Beautiful sun-kissed European island holds the secret of youth and has 'best' wine in the Aegean

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Full of hidden gems, a unique beach named ‘the kiss of the two seas’ and stunning food to match the views, this Greek island has much more to offer than most tourists know.

Forget what you think you know about the Greek island of Rhodes. Set aside, for a moment, the sandy beaches, hotel complexes with swimming pools, vibrant nightlife and array of restaurants. Instead, come with me on a wondrous trip to discover the secret of youth, possibly the best wine in the Aegean and other treasures.

Rhodes is steeped in folklore and history. Raised from the sea by Zeus as a gift for the sun god Helios it has been home to ancient Greek philosophers, claimed by the Byzantine Empire, occupied by the Knights of St. John during the Crusades, captured by the Ottomans and held by the Italians as recently as 1943. Each visitor has left its mark on a complex island. Most recently, tourists.

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But move away from the coastline of the largest of Greece’s Dodecanese Islands into the mountainous interior and there is another layer to discover. I ventured inland with proud Rhodian Alex Savaidis, who also runs the well-established travel company Savaidis Group, to discover the other side of Rhodes. And although he has lived on the island most of his life, there were still a few firsts for him too.

I flew out from Liverpool John Lennon Airport - as I find it much easier than negotiating nearby Manchester Airport - with Jet2 but the airline and holiday company operate routes to Rhodes from numerous airports across the UK. I arrived in May, when the average temperature is around 23°C (before the sweltering 30°C average of July and August arrives) and it was perfect for exploring the sites....

Seven Springs

The lake, tunnel and waterfall at Seven Springs, Rhodes. The lake, tunnel and waterfall at Seven Springs, Rhodes.
The lake, tunnel and waterfall at Seven Springs, Rhodes. | Dominic Raynor

Hopping on a minibus to wind inland, my first stop was the other-worldly Seven Springs, which promised ‘a dark path leading to a mystical lake’ and is almost hidden by woodland. Located in a gorge between Kolymbia and Archipoli, the tranquil area gives rise to seven springs and a few rivers, which were diverted by the Italians in the 1930s to form a shimmering lake and waterfall to help irrigate the farms of Kolymbia.

There are two ways to get to the lake: via one of the many beautiful walking trails, or, through a narrow and somewhat foreboding 150 metre long tunnel. Local legend says that only by going through the tunnel (of course) would the mystical waters at the other end reveal the secret of youth to me. After removing my shoes and stepping into the cool stream that runs through the tunnel, I ducked and entered the darkness.

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Now, I don’t know about eternal youth, but the relief of seeing that beckoning speck of a light at the end of the passage and then emerging into beautiful (and thankfully bright) surroundings certainly gave me a fresh perspective on things. I don’t think the lake and waterfalls would have looked quite so wondrous had I taken the well-trodden path. It was definitely something I, nor Alex, had experienced before.

Best food and wine on Rhodes

Paraga restaurant on the outskirts of Apollona.Paraga restaurant on the outskirts of Apollona.
Paraga restaurant on the outskirts of Apollona. | Dominic Raynor/Sarah Maguire

Now that I was going to live forever, it was time to go about enjoying my prolonged existence by seeking out some of the best food and wine in Rhodes. The coastal regions of the island are renowned for seafood and fish, but in the mountains they specialise in meats from the animals that graze there - particularly lamb.

I was told one of the best restaurants around to try the local dishes was a hidden gem on the outskirts of Apollona called Paraga. Although the family-run taverna was a bit tricky to find, it was certainly worth the effort. Seated on the terrace with views out over the mountains, the food even surpassed the spectacular setting. From the perfectly cooked slow roast lamb, chops and meatballs to the aubergine spread and Gemista and Dolmadakia (stuffed tomatoes, peppers and vine leaves with rice and local herbs) all the food provided by affable owner Giannis was worthy of the hype.

Inside the restaurant, which is decorated with traditional and local pottery, there are curious baskets that hang on ropes and pulleys above the table. I was informed that these are unique to Paraga and are lowered down to diners filled with desserts. However, I was so full with succulent lamb and perfectly prepared vegetables and salads that I had to skip the experience.

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So, with my belly full of some of the best food on Rhodes the quest now was to find the finest wine. That meant a trip to nearby Embonas, a hillside village with views over craggy vineyards that is home to five of the island’s eight winemakers.

Wine tasting at Empona's View, Rhodes.Wine tasting at Empona's View, Rhodes.
Wine tasting at Empona's View, Rhodes. | Sarah Maguire

I eschewed some of the more popular wine venues and headed for Empona's View, which is located on the flank of Rhodes highest mountain Attaviros and looks out over the gorgeous blue Aegean sea. They distil Souma (the Dodecanese alternative of ouzo or raki) in the basement and wonderful host Samadis delivered a wine tasting session that consisted of about 10 local wines.

He suggested the Kounaki’s barrel aged Oak Blend red was the best on the island, but my untrained (and by now somewhat drunk palate) preferred the Athiri of Rhodes white wine by Kounaki, which is made from the local Athiri grape. I made sure I left clutching a bottle under my arm.

