The beauty of Greece lies in the different characters of her mainland and her islands. The history of Greece is vast and long and every part of Greece has her own story. The island of Patmos lies near the Dodecanese islands and sits across Ikaria. It is surrounded by a natural aura of harmony.
Patmos is biblically and historically known for the exile of St. John the Theologian, the beloved pupil of Christ. Although the island has an ancient past, it wasn't until after the life of St. John that her more acclaimed history began.
It isn't easy to travel to Patmos so good planning is key! I took a direct flight to Greece from New York with a new airliner called SkyGreece. This made things much easier. My friends and I then booked a cabin on a boat from Piraeus port at 11:30 p.m. and were in Patmos at 8 a.m., ready for breakfast and sight seeing! If you prefer to fly to the island, there are many connecting flights available from the neighboring islands of the Dodecanese, such as Rhodes, Samos, Kos and Leros. It was suggested to us that we go to the closest island, neighboring Samos, from where we can catch a ferry connection to Patmos. It is approximately a two and a half hour boat ride from there. Either way, it's well worth the unforgettable trip you are about to experience.
Upon arrival, Patmos' port appears like any typical Greek port, and as you begin to tour around, it will seem like a typical Greek island with white-washed houses. What makes this island different, however, is the sense of peace and quiet that comes with its beautiful landscape and scenery. Surrounded by the blue sea, the island is quite green and boasts many beautiful flowers, trees, and cactuses in its landscape. There you can also find a lot of cats, small dogs, birds, lizards, and porcupines!
The natives here like things quiet and peaceful, and the island's history may have something to do with it. The Roman Emperor Domitian exiled Saint John the Theologian to Patmos in the first century A.D. It was here in a cave that the Saint took refuge, heard the voice of God, and was visited by Jesus Christ. It was in this cave that St. John wrote the Book of Revelation of the New Testament.
In 1981, the Greek Parliament designated the island of Patmos as a "Holy Island", and in 1999 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared it a World Heritage Site.
In 1088 AD, Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komenos gave the de-populated island to Christodoulos Latrinos, a monk wishing to establish a monastery there and revitalize its religious significance. Patmos was now repopulated by monks, but as time passed, the island's population grew with more people and towns began to be established.
The monastic order still holds many farms and beautiful churches throughout the island, which give it its unique landscape. It embraces a true Christian experience. The serenity in this little corner of the earth is unsurpassable. Any visitor seeking silent reflection can sit down and stare at the breathless scenery of the sea with its green mountainous backdrop, and be overcome with a sense of peace.
According to Christian history, during his exile, the Book of Revelation was divinely given to St. John by God around 95 A.D in the Holy Cave of the Apocalypse, and was dictated by St. John to his scribe. Following the Roman Empire's official acceptance of Christianity, a church was built there by monks over some ancient ruins of a temple dedicated to Diana. During Byzantine times, the monk Christodoulos Latrinos transformed the Cave into a place of worship in the 11th century, and the Holy cave became a Monastery of the Apocalypse in 1088 A.D. The monastery was fortified over the years to protect the monks from various pirate invasions, including the latter ones by the Seljuk Turks. It was a cultural and religious center and after five centuries, the island's growth and development reached past the area of Chora (The Town).
The monastery is built around the Holy Cave and is comprised of different buildings built throughout the ages, 10 chapels, 99 cells and a library that houses 890 handwritten codes and 13,000 documents about the history of the monastery.
The church built by the monk Christodoulos Latrinos encloses the cave, and is beautiful and simple. The cave itself, where St. John spent his time in exile, has a carved out head rest in the wall of the rock and another carved out place where he use to place his hand. Both sacred spots within this cave are covered in adornment. The lines of a cross are visible above the rock where the Saint said lightning struck before he heard the voice of God. It is a world-renowned place of worship and a true Christian Pilgrimage. It is also worth noting that great Easter celebrations are held and revolve around the monastery annually, and it is a wonderful experience for both locals and travelers.
Chora is the original main town of the island. There you will find white traditional Mediterranean style homes with blue accented windows and doors, all built next to each other with high walls and narrow streets, that acted as somewhat of a labyrinth for protection from past invasions. At the town square you can enjoy great restaurants, shops and galleries. There are many restaurants with a great view of the port of Skala. I particularly enjoyed Jimmy's Balcony, which had an amazing view and found the creative jewelry of Thanos very well priced. Keep in mind when traveling in Greece that gold jewelry is well priced due to the low cost of labor.
The narrow pathway of Chora takes you all the way down to the island's largest populated area, the Port of Skala, where you can find more great shops, cafes, traditional fish taverns, bakeries and many tourist shops. Here you will also notice some Italian architecture, a remnant of the Italian occupation of the island during the Rule of the Dodecanese Islands by Italy in 1912-1943.
About 15 minutes from Skála is the fishing town-village of Grikos. This is where we were accommodated, at our good friends', Nick & Lee's, lovely traditional home just steps away from the beach.
Grikos has a small port, and a quaint beach with beachside taverns, which make some amazing traditional dishes! It also has a beautiful beachside five star hotel, where you can rent umbrellas and chairs to enjoy full service. I was here daily!
Along the road to Skala we also ate at Benetos Restaurant, which offers international dishes. If you decide to go there, be sure to try the Sea Urchin Salad!
Overall, the island offers quaint boutique hotels and villas for rent such as The Theologos Houses. The Five Star hotel Aktis has a great spa and there are also a few 3-4 star hotels available. I strongly suggest renting a car or scooter to get around and see the whole island!
There are many more beaches to visit, so jump into your car and discover a different beach and town daily! Lampi is a nice beach with many colorful pebbles and a great tavern next to the beach. Kampos is a more cosmopolitan beach, offering various water sports, a beach bar, and, of course, great fish taverns. For those who want a more rustic experience, Sapsila is a quiet beach with warm waters and naturally untouched surroundings. There are many more beaches to note, such as, Agriolyvadi, Petra, Lyvadi Geranou, Meloi, and Vaghia. I hope you can get to them all!
Luckily our friends had a boat, so we were able to visit some of the amazing remote beaches of the island and go fishing. It is truly worth renting a boat, or taking an excursion from the port of Skala. While you're at it, I also suggest visiting the neighboring islands, such as Ikaria!
Out of all our boat rides, my favorite of all was going to Arkoi. The crystal clear turquoise waters here were unbelievable, warm and peaceful - a true paradise! We then set sail to the neighboring beach and remote village of Marathi, where we found a haven at a restaurant built under trees and overlooking the sea, called Pantelli's. The owner, Pantelli Aimilianos, is a Greek from Australia who brought his family back to his parents' native island of Patmos. The Aimilianos family has built a quiet get-away resort right in the heart of nature on this tiny little islet. The fish tavern is to die for with fresh fish and homemade bread, and the dessert of homemade candied fruit over Greek yogurt melts in your palette, as all these flavors simultaneously explode in your mouth!
The island of Patmos was a wonderful experience and a peaceful, serene vacation. I hope you can some day visit this special place and share your personal experience with your family and friends!
Keep checking out different Greek islands when you get a chance to visit Greece, as each island has something unique to offer.