Rhodes: the island of everlasting sun
Frederic takes the high Rhodes to this gorgeous Greek island that has nature, culture and yes, sunshine, in spades
Rhodes was given by the king of the gods, Zeus, to Helios, the god of the sun. Why? Because in antiquity, Rhodes was known as the sunniest island of the Greek world. And in the 21st century, Rhodes goes about proving it again, day after day.
The average temperature in winter is just around 13°c so the island attracts foreign visitors all year long, fewer in winter, of course, but enough for the bars and hotels to stay open. During July and August when the average temperature is 27°c and there is a warm, dark blue sea, a permanent blue sky and endless sunny days, it can be hard to want to return home. What many people do is plan their return holiday next year.
The best time to holiday in Rhodes is just before or after the summer season. Why? Because in May or June most people have had enough of the grey of winter. And Rhodes does guarantee warmth and sunshine in these very early or late parts of the season. There is the opportunity for plenty of outdoor activities: swimming, diving, windsurfing, kite-surfing or any number of sports. There are plenty of historical and cultural sites to visit, lots of wonderful foods to try, wine to drink and company to enjoy. Yet all this is on one, smallish easily-visited island.
In the summer high peak months ,these same advantages and opportunities are still there but there are also tens of thousands of tourists from over Europe. That’s fine if you like to socialise. In the peak months there is a real buzz on the island. It means there is enough to keep teenagers from putting up with parents and vice versa. Everyone should find in Rhodes what they’re looking for.
The medieval city of Rhodes
Whatever your plans are, one thing you must not miss is a visit to the tremendous medieval old city of Rhodes. It is totally surrounded by medieval walls and dominated by dozens of towers and defence works. In its time, it was the height of military art at the time of the last crusades. We should be so grateful that it has survived as spectacularly as it has.
Allow at least a day, preferably more. The walls are an impressive sight in themselves but after you have walked through one of the massive gates, you will discover so many monuments belonging to the Rhodes Knights, scattered all over inside a network of cobblestone streets. And the level of preservation is remarkably good.
No cars are allowed inside the ramparts. Walking is the only option, but the city is quite flat, so it’s easy, just forget high heeled shoes. Sensible shoes for the cobbles are better. The welcoming streets shelter a huge variety of attractive shops, restaurants, bars and even ice-creams vendors. Pick up a map from your hotel or the tourist office before you start and plan what you want to see otherwise – with so much – you might end up just seeing a small area.
Try to go in the old city by Amboise gate, a pedestrian passage that offers you a good view of both the walls and the medieval defensive system of the town. The Grand Master’s Palace is close by and should be your first stop. Then, go down the famous Street of the Knights which has beautiful facades of the former inns. Further down this gentle slope, the Knights Hospital is an attractive place to visit. It’s now the Archaeological Museum and its medieval arcades shelter pieces of art including the famous marble statue of Aphrodite. Turn left, pass in front of Saint Mary’s Church, and you’ll find the Inn of the Knights of Auvergne with its elegant 14th century facade. Continue a little further, and you will find the Elephterias Gate from where you have access to Mandraki Harbour – the ancient harbour of the city of Rhodes.
On one side of the harbour stands a photogenic line of windmills, but if you walk on the other side to the entrance of the port, you will find the exact place where once stood that marvel of antiquity: the Colossus of Rhodes. Its location is shown by two delicate columns topped with statues. Here, you’ll also find here St Nicolas Fort.
When you return, you have to go back to the old city you will pass in front of the Knights Hospital. Walk straight ahead and there is the Turkish fountain at Hippocrates Square. It’s only a short walk and you will go by the back of the Marine Gate with its two massive towers.
It’s at Hippocrates Square that Socrates Street begins. Now you are in the heart of the main shopping area. Shops and restaurants are mixed with monuments, fountains, churches and mosques. And if you take time to wander into the southern part of the medieval town, you will find hidden, restful garden restaurants away from the crowded streets ideally suited to a quiet, delightful Greek meal. Want to act like a Greek? Ask for an ouzo, a strong aniseed aperitif. Or order a cool glass of retzina, a white wine in which some resin is added. Some say that it’s only after the third glass of retzina that foreigners begin to appreciate it. And before leaving, order a ‘Nesfrappé’, an iced coffee with milk that will awake you for your afternoon stroll through the old city.
