Rhodes: woods, beaches and ancient culture

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

In the first instalment of our four-part series on Greek Islands produced in association with Lonely Planet, Richard Waters visits the largest of the Dodecanese

You might imagine Rhodes as besmirched by fish and chips shops and hog-roasted Brits on all-inclusive holidays, but you'd be wrong. For while that can all be found in the Lego-style mega hotels of Faliraki, the rest of this, the largest island (50 miles long) in the Dodecanese, is quietly possessed with wild pine woods, rugged beaches and dripping in ancient culture.

Nowhere else in this group of 14 islands (despite dodeca meaning 12) are so many layers of architectural history piled upon one another like leaves of pastry in a slice of baklava, especially the citadel of Rhodes Old Town. Imagine taking a volta (stroll) starting in the classical era, continuing to the medieval, Byzantine and then moving on to the Ottoman and Italian periods. Indeed a wander down its hauntingly pretty cobbled streets, the air a-dance with falling orange blossom, is a deeply evocative experience; long-time residents looming from doorways, the scent of leather and bougainvillea, the elusive flash of an icon glittering in a back alley workshop – it's pure magic. If you're lucky enough to visit during Greek Easter (next year on 20 April), the backstreets are particularly atmospheric, with sombre processions.

A potted history: Rhodes was keenly fought over by the Persians in the 5th century BC, rescued by Alexander The Great, then presided over by the Roman (AD 70) and then Byzantine Empires, following which the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, having been driven out of the Holy Land, made their base here (1309), erecting the fabulous castle, moat and fortifications. Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire took control of Rhodes in 1522 until Italy wrested possession in 1912, when later, Mussolini was so enraptured by the charm of the Old Town he restored it to its former glory. Thankfully, the footprints of the past still accost the present at every turn, from the austere Avenue of the Knights with its Inns of Court and Palace of the Grandmasters, to the beautiful mosques with their flute-like minarets.

And while there's the typical oeuvre of alabaster Greek Gods and T-shirts hawked on the touristy gauntlet of Sokratous Street – known for its loquacious restaurant touts and resplendent pink mosque on top of the hill – the essence of this citadel is discovered by challenging your inbuilt compass (even Theseus would get lost) in the maze-like warren of cobbled streets. Indulge any magpie tendencies as you wander past shops aglow with Moorish glass lanterns and glinting jewellery; and follow your nose to backstreet tavernas dishing up salty calamari and roast lamb. Wherever you find yourself, this World Heritage site is as spellbinding today as the 32m-high Colossus of Rhodes – which once bestrode the harbour – would have been to the ships that sailed beneath its legs.

Once you've stocked up on squid and sunned yourself on Town Beach, don't miss the permanent exhibition at the Palace of the Grand Masters (00 30 22413 65270; www.rhodes.gr; €6), with its 158 rooms of frescos, antique furniture and pebble mosaic floors; nor the evocative Archaeological Museum (00 30 22413 65256; www.rhodes.gr; €6) spilling with Hellenistic treasures and the 1st century marble statue recovered from the local seabed, Aphrodite Bathing. More currently, the Old Town Aquarium (00 30 22410 867 00; €5), has recently opened, displaying marine exotica.

Sumptuous sleeps

Nowhere else in the Dodecanese is there such a rich array of boutique accommodation. In the Old Town you'll find atmospheric digs once owned by pachas (Ottoman aristocracy), now lovingly restored as upscale hotels. Marco Polo Mansion (00 30 22410 255 62; marco polomansion.gr; B&B from €90) with its ochre walls and peaceful garden oasis is an enchanting former 15th-century Ottoman residence. Each room has a mélange of Italian, Byzantine and Greek influences with four-posters, heavy rugs and dark furniture, all soothingly washed by stained glass light. Its restaurant is celebrated by A-Listers and academics. Main courses around €15.

High on the hill in the Knights' quarter, sumptuous Nikos Takis Hotel, left (00 30 22410 707 73; www.nikostakishotel.com; B&B from €170) exudes an eclectic mix of Byzantine flavour, with traces of Rajasthan. Its eight suites are fit for a vizier with four posters, silk drapes and tangerine-hued walls. There's also a courtyard to take in the view of the Old Town.

