TRAVEL: Get me to the Greek

When Laura McMullan visited the quaint little town of Lindos on the east coast of Rhodes, she didn’t expect to fall in love with an entire country and culture. From chilled out nights to days spent travelling round the island, if it’s a holiday of contrasts you’re after, then all Rhodes lead to Greece

Beads of sweat formed on my forehead as I squinted in the sun, surveying the azure blue sea and sunbed-dotted sands in front of me, and felt my temperature rise and my face flush.

Just as I could bear it no longer, my trainer, the gorgeous Aleks, told me I could drop the barbell.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon, and I had just endured - well actually, enjoyed - a gruelling Body Pump session with her in the searing Greek heat, lifting weights, squatting on the sand, and generally earning the calories I was looking forward to ingesting that evening at the buffet.

Just last September, I wrote about my pleasurable experience of running on holiday for the first time in my (then) 37 years, recounting how packing my trainers for Tenerife proved to be the best holiday move I ever made, because sun plus endorphins is a fantastic combination.

This summer, on our holiday to the stunning little town of Lindos, the roads around our hotel were much too rocky and uneven to chance a sprint, so it was with glee that I signed myself up for some outdoor exercise sessions with Aleks, one of the lovely Thompson reps taking care of us during our stay at the fabulously luxurious Sensimar Lindos Bay Hotel.

A 10 minute drive from Lindos town, this adults only, four storey, ultra modern hotel is situated right on the sand-and-pebble Vlycha Beach, which we took a moonlit stroll along the very first night we arrived.

It was impressive enough then; after our four and a half hour flight from Belfast International, we could not wait for a week of relaxation here, alternating between this glorious space, and the huge pool just a few metres away.

The amenities inside the hotel were as splendid as those outside it; our room on the second floor was huge, with no less than two balconies, and our bathroom and bedroom more than encompassing our every need, decorated in soothing shades of coffee and cream, and boasting all the mod cons, from flatscreen TV, free safe, mini bar and air conditioning, to thoughtful touches such as the bottle of wine and fruit platter that had been left as a welcome note.

Our first breakfast was a bountiful one; I literally got lost weaving my way between the aisles of delicious food. Over the course of the week I enjoyed all kinds of eggs every morning, from hard boiled to scrambled to omelettes, along with beans, mushrooms, toast, croissants, sweet breads, fresh fruit and yoghurt.

The evening meals (we were booked in on a half board basis) were equally as impressive; there was so much choice every night, and eating outside, overlooking the golden sandy private beach and in the shadow of the rocky hills, was one of the high points of the holiday.

The daily entertainment schedule was the other one. Because Sensimar Lindos Bay is several miles away from Lindos itself, staff here have a timetable packed with events every day, to give you plenty of options of something a little more physically or mentally challenging, when you decide you’re tired of lazing in the sun.

I’m habitually a dedicated sun worshipper when I go away, but even I was tempted away from by book and sun bed when I realised I could feed my other addiction - fitness - by attending the likes of volleyball, ‘aqua jogging’, Nordic walking, candlelit yoga, running, and beach work-out classes.

I was thrilled, and quickly made a mental note to try out some of the beach sessions, which proved tough enough in temperatures above 30 degrees.

I rewarded my efforts with extra dessert that night at dinner.

Of course, if working up even more sweat than you’d usually acquire in Greek climes isn’t your cup of tea, you could try your hand at cocktail making, learning Greek, or playing darts or table tennis.

The nightly entertainment schedule was equally as varied. Our first full evening was so much fun - we joined in a music quiz with a group of other guests, hosted by the aforementioned Aleks, and her fellow Thompson reps, Jenny and Lykke. I also learnt to play poker (badly) at a Casino Night, and got dragged out in front of everyone to learn a dance routine at Cabaret Night (particularly embarrassing when you’re stone cold sober). It sounds cheesy, but by the end of the week, it felt like everyone at the hotel - guests and staff - was part of one big happy family, particularly after the final night, when we were all asked to come to dinner dressed in black or white, and join in a pre-meal champagne reception on the terrace, where each staff member was formally introduced to us.

There are not many large hotels that can carry off such a homely atmosphere, but the Sensimar Lindos Bay absolutely nailed it, and I would highly recommend it to anyone searching for somewhere to stay on this beautiful island.

Lindos town is delightful, a mish mash of cobbled streets and whitewashed houses, above which rises the Acropolis, a natural citadel which was fortified successively by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Knights of St John and the Ottomans.

It offers awesome views of the surrounding harbours and coastline, and we ventured most of the way up it, before finally surrendering to the midday heat, and making our way back down in search of a bar to quench our thirst.

We had caught the bus over to the town that morning from right beside our hotel; a 20 minute ride and a couple of Euros later, and we were meandering through the streets, which are packed with shops and tavernas, meeting the occasional donkey giving a ride to a tourist (thanks to its preservation order, Lindos is car free, so there’s little to disturb its authentic old-school Greekness).

