The Dodecanese: An island chain made for hopping
It takes just one step on holiday to start the process of discovery. So, what if that step becomes a hop? And then another? Welcome to the Dodecanese, a cluster of magical islands in the South Aegean simply made for hopping. Some you will have heard of (Rhodes and Kos, most likely) while others are just as rich in history and natural beauty but less well-known. And certainly less well-travelled.
Travel through time on Rhodes
Our island-hopping journey begins on Rhodes. But whether you’re heading towards the future or the past is up to you – for Rhodes has the ability to propel you in either direction with equal ease.
Just to stand within the walls of the Old Town is to instantly be transported to a world of medieval knights and chivalry, protected for the last 30 years as an UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Landmarks with the most imposing of names – the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights among them – are brought to life with cobblestones and coats of arms. Or perhaps you’re at Lindos, on the eastern coast, where a lofty acropolis offers circular views, not just of the Aegean but of a landscape spanning 2,400 years of ancient Greek, Venetian, Byzantine and Ottoman history.
But so too can Rhodes propel you forward. Modern hotels and amenities are testament to its status as the largest of the Dodecanese islands, as are its facilities for onward travel. So it’s off to the airport or port we head.
The dramatic effect of Karpathos
Just 40 minutes from Rhodes by plane – but a world away in terms of international renown – Karpathos is an island of extremes. On the one hand, Karpathos does dramatic like few other islands. Take Olymbos, a village whose mountainside homes cascade theatrically down to the sea, or the gravity-defying rock formations that attract climbers from afar. But then there are the quiet coves and sun-kissed beaches adorning the coastline with dreamy regularity. It’s not uncommon here to find islanders wearing traditional dress, particularly at one of the well-attended festivals. This is, after all, an island with its soul intact.
Quite the feast on Kos
Before we move to other smaller island gems, a quick detour. No island-hopping tour of the region would be complete without a visit to Kos. Another island with an airport and excellent ferry links, Kos offers great connections to its neighbours and is, of course, a wonderful destination in itself. Hippocrates clearly thought so – and he should know! The father of modern medicine is synonymous with Kos, having established his Asclepeion here (a collection of infirmaries, temples and hot springs – the ancient world’s answer to a holistic healing spa). And so, too, is Kos every bit a contender in the healthy competition of the Dodecanese islands in the culture stakes (ancient or medieval, take your pick). There’s even an Italian thing going on in some of the main town’s architecture. Quite a feast for the eyes.
The magical light of Astypalea
From Rhodes or Kos, the options spread out before you. And when you’re spoilt for choice, it would be wrong not to spoil yourself. The reasons to visit Astypalea simply spill off the page. The whitewashed homes and crown-topping castle of the main town aren’t just picture-perfect, but from here the views of the Aegean make your heart thump just that bit quicker. As for the beaches, if it’s a pure and tranquil setting you’re after for your family holiday, this is the place is for you. Vatses, Livadi, Steno, Psili Ammos and without a doubt Kaminakia … all names of beaches you’ll get to know very well. And as for the food – cheeses, honey, thyme-scented Easter cookies and other local delicacies… just try them. But if there’s one thing you’ll take away from Astypalea, it’s the light – an iridescent white that fills you from the inside out.
The bundle of authenticity that is Leros
Little more than 1hr20mins from Rhodes or Kos, this little bundle of authenticity has withstood everything its many invaders have thrown at it and come away looking more beautiful than ever. Monasteries and villages have merged so completely with their natural environment that their stories seem to carry on the herb-scented summer breeze. Meanwhile, the neoclassical buildings of the capital, Platanos, and ochre-tinted houses of Agia Marina offer distinctive architectural elements that give Leros a style all its own. No wonder it was chosen by the goddess Artemis as the place to build her throne. If there’s one view you could never tire of, this is it.
Patmos: A secret to those in the know
Last but by no means least… our island-hopping adventure ends on Patmos. A couple of hours by boat from Kos (and only 1hr 20mins from Leros) this is a journey to a quite different plane of island existence. Patmos has been the secret to those in the know for long enough to have brought it an elevated level of architecture and comfort. But so too has the island retained all its famed mysticism and tranquillity. No description of Patmos would be complete without a glimpse into the cave in which St John the Divine is said to have written the Bible’s Book of Revelation… but let’s not beat about the bush: No less divine experience is to sample the island’s famed gastronomy. After all, heavenly comes in many forms.
A series of short stories bound by a shared love of the sea
So there it is. Six islands and as many hops as your heart desires. There’s nothing to stop you adding other islands of the Dodecanese (Kalymnos, Kastelorizo, Halki, Lipsi, Nysiros, and Symi) but you get the idea. Each island so versatile and varied that it deserves a special chapter in your holiday schedule… but so much the richer when bound by a single island-hopping story.