Gourmet treasures

Close to a cypress-shaded park and the ruins of a 14th-century church in the Old Town, chandeliered Hatzikelis (00 30 22410 272 15) is the island's original seafood restaurant and still its most venerated, with a pedigree of patrons that includes Tom Hanks and prime ministers. Feast on swordfish, lobster and fresh red snapper, above, caught by free-divers and filleted in front of you, between sampling the wine cellar (main courses around €20).

Close to the entrance of Mandraki harbour in the New Town, To Meltemi (00 30 22410 30480) has widescreen views of the sea and is a quintessential Greek taverna dishing up moussaka and saganaki (shrimps stuffed with tomato and feta); as well as staples such as octopus and calamari. Main courses around €10.

Ancient Lindos

Imagine an acropolis on a cypress-clad hill, flanked by a cascade of whitewashed houses tumbling into a turquoise bay.

Best visited late spring or late summer/early autumn, Lindos is a town of gas-blue waters and a labyrinth of streets vivid with tavernas, boutiques and 17th-century sea captains' houses, with carved-relief façades, painted wooden ceilings and raised wooden beds.

Take it easy on Pallas Beach in the morning, with breakfast at Mare Mare Café (00 30 22 4403 1651), before persuading your calves to carry you up the 116-metre-high rock on which perches the fabulous Acropolis of Lindos, left (00 30 22 440 31258; closed Monday; €6). It's an alluring mix of Byzantine architecture on the outside insulating 2nd-century Doric remains within – children will love it.

Rhodes deluxe

Those intent on proposing, scoring Brownie points with the other half or just plain luxuriating, should spend a night at the exquisite Melenos Hotel, above, in Lindos (00 30 22440 322 22; melenoslindos.com; B&B from €261).

With swoon-inducing views of Lindos bay, the hotel is a heady concoction of forests of glass bauble lights, traditional pebble mosaic floors, bougainvillea-laced walkways, raised platform beds and heavy Ottoman furniture.

The food on its breezy terrace – grilled beef fillet with spicy quince sauce and caramelised onions – is equally magnificent (main courses around €24).

Active Rhodes

Given Rhodes' rich nautical history, it's not surprising there are myriad wrecks to dive. To plunder the best of Poseidon's treasures, wander down to Rhodes Town's Mandraki harbour to find Waterhoppers (00 30 6972 500 971; waterhoppers.com), which offers night and cavern dives and also has an office in Lindos. A three-day Padi Open Water course costs €390.

Kitesurfers and windsurfers should head to remote Cape Prasonisi on the island's extreme southern tip. In the summer it's joined to Rhodes by an isthmus of sand, while come winter it's completely isolated. Adrenalin junkies operate out of Pro Center Kristof Kirschner (00 30 22 400 91045; www.prasonisi.com); rent equipment from €25 per hour.

For gentler activity, venture to the Valley of Butterflies in Petaloudes (€3), to follow paths past streams, pools and dancing butterflies.

Travel Essentials

Rhodes is served from the UK by easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com), Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) and Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com).

Package holidays are available from Thomas Cook (0844 412 5959; thomascook.com) and Thomson (0871 231 4691; thomson.co.uk) plus its all-inclusive brand First Choice (0844 871 1604; firstchoice.co.uk) which has a week's all-inclusive at the Rhodes Holiday Village for £1,100pp departing Gatwick during the summer holidays.

Specialist operators include Hidden Greece (020-8758 4707; hidden-greece.co.uk) and James Villa Holidays (0800 074 0122; jamesvillas.co.uk).

Lindos is 90 minutes from Rhodes New Town; taxis cost €55 for the one-way trip; buses from the Western Bus Station cost €5 .

Dodekanisos Seaways (00 30 224 107 0590; 12ne.gr) and Blue Star Ferries (00 30 210 891 9800; www.bluestarferries.gr) connect nearby islands.

More information:rodosisland.gr.

Richard Waters is a Lonely Planet author. Lonely Planet's Greece guide is available from lonelyplanet.com, priced £16.99

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Fair trade: the idea of honesty boxes relies on people paying their way
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Recruitment Consultant (Trainee), Finchley Central, London

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary