Greece has hundreds of islands, but few are as small or as perfectly formed as Kastellorizo. Ironically, the island was known in antiquity as Megisti (“The Greatest”), because it is the largest in an archipelago of tiny isles that lie where Europe ends and Asia begins. Just two kilometres from the Lycian coast of Turkey – 30 minutes by ferry or a 10-minute speedboat ride – this dinky Dodecanese isle packs in a heady cocktail of cultures. Ancient fortresses, wine presses, windmills, castles, mosques and marketplaces offer traces of the marauding powers who have been drawn to this desirable trading post through the ages.
These days, Kastellorizo attracts a cosmopolitan creative set looking for seclusion, serenity and the liberating simplicity afforded by an island where beauty is everywhere but very little to do. Only one tarmac road connects the tiny airstrip to the harbour town. There’s just one taxi, but everything is accessible on foot or by boat.
There is no nightlife to speak of, though dinner party invitations are highly prized among the artists and patrons who have handsomely restored summer houses on the island. Art collector Silvia Fiorucci has even created three artist residencies, including 4Rooms, with technicolour rooms designed by five different designers. The designer Michael Anastassiades is designing his own home in collaboration with Bijoy Jain, the cosmic architect behind Studio Mumbai. In late August, filmmakers from far and wide come for Beyond Borders, a documentary film festival with a cult following.
Kastellorizo is quietly becoming the Dodecanese answer to Hydra – a fashionable gathering place for cultural dialogue and experimentation, but with a more down-to-earth, out-of-the-way atmosphere. With fewer than 300 inhabitants, the low-key social scene centres around the skinny waterfront strip known as the Kordoni, or ‘shoelace’. The fishing boats moored outside the tavernas are as colourful as the neoclassical houses painted in contrasting shades of burgundy and baby blue, sunflower yellow and dove grey, pale pink and cypress green.
“The front row of Kastellorizo looks like a theatre set, and the backstreets are like the backstage where you find the real life of the local people with their secret stories,” says Marie Rivalant, a Parisian architect who has helped to reverse the fortunes of this thriving 19th-century shipping port, which was badly bombed and virtually abandoned after WWII. Fifteen years ago, Rivalant took a lease on a quayside pension named Mediterraneo after the Oscar-winning movie shot on the island in the early Nineties. The film was the catalyst for a slow trickle of tourism, which still comes in gentle waves rather than overwhelming surges.
“For many of our guests, the island became an addiction,” says Rivalant, who has since opened a Greek delicatessen and a second guesthouse, Casa Mediterraneo. “The main reason why well-known people enjoy this tiny island with their family and friends is that nobody disturbs them, and everyone respects their privacy. As the French say: “Pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés.”
The best places to stay on Kastellorizo
Casa Mediterraneo (Booking now here)
Housed in a trio of neoclassical mansions set back from the waterfront, Marie Rivalant’s second guesthouse has a slightly more muted, polished feel. All six suites have sea views and occupy an entire floor. Painted in dusky hues of ochre, burnt umber, olive green and terracotta, the interiors change throughout the day as sunlight streams through the huge windows.
Guests gather under the pergola in the garden for a breakfast of fresh figs and goat’s cheese. At golden hour, an in-the-know crowd come for sundowners or pop-up suppers hosted by guest chefs. A collaboration between Rivalant and two other French designers enamoured with the island (Grégoire Du Pasquier and Luc Jejeune), the whole place whispers romance. But it’s also an ideal base for getting to know who’s who on Kastellorizo. (Booking now here)
Featuring a bar, Casa Mediterraneo Hotel is located in Meyisti in the Dodecanese region, a few steps from Cathedral of St. Constantine and St.Helen and a 0-minute walk from Archaeological Museum of Megisti. Featuring a terrace, the 4-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi, each with a private bathroom. The property has a concierge service, a tour desk and luggage storage for guests.
At the hotel, each room comes with a desk. All rooms have a coffee machine, while some rooms also offer a balcony and others also have sea views. At Casa Mediterraneo Hotel each room is equipped with bed linen and towels. (Booking now here)
Breakfast is available every morning, and includes continental, vegetarian and vegan options. Monastery of Saint George is a 10-minute walk from the accommodation, while Megisti Port is 0.9 miles from the property. The nearest airport is Kastellorizo Airport, 0.6 miles from Casa Mediterraneo Hotel.