People love to pigeonhole. In travel this seems especially true of islands. St Barths is the chic one. Ibiza the clubby one. And the Greek island of Rhodes? Prior to my recent visit, I was led to believe by some that it was a land of antiquities. By sharp contrast, others raised their eyebrows, enquiring whether I was going to rave it up in Faliraki.
The chief reason why I was on this chunk of Aegean real estate was to visit Mark Warner's Levante Beach Resort, which opened for the summer season last year. It was still school term time when I visited and airport arrivals was full of under-fives – so it was a shock to be greeted by huge billboards for "Kinky: Real Live Sex Shows". Does Rhodes, I wondered, have some kind of identity crisis?
After a half-hour drive to the north-west coast, we arrived at Levante, a gleaming white modernist hotel in the seaside resort of Kolymbia. A long thin structure, it stretches 400m from tennis courts behind the lobby, down past 100 white cube-shaped rooms and 100 white cube-shaped family suites, with five swimming pools (one an impressive 80m long), green lawns and – curiously – two archaeological sites dating from the Hellenistic period, all before you reach the beach. I was in suite 8017, just across from a smaller family pool, the Pan‑Asian restaurant and al fresco bar. This turned out to be scattered with wicker sofas and soft, white cushions, perfect for lounging and watching active types learning to windsurf, paddleboard and water-ski.
Levante was cool and clean, slightly unnervingly so in the way that new hotels are, like a J G Ballard novel waiting to unfold. All the guests, when I visited, were British – despite the assurance from David Hopkins, managing director of Mark Warner, that: "Twenty years ago we were trying to be British in foreign parts. Now we're trying to be Mark Warner."
I peeked into the kids' club, which was divided into three age groups from four months to 13 years, plus an "Indie Club" games room for teens: everyone seemed content. The drop-in evening childcare was also popular, leaving parents to enjoy a grown-up dinner. The staff expected a completely different atmosphere during the school holidays, when up to 120 teenagers are on site. Mark Warner employs carers in their early twenties – seen as cool by over-14s – to guide teen activities.
With all this childcare, parents are able to indulge in sports and pampering. There are morning walks, water polo, volleyball and football as well as sunrise and sunset stretches, yoga, Pilates and zumba. And a vast spa with treatments including a chocolate body wrap (€60).
I booked a 45-minute lesson at the impressive tennis centre with its six new AstroTurf courts. I also took a mountain-bike excursion up the coast past Afandou to Traounou Beach, a long, largely pristine stretch of sand with little development. Both highlighted the glories of a sunny Mediterranean holiday.
It would be easy to stay ensconced in Levante, but I ventured into Faliraki to find out if its sleazy reputation for drunken Brits was reasonable. Sure enough, even by 11pm on a Monday evening, its dubious bars and clubs were beginning to fill up. There was Bedrock, a mock Flintstone-themed monstrosity like a downmarket Vegas; full-on strip bars such as Q Club and Tiger with girls in nurses' outfits vying for trade; and nightclubs with names such as Climax and Pozers. And there are plenty of places to buy a sequinned cowboy hat, get a tattoo or have your nipples pierced.
It was easy to see how all this has got out of hand, yet I couldn't help thinking that this was really only two streets on a 75km-long island. David Hopkins was certainly keen to reassure me. "Faliraki was a quaint old fishing port that has gone through its bad times and is coming back." Levante's Rhodes-based architect, Gely Giannopoulou, told me that there has been a rise in the number of five-star hotels being built. Even Faliraki, he said, was changing for the better, with new hotels such as Apollo Blue and Elysium Resort & Spa.
Nevertheless, the contrast between Faliraki and Rhodes Old Town at the northern tip of the island is startling. I was bowled over by the beauty and living history of this town, which dates back to the arrival of the Knights Hospitallers of St John in the 14th century. According to Chrysta Peritogianni, my guide from Ibiscus Tours: "Rhodes is still an important tourist destination, but our visitor numbers are decreasing. We need to be more creative. We should be offering themed walking tours for example, not just coach tours to Rhodes Old Town and Lindos."
As we take in the view from Minos Pension's cosy roof-garden café above a warren of medieval streets, Chrysta told me that there is a cool, cosmopolitan side to Rhodes Old Town. "Moooi is a fashionable place to go with excellent cocktails and live music," she said. "Mandala Restaurant serves affordable fusion food and has live Greek bouzouki music."
Next up was Lindos, with its impressive acropolis perched on a rocky promontory and a town of white sugar-cube houses below, with almost perfect bays either side.
Happily, it's hard to pigeonhole Rhodes, an island dominated by its historic might, but liberal enough to encompass late-night Faliraki. As Chrysta put it: "Here you can discover the ancient traditions – or see people walking almost naked down the street."
Mark Warner (0844 273 7397; markwarner.co.uk) offers seven nights' half board at the Levante Beach resort from £671pp, including flights from Heathrow, resort transfers, kids' clubs, evening childcare, teenagers' club, watersports and tuition, tennis, mountain biking and fitness classes. Summer holiday prices start at £1,275 per person.
Greek National Tourist Office: 020‑7495 9300; visitgreece.grReuse content