Rhodes: sunny Greek Island offers adventure and all-inclusive resorts against a gorgeous historical backdrop
Regardless of whether you seek sun-drenched beachside relaxation, water sports, or historical wonders, Rhodes is the ideal spot for a mid-haul European city break
Greek Mythology holds that Zeus gifted the island of Rhodes to the sun god Helios. Little wonder, then, that the land enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year: the daystar smiles on Rhodes.
Like so many of the Greek islands, Rhodes is a popular spot to head for the great British ‘fly and flop’ - a four hour jaunt to a locale with better weather, better food, ice-blue seas, and plenty of all-inclusive resorts to stay at, whiling away your days getting quietly sozzled. And I stand in no judgement of treating this Dodecanese paradise thusly - no one can be blamed for wanting to escape the current political tumult and fluctuating UK summer. But this sun-dappled spot offers myriad delights to anyone who wants to climb off their beach-lounger.
With both Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited medieval town sat gloriously atop a hillside, and the Acropolis at Lindos a genuine architectural marvel, there’s much for history lovers to thrill to. The south of the Island, wind-battered, with a sparse beauty, is ideal for scuba diving, snorkelling and water sports. Head inland and you hardly have to forage to find a gorgeous hike. And, of course, that luscious Greek food is to be found everywhere - the first bite of a tomato which has marinated in sunshine, sharp, salty olives that pique the palate, perfectly spiced lamb.
If you are interested in a beachside, all-inclusive tourist hub, head to the northern half of the island. For seclusion, wild and windy beaches, and an untamed landscape, head to the west. Or hire a car and hit spots across the Island: what very many delights await you.
Rhodes Old Town: an open air museum
You don’t have to be passionate about antiquities to find Rhodes Old Town captivating to walk through. Though, as mentioned, it is the oldest continuously inhabited medieval town in Europe, it shows markers of the The Knights of the Order of St John, the Ottomans and Fascist-era Italian, all of whom ran the town at one stage. The central streets are garlanded with tacky tourist shops, but it barely takes a minute’s diversion to find a quiet labyrinth of cobbled passages and secluded courtyards to explore. If you’re interested in learning about the Old Town, you can purchase a 10 euro ticket which will get you entry into the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes (a grand fortification that presides proudly over the town), the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes, the Church of Our Lady of the Castle and the Decorative Arts Collection.
There’s a slew of delightful sun-dappled restaurants in the old town, but I walked just outside it to the corner of Diakou and Venizelou, to the feted kebab spot, Avgoustinos. I devoured a juicy, salty chicken gyro, washed down by an ice-cold beer, which set me back a whopping 4 euro. As the sun licked my face, life felt temporarily perfect.
It’s an easy walk from the Old Town to the Acropolis of Rhodes, the second largest acropolis in the Greek islands (after Athens). Free to enter, it makes for an interesting spot to explore - nowhere near as harried as the Athens equivalent, but still an architectural marvel, the Hellenic structures blending harmoniously with its natural surrounds. The Temple of Athena Polias and Zeus Polieus, at the north of Acropolis, are distinctly Doric structures. As with the Old Town itself, though, you needn’t have a Classics major to find it eye-catching - the 12,000sq metre site makes for peaceful, contemplative exploration.
Coaches run regularly to the picturesque town of Lindos, some 55km south of Rhodes Old Town. Unlike the rocky beaches further north, here you'll find the sandy coastline of your postcard dreams. The waterfront is strewn with interesting cafes and shops, making for a nice louche, wine-soaked stroll.
In the afternoon, though, once the cruise crowds have dispersed, it's prime time for a short walk (you can hop a donkey if you're feeling idle) to the Acropolis of Lindos, an archaeological marvel, surrounded by battlements towers. You'll be awe-struck by the fourth-century Temple of Athena Lindia, the Propylaea, a Hellenistic Stoa and twin natural harbours: again, sea so blue you'll run out of synonyms as you describe it, awe-struck.
Valley of the Butterflies
If you thrill to all the creatures of the natural world, taking a trip to the Valley of the Butterflies, half an hour south of Rhodes, is just gorgeous. There, you can walk along a forest-path, creek side, towards the Kalopetra Monastery. I found it utterly dreamy - the stuff of bucolic dreams, calm, beautiful, with the feathery dart of butterflies all around making things truly ethereal. I did not see the famed, well-camouflaged Panaxia Quadripunctaria, (a species of jersey tiger moth), but the Valley of the Butterflies is a rare habitat for the moth, if you're a lepidopterist.
It's worth a visit to the Museum of Natural History, which sits at the beginning of the Valley - it's intriguing to spy a moth hatchery, where protected species of moths and butterflies hatch under climate controlled conditions. And do walk up to the beautiful Kalopetra Monstery, built in 1784 by the exiled Greek Prince of Walachia, Alexander Ypsilantis. Apart from being a gorgeous, peaceful building it's own right, it offers the best vantage from which to drink in the view of the Butterfly Valley below.
Sup on Greek wine in the sunshine
Greek wine hasn't the most salubrious reputation, with many finding it somewhat rough and ready (do, by many, I in fact mean 'me'? A mystery). But gorgeous bijou vineyard Estate Anastasia Triantafyllou, an easy distance from the Valley of the Butterflies, demonstrates Hellenic winemaking at it's most sophisticated - and delicate. Head to the estate to partake in a memorable wine tasting of white, red, and semi-sweet wines, lead by the (respectfully, handsome) enthusiastic vintner, Jason Zafeirakopoulos. Supping delectable wines in the company of a passionate expert, looking out on sun-dappled grape groves: sublime.
Anthony Quinn Bay
For the uninitiated, Anthony Quinn was a prominent actor in the 1960s, an American with a sonorous voice and imposing stature. In 1961 he starred in the Guns of Navarone, scenes of which were shot in Rhodes - and now this tranquil bay, a short drive from Faliraki bears his legacy as tribute. A well-hidden cove, with a pebbled shore and turquoise waters so clear over zealous poets would have field day ill-describing them, it's cliffs are covered in flowering shrubs, and it's a wonderful spot for a early morning dip.
My travel companion went scuba diving here - she marvelled at the clarity of the waters, sighting fish schools, squid, moray eels, groupers, and scorpionfish. She booked on the island - there are multiple tour companies that do hotel pick-up and drop-off and three hours diving, such as Faliraki tours, for around seventy euro. You can also find guides to take you scuba diving, if you don't have your PAD license.
Where to stay
I split my time between The Ixian Grand and All Suites, an all-inclusive, adults only resort situated on Ixia beach, and Cook's Club Kolymbia, a fresh build hotel with two swimming pools and three on-site restaurants, located in the resort town of Kolymbia on the east of the island.
Both were utterly idyllic, with gorgeously friendly staff, cool, clear pools, a precious absence of children, and nightlife folded in as part of the entertainment. They're occupied almost entirely by British and German holiday-makers, and a great many couples. In high season, The Ixian Grand & All Suites has rooms starting at £309 per night, for a deluxe room, while Cook's Club's rooms start at £86 per night (bed and breakfast).
Read our review of the Ixian Grand and All Suites here.
But if you want to bring your family, or a posse of friends, the island is riddled with self-catering villas, most of which are replete with pools.
If you want to stay in picturesque Rhodes' old town, there are medieval townhouses which have been converted into boutique hotels. It's quite a notion to sleep in a spot once occupied by crusading knights - you'll feel suitably steeped in history, thanks to the thick stone walls and beamed ceilings. Check your dates though: many hotels shutter for the quiet season come October and don't reopen until April.