"In Rhodes the days drop as softly as fruit from trees" is the marvellously evocative phrase from Lawrence Durrell's Reflections on a Marine Venus, his memoir of the two years he spent on the island just after the Second World War. It's clear the Aegean island captured the writer's heart, and, with its rich and eventful history, picturesque villages and 220 kilometres of coastline dotted with beautiful beaches, it's just as prone to do the same to any twenty-first century traveller.
Whatever its ancient and modern charms, the mere name of Rhodes is enveloped in legend. It is inseparable from the mention of the Colossus, now lost to us, but remembered by two simple Venetian columns each crowned by a deer which mark the place where tradition says the great statue's feet rested as he stood straddling the harbour at Mandraki.
Legend tells that Rhodes was born under the protection of Helios, the Greek sun god, and it seems the sun still favours the island. With an average of 300 days of sunshine every year, the climate is perfect to enjoy the idyllic beaches, whether it's the rocky beaches of the west coast or the nearly deserted coves that dot the coastline, especially between Monolithos and Kamiros in the southwest.
Some of the finest beaches – Gialos or Pallas, for example – are just a step away from the town of Lindos, the best spot to start to explore the island. Perched on a rock, its greatest treasures are the remains of the Acropolis, which dates from the fourth century BC, and the temple of Athena Lindia. There's more, though, including the view from the cliff top down to the Megalos Gialos beach and St Paul's Bay, where tradition says the Apostle landed in 43 AD.
Another of the island's attractions is the chance to discover the relaxed atmosphere of the villages of the interior, as well as the simple enjoyment of the rich historical heritage, whose epicentre is the city of Rhodes itself. In 1309, the Knights Hospitaller took the island, which they then fortified and occupied for the next two hundred years until 1523, when Rhodes fell to the Turkish army of Suleiman the Magnificent.
The walled medieval city of Rhodes with its Jewish and Turkish quarters is a veritable treasure-trove of monuments and sights for the visitor who takes a stroll through this UNESCO World Heritage site. Highlights include the mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent and the Street of the Knights, lined with magnificent buildings, including the Palace of the Grand Masters. The Great Hospital today houses the Archaeological Museum, and it is here that the you can see the small terra-cotta Venus fishermen pulled from the sea and for which Durrell named his book.
Where to stay
In Kalitheas, the Royal Mare is an ideal destination for family holidays, while in Lindos, the luxurious Lindos Blu boasts rooms with spectacular views of the bay of Vlicha. In the capital, right in the heart of the Old Town, the Spirit of the Knights Boutique Hotel exudes history from every corner. On the beachfront at Ixia, the Ixian Grand is a five star resort hotel, considered one of the most prestigious on the island.
Where – and what – to eat
Rhodes cuisine is one hundred percent Mediterranean. Among the highlights are papoutsaki (grilled aubergines stuffed with meat) and keftedes (meatballs flavoured with mint and oregano). The typical dishes of mezes – little snack dishes – such as octopus with olive oil and herbs, are often served with a glass of ouzo. And for the sweet toothed, desserts include such delights as loukoumades, delicious honey fritters. In the capital, Alexis (Sokratous Str 18, Tel +30 22 410 29 347) is one of the island's oldest taverns, famous for its fresh fish and delicacies such as grilled octopus. Just a step away is Fotis Melathron, another classic of the last four decades. In Lindos, the Ambrosia supplements its menu of fine Greek dishes with a few carefully selected international options.
Greek Tourist Board