Sunday, 17 October 2021

Rhodes, 2021 - Lindos Revisited

Some twenty-five minutes after waving goodbye to George in Stegna, we caught sight of the dazzling white columns of the acropolis silhouetted against the azure skies and, moments later, behind the cypress trees, the whitewashed, sugar-cube houses clinging to the hillside below, came into view. We'd reached our next destination, Lindos, which has enjoyed the most beautiful setting on Rhodes since the Dorians founded the village 4,000 years ago.

I'd visited on a day trip when I stayed in Faliraki thirty years ago and, ten years later, returned with Jon for a blissful week spent exploring the magical tangle of hidden cobbled alleyways and chilling out in the grand houses of 15th-century sea captains, converted into bars and restaurants. 


Cars are banned from Lindos so we alighted from our taxi on the outskirts of the village. We'd booked our accommodation - a traditional Lindian house, converted into apartments & set within a walled courtyard lined with potted cacti - via Booking.com and, as instructed, phoned Mary, the owner's daughter, who sent someone to guide us there. 


Lindos's alleyways are positively labyrinthine and our lack of direction is legendary! As it was approaching the end of the tourist season, only two of the six rooms in the two-storey building were occupied, our neighbours being an extremely glamorous Swiss-French couple in their late 60s, Ursula and Patrice, and despite a bit of a language barrier, were brilliant company. The first time Patrice set eyes on me he dropped his glasses, exclaimed Oh la la! Vous êtes Joan Baez! They introduced us to Rhodian orange wine and we got them into rum & cola. Santé!


Et merci beaucoup, Patrice! J'adore Joan Baez!


Lindos is the most popular destination on Rhodes and gets absolutely rammed with tourists but, if you're early risers like us, you can have the village more or less to yourselves if you do all your exploring by 10am before the legions of day-trippers and cruise-ship coach parties start arriving and the shops open. Then you can retreat to a cafe for an ice-cold frappe before escaping to the beach.

I do love a doorway!




Just behind our rooms stood the Ancient Theatre of Lindos. Dating to around 400BC, it was used as a venue for major festivals including the worship of Dionysus (the Greek god of wine and ivy, one of our favourite deities) and accommodated an audience of up to two thousand.





Talking of beaches, back in 2001, we avoided the town's tourist-packed Main Beach and chose to spend our days basking on the pebbles of St Paul's Bay, alongside the locals. There was a little jetty where the fishermen would bring in their catch under the watchful eye of the village's cats and a tumbledown shack serving ice-cold beer. How times have changed. In the twenty years since we'd last visited, the beach had been colonised by a posh restaurant who'd added terracing & imported sand and covered every inch of space with sunbeds (costing between £30 and £60 for two, depending on their proximity to the sea). 


Gone were the fisherman and the locals, these days St Paul's Bay is cram-packed with what we call "Instagram Types", cocktail-quaffing, selfie-taking wannabes living out some pop music video fantasy. What with the amplified Europop and production line of brides and grooms filing into the church on the cliffs, we could get away fast enough.



Main Beach was a far better option and a ten-minute stroll downhill from our room (although it felt a lot further on the way back). 


Jon found the captain's hat in one of Lindos's many tourist shops. I'm still amazed that I managed to find the shop selling embroidered blouses that I'd spotted twenty years previously. 


Lunch was served in a beachfront taverna set on the terrace of an elegant 1920s villa with whitewashed walls and wooden shutters. Their modern-day take on a Greek salad was superb, with Feta mousse, capers and tapenade and served with homemade pitta bread seasoned with rosemary and sea salt and we ordered it (and chilled bottles of Fix beer) every day.


When we'd stayed in Lindos before it had been mid-August and the temperature was around 40°C so we'd never had the energy to climb to the Acropolis. This time we were determined to get there and beat the hundreds of tourists so set off early and arrived just as it opened at 8am (and already 32°C), following the cobbled donkey track up to the 116m-high rock.


First walled in the 6th century BC, the clifftop is now enclosed by battlements constructed by the Knights of St John. Once within there's the Temple of Athena Lindia and a 20-columned Hellenistic stoa. 


The views are breathtaking and sharing them with just two other couples made it even better.
























Lindos by night is pretty special. After sunset, the day-trippers have departed and the cobbled streets are a lot less frantic. There are several jam-packed Brits abroad bars in the centre of the village but these are easily avoided.


Our favourite hangout (now and 20 years ago) was Socrates Bar, established by the bar manager's grandad in 1975 and frequented by many rock stars, including Pink Floyd, who owned a house in Lindos back in the Seventies.


