Rhodes is an island that has it all! A great climate, crystal clear water, a coastline of beaches, archaeological sites, a walled Old Town with its unique skyline telling the tale of the island’s history are but a few of its attractions. Of all the Greek islands it is possibly the most blessed – by the Gods with its rich mythology and history and by nature with its outstanding natural beauty and sunlight.
Rhodes, or Rodos as it is often called, is however possibly the most misunderstood of any of the Ecotourism sectors. Let’s face it, because of its natural and manmade treasures this island is the grandfather of Greek tourism. It’s been in the mass market for a long time and has every service, every facility that today’s tourists require.
What most visitors don’t realize, however, is that Rhodes keeps its best assets for its more discerning guests. Those who decide to steer clear of the island during its mid summer madness, who, after wandering the Old Town and its maze of museums and mosques, Medieval walls and churches, venture off the main drag and into the real Rhodes.
Anyone veering off the beaten track will find the Rhodes that is unknown to many, an island of striking wild flowers, tiny unique orchids and herbs and birds rarely seen in their European habitats. Despite a spate of devastating forest fires the island still has areas of virgin pine forest rarely featured in the guide books. And there are still small mountain villages where the locals will welcome you with a souma and spin their own tales.
The island of Rhodes is the capital of the Dodecanese group, which includes some 200 smaller islands situated to the southeast of mainland Greece, very close to the coast of Turkey.
It is the fourth largest of the Greek islands, 79.7 km (49.5 mi) long and 38 km (24 mi) wide, with a total area of approximately 1,400 square kilometres (541 sq mi) and a coastline of approximately 220 km (137 mi).
The island’s interior is mountainous, sparsely inhabited and covered with forests of pine (Pinus brutia) and cypress (Cupressus sempervirens). Its rocks, limestone and schist, form a mountain backbone in the centre of the island: Akramytis in the south-west 823m, Atarviros, the highest, in the middle at 1,215m and Profitis Ilias to the north 798m.
While its shores are rocky, and in some areas sandy, the island has arable strips of land where citrus fruit, wine grapes, vegetables, olives and other crops are grown.
The island’s coastline is indented with innumerable beaches (Tsambika, Afandou, Stegna, Pefkos and Glystra to name but a few) and headlands, Zonari in the north-east (site of the city of Rhodes), Lardos or Fokas in the east, Armenistis in the west and Prassonisi in the south.
Rhodes has a Mediterranean climate, mild winters, hot summers and an average of 300 sunny days a year. It is this climate, together with Rhodes’ natural features and its location that provide a diversity of fauna and flora ranging from the rare and unique to common and even endangered species.
The island has a growing number of wild fallow deer, a rare breed of miniature horses, the protected Gizani freshwater fish and a valley of butterflies, Petaloudes. Conifers, plane oaks, oaks, thyme, capers, cyclamens and many other wild flowers are typical of its flora.
Rhodes location, at the crossroads of three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa, has played a vital role in its economic and cultural development over the ages, its action-packed history proof of Rhodes’ importance since prehistoric times.
Its history, however, goes back beyond any known archives, back to a time of gods and goddesses, giants and nymphs, fantasy and myths.
Mythology has it that when Zeus took over the Olympus throne he divided his earth up amongst the other gods. Helios, the sun god, was somehow forgotten and later a distraught Zeus asked what he could do to make up for his omission! The Sun God knew of an island just emerging off the coast of Asia Minor and that became his gift. Helios found a new home which he has bathed in sunlight ever since!
Rhodes written history is long, rich and intriguing. The island has been sought after, fought over, wrecked and rebuilt by many tribes, plundering pirates, exceptional fighters, a host of different civilizations who feature in a tale of intrigue, adventure and heroism.
Rhodes boasted one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Its gigantic Colossus, the island’s symbol, was said to straddle the entrance to Mandraki harbour. It was completed in 280 BC but was destroyed in an earthquake in 224 BC. No trace of the statue remains today.
Besides its natural beauties and beaches, the island boasts many outstanding archaeological sites, the Lindos acropolis, Ancient Kamiros, castles, monasteries, museums, traditional buildings and villages.
Rhodes town, the capital of Rhodes Island, is a large modern centre that is fortunate to have its walled medieval town. This UNESCO World Heritage Town, with its impressive palace and Street of the Knights, is a living monument to the island’s past. This town-within-a-town is unique and has an amazing atmosphere during the off season months when it is easy to imagine Knights rattling along its cobbled streets.
Beyond the boundaries of the Old Town (Palia Poli as it is called in Greek) ruins of ancient Rhodes are everywhere. Many have been built over after being checked and listed by the local authorities and archaeological experts. Some are signposted but easily the most outstanding are the ruins of the Rhodes acropolis, on the Monte Smith hilltop, overlooking the new and the old towns.
Here, especially just before dusk, a visitor can begin to understand what Rhodes is really about. The modern town and its busy roads, apartments and shops ends and an archaeological park begins. Time stops, turns back to an older Rhodes, in an ageless setting of pillars and stones, a magnificent ancient stadium and small (restored) theatre. This is one of Rhodes’ many secrets. It is a busy cosmopolitan centre that still has quiet special places. This one happens to be within walking distance of the commercial centre; the island’s other secrets are found elsewhere!
In the Kalithea Bay on a warm evening… atop Mount Tsambika with its tiny monastery, fantastic view and amazing tales… in the hills behind Efta Piges (Seven Springs) full of wild flowers and herbs… hiking through pine forests to small chapels… bird watching in Afandou… horseback riding… paragliding near Archipoli or just relaxing on a secluded beach that has yet to be discovered by tourists.
Yes even that is still possible on Rhodes!