But if you wind up at the clock tower that overlooks the buildings around, take a tip and just look from the outside. The €5 charge to go up the clock tower isn’t worth it even if it does include a drink in a sort of ‘bar’. It has to be one of the ugliest and depressing bars that I have ever been in. Definitely this is an authentic tourists’ trap.
After a full day in the old city, a lazy day on the beach seems to be a good option. But even among the ones who came to Rhodes for one week only, many are those who decided to come back a second day in the old city.
Windsurfing and kitesurfing at Prasonisi
Rhodes has a lot more to offer than just the old city. One of the best-hidden secrets of Rhodes is at the extreme southern point of the island where the Prasonisi cape is linked to a small island by a long sandbank, making a double bay. The passage between the cape and island acts like a corridor for high winds, so the beach on the windward side has short but strong waves that are a delight for kite surfers. The other beach on the sheltered side has smoother waves better suited to windsurfers. When the wind changes direction so the kite surfers and the wind surfers swap as well. The wind is always there and the spectacular view of all these sails is worth the trip to Prasonisi, even if you don’t practise either hobby. If you do enjoy them then equipment can be rented and there are places that will teach you.
Facing this nice spot, there are some tavernas but be warned: they tend to charge high prices for very standard cooking. A quick eight mile drive takes you to the very small village of Kattavia, where you will find some real Greek tavernas. And at better prices! My favourite one is the café-restaurant ‘Penelope’, in Kattvia’ square. Tables are scattered under the branches of an incredible giant fig tree. The shade gives guests all the time to appreciate the traditional home-cooked mezes, vegetables from the garden, fresh grilled fish, moussaka, stifado … the list goes on-and-on. And for those with a sweet tooth, ‘floyera’ a delicate flaky pastry stuffed with cream is worth leaving room for. The hospitality of the owners is as good as the quality and the simplicity of the cooking they provide.
The west coast
The western coast of Rhodes that faces the Aegean Sea, is more rocky and less sandy than the eastern one. Even if there are fewer beaches, they are like beautiful jewels hidden between rocks.
From June to September, the valley of Petaloudès (the valley of the Butterflies) attracts billions of orange and black butterflies that come here to mate. In this magnificent valley, wooden paths have been traced among lush vegetation, the streams and the waterfalls. Visitors are hardly asked not to touch or disturb the butterflies.
Not too far from Rhodes is Kamiros, one of the three main cities of ancient times. This fascinating, ruined city lays over the gentle slope of a hill. On the top was built the acropolis. The beauty of Kamiros remains, but today the trees also provide shade and coolness to visitors.
Further south on the coast are two medieval castles, Kastellos and Monoli. Built on top of impressive rocky sites, these fortresses are only ruins today but it is still possible to conjure up how effective they must have been seen. If you can manage it, be there at about sunset when the sight is magnificent.
Lindos and the east coast
On this side of the island is a succession of rocky capes and sandy beaches. You can try a new beach every day.
Around35 miles south of Rhodes, is Lindos. Make sure you leave enough time to visit the city: it is a white village at the bottom of a fearsome fortress built by the Knights of Saint John. But it is also one of the most beautiful spots on the entire island.
Bus and cars must use the parking at the entrance to the village, and visitors have to climb up through the fabulous labyrinth of narrow streets, to get back to the path that takes you to the castle. This may be for only the fit as it is steep and 115m high. On the way, you will walk by a huge rock with a 2,200 year old trireme carved on it.
Inside the castle there are the remains of many buildings including the temple of Athena (4th century BC) as well as a Byzantine church. But the main reason to go there is to climb to the top of this fortress and see the view over this charming village. As you look down you have a panoramic view of the dark blue sea on one side of Lindos bay and on the other, St Paul’s Bay which shelters a nice, small beach.
Going down to the village is pure pleasure. Walking down, it’s easy to just stare at all these white houses many of which have fabulous stone carved entrances and facades. Some have been converted into comfortable and attractive bars. Pause and have a drink in one their flower-filled courtyards before you go down into this small town filled with craft shops restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
Renting a car in Rhodes
Just about every hotel has a car rental office. For those that do not, one is always close by. The prices are reasonable and usually have with full insurance included. The roads in Rhodes are quite good and well sign-posted. But avoid the old city of Rhodes, if you can. Its known for traffic jams and its huge lack of parking places.
For more information, click here or contact the Greek Tourist Office, 4 Conduit Street, W1S 2DJ London