A quest for the holy grail of Greece is a constant challenge for some holidaymakers. They seek a place where time really has stood still, where what is often described as “authentic Greece” still thrives and where friendly locals welcome visitors like long lost friends.
Maybe the tiny Dodecanese island of Halki is that place.
Arriving at the blissful little port of Emborios sets the scene. Pastel-coloured houses with red-tiled roofs cluster around the horseshoe-shaped bay. Taverna tables are sprinkled along the quayside where colourful boats bob.
The smart captains’ houses clamber up an amphitheatre of rocky hills that are topped with three derelict windmills. A medieval castle built by the Crusaders peers down from a summit.
It’s so laid-back you can almost hear the silence.
For this is not only the smallest inhabited island in the Dodecanese, it is possibly the quietest. There are very few vehicles, only one real road and about 300 permanent residents. Everyone lives in Emborios, capital of an island where tranquillity reigns.
It’s been like that for years. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation told the world in 1983 that Halki was an island of peace and friendship. The locals have been proving Unesco right ever since by giving tourists the warmest of welcomes.
So what’s there?
Several beaches. Three have tavernas, sunshades and sunbeds. Two of those are only a short walk from town. There are other more remote beaches. A mini-bus and boats go to the beaches.
A deserted town. About 3,000 people lived in Horio on the castle hill when Halki was a rich centre of sponge fishing. That bubble burst in the 19th century and people gradually left until Horio became a ghost town of ruined houses, a school and church.
And more. Monasteries, churches and chapels, some in ruins. A warm aquamarine sea. A spine of hills and mountains. A church with a huge bell tower. Stone walls, goat pens, fig trees, wild herbs and prickly pear trees. A clock tower with four clock faces, none working.
So yes, Halki is the place where time stands still. It could be the relaxing getaway you’ve been dreaming about.