Occupying a gorgeous 15th-century former sea captain's house, the soundtrack is exclusively rock, the bar staff friendly &  the drinks reasonably priced (Lindos can be very expensive!)


Most restaurants were of the rooftop variety, with spectacular views of the illuminated Acropolis. Dionysos was our favourite place - and, so it seemed, the rest of Lindos, too - both times we ate there we had to book in advance.


Before you ask, there were loads of cats in Lindos, pretty much all of the extremely well-fed variety. There were donkeys, too - employed to carry tourists up to the Acropolis. They appeared to be loved and well cared for but most of the guidebooks don't recommend you avail of their services.


After six nights it was time to pack up our belongings and move on. Poor Lord Jon nearly collapsed dragging our bag up to the cliff face to the bus station on the outskirts of Lindos but had to admit that the views were gorgeous once we got there.



We had one more day (and night) left on Rhodes before we flew back to Birmingham but where would we spend it?

Stay tuned for the final instalment.

Friday, 15 October 2021

Rhodes, 2021 - Sublime Stegna



Brace yourselves, here's part 3 of the travelogue!


Our next destination was Stegna, a seaside village thirty kilometres from Rhodes Town. At the bus station, we discovered that the once-daily bus wasn't due for another five-and-a-half hours so, after studying our map, we decided to travel to the nearest town, Archangelos and find our way from there.

On disembarking some 45 minutes later, we asked a couple of elderly gents enjoying coffee & a game of backgammon in the town square if they knew of any taxis to take us to Stegna. One kindly wandered off to the ouzeri* opposite to check but returned with the news that all the drivers had jobs elsewhere on the island and the only option was to walk. After he'd pointed out the way, we gathered up our belongings and set off down the 4km mountain path, waved on by the ouzo drinkers who'd left their seats to get a closer look at us.

*Traditional ouzo bar


Less than five minutes later a great bear of a man in a battered pick-up truck pulled over, boomed Kalimera! at us and indicated for us to climb into the cargo bed, dropping us off at the seafront for free. God bless the Greeks!


Within a matter of seconds, my eagle-eyes spotted what was to be our home for the next four nights, the Alpha Stegna Sun, which, after Jon had found it online refused to consider staying anywhere else. With the mountains towering behind us, the beach two minutes from the front door, a lush garden shaded with trees laden with clementines, lemons and pomegranates and the tinkling of water from the fountain in the courtyard, the Alpha Stegna Sun exceeded our expectations. 


We were warmly welcomed by owner George and, as we were earlier than expected, we sat in the garden chatting over superb Greek coffees, expertly made for us by his dad, Constantine, whilst our room was prepared. George did ask why we hadn't phoned him when we arrived in Archangelos as he would have picked us up but we admitted that the thought had never crossed our minds and arriving in the back of a rusting truck atop some mysteriously stuffed hessian sacks, driven by a kindly Demis Roussos-lookalike, was an experience we'd always remember.



The room was gorgeous and much posher than we're used to with a power shower and an extremely well-equipped kitchenette. There were lovely touches such as locally-made olive oil toiletries and a fridge stocked with tomorrow's breakfast - coffee and herbal tea, chocolate croissants, marmalade, crispbreads and pots of Greek yoghurt. There were bougainvillaea petals sprinkled on the bed and an aloe vera plant on the windowsill, just in case we sizzled our skin in the 30°C sunshine! There were even a couple of bottles of water which, once empty, we refilled each day with tap water to take to the beach - Rhodes' water is safe to drink.


After much research, Stegna sounded like the perfect choice for our beach break. The Lonely Planet describes the area as idyllic and, this year, Trip Advisor awarded the beach their iconic Travellers Choice status. Due to its relative inaccessibility, it doesn't attract the levels of mass tourism from which many of the other beaches on the island suffer, there are no all-inclusive resorts or nightclubs and just one purpose-built tourist hotel complex, hidden away at the far end of the village. Stegna is hugely popular with Rhodians who visit in the evenings & weekends to dine in the seafront tavernas and feast on the seafood for which the village is famous.


The beach is made up of two beaches separated by a pretty harbour. Our nearest was the smaller of the two, a mix of fine golden sand and sun-bleached pebbles. We thought we'd found our dream beach in Pelion on the Greek mainland back in the early noughties. With its expanse of empty sand, crystal clear water, mountain backdrop and huge rugged cliffs dramatically plunging into the sea below, we decided that Stegna Beach was every bit as perfect as Pelion.



