To get away from it all, to find a stretch of paradise untouched by another, is almost impossible. Most stones have been turned, and paths trodden. The next best thing, therefore, must be to escape to a remote destination where there might still exist the slim possibility of some peace and quiet and solitude.
I’m not looking for a wi-fi free zone or some far-flung corner of the globe without network coverage. I’m not trying to escape from my iPad, email, games or online shopping... No, I just want to escape other people.
And so it was, at 6.30 on the morning of 6 July, after a 90-minute ferry ride from Kamiros Scala, on the south-eastern tip of Rhodes, I found my slice of heaven: the island of Halki, a rare gem, embellished with neo-classical buildings in rich colours of ochre, burnt umber and red.
As we drifted into the harbour I could see a couple of restaurants, a grocery store, a post office, and a few fishing boats bobbing on the crystal clear waters. I was met by Janis, who owns a little travel agency, Zifos, and we made our way up the gently winding tracks to Villa Evi, a traditional Greek house high up on the hills with breathtaking views across the bay. With my bags unpacked, I set off for the beach.
Pondamos, the nearest beach, was completely deserted – and just a 10-minute walk, past the army barracks. At this end of the Aegean, on the Dodecanese islands, Turkey is just a few kilometres away; I discovered later that Rhodes has six army barracks and regularly stages military exercises against potential Turkish invasions.
But back to the beach: the road to the sea skirts around a beautiful church – one of the few blue and white buildings on the island – and cemetery, where families are obliged to disinter and wash the bones of their loved ones after a few years and move them to a mausoleum to make way for newcomers.
The beach taverna at Pondamos puts on a superb lunch and stays open late on Fridays for supper. My preferred spot for an evening meal was Valantis, down on the harbour, which served some of the finest grilled feta I’ve ever eaten, along with kefalotyri cheese and souvlaki.
Top tip for fellow crowd-dodgers: avoid Pondamos on Tuesdays as a nearby island puts on a day trip and the place is mobbed. Reserve Tuesdays for walking; there are some excellent paths to follow (pick up a map for €5 – £4.32 – at Petros’s general store).
I don’t believe I have ever felt so relaxed or refreshed by a holiday; the peace and tranquility were intoxicating, the villa charming and unpretentious, the locals incredibly friendly, and the water was the clearest and bluest I have ever seen. It was with a heavy heart that I packed my bags to leave Halki for my next destination. The only remedy? Booking a villa for next year.
Back on Rhodes, and not a million miles from Faliraki, is Ixia, a much smaller resort on the western tip of the island. I was staying in the Atrium Plantinum, a luxury hotel that’s been exquisitely designed by a local architect, with the pool taking pride of place. After the peace of Halki I was worried about being around too many people, but even though I wasn’t the only guest, the hotel never felt crowded, with ample space between sunloungers, and even the tables in the restaurant.
In the quest to locate other tucked-away treasures on Rhodes I travelled to the tiny fishing village of Haraki, on the south-eastern side of the island, just above Lindos, on the Mediterranean. The pebbly shore is lined with a few tavernas, shops and holiday apartments, and in peak season the beach road is closed to traffic, allowing visitors to promenade along the seafront.
From here I travelled up the coast to Stegna, where you’ll find Stegna beach at the end of a steep, winding lane. The main street backs on to another long stretch of white sand, where at one end you’ll find a tiny fishing harbour, and Stegna Kozas, quite possibly the best restaurant on Rhodes.
Established on the beachfront in 1932, it has been passed down through the generations to current son Kozas, who wears a black gown and apron and, oddly, is barefoot at all times. Several locals with weathered faces line his bar, quite possibly the same people who carry cases to the studios, clean the apartments and fetch the fish in the early morning. Nothing much happens here and that’s the way the people of Stegna – and I – like it. I used to think of Rhodes and bristle at the thought of Faliraki but I’ve discovered there are some stunningly quiet places to escape to too.
Olympic Holidays (0208 492 6868; olympicholidays.com) offers seven nights’ self-catering at Villa Evi, Halki, and three nights’ B&B at the Atrium Palace, Rhodes, from £1,435 per person. Includes flights from Gatwick.
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