The word Dodecanese, or Dodekanissa in Greek, means literally 'twelve islands' (dodeka = twelve and nissi = island). However, this being Greece there are in fact fourteen large islands, three smaller, and a few dozen more that are uninhabited but which can be called islands rather than rocks.
They are the most southerly group of islands and very popular with visitors due to the hot summer climate. This can lead to water shortages on some of the smaller islands towards the end of the summer, so visitors at all times should use water sparingly and drink bottled water if possible. By the autumn the islands can be quite barren, in complete contrast to the greenness of spring which is when those who like to see wild flowers should try to visit.
For the most part the islands hug the Turkish coastline, and one of them, Kastellorizo, is less than 3km (1.9 miles) from Turkey with a population of fewer than 300 people. By contrast, the biggest island, Rhodes, is home to 100,000 people, and many more in summer as it is also the most developed for tourism, with the island of Kos being not far behind, but much smaller.
Rhodes is also the capital of the Dodecanese and is popular with package holiday visitors and with cruise ships alike. It's also a good hub for getting around some of the other islands in the group. Kos is another very popular holiday destination, with good beaches and nightlife.
In-between there are islands such as Tilos and Chalki, where tourism has arrived but on a modest and more manageable level, and where visitors will still be treated with friendliness rather than avarice. The group also includes the island of Patmos, where St John is said to have had the vision described in The Book of Revelations, and little Nisyros, a volcanic island whose sulphurous crater still bubbles quietly.
Two hours by ferry from Rhodes is the island of Symi, one of the gems in the Aegean which has a harbour that is almost too perfect to be true, as anyone who has ever sailed into it at dusk with the harbour lights twinkling will know.
Despite the fact that the islands are so close to Turkey they show no more Turkish influence than any of the other island groups, and if anything have something of an Italian feel to them, having been occupied by the Italians during World War II and only returned to Greece in a treaty signed in 1948. Since then, the Dodecanese have certainly welcomed tourists, needing the boost to their economies which was once provided by shipbuilding, fishing and sponge-fishing.
If you want to escape the crowds and find yourself a bit of the 'real' Greece, try the lesser-known islands like Karpathos or Kastellorizo. Inbetween are islands where there's some tourism, good hotels and restaurants, but they're not yet over-run by visitors. These include Tilos, Leros, Nisyros, Halki, and Astypalaia.
The Dodecanese group includes:
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