Walk the quiet backstreets of the medieval city of Rhodes and you are guaranteed to happen upon architectural wonders, hidden terrace cafés and beautiful Byzantine churches
The eclectic architecture of this ancient capital is testament to its tumultuous past. Founded 2,400 years ago, Rhodes is one of the world’s largest intact medieval cities and a Unesco World Heritage Site. The playground of the ancient Greeks, crusading knights, Ottoman merchants and, more recently, the glamorous 1950s jet set, each has left its mark on the city, but it is a source of pride for the natives that Rhodes has kept its own distinct character. It’s a place to come and stroll through quiet backstreets, to sit out on a roof terrace in the warm evenings enjoying some of the freshest fish you will ever taste.
What to do
Wander along tranquil cobbled lanes that wind between ancient flat-roofed stone buildings. Squat Ottoman mosques nestle up against domed Byzantine churches and medieval inns. Shuttered windows look down on narrow alleys meandering past half-open doorways that offer a glimpse of lemon trees, bright flowers and tiled courtyards.
Most tourists make a beeline for the Palace of the Grand Master (at the western end of Knight’s Street, the highest point in the town), former residence of the island’s commander, but it’s the Archaeological Museum (www.greece-museums.com) that astounds. Housed in a 15th-century hospital, ancient and medieval relics adorn every available surface. Look out for the Aphrodite of Thalassia, the inspiration for Lawrence Durrell’s travel book, Reflections on a Marine Venus.
Head up to the Acropolis that sits in a field of white flowers on a ridge high above the city. There is a stunning view across the cobalt sea to mountainous Turkey. Next door sits a 2,200-year-old stadium and the Temple of Pythian Apollo.
Where to stay
Hotel Casino Rodos is the height of unabashed glitz. The elegant rooms are huge with fantastic views. They come complete with a Jacuzzi bath, Bulgari goodies and a personal butler. Cava D'Oro Hotel is an 800-year-old hotel with 10 rooms and two suites, all well-restored using local stone. Marco Polo Mansion, housed in a 15th-century building in the old town, is a small boutique property exuding beautiful Ottoman-style design and a lush garden.
Where to eat and drink
In the old town it really does pay to get away from the plethora of touristy places and find the hidden gems. Here you can dine on fantastic seafood and light local wines a million miles away from Retsina (look for wines from the CAIR winery). Romeo Garden Restaurant (00 30 224 102 5186; Menekleous Street 7-9), in the heart of the old town, is popular with locals and serves fresh seafood caught by its own fishing boats. Alexis Taverna (00 30 22410 70522; Aristotelous Street 33) is one of the best restaurants in Rhodes. Ask the chef to concoct a personalised tasting menu just for you – whatever is decided upon will be well matched with fine Greek wines.
Restaurant Bar Wonder (00 33 224 103 9805; www.restaurantwonder.com), at 16-18 El Venizelou Street, is named after the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the world, that once straddled the entrance to the city’s harbour. The Colossus himself is long gone, but Wonder continues to serve delicious Mediterranean fare that certainly lives up to its ambitious title. The separate bar with its spacious terrace is perfect for a post-dinner drink. La Rosa in the Casino Rodos (see Where to stay) is the place to relive the decadent 1950s.
Time running out?
Take the moat path from the Pyli Amboise gate in the north of the old town to the Pyli Karetou gate in the south. Make your return journey via Alhadef, Aristotelous and Ippoton Streets; you’ll see a lot of the old town in a short space of time.
Book an outdoor table if possible - many restaurants have attractive gardens and terraces in which to eat.
Currency is the euro. Rhodes is two hours ahead of GMT and a four-hour flight from London.
EasyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) flies from Gatwick to Rhodes during the summer months; see website for details. Olympic Airways (0870 606 0460; www.olympicairlines.com) flies from both Gatwick and Heathrow to Rhodes via Athens.
Rhodes Tourist Information: 00 30 224 102 3655; www.rhodestravels.com. Visit the website for further contact details.
Reflections on a Marine Venus by Lawrence Durrell (Faber and Faber, £6.99). A poetical exploration of the sun-bleached landscape and sparkling waters of Rhodes.
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.