The Old Markets

Symi, Greece Book from

Reviewed by Rachel Howard
An intimate, elegantly restored hotel overlooking Symi’s pretty horseshoe harbour
Amid the well-heeled holidaymakers jostling off the ferry, an unruffled figure in white stood out from the crowd. Andrew Davies, a soft-spoken Englishman, had come down to Symi’s pastel-hued harbour to escort us to his beautifully restored boutique hotel.

He led us past glitzy yachts and ritzy restaurants, up well-worn steps and winding alleys, until we came upon some kittens romping outside an ornate wrought-iron gate.

This is the old market, where sponges, spices, and silver were traded from 1884. Although a listed monument, the market had lain in ruins since it was bombed in 1944. After 5 years of painstaking restoration, a quietly opulent hotel has emerged from the rubble, combining contemporary pleasures (percale linens, rain showers) with original features (flagstone floors, stone arches). A few years later the neighbouring Captain's Mansion would join the ensemble.

Upstairs, a show-stopping suite and terrace have enthralling views of the harbour. My dream is to rent the whole place with friends – after all, the owners and their charming staff make you feel like special guests rather than paying customers.

Highs

  • Genuine, personal, but thoroughly professional service from real island insiders
  • Ideal location in the heart of the harbour but away from the hustle
  • Superb à la carte Champagne breakfast served until 1pm
  • The special pleasure of staying in a listed monument with every modern comfort
  • Since 2016, the hotel's rooms and suites span 2 properties (next door to each other), both with lovely harbour views

Lows

  • Lots of steps to and from the hotel – so not suitable for those with limited mobility
  • An indoor pool only and the nearest beach is a 20-minute walk or a short boat ride away
  • Because of strict building restrictions, there are some quirky architectural features like sloping floors
  • Not all rooms and suites have views

Best time to go

The best time to visit are the months of May, June and September. The annual Symi Festival (July – September) hosts free concerts, screenings, and performances in various venues. August can be incredibly busy.

The Old Markets is open from May 1 to October 31. During the winter, it is available on request for exclusive use only.

Our top tips

Day trippers and cruise boats from Rhodes descend on Symi around 11am and depart around 5pm, so it’s a good idea to escape the harbour during those hours.

Buy rope sandals and sarongs at Soroco, a stylish (and pricey) gift shop beside the church of St John, worth a visit for its baroque bell-tower and black and white mosaic courtyard.

Great for...

Beach
Foodie
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique hotel
  • 5
  • Breakfast (+ other meals on request)
  • Best for older children
  • Closed: 6 Dec 2016 - 30 Apr 2017
  • Indoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
Room:

Rooms

Rooms are divided between 2 buildings, there’s the original hotel and the adjacent Captain’s Mansion, a newer addition decorated to reflect maritime themes. Andrew scoured antique markets for maps, silverware, and lamps. All technology is cleverly concealed to preserve the period mood. Thoughtful details abound - lightweight beach towels, a well-edited selection of travel books and Turkish delight at turndown.

Main Hotel
Each of the 4 rooms leading off the galleria is inspired by a trade route that once supplied The Old Markets.

The Ottoman Room, features a hammam-style bathroom and has a domed ceiling converted from an original baker’s oven. It’s charming, but better for shorter stays.

The Venetian Room references Symi’s sponge trade, with period antiques and paintings of Venice. The Arabian Room, shot through with purple and navy silks, has carved bedheads and an open-plan bathroom, stocked with organic Macrovita toiletries.

It’s well worth paying the premium for The Symi Suite, at the top of the galleria with delicate stencilling on the soaring ceilings. The 2 metre-square bed is extra high, so you can gaze at the view. It was a joy to fling open all 5 shutters in the morning. Apart from occasional rumblings from the nearby bars, mostly we were stirred by the soothing sounds of ship horns, fluttering sails, and church bells.

Captain’s Mansion
Arriving in 2016, we’re yet to see this new addition to The Old Markets. Nestled next door to the original hotel, it holds 5 relaxing rooms and suites, all designed with as much care and consideration as the existing spaces. Many have harbour views or fun twin showers – how refreshing.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Hairdryer
  • Ipod dock
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Radio
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • Tv
  • WiFi

Eating

Andrew is a professional chef, so eating at the hotel is a special event. Brunch classics like eggs Benedict and bacon panini are all made to order. Healthier options like homemade granola with Greek yoghurt, local honey, and artfully presented fruit are equally delicious. The peach and yoghurt smoothies are addictive.

Guests are also treated to an aperitivo on the terrace every evening. We enjoyed a well-chosen selection of Greek wines paired with mozzarella and prosciutto crostini.

Light lunch (gazpacho, watermelon and feta salad) and a sophisticated 3-course dinner (cheese soufflé, stuffed calamari, tiramisu) can be pre-ordered from a daily changing menu, left in your room at turndown.

We had the candlelit terrace all to ourselves for a dinner of perfectly al dente pumpkin ravioli with thyme from the garden, pork tenderloin with a rich but subtle wild mushroom and saffron risotto, and chocolate torte with an unusual lavender ice cream. Service was impeccable – just the right balance of attentive and relaxed.

Beyond the hotel, Tholos Taverna is idyllically placed at the mouth of Yialos harbour, with tables right by the water. Tsati, along the waterfront, serves great mojitos and Marathouda has the best beach taverna, where hungry goats try to steal your zucchini fritters, deep-fried baby shrimps and tender calamari over the fence.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Room service
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Flop on your 4-poster day bed with some of the well-chosen books in your bedroom, or book an alfresco pummelling by a local masseuse
  • Admire the silver icons and Byzantine frescoes at Panormitis Monastery, a major Greek Orthodox pilgrimage site (you can even stay overnight for free)
  • Take an all-day cruise around the island, stopping for dips at remote bays like Ayios Emilianos and a beach barbeque on the uninhabited islet of Sesklia
  • Hop aboard a water taxi to one of the dazzling pebble beaches along the island’s east coast – Ayios Yiorgos Disalonas, Nanou and Marathouda have translucent water and a ravishingly wild setting
  • Stroll along the coastal road past the pleasantly dilapidated boatyard to the sheltered bay of Nimborio as the sun sets and the moon rises
  • Climb up the steep steps of Kali Strata to Chorio (village), the old town with vertiginous views of the harbour – pausing at Kali Strata bar for a sun-downer or Lefteris, a traditional kafenio on the village square, for ouzo and octopus (Yiorgos and Maria’s taverna next door has legions of devoted fans and live music at weekends)
  • Symi is an ideal starting point for a sailing trip around nearby islands like Halki, Kastellorizo, Nissyros, and Tilos – all of which are under-the-radar and unspoiled. The most stylish way to cruise the archipelago is on an elegant wooden Turkish gulet.

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Boat trips
    • Cooking classes
    • Hiking
    • Historical sites
    • Museums / galleries
    • Nightlife
    • Private guided tours
    • Sailing
    • Snorkelling
    • Swimming
    • Well being
  • Kids

    Due to the historic nature of the hotel and steep steps, the property may be problematic for small children. Older children are welcome and the Aegean Suite offers spacious accommodation for a family of 4.

    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    10/
    Rooms
    10/
    Food
    10/
    Service
    10/
    Value
    10/
    Overall

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