Medieval appeal and endless beaches
Despite being a classic bucket-and-spade destination, there is so much more to Rhodes than its 300-plus days of sunshine and long, sandy beaches. The grand Dodecanese island’s Unesco World Heritage-listed capital is Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited medieval town and worth a visit in its own right. The Knights of the Order of St John, the Ottomans and Fascist-era Italian occupiers have all passed through, leaving an indelible mark. History-lovers flock to the majestic Acropolis of Lindos and its Cycladic-style village of Lindos. Adventure aficionados head to the verdant interior for hiking and mountain biking, and south to Prasonisi for kite and windsurfing.
The northern half of the island is the most developed tourism-wise and where most hotels are located, including multiple all-inclusive options. New, high-end resorts are slowly unfolding along the south-eastern coast. The wind-whipped western side is where you’ll find serene, umbrella-free beaches amid a landscape of dramatic mountains, low shrubs and castle ruins.
Hot right now . . .
Helen Iatrou, our resident expert, offers her top tips on the hottest places to eat, drink and stay this season.
For those who wish to stay close to Lindos yet avoid any possible tangle of traffic, Lindos Grand Resort & Spa (Lindos; 00 30 2244 032000) fits the bill. The chic 200-room, five-star, adults-only hotel has opened its doors above sandy Vlycha Bay. Double rooms from €164 (£180).
Foodies are already addicted to Puglian chef Giovanni Scaraggi’s witty creations at Italian restaurant Sole Giaguaro (Lachania; 00 30 2244 046262). The former Noma chef gives diners a hard time choosing between seaweed-cured beef tartare and tortelli stuffed with ricotta and Calabrian nduja.
48 hours in . . . Rhodes
A hire car is essential on Greece’s fourth largest island, if only to touch on a handful of its myriad attractions. Rhodes is blessed with lush landscapes that alternate between flat seascapes and soaring mountaintops. Consider basing yourself on the northeast coast, which allows easy access to the Old Town, ancient sites and plenty of great beaches.
Today though, you won’t need the car. Schedule your time knowing you have a lot of ground to cover on foot in the Old Town. Pre-book a licensed local guide, such as archaeologist Portokalenia Vratsali (00 30 695 177 5048), and request a brief overview of the town’s vast history before embarking on your private tour. A combined 10-euro ticket allows admission to the Palace of the Grand Master, Archaeological Museum of Rhodes, the Church of Our Lady of the Castle and the Decorative Arts Collection.
Replenish your energy stores with a power smoothie and quick bite (perhaps vegan feta and cherry tomato pancakes) at veggie haven To Marouli (26 Platonos St; 00 30 2241 304394), a short walk from the Street of the Knights. Put on a hat, reapply sunscreen and refill your water bottle; it’s time to scale the city’s defensive walls during their narrow weekday opening slot, noon until 3pm April through October. Starting at the palace, the wall walk takes about 35 minutes and affords remarkable views over the city’s gates, ports and towers.
As the sun goes down, stroll through the myrtle- and lavender-scented moat surrounding the Old Town, accessible from the gate where the wall walk ends. Indulge in a lie-down under a palm tree. The path leads all the way to the new town, where you can pick up a mastic-flavoured ice cream from family-run Stani (28 Agias Anastasias St; 00 30 2241 031991).
In the evening, take a romantic walk through the dimly lit cobblestoned lanes of the Old Town, where the atmosphere is nothing less than magical.
Cloaked from view down a quiet alleyway is lovingly restored Ottoman residence turned boutique hotel Marco Polo Mansion (40-42 Agiou Fanouriou St; 00 30 22410 25562), which plays host to a creative Mediterranean restaurant amid lemon trees, jasmine and honeysuckle. You’ll feel like you’ve been let in on a closely guarded foodie secret. Book in advance and put your faith in ebullient proprietor Efi Dede’s menu suggestions – think slow-cooked octopus in sea urchin sauce, sea bream risotto, and skewered lamb with rosemary and pistachio.
The night is still young, so pop up to the terrace of L’Éternel French Bar (18 Platonos St, Old Town; 00 30 694 858 0288), a three-minute walk away, for a glass of wine, views of Old Town landmarks and a jazz and swing soundtrack.
