The magical Greek island with a heart-shaped bay

When Plato wrote, "Every heart sings a song ..." he may well have been talking about the heart-shaped Bay of St Paul at the foot of the Acropolis of Lindos on the Greek island of Rhodes. Carved by time and tides, the natural cove looks like a pendant discarded by a Greek goddess, its turquoise waters in vivid contrast to the navy blue of the Aegean Sea.

Leaning over a low wall, I turn to face the breeze, a gentle murmur or "sea song" drifting upwards from the waters below. Long famed in the ancient world as a centre for arts and culture, Rhodes hovers in the blurred space between myth and reality. It's here the nymph Rhodos bore seven sons, where Hercules was worshiped, Cicero studied philosophy and the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, stood.

The largest of the Dodecanese islands, Rhodes is closer to Turkey than mainland Greece, holding a prime position on the trade route and an intriguing "east meets west" nature. From the port of Rhodes it is a 45-minute drive to the village of Lindos, a tumble of terraced, sugar-cube houses curled around a crescent-shaped harbour.

Wending our way through the tangle of narrow streets, our feet plodding along the rivers of black and white sea pebbles, we stop to catch our breath and peer inside courtyards built by 17th century sea captains; we snack on citrus-flavoured sorbet, its taste mimicking the orange blossoms along the laneways.

Finally, with legs and lungs on fire, we reach the town's crowing glory, the Acropolis of Lindos. From its lofty position it's easy to see why the natural citadel was held and fortified successively by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, the Knights of St John (a catholic military order) and the Ottomans.

At the base of the entrance stands the relief of a Rhodian warship carved into rock, its characteristic stern indicative of the maritime power of ancient Rhodes. "Look around at the flinty, barren land," says our guide, Nicholas. "It's not hard to see why the people of Rhodes became mariners."

Higher still stand the ruins of the Temple of Athena Lindia, a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Athena built in the fourth century BC. Wandering amid the honey-coloured ruins, from the castle of the Knights of St John to the Hellenistic stoa, I try to imagine what it was like to live and worship here, my musings heightened by the chatter of the breeze along the timeworn corridors.

Back in the old fortress city of Rhodes we again meet the Knights of St John, this time at the Palace of the Grand Master. Having been driven out of Jerusalem the order arrived in Rhodes in 1309, occupying the island for 200 years before being expelled by the Ottomans.

Before I lose myself in the rabbit warren of lanes inside the walled, World Heritage-listed, Old Town, I visit the main sites: the archaeological museum housed in the Great Hospital of the Knights, the Palace of the Grand Master, which, thanks to a makeover by the Italian fascists during their three-decade occupation is as fascinating as it is flamboyant, and the Street of the Knights, with its seven inns representing the seven "tongues", or countries, the knights hailed from.

Advertisement

Later, I take a seat in the courtyard of Auvergne cafe, sipping a white wine as the setting sun turns the ancient stonework to burnished gold. With a deep-seated contentment I feel what can only be Eros's arrow, a shot to the heart making me fall in love with this mythical, magical island.

TRIP NOTES

Kerry van der Jagt was a guest of Celestyal Cruises.

MORE

traveller.com.au/greece 

traveller.com.au/cruises 

FLY

Qatar Airways flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Athens, Greece via Doha. See qatarairways.com

CRUISE

The 1664-passenger ship Celestyal Olympia visits Rhodes during its four-night Iconic Aegean cruise. Prices for an outside, two-berth cabin start from $US1059 ($1560) a person twin share, including all meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, select shore excursions and entertainment. See celestyalcruises.com

Comments