In this destination guide we visit the island of Kastellorizo (Megisti), Greece’s easternmost island.
The outer fringes of Greece
The island of Kastellorizo (sometimes called Megisti or Meyisti) is the easternmost island not only of the Dodecanese archipelago but of entire of Greece.
Reaching Kastellorizo is not exactly straightforward as the nearest (inhabited) island is Rhodes, some four hours away by ferry or 40 minutes by small propeller plane.
I took what might be Greece’s longest ferry route from Piraeus through the entire Dodecanese island chain all the way to Kastellorizo, although given the fact that I only boarded the ferry midway on its route at the island of Astypalea it meant that my journey was a more tolerable 12 hours.
Having checked into my beautiful little apartment for my three night stay on Kastellorizo, it was time to explore the island.
Measuring only 12 square kilometres, you really do not need a car to explore Kastellorizo. In fact, there is only one road which links Kastellorizo Town to the small local airport at the other side of the mountain.
Kastellorizo is not only small in size but also in population, as there are only around 500 permanent residents on the island. Visiting the island thus really is all about slowing down and taking it easy.
That is certainly not something which is hard to do when you admire the beauty of Kastellorizo’s waterfront. The town might not only be one of the prettiest in Greece, but also one of the most beautifully located ones.
As it was lunchtime when I arrived in Kastellorizo, the first order of business was finding a place to eat. There are many cafés and restaurants on Kastellorizo’s waterfront and you cannot really go wrong choosing any of them.
Although I first planned to explore a couple of options, I was persuaded to sit down at one of the first taverns I encountered when the welcoming owner promised me free wine on the house.
Athina Restaurant as it is called turned out to be a good choice. I had a simple but excellent quality lunch of freshly caught fish and some chips.
Due to the friendly service, great views and good food that is excellent value for money I ended up returning quite a few times to Athina during my stay on Kastellorizo.
One great surprise during my lunch was the arrival of a turtle in the waters right beneath the quay. According to the owner of the restaurant, the turtle always arrives around lunchtime, knowing that sometimes they can snack from seafood leftovers thrown into the water.
The sight of the majestic beast in the clear blue waters of the harbour certainly made for a memorable sight. I was even more delighted when I found out that a second turtle had arrived as well!
A walk around town
There aren’t many sights of particular interest in Kastellorizo Town, but that doesn’t matter much at all. The town is so delightfully calm and beautiful that it is all about absorbing the special vibe.
Life on Kastellorizo mostly evolves around the waterfront and this is the place where you keep on returning to.
The town runs two or three streets land inward from the waterfront. When you walk these streets you will soon enough reach a dead end or find yourself at the foot of the huge cliff which forms the backdrop of the island.
Australians and Italians
One particularly beautiful stretch of Kastellorizo Town is the upper part of town on the hill on the eastern side of the harbour. If you walk up the waterfront stairs you will come across some fine mansions in all kinds of different colours.
Some of these are old buildings but others are newly constructed houses built in the same traditional style.
Many are built by wealthy Athenians or Australians as holiday houses. Why Australians you might ask yourself? Well, many locals left Kastellorizo for Australia in search of a better future during the harsh Italian occupation (1928 to 1943) and the immediate aftermath of World War II.
The children and grandchildren of these émigrés still visit Megisti regularly, which is why in summer you can often hear people talking in a thick Aussi accent!
However, during my trip there were almost none of these Greek Australians on the island as Australia did not allow people to leave the country for touristic reasons due to the corona virus pandemic.
In summer, Kastellorizo is also popular among Turkish visitors who hop over for a day from the city of Kaş, which is located eight kilometres away across the sea (at its closest point, Kastellorizo is just three kilometres away from Turkey).
But this summer there were also zero Turks in town due to Greek entry restrictions, robbing Kastellorizo of the two biggest groups of visitors in normal times.
During my visit, most visitors seemed to be Greeks from the mainland and a handful of Italians, who flock here because a popular Italian film (Mediterraneo) was shot on Kastellorizo, which is called ‘Castelrosso’ in Italian.
One of the few sights in Kastellorizo Town is the former Ottoman mosque which dates back to the late 18th Century. Nowadays the building is used as a small island museum.
Inside, you can see a couple of exhibits detailing Kastellorizo’s history and folk culture. It was interesting to see some old pictures of the island as it seemed so much more built up in those years!
Under Ottoman rule, Kastellorizo used to have the largest cargo fleet of the entire Dodecanese island chain, which contributed immensely to the island’s wealth.
Kastellorizo however lost most of its economic importance after the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923.
The years which followed were not kind to the island. In 1926 an earthquake destroyed lots of buildings on Kastellorizo and in 1928 the Italians occupied the island. World War II bombardments brought even more destruction.
During Italian occupation and World War II a big chunk of Kastellorizo’s population had already fled the island – and never returned afterwards.
Coupled with mass emigration in the years following World War II, it meant that Kastellorizo never regained its peak population and feels a bit like a backwater compared to the old pictures showing a more lively and certainly much bigger port city.
