RHODES – If you are planning a short vacation, not too far away from home but
still with access to duty-free shopping, Rhodes, one of the Greek Islands in the
Aegian Sea, might be the perfect answer.
It is close – merely an hour of
flight from Ben Gurion Airport – and has lots of sea and sun, a great choice of
historical and archeological locations, lots of Greek music and even a Jewish
and Israeli angle. In the framework of Greece’s efforts to rehabilitate its
economy, the Greek government is focusing on tourism and many facilities, such
as brand new luxurious hotels and leisure resorts, have been developed recently,
offering a wide variety of all-inclusive packages as well as plenty of
activities outside the hotels.
For the average Israel, a visit to Rhodes
begins at the airport. The somewhat old-fashioned charm of the place is
There is no trace of the usual noisy, packed international
airports that lack a human touch. On the contrary – the atmosphere is cozy,
warm, relaxed and charming right from the beginning – allowing visitors to feel
at home right away.
In Rhodes you are definitely in a Mediterranean
environment, albeit with a slight European touch, which can make many things
easier. To the average Israeli tourist, who has become accustomed to our larger
neighbor, Turkey, Rhodes might initially seem similar but it isn’t. Apart from
the grilled lamb meat offered at almost every corner, Greece, and especially
Rhodes, is far from being more of the same Turkish delight that Israelis have
found themselves renouncing recently.
Once outside the airport, there is
no ignoring the bright sunshine of the region or the heat, and the kind of
easy-going, leisurely atmosphere around is enough to make an Israeli feel right
From the airport there are various ways to reach your hotel via
a shuttle that may be included in your package deal or a taxi, which is cheaper
than in Israel and easy to hail, always clean and comfortable with a very polite
driver at the helm.
In the last few years, a series of modern luxury
hotels have been built on the island, most of them in the northern part near the
capital city of Rhodes and some near the most popular tourist sites, such as the
UNESCO World Heritage Site at the preserved village of Lindos.
spending all day in your hotel facility is not your idea of a vacation, Rhodes
has a lot to offer, and it didn’t take long for the people of Rhodes to find out
that Israelis might just be the best tourists they could wish
“Israelis don’t remain in the hotel,” the Governor of the South
Aegian Region Giannis Mecheridis said recently to a group of Israeli
journalists. “They travel across the island, for sight-seeing and spend their
money equally among us – at restaurants, taverns, music clubs and shopping;
That’s why we love them.”
In terms of attractions especially of interest
to Jews and Israelis, Rhodes had a large and active Jewish community prior to
World War II, which was almost completely destroyed by the Nazis, and only about
40 Jews remain there today. The synagogue, which has been classified as a world
heritage site by UNESCO, is more of a museum than a synagogue, as there are not
enough members in attendance to make up a minyan every Shabbat.
the high holidays, Jews from Athens join the small local community in order to
conduct full religious services for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The synagogue,
which is situated in the Old City, which is in itself a World Heritage Site, is
beautifully ornamented and definitely deserves a visit.
The old city of
Rhodes is built with heavy dark basalt stones, and is a jewel of medieval
architecture, with its small and narrow lanes surrounded by ancient walls.
Cleaning teams working throughout the day keep the venue amazingly spotless,
considering the large number of tourists.
In the square close to the
little alley leading to the synagogue, stands a commemorative stone to the
Jewish victims of the Nazis, displaying the date they were arrested and
The major square of the city is full of restaurants, taverns
blasting inviting Greek music, and lots of ice cream shops, which the local
Tourists and souvenirs shops abound, but surprisingly,
their prices are much more reasonable than in the small traditional villages
along the coast. Jewelry, alcohol (the famous Ouzo in a large variety of sizes
of bottles), shoes (including very nice goat fur slippers, beautifully
embroidered with local Greek design) ethnic clothes, most of them embroidered,
and paintings of local scenes and sights. The shopkeepers welcome you from the
threshold of the shops, and they keep smiling at you even if you don’t come
On the Rhodes City coast facing the unbelievably blue Aegian Sea
stands the stunning Roses Hotel. Today it’s the official casino of the island,
but 64 years ago, it played an important role in the history of Israel. Inside,
the cease-fire agreements between the newly born Jewish State and its Arab
neighbors were signed to end the 1948 war.
Outside the hotel, two statues
of deer crowned with doves are displayed, each on a high pillar. They stand on
each side of the harbor of the city, where, according to tradition, stood the
feet of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the antique seven wonders of the
Once outside of the city of Rhodes, the island offers everything a
tourist could hope for. And despite the temptation to remain at the hotel and
its high level of comfort, it’s worth it to make the effort to explore. The
landscape is often breathtaking – especially where the mountains and the sea
meet along the winding roads. The beaches are clean, though they have no sand
and you must walk on little black basalt stones to reach the water.
UNESCO-recognized village of Lindos, an hour and a half northeast to the city of
Rhodes, is a must. Its little white houses are kept in the same manner as they
were built centuries ago. The village is built on a mountain side, and its
narrow lanes paved with the typical local little basalt stones, climb upwards
leading to the Acropolis, and a wonderful view. You can choose to ride a donkey
– or walk your way to the top, passing through archeological excavations and
past old women selling embroidered tablecloths.
Food? Surprisingly, the
restaurant situated on the main plaza at the entrance to the village – the place
where all the tourist start their visit – is the cheapest around. And the food –
plenty of salads, cheese, garlic bread, fish and lamb – is very
But Lindos is not the only village worth a visit on Rhodes.
Embona, for example, doesn’t even need UNESCO’s attention to remain faithful to
its ancient traditions. Except for a small part of the village, where the young
generation has finally introduced modernity, most of the villages’ houses look
exactly as they did centuries ago.
They’re all painted in white (or
sometimes in light blue, as if reflecting the sky) and most are surrounded by
little gardens where the residents grow the herbs they use in their cuisine. In
Embona, there are some vineyards, where you can buy local wine, or liquors, at
discount prices. In the main square, a large restaurant serves the usual huge
amount of salads and cheese (before the main course), while a small group of
local musicians warm the atmosphere with traditional music. Three young locals
dance traditional dances dressed in native outfits.
recommendation – the Piliramos Holy Mountain, also known as the acropolis of the
city of Yalissos. The local story tells of a young, desperate man who climbed
the mountain to commit suicide, but, happily, met the Virgin Mary, changed his
mind and remained on the mountain to help others.
At the monastery’s shop
you can buy their famous 7 herbs liquor (30% alcohol) and, of course, enjoy the
Don’t leave Rhodes without spending an evening at a
tavern, drinking and listening to Greek music. At Cafe Chantant, the main tavern
in Rhodes City, most of the singers recognize Israeli tourists, and will
immediately add some Israeli tunes to the mix. While some tavern still let you
reenact the movies scenes of smashing plates on the ground, in Rhodes, they
prefer to place baskets of flowers on your table, which you can toss gently to
the singers if you like them. Like most everything else in Rhode, it’s much more
civilized that way.
The writer stayed at the Atrium Platinum Hotel. A
stay of three nights at the hotel over a weekend costs $644, and three nights at
the Grand Hotel over a weekend costs $474. He was a guest of Kishrey Teufa and
the Greek Tourism Office.