Our Editor-in-Chief Michael shares his favourite secrets from Rhodes – and discovers the gorgeous little island of Kastellorizo.
Don’t be put off by the Faliraki factor: there are lots of good reasons to visit Rhodes, as I discovered recently with my family. It has some of the loveliest beaches in the Med, an amazingly preserved medieval city and, as soon you get away from the crowds, a wild coastline backed by pine forests and rocky hills. There are frequent flights from UK and the rest of Europe – and some lovely, lazy satellite islands if you want to escape completely.
We arrived late and took a taxi as far as it could go into the warren of cobbled alleys that makes up Rhodes town. There, under the appointed minaret, Alex emerged with his luggage trolley, and led us down narrow moonlit lanes reminiscent of an Arabic medina to his gorgeous hideaway hotel, the Spirit of the Knights. We found ourselves in a lantern-lit courtyard fringed by loquat and palm trees, with a bubbling water conduit and the scent of jasmine. Ice-cool G&Ts were pressed into our hands, and a freshly squeezed orange juice for our son: a warmer welcome I could not imagine.
After a tranquil night’s sleep and an impeccably presented breakfast, it came as a shock to emerge from this sanctuary into bustling pedestrian streets, lined with tacky souvenir stands and clothes shops, and echoing to cries of “Hello, my friend”. But it was easy enough to dive off the main thoroughfares into ancient Ottoman mansions, crumbling hamams and tasteful art boutiques; and we always had our blissful bolthole to return to afterwards. I could well imagine coming here out of season for a dose of sunshine (Rhodes gets 300 days per year) and a step back into Crusader history (this is where the Knights Hospitaller were based), in the capable hands of amiable Alex and his several siblings. The hotel is open all year; easyJet flies until the end of October, or you can easily connect via Athens during the winter.
Next stop was Lindos, the island’s prettiest village, perched between impossibly beautiful bays and an awe-inspiring ancient acropolis. We caught one of the frequent, air-conditioned buses and, after an hour and a quick phone call, found ourselves once again being led through labyrinthine alleys – this time whitewashed and wonderfully Greek – to another achingly hip hideaway, the Melenos.
It occupies a prime position, with jaw-dropping views from its rooftop restaurant and its artfully pebbled courtyards over the sheltered horseshoe of Lindos bay, where yachts bob like seagulls on shimmering blue waters. The path to the acropolis starts behind the hotel; another leads down to the sandy beach in 5 minutes.
Our suite had a raised wooden sleeping platform and a gorgeous snug for 4-year-old Oscar; outside was a day-bed for shady siestas, and a little table where we sat under the stars and enjoyed a complimentary bottle of chilled white wine (given to every i-escape guest). Breakfasts were a highlight here, too, with cinnamon-dusted bougatsa (custard pies), and freshly baked spinach and leek pastries.
Lindos village has everything you could possibly want in a Greek summer holiday: a safe sandy beach, a magnificent hilltop castle, boats for hire, a smattering of bars and boutiques, and no shortage of friendly tavernas (though extensive testing confirmed to us that none could match the excellent dinners at the hotel). Next time, we’ll save up and come for a week.
But you won’t need to save up to stay on the remote islet of Kastellorizo: at Caretta we paid the princely sum of 45 euros per night for a spacious triple room – simple but absolutely charming, with seashell-lattices on the wall and a fig-shaded garden for DIY breakfasts. And believe me, once you get here, you’ll want to stay a long time.
The island is tiny – only 2 miles wide – with just one village, whose pastel houses line an impossibly pretty harbour, and one road leading to the diminutive airport. This is how we arrived, bumping down onto one of the shortest runways in Europe, before collecting our own luggage from the cart and squeezing into Kastellorizo’s only taxi with as many other passengers as could fit (in our case, a bemused Aussie couple).
There may be no beaches on the island, but I suppose that keeps the crowds away, and it certainly keeps the waters wonderfully clear. On our first morning, we took a boat ride with Kapetanios Giorgos – a man of few words but many horsepower – to the aptly named Blue Grotto. Ducking under a low lip of rock, we found ourselves in a huge chamber filled with luminescent blue water, lit from below by the sun’s refracted rays. Plunging in, it felt as if I was floating in an inky evening sky.
Evenings were spent strolling the quayside, chatting to fishermen mending their nets, choosing fresh lobster for our seaside supper, and browsing the surprisingly rich assortment of gifts and clothes at Monika’s gift shop. (Monika and Damien are the beating heart of the island, running Caretta’s guesthouse, apartments and taverna, and still finding time to chat to every guest and every local that passes). It felt like the Greece of my childhood, or perhaps of that lovely, lazy anti-war film Mediterraneo, which was set and shot here. And, as if I needed to, I fell in love with Greece all over again.