If you walk from the mosque along the cape towards the east, you will find a nice path hugging the northern coastline of the island. From here you have lovely views over the turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea and the tiny islet of Psoradia just in front of the coast.
This path continues all the way to Mandraki, the satellite neighbourhood of Kastellorizo Town located at the other side of the hill.
If you walk the short distance from Kastellorizo Town proper to Mandraki make sure that you don’t have your eyes firmly fixed on the sea alone.
It is otherwise easy to miss the 4th Century BC Lycean tomb in the rocks on your right if you only pay attention to the sea on your left-hand side!
Although these Lycean tombs are fairly common across the water on Turkey’s Anatolian coast, they are extremely rare in Greece.
Another main sight on the island is the is the Castle of the Knights of St. John which is located on the hill which separates Kastellorizo Town from its sattelite neighbourhood of Mandraki.
The castle has a prime strategic location as it overlooks both the deepwater port of Kastellorizo and the more shallow fishing harbour of Mandraki.
The knights were the ones who gave Kastellorizo (Castelrosso) its name as they thought the towering red cliffs of the island resembled a castle.
Not much remains of the castle these days, although you can use the rickety metal stairs to climb to the top, from where you have great views over both Kastellorizo Town and the Turkish coast at the other side of the sea.
Mandraki is Kastellorizo Town’s satellite neighbourhood across the hill on which the Castle of the Knights of St. John is located.
The neighbourhood basically stretches out around the second small bay on Kastellorizo’s northern coast, although compared to the harbour of Kastellorizo proper the waters here are much more shallow and thus mainly used by fishing boats and pleasure craft.
You can see it from the colour of the waters too, as the sea water here has more of a green-blue colour compared to the dark blue waters of the deepwater harbour of Kastellorizo Town.
The vibe in Mandraki is certainly different too. If you thought Kastellorizo is quiet and calm, then life in Mandraki is even completely sedated.
Although there isn’t anything in particular to see here as it’s mainly residential houses and apartments for rent, Mandraki still makes for a pleasant walk as the views are absolutely gorgeous.
If you take the main road back from Mandraki to Kastellorizo town instead of the coastal path, you will come across the most important churches of the island.
These churches are all located around the central square of town where also the local school and one of the few year-round taverns (Ta Platania) is located.
The biggest and most beautiful of them by far, the Church of Saint George of Santrape, is unfortunately in a rather decayed state.
Lady of Ro
Another point of interest here is the statue of an elderly widow named Despina Achladiotou, who is better known as ‘The Lady of Ro’.
Despina is famous for raising the Greek flag on the nearby island of Ro every single morning, no matter the weather or her own physical condition.
Unfortunately for Despina, her husband with whom she lived on the island died in 1940. Despite this devastating loss, Despina decided that she would live out her life all alone on the uninhabited, barren island. She continued to display the Greek flag every single morning.
Especially in those years this was not just a mere act of patriotism but a sheer act of courage given that the island did not yet formally belong to Greece but officially belonged to Italy.
Ro was only awarded to Greece in 1947 – but that did not stop Despina from continuing her tradition all those years after reunification.
She managed to raise the flag every day until she passed away at the high age of 92 in 1982 – having lived all the time as a hermit on Ro.
The Lady of Ro was buried with full military honours on her own island, on which the Greek army now has a few soldiers stationed to continue the flag-raising tradition. To honour her amazing life story, a statue was erected on Kastellorizo.
Besides Athina, one of my favourite places for a meal on Kastellorizo was Ta Platania. Located on the central square underneath a tree like so many typical Greek village taverns, Ta Platania is a firm local favourite and different in character than the waterfront restaurants.
Although popular with tourists as well, you can clearly see that Ta Platania it foremost a local meeting place.
Ta Platania serves some real authentic Greek food. I certainly enjoyed my meals at the tavern (the stuffed onions especially are great!) and the chats with the owner Maria and her relatives with whom she runs the family business.
Late night walk
At the end of the evening I still had energy left for a late night walk around the Kastellorizo waterfront. During the night it has an altogether different feel and atmosphere to it.
While most of the waterfront is dark and badly lit, other parts are shining in the floodlights or even have some special blue-coloured mood lighting installed.
Despite the general lack of tourists due to the corona pandemic, I still thought some places were fairly lively during the night. I can only imagine that normal summers in Kastellorizo must make for a much better middle ground between a quiet and calm off-the-beaten-path atmosphere and a lively summer holiday vibe.
Although I wasn’t really hungry, I still had some space left in my stomach for something sweet and another glass of red.
Swim and relax
The following two days I didn’t really do much at all for most of the time except for swimming, relaxing and eating. Winding down is something that comes natural in Greece and is what makes a holiday in this country great.
If you are looking for a beach destination, then Kastellorizo might not be your best choice of island. Although the sea water is as clear and blue as you can get in Greece and is fantastic to swim in, there aren’t really any beaches to speak of on the island.