Rise early and start your day with a coffee at Kallithea Springs, a short drive south of the capital. Wander across mosaic pathways through the public baths built by the Italians in 1929 that have since been restored. In the Rotunda building, pore over glamorous black and white images of Rhodians swimming in the mineral springs during the complex’s Fifties and Sixties heyday.
From there, head to Anthony Quinn Bay, named after the US actor who starred in The Guns of Navarone, scenes of which were shot in Rhodes. Witness the natural splendour of this well-hidden cove, where cliffs covered in flowering shrubs embrace a pebbled shore and provide shelter to calm blue-green waters. Take your first dip of the day here while the sun shows off the bay in its most flattering light.
Make the 300-step trek up to Panagia Tsambika monastery and its chapel, long considered a pilgrimage for women wishing to bear children. The location atop a cypress-studded peak offers views of deep Aegean blues lapping onto Tsambika beach. The devout give praise to an icon of the Virgin Mary thought to possess miraculous baby-making powers, which is kept in a newer monastery nearby.
Lunch at classic seafront seafood joint Stegna Kozas (Stegna; 00 30 22440 22632), which started out in 1932 with old man Kozas serving up the day’s catch with garden patch-grown vegetables to local fisherman from his log cabin. Grab a table outdoors and order fried rouzetia, a local hand-caught fish served with garlic dip.
No trip to Rhodes is complete without experiencing one of the Dodecanese’s most important ancient sites. In mid-afternoon, once the cruise crowds have gone, walk up to the Acropolis of Lindos and revel in the fourth-century Temple of Athena Lindia, the Propylaea, a Hellenistic Stoa and twin natural harbours.
Cool off at the coastal town’s main beach or at St Paul’s Bay, an eight-minute walk south of the archaeological site.
Dinner in whitewashed Lindos village means Mavrikos (Lindos; 00 30 2244 031232). Chef Dimitris Mavrikos and his co-owner sibling Michalis will welcome you like an old friend to the homey restaurant they inherited from their grandfather, and they’ve made quite a few over the years. Jackie Onassis, Nelson Rockefeller and Barbara Streisand count among guests who have dined under the grape vines on perennial house specialties such as chickpea dip with orange juice and garlic, cuttlefish risotto in its ink and orzo with tiny Lindian shrimp.
Afterwards, amble through the winding stone-paved streets of Lindos, whose long history as a naval power brought prosperity, and keep an eye out for majestic stone-built captains’ homes built between the 16th and 18th centuries.
If you’re in the mood for a serious cocktail or a locally bottled bubbly, your best bet is rooftop bar Cozze & Champagne (Lindos; 00 30 6944 454234).
Where to stay . . .
Becalming views of sparkling Vlycha Bay are what first catch your eye at Lindos Blu Luxury Hotel & Suites, just a four-minute drive from Lindos town and its acropolis. This refined adults-only resort remains a stellar local vanguard of what five stars represent. Foodies mustn’t miss dinner at Five Senses restaurant.
Double rooms from €260 (£233). Vlycha beach, Líndos; 00 30 22440 32110
Kókkini Porta Rossa, originally a 14th-century knight’s abode, is the most fascinating place to stay in Rhodes. Spend time with the worldly proprietors speaking about their native island and the backstory of their antique-filled boutique lodging, a true labour of love. In the six rooms, bedspreads in hues of forest green and eggplant, rich Anatolian rugs and beamed wooden ceilings lend warmth as sheer curtains let sunlight in.
Double rooms from €245 (£219). Rhodes Town; 00 30 22410 75114
Marco Polo Mansion is arguably the most atmospheric of the Old Town’s hotels. Bohemian flair, laughter and warmth run through this former Ottoman official’s residence, creating an atmosphere more akin to a favourite uncle’s house than a boutique b&b. There are seven rooms; you have a choice of either the ‘antique selection’ or those based around the garden.
Double rooms from €80 (£73). Old Town; 00 30 22410 25562
What to bring home . . .
