My ancestral home in the Greek islands of the southeastern Aegean Sea never fails to tug on my heartstrings.
By Jim Bamboulis | March 09, 2021
Athens has the Parthenon, Santorini the sunset, Mykonos the beaches. For decades, travellers have flocked to the myriad idyllic destinations in Greece, living out their own personal Greek myths. Although the ancient ruins, whitewashed clifftop villages and narrow cobblestone streets all beckon, understandably, there are many other places in Greece that scratch the travel itch.
The Dodecanese group of islands in Greece’s southeast is such a place—an off-the-beaten-path corner of the world that makes you feel as if you’ve stumbled onto a hidden paradise.
Translated from Greek, Dodecanese means “12 islands.” In actuality, this island grouping numbers 15 large and 150 smaller islands in the Aegean Sea, promising pristine beaches, battled-ravaged fortresses and clifftop monasteries. Exploring here means breathing history, walking through a living museum, touching structures that showcase the scars of countless conflicts and a classical beauty dating back centuries.
My mom is from the island of Rhodes, the historical capital of the Dodecanese and in many ways my second home. I’ve been fortunate to visit several times since childhood, and I admit to focusing more on making summer friends than acknowledging the beauty around me. With time, I came to appreciate my roots and feel such a deep connection to the land and its people that I get inexplicably emotional and almost speechless every time I land at the airport. I find the strongest sense of belonging here, a connection and an effortless peace. Rhodes, it seems, is where my soul lives.
Structures here showcase the scars of countless conflicts and a classical beauty that dates back centuries.
Older Than Dirt
Although it means 12 islands, Dodecanese is actually a grouping of 15 larger islands plus almost 100 smaller inlets, the jewels of the Eastern Mediterranean. It has been inhabited since 2000 BC.
I start my days at Rodini Park, an oasis considered to be the first landscaped park in the world, complete with peacocks roaming the grounds. Looking for adventure along the coast, I drive to Lindos, a charming village with an ancient hilltop acropolis that dates back millennia. Having packed my willpower, I take on the challenging hike up to the castle, eventually to be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Mediterranean and St. Paul’s Bay. To cool off, I head to the southernmost tip of the island for a dip in the water, digging my toes into flour-soft sand before carrying on clockwise, venturing northwest. I stop at the formidable 15th-century Monolithos Castle, which from a distance appears to sit on a thin rocky outcrop. I climb up to experience the endless vista, the neighbouring islands seemingly floating in mid-air. I sit back in awe of the sound of silence.
To say that the city of Rhodes is disarming is an understatement. Meandering the narrow alleyways within its larger-than-life Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes is a sensory overload. I touch its Byzantine and medieval walls, stroll the Street of the Knights, and visit the Jewish Quarter and the preserved Ottoman-era mosques. I try to imagine what it was like to stand next to the fabled Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, destroyed by an earthquake more than 2,000 years ago. I wonder who walked here, tasted the air and felt the sunshine. It’s like stepping back in time.
Later, I catch yet another miraculous sunset over the Aegean at Monte Smith, the highest point in the city of Rhodes, letting my new memories merge with the old.
Day Trips in the Dodecanese
Trips to other parts of the region involve crack-of-dawn ferry rides to maximize the sightseeing day. Three islands in particular never fail to impress history buffs, people-watchers and the café crowd.
Symi is a cute-as-a-button island where beautifully coloured neoclassical homes dot both sea- and hillside. Visiting here presents the chance to eat the island’s famous dish, Symi shrimps, which are pan-fried and eaten whole, shell and all—a delicacy for some, an acquired taste for others.
Nearby, the postcard-ready island of Kos is the birthplace of Hippocrates, “the father of medicine.” Kos is popular for its lively beaches and energetic nightlife.
Patmos, the “sacred island,” features two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Cave of the Apocalypse—where it’s believed the Prophet John wrote the Book of Revelation—and the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, a massive hilltop citadel built in the 11th century that still dominates the skyline.