After visiting all these exotic ports in developing countries, I find that there’s always something reassuring in coming back to Europe. There’s plenty of fascinating sights on offer, but you just know that the hassle factor will be less, you know that the price in a shop is not an inflated one that needs to be bargained down, and there’s a refreshing feeling of familiarity and civilisation that’s not always apparent in Asia or the Middle East.
This was particularly true in our first European port – Rhodes, a place where the history is all around you, where the people are friendly (particularly at this time of year, before the tourist season hits full swing), and a place which really couldn’t be any more convenient for sightseeing. We dock right next door to the medieval Old Town, with its formidable walls looking as good as ever in the early summer sun, and there are car hire companies just outside the port for you to do a bit of exploring on your own.
We hired a car for the day (25 Euros from 9am till 10pm), so went off on a drive around the island. Having been on so many tours where you’re constantly looking at your watch to make sure you’re back to the coach at the appointed hour, there was a real feeling of freedom as we zoomed down the coastline, up mountainsides, and past olive groves, making up our route as we went along.
We first called in at Tsampika to do a trek up to its hilltop monastery (having climbed up 300+ steps). The monastery itself is small, but you’re visiting this place for the tremendous views it provides – over some gorgeous sandy beaches, washed by the gentle waves of the dark blue Aegean.
Next, we went for a coffee to the small town of Haraki, where the setting couldn’t have been much more idyllic – its picture perfect bay overlooked by a ruined Byzantine Castle. We thought that we had stumbled across this place by accident, but as soon as we saw that bay we recognised it as exactly the same spot that we had stopped in at, last time we hired a car here, 10 years ago – fate must just keep driving us to this beautiful spot.
After a photostop across to Lindos, we then drove across the island, from its touristy eastern coast to the more unspoilt western coast. As we drove along these winding country rhodes, the tourist crowds melted away and we were met with wide open landscapes of pine forests and mountains, with scarcely a trace of humanity. After calling in to see the spooky remains of an abandoned Italian village at Eleoussa, we stopped in the tiny village of Dimylia for lunch. As we were the only customers at this rustic taverna, the owner couldn’t have been more pleased to see us – it felt like we must have been his first customers of the season.
Next we called in at the ancient site of Kamiros, a really well preserved site of an ancient city that got destroyed and covered over by successive earthquakes. Not many of the buildings were above waist height, but the remarkable thing was that you got a great understanding of the actual street layout of Kamiros, with its streets of shops, temples, houses and cisterns. Much better than I’d expected.
Our final stop was to take the extremely winding rhodes that led up to Mount Filerimos to see its combination of ancient Greek temples, Byzantine fortress, Knight’s castle, Italian restorations and Orthodox monastery – aside from the great views, this sight really encapsulates the long succession of powers and history that this unique island can boast.
To round off an excellent day, we went to a lovely restaurant just outside the city walls called Nissa. Super-friendly service and simple but tasty food – again, sums up everything that’s good about Rhodes.
Since we first came here when we were just 19, I don’t think that I’ve ever had a bad day in Rhodes – a wonderful island.