Miniature horses and Valley of Butterflies

Valley of the Butterflies nature reserve, Rhodes. Image: Mirecca/stock.adobe.comValley of the Butterflies nature reserve, Rhodes. Image: Mirecca/
Valley of the Butterflies nature reserve, Rhodes. Image: Mirecca/ | mirecca -

The Seven Springs is part of a nature reserve that runs through Rhodes and helps protect some of its unique flora and fauna. The Archangelos miniature horse once roamed free all over the island and was utilised for everything from transport to food. Two centuries ago every family owned one, by 1975 there were only 60 left and today only 14 remain in a special reserve - the Faethon Miniature Horses Farm. Visitors can go and see the Rhodian ponies at the five acre site and interact with the endangered species - children can even ride them.

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Meanwhile, from mid-June to mid-September The Valley of the Butterflies on the western side of Rhodes plays host to a spectacular phenomenon as it becomes carpeted with Jersey Tiger moths - lured to the nature reserve near Theologos village by the perfect combinations of high humidity and Oriental Sweetgum trees. Huge numbers of butterflies congregate during the final stage of their life and visitors are urged to look but not disturb the resting hordes while they wind through the forest, streams, bridges and waterfalls of the valley. However, if the butterflies do take flight, they form an amazing cloud of orange.

Villa De Vecchi (Mussolini's Villa)

The remains of Villa De Vecchi on the slopes of the Profitis Elias mountain.The remains of Villa De Vecchi on the slopes of the Profitis Elias mountain.
The remains of Villa De Vecchi on the slopes of the Profitis Elias mountain. | Dominic Raynor

Rhodes has many ancient ruins, the Acropolis of Lindos, Kamiros, the Acropolis of Rhodes and the fortified walls of its old town, but there is a ruin on the slopes of the Profitis Elias mountain that speaks of a more recent and traumatic past. Villa De Vecchi was the home of Count Cesare de Vecchi during the Italian occupation of Dodecanese island.

Claimed from the Ottoman Empire by the Italians in 1912, the new ‘owners’ set about trying to wipe out the Greek language on Rhodes, banning it from being spoken or taught until they departed after World War II, in 1947. During the occupation, the Italians renovated the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes and built many other striking buildings and monuments, including Villa De Vecchi, which was intended to be the summer home of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

One of the other Alpine-style lodges at Profitis Ilias has been transformed into the Elafos Hotel (named after the male of Dama dama deer that roam there) but Mussolini’s Villa has been left to crumble and I found the short walk up the steep mountain path to the looming mansion both fascinating and eerie.

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The view from Villa De Vecchi, Rhodes.The view from Villa De Vecchi, Rhodes.
The view from Villa De Vecchi, Rhodes. | Dominic Raynor

Although significantly deteriorated, the faded grandeur of the villa still comes through, and if you are brave enough to disregard any health and safety concerns, the views across Rhodes and the sea beyond from the balcony are quite stunning. It’s clear to see why it was built in such an incredible location. 

I couldn’t help but wonder why it had been left to go to ruin. Many of the buildings and monuments constructed by the Italians have been saved and embraced by Rhodians. But as a seat of power during years of repression, was this left to crumble as a political and social statement? I like to think so.

Sunset at surfers paradise Prasonisi Beach

The ‘kiss of the two seas’ - Prasonisi Beach, Rhodes. Image: Oleg_p_100/stock.adobeThe ‘kiss of the two seas’ - Prasonisi Beach, Rhodes. Image: Oleg_p_100/stock.adobe
The ‘kiss of the two seas’ - Prasonisi Beach, Rhodes. Image: Oleg_p_100/stock.adobe | Image: Oleg_p_100/stock.adobe

I love a good sunset, and I was reliably informed that Prasonisi Beach at the southernmost tip of the island was one of the best places to go to soak up the dying rays of the day. A kite surfer’s paradise and water sports hub, the sandy beach divides two bays and is known as the ‘kiss of the two seas’, with the Mediterranean on one side and the Aegean on the other. The beach is often dotted with the tents of surfers in the evening, but on the day I arrived the weather had turned and I only got to see the pink hue of the setting sun through a mask of clouds. But I could appreciate how spectacular it would be.

If you are planning to spend the day a whole day at Prasonisi Beach you can park for free on the sand and hire water sports equipment. The Lighthouse Tavern serves food and drink and there are also two hotels nearby. For those looking for a little extra adventure, a walk across the beach and a trek around the craggy headland will take you to Prasonisi lighthouse, where you can gaze out across the deep blue sea to the island of Karpathos on the horizon.

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Getting to Rhodes…

Jet2 flies to Rhodes from Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Image: Getty Images/Peterjgerlof/WikicommonsJet2 flies to Rhodes from Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Image: Getty Images/Peterjgerlof/Wikicommons
Jet2 flies to Rhodes from Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Image: Getty Images/Peterjgerlof/Wikicommons | Getty Images/Peterjgerloff, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Jet2 fly routes to Rhodes from numerous airports across the UK (Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, Liverpool, London Stansted, Manchester and Newcastle) but I chose to fly from Liverpool John Lennon Airport as I always find it far more relaxing than battling through nearby Manchester Airport.

Return flights for this summer with selected seats and 10kg hand luggage included start around £195 per person. I travelled with just a carry-on for five days and found the seats had plenty of legroom. The flight from Liverpool took just over 4hrs so I’d recommend booking a meal too, which comes in at around £10.

Jet2 also provide a whole range of package holidays, starting from around £460 per person for four nights in June, including flights and transfers, according to their website.

The average temperature on Rhodes in July and August hits 30°C. I went in May, when the average temperature is 23°C and that was plenty hot enough for me. The holiday season on the island extends until the end of November and temperatures begin to drop again in September (27°C) and October (24°C) if you prefer a cooler climate; the island will be much less crowded too.

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