Rhodes. One of the biggest islands in Greece, and the one closest to Turkey, Rhodes is steeped in history both recent and ancient. For over 2,000 years it has been fought over by the likes of Persians, Romans and Turks. It could be said that it is the most famous occupiers were the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, Crusaders who built the fortified city with 33 KM’s of stone walls and the Grand Masters Palace in 1309. This sits at the top of the Street of Knights where the different nationalities of Crusaders had their residences. Even these guys couldn’t hold the coveted island trading capital and were kicked off by the Ottoman Turks just 200 years later and settled in Malta. Their regime lasted until 1912 with the Italians took over. And on and on and on. Only reconnected with Greece formally in 1947, the island is now a tourism hotspot and the second most visited island after Crete.
Once again, like Lisbon, we had an inauspicious beginning on the island. Our flight to Athens from Lisbon left late and we missed our scheduled Rhodes connection. The next flight arrived at midnight and it took an hour for the owner to send someone to open up our airbnb. All this in the dark and in the middle of a windstorm. After finally getting in, we realise that the place is hardly the charmer it appears in photographs. It was stark with a terrible bed, a bathroom where everything was leaking and, to top it all, it backed on to ‘sex street ‘ where the music blares in a dozen clubs past 4:00am.
After a rugged night, where we began to think travel just isn’t worth it, we wandered off to find better accommodation. Not so simple as one key day (the next day) was booked everywhere we went. We did find the charming Trianon, a cafe across from a church where the locals gather on Sunday morning. Great breakfast and coffee with buckets of fresh, cold orange juice. Carrying on from New Rhodes Town to Old Rhodes Town, we stop for a beer at the Golden Olympiade Cafe and meet Thanos the restaurant greeter. Sympathetic to our airbnb woes he calls a friend who comes to meet us.
Her name is Georgia and she is the host/manager every hotel would want. Not only does she have a room in her boutique hotel in old tow (Saint Artemios) , she met us at the harbour taxi stand and carried our heavy bags to her hotel BY HERSELF! Her quaint little place had a lovely room, served a stunning breakfast of perfect eggs any style, home made bread and jam, greek yogurt and fruit and terrible coffee (well, it isn’t always perfect). She guided us to the key sights, the best restaurants and even got us a rental car for us in the harbour where she again CARRIED our bags herself. A fantastic host!
After 4 nights with Georgia, we head south to the Thomas Cook designer hotel Casa Cook. The trip down is uneventful and not all that pretty compared to gorgeous Crete. However, Casa Cook, delivers in style. It is a new age concept hotel supposed to appeal to millennials which we are not. However, after dodging the ancient cruise ship people in their walkers, wheelchairs and boating wardrobes in Old Rhodes, the sight of young, trim, tanned elites by the pool had extra appeal. Casa Cook is all low rise, white cube type buildings with private or shared pools. There are bikes to use and a main pool area with a good restaurant and a smart looking bar with hammocks. The hiring policy is admirable, the girls on staff are even prettier than the guests.
The next day we travelled south passing through Lindos, a small and overly touristed town that even has its own ancient Acropolis (which we skip as we’ve seen the big one). We wander about the narrow streets, stop for beers and a Greek Salad on the beach and hike back up to the car. Enough for the day.
However, Ellen missing her workout regime notices people hiking up the mountain behind us. The front desk says there is a trail and it takes 25 minutes to get to Tsambika monastery at the top. Off she goes, no water and no money. Three hours later I get worried and then get a text. She missed any signs of a trail. It took three times as long and the monastery was another 350 steps straight up. I set off to get her in the rented Fiat Panda where it takes four runs to get up the last hill. Finally, in first gear at max rpm, I make it. She does it again two days later and things go awry a second time. Enough said.
In the morning, we head south again to a mythical beach called Prassonisi. This is where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean at the southern tip of the island. Here there are constant winds that make it the kite surfing capital of Southern Europe. Over the year the tides change the place; it is a peninsula in summer and in winter an island. We drive for hours through scrub and very few small villages. Not very pretty but we do arrive to a huge beach and at least 20 kite surfers blasting through the waves. There is a little village that has evolved over time with a few apartments for the surfers, some board shops, a grocery store and a couple of restaurant bars. We stop for beers and chips before heading back to something we heard about from our pal Georgia. The Mojito Beach Bar. It can’t be missed she said. It can’t be because there isn’t much else for 30 miles. The beach is nothing to speak of but the Mojito’s are awesome !
So, that was Rhodes. Old Rhodes Town is impressive for its amazing history but not much more than a cruise ship tourist trap today. The stories of the Knights of St. John, the Grand Masters Palace (now an excellent museum), the Street of Knights all add to its place in history and its UNESCO World Heritage status. But, I’ll take the uber chill Casa Cook anytime.
Saint Artemios is a charming gem in the heart of Rhodes Town. Hidden away behind cobbled streets, it is an oasis with tranquil courtyard surrounded by trees and flowers. The highlight is Georgia, the manager of the hotel who can’t do enough for you. She carried our bags, served us delicious breakfasts, helped us with car rental and made recommendations for restaurants, tours, etc. Very highly recommended.
Casa Cook is a Thomas Cook lifestyle boutique hotel with a “bohemian spirit”. About 30 minute drive south of Rhodes Town, Casa Cook is all low rise, white cube type buildings with private or shared pools. The hotel's vistas of the pine-studded mountain is everywhere you turn. The onsite restaurant offers an array of delicious local cuisine. The trail up to Tsambika monastery with breathtaking views over the beaches of Tsambika and Kolymbiais a short hop from reception desk.
Mezzaluna is a lovely restaurant on a square away from all the hustle and bustle of busy streets of Old Town. Highly recommended by Georgia, the manager of Saint Artemios we loved the Lamb Kleftiko on Orzo - juicy fall off the bone delicious.