Travel review: Rhodes
The last time I went to the Greek island of Rhodes was on a alcohol-fuelled, man-hunting 18-30s type of holiday back in the Eighties.
Needless to say, I saw little of this rocky, mountainous island beyond Faliraki’s bars and nightclubs, did virtually no sightseeing and spent the days in dark sunglasses with a hangover and a glass of Alka-Seltzer.
Taking my own family back more than 20 years later, I wondered if the fourth largest Greek island had managed to retain some sense of history and traditional culture away from the tourist trail.
At the southern end of the Aegean, about 10 miles from the Turkish coast, Rhodes is the largest of the Dodecanese group of islands. It’s 48 miles long and 23 miles wide, and promises 300 days of sunshine a year.
There may be no trace of the famous Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, after a violent earthquake toppled it centuries ago, but there is still much to see of the long history of Rhodes dating back to the Stone Age.
Waves of invaders - Persians, Romans, Arabs, Knights of St John, Ottoman Turks and Italians - valued this strategic location, close to Egypt and Asia Minor.
With children in tow, you can’t rely entirely on antiquity. The new Holiday Village Rhodes in Kolymbia on the east coast, an all-inclusive First Choice hotel complex, features umpteen pools, water slides and a lazy river, a football camp and non-stop daytime and evening entertainment.
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Air-conditioned rooms are bright and spacious and some guests have swim-up rooms with a pool outside, while deluxe villas have private pools. An adults-only bar in the deluxe area is for all guests.
The hotel complex is split into a number of different areas, one for activities and daytime entertainment. My kids loved the pool sessions, with kayaking and raft-building, while the high rope course is enjoyable if you don’t suffer from vertigo.
The football camp, run by enthusiastic coaches with masses of talent, took place on the Astroturf pitch and my son probably learned more in a week about soccer skills than he did all season with his club back home.
A branded football shirt and water bottle for each child went down extremely well.
While the kids joined activities on site, we discovered the quieter part of the complex with yet another swimming pool with a swim-up bar. I whiled away hours sipping fruit punches in the cool water.
I also discovered a fantastic spa in the quieter area with a tranquil indoor pool, an ideal escape from the heat of the day. The spa offered treatments for kids, so my 10-year-old daughter had a manicure with me.
But one of the main pleasures was not having to think about food. The buffet restaurant offered the usual European food, with a fabulous Greek section with all the favourites and new ones like feta and spinach pastries, vegetarian dishes with aubergines and courgettes and mouth-watering local produce.
In the evenings, the whole family could enjoy pop shows, bingo, live music and cabaret. My children went to cinema nights organised by club staff.
To see the island, we hired a car and found that driving wasn’t too difficult if you avoid potholes and locals riding mopeds three deep with no protective gear.
First stop on our cultural quest was the capital, Rhodes, the most northerly point of the island. The medieval old town within the city walls is a maze of narrow streets, arches and old buildings mixing Byzantine churches and Gothic architecture and housing the Church of Saint John of the Collachium, built in the early 14th century and dedicated to Saint John, a patron of the Order.
While my husband took the children for some serious haggling for leather handbags, belts and watches in the old town, I wandered around the imposing Palace of the Grand Masters, the largest building in the medieval city, with its majestic stone walls and grand staircase leading the upper floor, paved with mosaics.
The city of Rhodes is a magnet for tourists, but you escape the crowds in shady tavernas in the old town.
After that, we headed for beaches on the east coast, avoiding Faliraki in search of some peace and quiet.
Lindos, further south, has a fantastic beach and was about the only stunning resort I remembered from my last visit.
Although busier than it was 20 years ago, with new hotels along the coast, this area is little changed; two beautiful sheltered bays between a rocky hill, its peak dominated by the acropolis of Lindos, sitting above the whitewashed houses of the village with their pebble-paved courtyards and narrow alleys.
It was too hot to walk to the top, but many people take the traditional transport - a donkey - for the princely sum of five euros.
Away from the traffic of Lindos, we opted for the quieter beach of Agathi, 15 minutes south of Kolymbia, which boasts free sun loungers, meltingly soft sand and shimmering, crystal clear blue water which deepens so slowly it is quite safe for children.
A boat-owner took my son waterskiing for 20 euros, while others preferred ‘wet and wild’ rides on ringos behind the speedboat.
On another day we found the nearby shingle beach of Stegna, a pretty fishing village near the town of Archangelos, famed for its pottery and carpet-making. Stegna is the only place where I have hired a sun lounger and been presented with fresh figs from the owner’s garden.
For windsurfing you’re better off on the west coast, where the sea is rougher and the coastline less commercial.
Further inland, past the well-worn tourist attraction of Epta Piges, famed for its pines, plane trees and spring water, we drove through unspoilt villages including Archipoli and Psinthos, largely ignored by tourists.
Inland villages have whitewashed houses and their own churches and squares. Apparently, Greeks don’t like being seen in places without squares, traditionally their meeting point where locals discuss the day’s events.
Even in villages, the locals have a smattering of English. Off the beaten track, tavernas use food from local farms.
Here, a meze - a mix of traditional dishes which might include Greek salad, village sausage, griddled goat meat, stuffed vine leaves, saganaki (pan-seared cheese), fried aubergines, courgettes and sometimes courgette flowers stuffed with Feta cheese and fresh chilli - is half the price and offers twice the freshness of many resort restaurant.
To the west, Embonas is the main wine-making region and you can visit the Emery Wine Factory, which produces much of the wine on the island, for a tasting.
Further south west in Siana, you can pick up some local honey and a bottle of suma, the infamous 70% proof firewater. – HANNAH STEPHENSON
Key facts - Rhodes
:: Best for: Summer sun, good beaches and history.
:: Time to go: June, before temperatures hit summer peak.
:: Don’t miss: Old Rhodes town, steeped in history and bargains galore.
:: Need to know: Go inland or to the west to escape the tourist trail.
:: Don’t forget: High factor sun cream - for 40C temperatures in July
Hannah Stephenson was a guest of First Choice Holidays which offers seven nights’ all-inclusive at the five-star Holiday Village Rhodes in early May from �584 (two sharing), with flights ex-Stansted.
Reg deps incl Manchester (�764) and Glasgow (�678).
Reservations: 0871 200 4455 and www.firstchoice.co.uk
Rodos Cars delivers and collects a car at the airport or hotel of your choice, free of charge. Visit www.rodoscars.gr, or e-mail the firm at email@example.com.