the monastery.
- St John of Melas on the 23rd of June where the first Halki’s honey of the year is collected.
- The battle of Sikalies on the 6h of August. Those living on the left side of Emborio are “in war” with those living on the right side and figs, eggs, flower etc are thrown against each other. The “battle” ends with a dive in the sea in front of the piazza.
- The 14th of August in the old village takes place one of the two major feasts of the island celebrating the Holy Virgin Mary. The Icon of the Virgin starts at St. Nicolas’ church in Emborio and is carried by women of the island to the church of the Holy Virgin at the OldVillage for the mass. After the Vespers comes the celebration and dancing.The feast continues the next night as well in Emborio.
- The 28th of August at St.John monastery takes place the other major celebration of the island which continues as well the next night in Emborio.
- The 14th of September at Stavros monastery just above the OldVillage. On the eve there are Vespers, Holy Loaves, and free food offered by the Church Committee or by individuals who want to offer something to their compatriots.
- The 8th of October Archangel Michael is celebrated in the traditional way at Panormitis monastery and finally
- St.Nicolas on the 6th of December in Emborio.
- Nature: Halki is very dry and most of its water supply comes from desalination of sea water or from Rhodes. The rest is collected from the winter rain. During winter the island is relatively green and in spring you can see lots of rare flowers. But the summer is long in Halki and the lack of water is obvious. Nevertheless you can see hundreds beautiful white or colored bougainvilleas, fig trees, pine trees, prickly pears, cactuses and geranium that withstand the prolonged drought and combined with the wonderful old mansions give a superb spectacle.
- Internet: Free WiFi Internet is available from the municipality as well as at the cafés and at many rental houses.
- Telephones: Three mobile companies are accessible (3G) in Halki (Vodafone, Cosmote and Wind). Some call boxes exist as well, that accept phone cards available on the island.
- Drinks: Beer, Wine, Whisky, Vodka, Gin and cocktails are mostly consumed along with the Greek ouzo and souma (local grappa).
- Money: Currency is Euro. There is a Postbank and an ATM (cash mashine). Credit cards are accepted at a few tavernas only. Exchange is possible either at the Postbank or at one of the agencies.
- Sports and watersports: Footballfield (5X5), Basketball and Ping Pong at the school.
- Animals-Pets: Everywhere in Halki there are scattered sheep and goats. Some donkeys, plenty of dogs and cats as well. Pets are mostly allowed everywhere. Very often dolphins are following the boats to Halki, forcing passengers to capture the moment by endless photographing.
- Rentals: There are no rental cars or motorcycles.
- Doctors: One Doctor and one Nurse. Medication is available at the Pharmacy. Specialists like pediatrician and gynecologist come once a month. Halki has no dentist.
- Siesta: The hours of the summer afternoon are reserved for resting away from the heat. The convention is to observe quiet time between the hours of 14.30 and 17.30.
- Massage: Possible after appointment
- Post Office: Mail comes and goes 2-3 times a week, sometimes more often during the summer period. Stamps are available at the Super Markets as well.