Lindians are fiercely proud of their melekouni, a natural energy bar customarily made with sesame, honey and almond. Join locals in picking up a batch from Mele Kouni (77 Canada St; 00 30 2241 023200).
Greek chic concept store OhDeer (61 Pythagoras St; 00 30 2241 601247) tempts with items such as a gold deer antler pendant and a t-shirt inspired by poet Pindar’s ode to ancient boxer Diagoras of Rhodes.
When to go . . .
Thanks to its southerly location, Rhodes enjoys one of the longest tourist seasons in Greece. Hotels along the coast generally open April through October, while those in the capital tend to operate year-round.
The island is busiest in the summer months, when the weather is hot and dry, whereas May, September and October suit those who prefer quieter beaches, restaurants and bars, though the odd shower is possible in spring, particularly inland. Cruise ships continue to call in during shoulder months, therefore historical sites do remain busy.
Autumn and winter, when flight fares and hotel rates drop considerably, are ideal seasons to arrange a stay in the medieval capital. Lose yourself in its labyrinthine backstreets, visiting museums and monuments and chatting with locals who have adjusted to their usual day-to-day rhythms.
Know before you go . . .
Tourist board information: 00 30 22410 44335; visitgreece.gr
Emergency fire: 199 or 112
Emergency police: 100
British Vice Consulate: 29 Grigoriou Lambraki Street, Rhodes; 00 30 22410 22005. In an emergency outside working hours of 8am-3pm call 00 30 210 727 2600; gov.uk
Local laws and etiquette
• Locals and visiting Greeks tend to have lunch or dinner late, as in after 2pm and 9pm respectively. Almost all tavernas and restaurants open at 12pm and then around 7pm to cater to early diners, while many don’t close at all in the afternoon. Some restaurants in the capital only open for dinner.
• In terms of dress code, shorts and beachwear is fine at casual tavernas, while trousers and skirts are required at smarter restaurants. Covering up in church is mandatory; shawls and skirts are provided if necessary.
• Tipping is not required, however most restaurants have a cover charge for bread. A tip of around 10 per cent is most welcome.
• Public transport is good and affordable. Rhodes KTEL intercity buses (00 30 22410 27706) offer regular services from Rhodes Town to resort areas on the eastern coast, in addition to Epta Piges. Purchase tickets at the central KTEL station on Rimini Square, from where buses depart, or on board the vehicle. RODA covers bus routes in Rhodes Town and nearby areas, while it also links the capital to destinations on the western coast. Tickets can be purchased from most kiosks, mini markets and the airport. They cost more if purchased from the driver on the bus. RODA buses depart from the terminal on Averof Street. The Rhodes-Paradissi line connects the city with the airport.
• Cabs (dark blue and white) are easy to find in Rhodes’ new town and can be booked by phone for other destinations. Rhodes Taxi & Limo Services (00 30 22410 69800) operates 24 hours year-round. Rates can be checked and bookings made online for airport and port transfers to and from your destination. Rhodes airport is very busy, so book transfers in advance. A taxi ride from the airport to Rhodes Town should cost around €25 (£22), with a small charge for baggage. If staying in the Old Town, expect to be dropped off at the gate nearest to your hotel. There are taxi ranks at the airport and selected resort areas including Faliraki, Ialyssos, Lindos and Afandou. Rates double between 12am and 5am.
• Hiring a car is strongly recommended so that you can explore Rhodes independently. Rhodes Old Town is almost entirely pedestrianised, therefore avoid it altogether on four wheels. Stay on the main roads and monitor road signs. Don’t be shy to ask locals to point you in the right direction if you find you’re lost.
• Handshake greetings are the norm, however, a kiss on each cheek is commonplace if you know one another well.
Flight time: Around four hours from London
International dialling code: 00 30 22410
Greece expert Helen Iatrou finds Rhodes endlessly fascinating. She can spend hours peeling back the layers of history that pervade the medieval Old Town and prefers peaceful beaches such as Fourni and Kokkini Ammos.
Experience Rhodes with The Telegraph
Telegraph Travel’s best hotels, tours and holidays in Rhodes, tried, tested and recommended by our Rhodes experts.