On a press trip hosted by Tui, Isobel Turner explores the historical side of Rhodes just weeks after the island was hit by wildfires
A mere 297 steps is all that stands between me and some of the most breathtaking views I’ve seen during my two days in Rhodes.
I’m currently weaving my way through the narrow, traffic-free streets of Lindos, preparing myself for the climb up to the top of the village’s acropolis. The 32C heat makes for a somewhat sweaty hike, but the views across the white-washed village and the sparkling Aegean Sea make it all worthwhile.
As I get lost in the hustle and bustle of a village defined by lively rooftop restaurants and crowded streets of happy holidaymakers, it’s hard to believe that we’re just a few miles from where the recent wildfires began, leading to the largest wildfire evacuation in Greek history.
When the blaze started, there were reports of 25,000 tourists evacuating their hotels, properties closing their doors and operators cancelling holidays. But now, just three weeks after the first fire started, 598 of the island’s 600 hotels are open for business, occupancy levels are rising and local restaurants and shops are operating as if nothing has changed – it really seems to be “back to normal”.
This is the sentiment of all the hoteliers I met on a recent Tui press trip to the island. In the north, the area least affected by the fires, some of Tui’s exclusive partner properties report 90% occupancy levels and reassure us that all activities and amenities are running as normal.
It’s in the south, where the fires began, which is where I find myself most surprised. Apart from singed trees, there’s no obvious sign that wildfires had threatened this region just weeks before.
This is especially noticeable in the hotels we visit, where the staff are all too excited to welcome guests back to their properties. The hotels are overflowing with life – lively pool bars, occupied sun loungers and buzzing pools.
Excursions from the hotels are operating as if nothing has changed – guests can easily take a tour of Rhodes old town, jump on a boat for a day trip to the neighbouring island of Symi or visit the unique Butterfly Valley. We’re reassured that guests who choose to visit the south “won’t miss out on anything”.
It’s clear that visitors aren’t put off from staying in the south – and rightly so.
At the Lindos Imperial, one of the hotels that had to evacuate guests and close its doors for two weeks, Dimitra Grigoropoulou, the director of sales and marketing, tells us all about how southern Rhodes boasts “the most beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters”, as well as how it’s prone to less windy weather than the north.
Not only that, but the south is also home to Lindos, the breathtaking village which instantly wins me over with its historical charm. The village, home to just 600 people, is built on top of the ancient city and buildings date back to the 16thcentury.
From the vantage point of the acropolis, I’m treated to far-reaching views, the highlight of which is the majestic Saint Paul’s Bay. The small cove boasts perfectly clear waters, where the shallow depth is perfect for paddling, and a small, traditionally Greek chapel that honours Saint Paul himself.
As I wander through the ruins, I receive a healthy dose of Greek history. The Temple to Athena Lindia is the star of the show, as well as the 20 stark pillars that are crowned by the original ‘capitals’ (heads) that date back to the 10thcentury BC. I take a moment to watch the blues of the sky and the ocean blend together as they’re framed by the pillars, and I feel very grateful to be visiting this beautiful island.
And for me, one of the most beautiful things about Rhodes is the hospitality of the locals. I feel welcomed as if I’m an old friend, and it’s clear that the wildfires haven’t dampened the warm spirit of Rhodes and its inhabitants – in fact, I think they’ve made it stronger.
Tui offers a week’s all-inclusive at the Lindos Imperial from £1,015 per person, based on two adults and two children sharing a Superior Family Room and including transfers, luggage and flights departing August 23.