2012 / october / 13

Halki, the quiet island

We wanted a holiday away from it all - the Greek island Halki turned out absolutely perfect. So perfect, that I wondered whether to write about this and let others in on this delightful secret… but here I am, why not. It’s far enough off the beaten path and relatively hard to get to, so I don’t think Halki could be spoilt anytime soon. And the people I’ve met there can certainly use that little bit of extra business.

Halki - Χάλκη (*) - is a quiet island in the Dodecanese, southwest of Rhodes. One hundred years ago, there were seven thousand souls living on this island and neighbouring Alimia. It’s hard to imagine now, in low-seasonal september. With two hundred inhabitants, and a similar amount of visitors, this island is blissfully quiet.


There’s just one village, leisurely arcing along a secluded bay. Because it leans against the steep hill, houses are built terraces-style, with narrow alleys inbetween. Unsuitable for cars. In fact, since (almost) every alley also has steps up and down, unsuitable for mopeds. Bliss.

Don't even think of driving here

Likewise, there are few roads on the island. Just one, really, leading up all the way to the monastery of St John, way up in a hidden highland. It’s quite a mountainous island, with three peaks each more than 600 metres above the sea. There must be some great treks up there, but not when it's scorching hot, thank you very much. I'll have to come in april some time for that.


It’s a small miracle that the island has not been given up. Two hundred is a small number to keep an isolated community going outside the season. Yet everything you need is there: a post office, a baker, a minimarket or two, taverna’s and a pasticceria, and last but not least, a proper school.

From the top

That school is the biggest miracle of all. A kindergarten, primary and highschool, they’re all there. Of forty pupils, twenty attend the highschool, which has twelve teachers to offer the full curriculum. The largest class has six children, the smallest one! We met the headmaster, he’s a friend of a friend, and his stories give an interesting perspective on life on the island, the real life. Like Spain and Italy, Greece uses a system of competitive examination for many government positions, including teaching jobs. If you want to become a teacher, and make it through the exam, you get a contract, but as a new recruit, you have no say where your employment will be, and typically, you have to get through one or two years on a remote outpost like Halki, before you get a chance to get a job in an urban environment. The downside is that few teachers stay longer than a few years, but the upside is that they are there at all. We visited the school one morning, the headmaster had invited us over, and had a brief chat with one of the teachers, who took it quite philosophically. Where else can you swim in the sea after work throughout the year?

Water coming in

The island used to have sweet water, but the levels have fallen below sea level, and the wells turned brackish. So another miracle is the weekly arrival of a tanker with fresh water. "It's always a relief when it comes", one shopkeeper told me, as this being Greece, you cannot rely too much on schedules.

View below

But let’s get back to our life as visiting tourist to this small but alive community. From our villa, it was twenty-five steps down to the bay for a morning swim. Even in the bay, the water was utterly clean and transparent. Bays and pebble beaches are scattered around the island, only three are relatively easy to access to on foot, or with the single island minibus. So we swum and snorkeled in wonderful tranquil water, warm enough to stay in for hours. And hung out beside the sea in the shade, staring at the islets and the water until time for another swim or a frappe. In the morning and the evening a little stroll through the village or around the hill. And that pretty sums up what there is to do.


A word on getting and staying there

Getting there is half the fun, and guarantees that the island won't be overrun with package tours anytime soon.
There are plenty of sites that give the details on how to get there. To and from Rhodes town, there's a catamaran three times a week that continues to Kos. Pricy and noisy, but it does the trick. Halki's also a stop on one regular ferry that continues to Karpathos, Crete and Piraeus, often at inconvenient times.
Then there are daily boats from Rhodes from Kamiros Skala harbour, which has one daily bus connection. From Rhodes it's quite convenient - the bus leaves Rhodes town at 1330, stops at the airport around twenty minutes later, and connects with the boat. Our bus ran late, and the driver called the boat to wait for us. On his mobile, of course, while speeding over 90 on the wobbly westcoast road, but hey. To get the bus the other way is less convenient, it forces you to leave Halki with a boat at seven in the morning. So for our itenerary we took the bus to Skala on the way to, and took the catamaron back to Rhodes and spent a few extra days there.
As for staying, both the Lonely Planet and Wikitravel wrote that it's best to book ahead, and that is indeed best. Halki's a bit exceptional in that. There are some agencies, as well as private houses for rent, we did the latter and it was great, as it was a real house full of personal touches. If the pictures inspire you, drop me a line and I can get you in contact with the owner.

More impressions here on flickr: Halki slideshow.


I'd like to go back sometime. In fact, I'm pretty certain that we will.

(*) Halki, Chalki, what?

I studied Greek at school, so I can read it (and recognize some words). The pronounciation however differs wildly between classical and modern Greek. In classical Greek I was taught to pronounce the Χ as a hard g, like a german or dutch ch. In modern greek, it is almost, but not quite, a soft h. Almost, but not quite - there is some light g in there. So this character at the beginning of a word can end up transcripted in english as CH, H, or even left out... and the name of the island can be seen written in western characters as Halki, Chalki or 'alki. Or Chalce, if you're lucky.

The Real Group Festival 2012 | main | Let's sing!





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