Refreshed, we decided we had done enough climbing for the day, and set off at a more downward slope, to St Paul’s Bay, where we stopped for yet another cold drink at the one of its two beaches, the smaller one at the northern end.

It’s claimed that St Paul landed here in the year 51 AD to preach Christianity to the Rhodians. We peeked inside the tiny chapel of the same name, which is quaint and quintessentially Greek, a must visit for lovers of Greek culture.

Lindos is undoubtedly beautiful and unspoiled, and we could have come back another day to continue exploring it, but we were keen to see the rest of the island, particular the rest of the east coast, with its unending stretch of beaches and resorts such as Pefkos and Faliraki.

We decided to hire a car (being holiday hire car ‘virgins’, this was a fairly impulsive move for us, but one of the best of the holiday) and armed with a map and copious bottles of water, we set off to see what exactly it is about Rhodes that attracts more than 270,000 British holidaymakers every year, making it the most visited island in Greece.

Our first stop was the 800 metre long Tsambika Beach, considered to be one of the finest on the island, with azure waters and fine sand. Overlooking the smattering of sunbathers and watersports fans is the church of Panagià Tsambika, also well worth a visit.

Next up was the infamous Faliraki, a tourist trap with a reputation that precedes it, after it became popular with party-seeking, Club 18-30 holidaymakers. But it’s also a firm favourite with families, thanks to its Blue Flag beach and it’s popular water park, as well as the plethora of watersports available if you’re inclined towards adventure.

We actually returned a few days later to spend a lazy afternoon drinking coffee at a little beach side restaurant.

Rhodes Town is an absolute must-see. Set on the northern tip of the island, it is one of the oldest inhabited Medieval towns in Europe, a maze of around 200 nameless streets.

We spent the morning exploring the cobbled pathways of the old town, before stopping for a Pina Colada in Stravos Hotel, where we met Stravos himself - a real character.

The walls of the bar here are completely covered from top to bottom with photos of Stravos with his guests and punters from over the years, football scarves, baseball hats, and all kinds of sporting memorabilia.

I’d also recommend a visit to the 14th-century Palace of the Grand Masters, a huge fortress rebuilt as a holiday bolt-hole for Mussolini, and the old inns on the cobble, 600 metre stretch that is the Street of the Knights.

Our second day on the road brought us back to the present day, as we stopped off at a modern little resort just south of our Lindos base - Pefkos.

What this town - which takes its name from the pine trees that fringe the sandy beach - lacks in size it certainly makes up for in terms if all it has to offer, from a host of bars and restaurants (boasting some of the cheapest prices for cocktails I’d noted since our arrival) to the stunning Plakia Beach just on the town’s edge.

Our next stop was the most southern tip of the island, Prassoníssi; its name is the Greek word for ‘green island’, but this delightful spot is only that during winter, when water levels are high enough to make it so. In the summer, when levels are low - the situation during our visit - it is a peninsula attached to Rhodes.

This place is, literally, surfers’ paradise; it’s said that the predictable winds here with certain qualities (not gusty, constant direction and during particular times of the day) attract adventure seekers, and from what we could see that day, this was certainly true.

We walked along the sand barefoot, letting the foamy waters of the Aegean Sea rush over our feet, before eventually settling down on a spot to watch the surfers.

It was absolute bliss.

From there, our journey took us up the north western side of the island to Monolithos, through the quaint little town of Siana, before passing through Embonas and back ‘home’ to Lindos.

On our final day we returned to Faliraki with a view of seeking out the famous Anthony Quinn Bay, where the war film The Guns of Navorone was shot. Actor Quinn actually bought this part of Rhodes when the movie was being filmed, and it’s easy to see why he fell in love with it; I had never seen such emerald coloured waters in my life, which apparently are due to the lush green vegetation which surrounds the beach here.

Rhodes is a jewel in itself, and as we finally departed this heavenly island a few days later, we reflected on a holiday that had delivered the perfect balance of sun-worshipping slovenliness and attraction-seeking adventure, and decided it was a place to which we’ll definitely return.

FACT BOX

*Laura McMullan’s trip to Lindos was booked through www.thompson.co.uk and she was a guest at the TUI Sensimar Lindos Bay Resort & Spa, which is located on the edge of the pretty town of Lindos (lindosbayhotel.gr). The TUI Sensimar range is designed just for adults, and all hotels in the collection are four star or higher, with an on site spa, a range of gourmet restaurants, and they offer day time activities and low key evening entertainment.

*Low booking deposits from £75pp. Lead in price: May 23, 2018, Belfast to Rhodes, TUI Sensimar Lindos Bay, 4T, Lindos, HB, £626pp (double room with balcony).

*Flight time from Belfast International Airport is approx four hours 40 minutes, and transfer time is approx one hour 30 mins. Flights to Rhodes for summer 2018 depart from Belfast International Airport every Wednesday from May 23, with the last flight out running on September 19.

*Car hire was facilitated via www.marathonrentacar.gr and cost 70 Euros to hire a Peugeot 107 for three days.