Rhodes blends a big dose of sunshine with outstanding sightseeing and knock-out nightlife
The sun-god Apollo stills smiles on the island of which he was once patron deity. Rhodes claims 300 days of sunshine a year, so if you’re looking for some spring or autumn sunshine it’s a no-brainer. Apollo’s temple – or what remains of it – stands atop Monte Smith, a hill near the island’s main town (named after a 19th-century British admiral who used it as a lookout point). And there are even plans for a new, high-tech statue of Apollo to replace the legendary Colossus, one of the original seven wonders of the ancient world.
Rhodes is the main island in the Dodecanese island chain, so it’s an excellent jumping-off point for an island-hopping trip. You can even bolt on a venture to Marmaris, on the Turkish mainland. Rhodes Town is really two towns in one. The Old Town is rated as the finest surviving medieval walled city in the world. It’s still a living community, not just a tourist trap (though it certainly has pitfalls for the unwary, in the shape of over-priced accommodation and eating places). Built by the piratical Knights of the Order of St John in the 13th century, it was taken over by the Turks, who added baths, mosques and minarets. Outside the ramparts, in the New Town, there are modern hotels, the casino, the beach, and a plethora of pubs and tourist restaurants.
You need several days (or even better a week) just to scratch the surface of the Old Town, so you need an amenable place to stay. If your budget will stand it (and you fancy combining romance with culture), Fashion Hotel Nikos Takis (Panetiou 26) is a boutique hotel redolent with camp glamour, with king-size beds in three rooms and four Jacuzzi suites (€90-€170). They can arrange private yacht and helicopter charter for big spenders, and less well-heeled guests can rent a guitar or an accordion to make their own music (though there are DVD players in all the rooms). Equally stylish is Marco Polo Mansion (Agiou Fanouriou 40-42), a seven-room Turkish mansion with colourful, cosy rooms (from around €140) and a leafy inner courtyard where breakfast is served and where, for a touch of class, you can dine à la carte for around €25.
Domus Rodos (Plateia Platanos) is an old-style townhouse with simple rooms and lots of places to eat and drink nearby. It’s a 10-minute walk from the harbour and a double here costs €44-€68. Places to sleep that are both cheap and pleasant are thin on the ground, so the charming wee Apollo Guesthouse (Omirou 28C) is a bonus. It’s tucked away in a quiet street, with six small but well-designed rooms (platform or gallery beds, pine floors, white drapes, and great views of the Old Town from those on the upper floor), from around €50. Similarly priced, Mango Rooms (Doreios 3) is a spin-off from a pub and internet café favoured by yachties and scuba divers, on a picturesque Old Town square.
With your accommodation sorted, prepare to hit the highlights of the Old Town, which span centuries. Prepare, too, to get lost on the way – it’s a labyrinth. Landmarks around the ring of ramparts are the massive twin towers of the Marine Gate, leading to Emborio Harbour (the commercial port for ferries, freighters and fishing boats); the Liberty Gate, linking the Old Town and the Mandraki waterfront; and the d’Amboise Gate, connecting the Old Town and New Town.
Just inside this is the imposing Palace of the Grand Masters, first built for the top man of the Knights of St John, used by the Turks as a prison and gunpowder store, demolished by an explosion in 1856 and restored to slightly phoney grandeur by the Italians in the 1930s. Climb the nearby Roloi (Clocktower) to get an idea of the layout of the walled town. Next to it, Ottoman-era buildings cluster round the pink-walled Suleiman Mosque. Still used by a few Muslim worshippers, it’s the grandest of half a dozen mosques in the old town. Bring your own soap and towel for a steamy (but gender-segregated) time at the Mustafa Pasha Baths, an aged hamam next to the Mustafa Pasha Mosque (opening times are usually Tuesday to Friday, 11am-6pm, and Saturday, 8am-6pm).
On Plateia Evreon Martyron, a stone slab commemorates another vanished minority: the city’s Jews, who were deported to be murdered in Nazi death camps during World War II. The Archaeological Museum and Byzantine Museum, reflecting even older layers of Rhodian history, are both on Plateia Mousion, and from here you can duck through the Liberty Gate to Mandraki Harbour. Mandraki is the place to hop aboard a boat for a cruise round the island, book a day-trip to nearby Symi or Marmaris, or sign up for diving and snorkelling trips. Holiday reps and local agents also tout trips to the ruins of ancient Ialyssos and Kamiros and to the famous ‘Valley of the Butterflies’, as well as boat trips to ‘Anthony Quinn Beach’. Unless you’re really keen on archaeology, moths and long-dead film stars, all of these are way overrated.
The bizarre Hollywood-Arabian market building on the waterfront is a great place for grilled souvlaki, chops, chicken and cold beer, or just for breakfast, while the esplanade of grand Art-Deco buildings is the architectural legacy of the Italians (who occupied Rhodes from 1912 until 1947). There are lots of mid-range and upscale hotels in the New Town, but the Rodos Park Suites (Riga Fereou 12) queens it over the rest. It’s a modernist, low-rise building and a night in one of its 60 rooms costs around €300 – but for that you get frills such as 24-hour room service, in-room satellite, widescreen TV and DVD players, and a fine outdoor pool. The New Town also has a sweep of clean beach crammed with sun beds, as well as most of the Rhodes Town nightlife.
Odos Orfamidou, lined with English, Irish and Scandinavian bars, pizzerias, burger joints and even curry houses, is where many visitors start the evening (and indeed finish it). Nightspots come and go, but some long standing favourites include Havana (Miltiadou 9), for R&B and soul nights, and Mojo. Colorado, however, is still the daddy, with three dance floors and a multi-national crowd. Out at Trianda beach (not to be confused with the ancient ruins, on the hill above) Taj Mahal plays mainstream sounds with a hint of Bollywood.
Back in the Old Town, blow the budget with lunch or dinner at Alexis (Sokratous 18), where the seafood will change your opinion of Greek grub forever, while photos of celebrity patrons through the decades gaze down at you from the walls: Telly Savalas, George Hamilton IV and Sevvy Ballesteros are among them. Don’t expect to get out without paying at least €80 for two, though. Its sibling, Alexis 4 Seasons (Aristotelous 33), is similarly priced, but feels less formal, with tables in a vine-covered courtyard.
Beyond Rhodes Town, purpose-built resorts dot the east and west coasts. Ixia, south of town, is a long string of hotels, bars and cafes, with a scattering of big-named, four and five-star resorts, merging with Trianda en route to the airport. On the other side of the island, Faliraki is infamous for the boozed-up antics of young Brits, but has in truth calmed down a bit. It has an excellent beach, but really offers little more than a long strip of cheap bars, tatty souvenir shops, tourist tavernas and package holiday hotels.
Lindos, with its tiers of white houses beneath a crag crowned by a knightly castle and an ancient temple, is so iconic that it never had a chance of remaining uncommercialised. Stay in one of 12 lush suites at the Melenos Lindos Hotel, however, and you’ll feel opulently insulated from the hoi polloi.