For the next in our Insider Interview series, we get together with Rebecca Hall from Life Beyond Borders, a specialist in Greek culture and everything there is to know about the Greek islands.
Offering all the expert insights you’d expect from someone who lived in Greece for several years, Rebecca is not only a blogger but also a professional writer and Rough Guide author. Her debut fiction novel ‘Girl Gone Greek’ is available to buy now on Amazon – and we’ve been lucky enough to pick her brains about everything that makes Rhodes Town a brilliant place to go.
Of all the regions of Rhodes, why should travellers visit Rhodes Town over others?
Rhodes Town encompasses both the old and new districts. The new part of Rhodes is walking distance to some great beaches, but to me, the benefit of visiting this Greek destination is because of the Old Town. It’s the oldest inhabited Medieval Town in Europe, built behind castle walls and is now an iconic UNESCO site. Not just for history buffs – it’s really adventurous strolling the cobbled streets and imagining a knight on horseback could come riding past at any time – very ‘Games of Thrones’.
If a traveller only has a few days in Rhodes Town, what would you say is one thing he or she absolutely shouldn’t miss the chance to visit, see or do?
A walk around the castle moat – it takes around 45 minutes to complete the circuit and is free. You enter it through a tunnel from the Old Town walls and as you stroll, expect to find cannons and a plethora of flora and fauna as you go around. You’ll be welcomed by palm trees, butterflies, purple bougainvillaea, and numerous birds – it’s truly beautiful.
In terms of food, tourists tend to find themselves eating at all the obvious places, but which lesser-known restaurant gems do the locals love in Rhodes Town?
As the Old Town tends to cater to a lot of tourists, it’s an art to find really authentic restaurants. However, Ta Kardasia is visited by a lot of Greeks in both low and high season. Offering simple, delicious, local Greek meats and grilled fish – the secret to this venue is in the decoration. Nothing fancy, but the walls are lovely Mediterranean colours, and there are simple wooden tables and chairs, garlic and herbs adorning the walls, all the classic Greek details – a real gem.
Obviously places like Athens are packed with Grecian history. Does Rhodes Town offer any historical sites that might appeal to travellers?
Oh gosh – where do I start! The Palace of the Grand Masters of the Knights of Rhodes is the place to begin. Within the enormous castle are ancient sculptures as well as relics from the medieval period and beautiful floor mosaics, brought to Rhodes from the island of Kos in the first century.
Why not then spend time walking the ramparts of the Medieval City’s Walls? Starting from the Palace of the Grand Masters, you gain a great perspective of the city from up above. Four kilometres high and up to 12 meters thick in places, take a picnic with you and spend your time soaking up the views across the Old Town and further afield to the Turkish coast.
Culturally, are there any places or events you’d recommend to really immerse yourself in the local culture?
Just by wandering the streets and alleys of the Old Town and allowing yourself to get lost. The streets were deliberately designed that way to once confuse pirates – which is a story within itself. You can always ask a friendly local the way, but take trainers! Those cobbles can be tough on the feet.
Expect to see ancient archways, doorways, and as mentioned previously, Old Town Rhodes is one of the oldest living European Old Towns, you can expect to hear and glimpse the chatter of daily life emerging from doorways, or the latest Greek soap opera on the TV. Cats in Greece are everywhere, no less so in the Medieval Old Town. I love coming across a cat sunning itself on the ancient walls.
To get some amazing Greek Island beauty near Rhodes Town, are there any natural sightseeing options that you can’t miss?
My favourite spot is the 800 metre high mountain Profitis Ilias in the centre/west of the island. You can stroll among the woodland, see rabbits and deer, and for me the piece de resistance is the abandoned, crumbling house of Mussolini. It was the summer residence of the Italian Governor of Rhodes between 1936 -1940 and was intended to be Mussolini’s retirement home. It offers stunning vistas through the forest down to the sea – it’s abandoned state in the forest gives it an air of intrigue and mystery.
What’s the best way to get around when travelling here?
Rhodes Old Town is walkable – in fact, you don’t have a choice because no cars are allowed. As for the rest of the island, such as the various mountains and coastal areas, car hire is recommended to get to those out of reach spots.
For travellers that don’t want another souvenir pen or postcard, what cultural souvenir would you recommend taking home from Rhodes Town?
Being touristy, there are many souvenir shops offering all manner of gifts in the Old Town. My favourite from Rhodes has to be the Mati – or ‘Evil Eye’.
Legend has it that if you feel jealousy towards a person, you will glare and them and therefore give them the evil eye – wishing ill fortune towards them. This can come in the form of bad luck, or even physical ailments such as headaches. I’ve been in Greece long enough to now believe in the Evil Eye!
To combat this, people wear a blue eye either as a necklace, bracelet or they have one as something to keep with them at all times such as a keyring, or a chime hung in their house to ward off the evil. It’s said to soak up the bad presence.
The trick? Don’t buy one for yourself, it has to be gifted to you. Just as the Evil Eye is passed onto you by someone else, so is the ‘cure’ in the form of a Mati gift. Try it – I swear, it works…or maybe I’ve lived in Greece for too long!
Do you have any other suggestions for alternatives to the tourist trail or typical tourist activities on the island?
Greek islands aren’t all about beach and sand, as nice as they may be. Rhodes is no different, there are many places such as the Acropolis of Lindos on the south coast, or the natural Seven Springs – a series of springs 30 kilometres from Rhodes Old Town that culminates into a lush and vibrant lake. Peacocks wander freely here and with the mountain water, expect a chilly swim.
My favourite has to be the Valley of the Butterflies – great for families. Every year at the end of May, thousands of butterflies are attracted to this valley due to the scent of the Oriental Sweetgum trees – the largest natural forest of them in Europe. It’s a breathtaking sight with exciting trails to explore with the river views, plus waterfalls along the way. Culminating with a monastery at the top, come and enjoy this area of Rhodes.
If Rebecca has got you feeling like Rhodes Town needs to be your next holiday, you can find more inspiration in our Rhodes Town travel guide, which includes top restaurants and great places for a night out.