Instead, there are some quays and platforms from where you can dive into the sea. One of the best places to do so are the swimming platforms you can find on the coastal path which links Kastellorizo Town with Mandraki.
Swimming in the port
It is certainly possible as well to take a dive into the harbour of Kastellorizo Town. If you walk a bit further away from the heart of town you can find swimming platforms and stairs into the water on both sides of the bay.
One particularly popular place for a swim is the platform close to the old mosque, as you can use the comfortable chairs and sofas of Faros Bar and have a cocktail or two in between swims.
If you take a trip to Kastellorizo, chances are big that you will encounter a ship of the Hellenic Navy in port. Due to its geographic location just a few miles off the coast of Turkey, Kastellorizo has a huge strategic significance for Greece.
It is a thorn in the side of the Turks. Some Turkish government officials even claim that Kastellorizo should actually belong to them!
All of this is partly connected to the maritime waters surrounding Kastellorizo, as the Greek and Turkish governments are at loggerheads over the exact demarcation of territorial waters.
The Turkish government even sent a geological research vessel (accompanied by their navy) into disputed waters to map the seafloor and to explore for natural gas supplies.
Of course, Greece has firmly vowed to defend its sovereignty. At one point, it almost come to a clash between the two powers.
Because of the ongoing dispute (and to defend the island against the threat of a Turkish invasion) the Hellenic Navy has permanently stationed a vessel in the Port of Kastellorizo.
This is why you might encounter small Greek army garrisons and bunkers as well at some strategic points on the island. Yet despite the military presence Kastellorizo does not feel like a conflict zone at all as the calm and pleasant summer vibe certainly triumphed over it.
It is therefore good to remember that in normal, non-COVID19 times the island is a popular destination among Turkish visitors. Although the citizens of Kastellorizo are for sure cautious about the intentions of the Turkish government, they have nothing against ordinary Turks who are warmly welcomed each year.
I wrote it before, but I will say it again: there is really just something magical to the cute town and harbour of Kastellorizo. This is an island where you can really get away from it all.
It’s such a great place to relax with a glass of wine or to mingle among the locals over a freddo espresso in one of the more popular coffee bars on the island.
Of course, I also returned a couple of times to Athina restaurant for some more wine and excellent food and fantastic views from the terrace. The owner makes a really great pastitsio – a Greek baked pasta dish made with ground meat and béchamel sauce.
My old friend the sea turtle was there as well in the waters in front of the tavern each time I visited!
Besides swimming, eating and relaxing there was only one more thing which I did during my days on Kastellorizo: I made two late afternoon hikes into the hills.
One hike took me up the stairs hewn into the mountainside to the St. George-of-the-Mountain Monastery, while the other walk took me to the Saint Stephen Church on the northernmost point of Kastellorizo.
Both hikes are absolutely worth it as you will see some interesting sights and will be treated to even better views as you climb up. I will detail both hiking routes in the next chapter!
Kastellorizo might be small and distant, but it is an island of amazing beauty. In fact, it might very well be Greece’s most picturesque island.
The harbour of Kastellorizo Town alone is amazingly pretty with its pastel-coloured mansions and gorgeous backdrop of pines and red cliffs – and it gets even better when you explore the rest of the island.
It might not be easy getting here, but you will be rewarded by a quiet and serene atmosphere, welcoming locals and some seriously good food and drink options.
Although Kastellorizo might be lacking in beaches, the sea is perfect for a swim as the waters are crystal clear, displaying some amazing turquoise colours.
There are worse things in life than lazing the time away on Kastellorizo. I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to come back if I had the chance!
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘A Dodecanese Dream: Summer Island Hopping in Greece‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Back in the Skies – My First International Flight in the Age of Corona
2. Review: Kimon Hotel, Athens, Greece
3. Exploring Plaka: Through the Winding Streets of the Old Town of Athens
4. Climbing up the Acropolis: Visiting Athens’ Most Famous Sight
5. Review: Skyserv Melina Merkouri Lounge Athens Airport
6. Review: Sky Express Athens to Naxos (ATR 42)
7. Review: Studios Zafiri, Naxos Town, Greece
8. Naxos Town: The Gorgeous Historic Heart of the Cyclades
9. Review: Blue Star Ferries Naxos to Astypalaia
10. Review: Belvedere Studios, Astypalaia Town, Greece
11. Astypalea Town: The Unknown Crown Jewel of the Aegean Sea
12. Astypalea Island Guide: Exploring the Butterfly of the Aegean
13. On a Night Boat in Greece – Astypalea to Kastellorizo With Blue Star Ferries
14. Review: Traditional Apartments Alexandra, Kastellorizo, Greece
15. Kastellorizo: A Look Around Greece’s Easternmost Island (current chapter)
16. Hiking on Kastellorizo: Two Sunset Hikes Detailed
17. Review: Olympic Air Kastellorizo to Rhodes (Dash 8-100)
** rest of the chapters to follow soon **