We'd popped into the mini-market before heading to the beach, buying swimming shoes (those rocks aren't fun underfoot) and the makings of a picnic and, after a dip in the wonderfully warm Aegean, we feasted on wholemeal village bread, tangy goats cheese, comically misshapen tomatoes as big as a baby's head and exquisite, chilli-infused olives. Later Gorgona, the taverna behind us, delivered Mythos beer served in frosted glasses direct to our sunbeds.


In The Odyssey, Homer frequently refers to the "rosy-fingered dawn". Lawrence Durrell writes in Reflection of a Marine Venus, "Where, by association, would Homer get an adjective like rosy-fingered from, unless he'd experienced a Rhodian sunset? Look! I no longer doubt that Rhodes was Homer's birthplace."  He made a fair point, neither of us had ever seen skies more beautiful than those in Stegna.



Joining us for an evening rum, George told us about their rare night-blooming cactus. Imported from Columbia by his father over thirty-five years ago, it used to flower once every fourteen years but, in recent times has bloomed more often, prompting numerous visits from botanists & research scientists from all over Europe. 


We managed to catch the huge flower in all its glory at bedtime and again, just after sunrise. Isn't it amazing?


We followed the narrow pathway behind the beach, clambered over some rocks and found ourselves in this tranquil bay with just the sound of the waves lapping the shore and the distant clanking of goats' bells on the cliffs above us. Perfection!








We stumbled across a ramshackle beach bar, owned by Martin from Stuttgart who lived alongside a menagerie of animals and who bore a striking resemblance to Doc Brown from Back to the Future. There was a choice of water, beer or frappe - all priced at 2 euros. After one of the finest frappes ever, we handed over our 20 euro note but Martin had no change and told us to pay another time, waving us off with a handful of figs he'd just plucked from the tree in the garden.


Our days at Stegna were spent on the beach, mostly with a picnic lunch but we did treat ourselves to a Greek salad at Gorgona, the bustling seafront taverna behind our beach. By day the clientele were beach-goers (and cats) seeking refuge from the sun and by night, almost exclusively Greek.



The evenings would invariably start with a rum and walk to the harbour, to again be mesmerised by the rosy-fingered dusk.


The Meltemi (the Aegean's summer breeze) was rather fierce one evening, just look at my hair!


We'd move on from the harbour for a few beers, either bottled Mythos or draught Alpha, before choosing from one of the seafront tavernas for dinner. We were never disappointed with the food - or the ambience - and the prices were a lot lower than Rhodes Town. We didn't encounter any Brits for the four days we were there, the other tourists were predominately German & Scandinavian with, of course, lots of Greeks. Despite Stegna being such a low-key and relaxed seaside village, by night everyone dressed well, no schlepping around in beach gear or sportswear. 



Early one morning George brought us a loaf straight from his mother's oven, we ate half  - still warm - slathered in marmalade for breakfast and the rest with sheep's cheese and tomatoes (and ice-cold beer) on the beach.


Just like at home, we ate fresh fruit with Greek yoghurt for breakfast, buying fruit from the well-stocked (and very friendly) mini-market on the way back from the beach. Those are the figs from Martin's tree, far superior to any you'll find in a UK supermarket. 
 

We'd go for a walk every morning before settling down to a hard day on the beach, lying in the sun and reading, with plenty of swimming in between. I read seven books in the fortnight we were away with Madeline Miller's Circe and The Song of Achilles being my absolute favourites. If you enjoyed Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls, I think you'll love them.











Stegna was one of the loveliest places in Greece we've stayed, made all the more special for George, and his father's, hospitality and kindness.  In fact, we rather wished we'd booked six nights there rather than at our next destination but I've got a sneaking suspicion that it won't be long before we return. Archangelos has a 15th-century castle built by the Knights of St John, an olive oil museum, a rich history in ceramics (the dome of Istambul's Hagia Sophia is built from bricks from the town), a folklore museum and also has a sanctuary for miniature Rhodian horses, an endangered species, which all need exploring. Maybe next time we'll hire a car rather than arrive by pick-up truck! 


I'm not being sponsored but if you love peaceful, unspoilt and authentic, I think you'll love Stegna as much as we did. If you want to say with George you can book on the Alpha Stegna Sun website HERE or on Booking.com 


We bade George a fond farewell, loaded our bag into the boot of Stegna's only lady taxi driver's car and continued along the coast road to our next destination, the village I'd fallen in love with on a day trip over thirty years ago and returned to with Jon in 2001. Would it be as spectacular twenty years later? We'd soon find out!

See you soon.


PS. Dear Cee, thank you so much for the incredible box of delights which was delivered safe and sound by My Hermes this morning. I'm deeply touched by your beautiful letter and thoughtfulness. xxx