Rhodes: Introduction

  • © Bibuh, marcopolo.de

    © Bibuh, marcopolo.de


The sun is well and truly at home on Rhodes! The ancient Greeks believed that Zeus, Father of the Gods, gave Greece's fourth-largest island to Helios, the sun god, when dividing up the world. Meteorologists record 270 days of sunshine per year here; rain generally falls in winter. These factors, in conjunction with the two new reservoirs, make Rhodes a green and fertile island. Many hills and mountains are covered in trees. Vines, olive and orange trees thrive, and cereals are also cultivated.

On the bleaker stretches of countryside, sheep and goats graze, and beekeepers have erected colourful hives. For many years now, however, a more powerful economic factor has been tourism. Elegant hotels were being built as early as the first half of the 20th century, during the Italian occupation. Today, no other Greek island, outside Crete, attracts more visitors than the 867-sq-mi island of Rhodes. Alongside sun-worshippers and culture enthusiasts, visitors include hundreds of thousands of cruise passengers. Any number of luxury liners put into the harbour at Rhodes Town every day, mooring just off the medieval city walls. 

A trip to Rhodes is worth it just for its capital

This small capital at the northernmost tip of the island, enclosed on three sides by the sea, is reason enough for visiting Rhodes. Neighbouring Turkey is always in sight of the island's shores and played a key role in shaping the face of the town. The Knights of St John, who ruled Rhodes for 300 years in the Middle Ages, constructed walls and fortresses to ward off the Sultan's troops. After that, Rhodes was for 400 years part of the Ottoman Empire which, alongside Greece, encompassed present-day Turkey and large sections of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Even the Italians, who ruled the Dodecanese in the first half of the 20th century, were fascinated by the Islamic world and adorned the island with attractive buildings inspired by One Thousand and One Nights. For this reason, the unique Rhodes Old Town and the coast around Mandráki Harbour give you a chance to stroll down the centuries.

The sprawling New Town, on the other hand, is yet another example of the unimaginative character of modern Greek architecture and the lack of any notion of urban planning. Its countless restaurants, cafés, bars and discotheques, though, offer plenty to do between visits to the beach and sightseeing tours. Here, too, you'll find the shops which depend on local clientele for their survival, selling the latest fashions from Athens and, above all, Italy and presenting an unbelievable selection of daring Greek shoe designs. 

A stroll through past centuries 

In recent decades, tourism has spread increasingly further south from Rhodes Town. Ixiá and Ialissós on the west coast have been completely swallowed by the metropolitan area and the east coast's Faliráki has become the most important bathing resort on the island. After that, the density of the hotels decreases, though tourism dominates the many beaches down to the airport on the west coast and as far as Gennádi deep in the southeast. A timeless oasis, the picturesque village of Líndos lies between beaches and an ancient-cum-medieval Acropolis on the east coast: in the daytime, crowds shuffle through the main streets; in the evening, when it's quieter, holiday guests can enjoy the flair of a historic island village.

Seekers of secluded beaches will find them in the island's South

If you are on the lookout for secluded yet good beaches, the south of the island will not disappoint you. Between Gennádi and Plimmyri on the east coast, or between Kattaviá and Monólithos on the west coast, you'll find long stretches completely free of umbrellas and sun loungers! Only on the southernmost tip does it get more turbulent. The huge beach at Prasonisi has turned into a popular venue for windsurfers from all over the world who stay not only in local guesthouses but also in tents and caravans. This is actually illegal but, thanks to that congenial informality which is so typical of the Greeks, people are generally allowed to get away with it. Most Rhodians are not particularly keen on state authority and value the expression of individual freedom in all its forms.

Rhodes, with a population of some 120,000, has more than just its 136 mi of coastline to offer. In the interior of the island, its beauty manifests itself quite differently. Here, you'll still find many quiet villages, most of which have suffered badly as a result of the migration of their inhabitants to the towns and tourist centres. Their mostly older residents are all the more hospitable as a result. If you're searching for the unusual, you'll come across small guesthouses even in these quiet spots – and most certainly tavernas in which local delicacies and excellent, down-to-earth cooking are on offer, using olive oil produced locally.

One third of the island is covered in forest

In contrast to many other Aegean islands, Rhodes is green. Mild, rainy winters ensure an extremely varied flora. Furthermore, around one third of the island is covered in forest – by Mediterranean standards, a very high percentage. In  terms of culture, the island has lots to offer outside the capital, too. A host of medieval Crusader fortresses line the coasts. Archaeologists have found traces of ancient settlements, not just in the metropolis; the ancient towns of Kámiros and the Acropolis of Ialissós have also been uncovered.

The graceful columns of an ancient temple rise up out of walls of the medieval castle on top of the distinctive cliffs at Líndos. The foundation walls of a large basilica bear witness to the Early Christian period. Medieval churches are decorated with precious frescos or contain valuable icons. A growing number of monasteries are inhabited once again by monks and nuns, following a long absence. But Rhodes keeps up with the times, too. There is hardly another Greek island which boasts more all-inclusive hotel complexes (regarded with mixed feelings by the locals).

Water sports on offer range from scuba diving to kite surfing, and there's even a golf course. Specialists provide guided mountain bike tours and hiking weeks; in the capital you can embark on a culinary trip around the world. And then there are all the tiny neighbouring islands – and Turkey. Rhodes is the main island of the Dodecanese archipelago, consisting of 19 permanently inhabited islands. By ferry, excursion boat or catamaran you can visit many of them for a day trip. Moreover, the good relationship which has developed in recent years between Greece and Turkey means that tourists can undertake visits to various places on the Anatolian coast which, for almost two millennia, were the natural hinterland of the island.

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