From Ippokratous Square we walk up Sokratous Street, usually busy with strolling tourists but empty at this time of year with most of the shops still closed. We follow it to the pink Suleiman Mosque at the top, originally built soon after the Ottoman conquest of the city in 1522; turn right before the clock tower, towards the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. Built by the Knights Hospitaller in the fourteenth century, its façade was destroyed during Ottoman times but rebuilt by the Italian occupiers during the late 1930s. And there is our hotel, Nikos Takis, its location immersing you at once and unmistakably in the history of Europe’s biggest medieval city.
Nikos Takis Hotel is built in the old quarters of the Sultan’s harem in the nineteenth century, and is decorated in eastern style – this is the tip of Rhodes that noses into the coastline of Asia Minor, after all. The founders of Nikos Takis were fashion designers whose clients included Liz Taylor, Sofia Loren, Maria Callas and Jackie Onassis. I loved my first stay in this historic boutique hotel a few years ago, in the Grand Master Emery suite with its terrace view of cruise ships coming in. With the evenings not quite warm enough for lounging on a terrace, the Ontas suite we get this time is perfect – it's got a warm, opulent feel, decorated in soothing reds and oranges and burnt umbers, with old wooden ceiling beams and a bed you could sink a small submarine in. There are hand-painted details and swathes of brocade and silk. I love it. And the welcome is very friendly, there are only eight rooms, and it’s open year-round.
I like the happy, relaxed mood on any Greek island when shops and restaurants are just opening and the weather is mild. In early evening, we wander to find a place to eat. We get talking to someone at the newish bakery and pizzeria Il Forno, in a building which I remember as the lovely bar Angel, and I giggle when he hands us what he called a ‘flyeraki’. He tells us a place where we can get good, authentic food, and it turns out to be the place we eyed earlier, Ta Petaladika, a bright, buzzing fish meze place. As an Old Town resident tells us, any restaurant open now is probably good because it caters to locals. We have grilled calamari, salt cod and skordalia (like garlic mashed potato), and a house salad with rocket and pieces of smoked salmon, washed down with the clear spirit tsipouro – which comes in a nifty holder with ice around it.
Rhodes town feels like coming to the city for us, living on tiny Tilos; it’s where we run our errands, but also good for a break, to eat different foods and meet other people. And of course a lovely hotel makes it even nicer. By the time I wake up next morning in the super-comfortable bed, looking out of the window at the old school lit up with morning sunlight and the blue sky above – Yiannis is already leaning out of the window with his camera – I am relaxed to be on holiday. A few opportunities have come up to explore Rhodes again, and I'm looking forward to it.
After a morning of appointments and shopping – including a browse around a new shop in Mandraki called Eva’s Walk specialising in natural Greek beauty products and food – we sit down to a late lunch at Stavlos. There used to be a bakery here, a couple of streets up from the bus station, but since Theodoraki Street in between has become a happening cafe-bar street for local Beautiful People, this has reinvented itself as a ‘kalofagadiko’ or a place for good food. All around us, young people from Rhodes (and Tilos – look, there’s our football team!) are feasting on gargantuan plates of roast meat and Yiannis orders kebab and chips, but I choose one of my favourite dishes, Cretan dakos, just tomatoes and feta and wholewheat twice-baked bread all heaped together and drowned in olive oil. And I eat half the chips. With a half-litre of cold red wine, it’s just right to send us off to sleep for a while.
In early evening, when the light is good for photography, we head out to explore the Old Town once more. I thought I knew every part of this place from my many wanderings over the years, but no - we get delightfully lost and captivated by its intimate corners.
Then we relax back in the room until it’s a reasonable time to find some nightlife, given it’s Friday night and all. Ten o’clock, Yiannis insists, is still far too early to go out but I fear I'll fall asleep if we don't get moving. He's right of course: Legends is still playing some fairly dodgy rock when we arrive but the early start means we bag a couple of seats, have a couple of drinks and eventually the live band starts close to midnight. After the first set we move on and find a cool new dance bar called Oda just up the alley towards Fuego, where I discover a worrying new enthusiasm for Jaegermeister and a type of music which Yiannis shrugs and says could be called ‘industrial atmospheric’. Next day, he grins and asks if I remember half the things I was talking about. And I don’t. But I don’t care. I’m enjoying myself. I’m on holiday.
And we’re off on a road trip around the island.
Part Two follows soon!!!!
My two nights in Rhodes were courtesy of Nikos Takis Hotel, Panetiou 26, Old Town (22410 70773)
Ta Petaladika (‘ouzotaverneion’), Menekleous 8, Old Town (22410 27319)
Stavlos (‘kalofagadiko’), corner of Tarpon Springs and Karpathou (22410 77180)