Touring ancient sites is hot, dusty work in the Greek islands. The solution: visiting the fabulous beaches for cooling swims in the clear blue Aegean! And a cold beer doesn’t hurt.
NOTE: Since my 4-month backpacking trip around Greece too many years ago, I had been longing to return to this magical land of myth, history, and dramatic landscapes. I recently made a fabulous 3-week return trip there, to research additional settings for my novel-in-progress, THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT. My first post in the new series, on September 30, gives an overview of my rambles with my husband Thor from Athens to the islands of Rhodes, Santorini, and Naxos, and finally a pilgrimage to the ancient center of the world at Delphi.
Thor and I were packing a lot into our brief stay on the island of Rhodos, and I’m eager to return to sample more of its rich history–and more beaches! I’m pretty sure I was a dolphin or otter in a previous life, as I start to fade without frequent immersion in the sea. (Perhaps a different version of mythic Antaeus, whose strength depended on contact with the earth. Herakles defeated him by holding him in the air until his strength was gone.) Luckily, we had a rental car, so after touring sites during a heat wave, we took afternoon breaks at different beaches where we could renew our acquaintance with the life-giving waters of the Aegean Sea.
Our first stop, on the way to the Classical site of Lindos (see blog #9), was at Kallithea, literally “beautiful goddess.” A former spa/resort of rather decadent splendor (top photo), the buildings are now mostly unused except as occasional movie sets or as a location for small music concerts. They overlook a rocky cove frequented by locals, tourists, and pleasure boats.
Pleasures of hot sun and cool, clear blue waters abound, along with loungers to rent and refreshments to buy.
There is even a faux grotto that funnels fresh springwater to rinse off the sea salt.
The spa buildings display the beautiful black-and-white pebble mosaic floor designs, choklakia, traditional on the island:
After checking out the scene at Kallithea, we decided we’d prefer a less crowded beach for a swim later, and drove on south to Lindos, which offers 2 beaches at its ancient harbors, one to the north of the acropolis, and one at the foot of the steep southern cliffs. This is the north beach:
And the south cove, nearly enclosed by the rocky arms:
Unfortunately, we didn’t have an underwater camera to record the luminous quality of the clear water, shading from aquamarine in the shallows to a purple-blue over the steep dropoffs, but this photo from the clifftop ruins is the closest to capturing it:
Thor and I brought along our snorkel masks, and we enjoyed the less crowded rocky coves more than the admittedly lovely, long sandy beaches where the mega-resorts host flocks of tourists from all countries. Wearing a mask, we could appreciate the incredible clarity as we swam over submerged marble boulders resembling drowned giants from those Greek myths. Diving down into coolness, then letting the very salty buoyancy carry us back toward the surface sunshine was a transcendent pleasure. I feel I can never adequately describe the visceral joy of swimming and diving these fabled waters, and my character Peter Mitchell in THE ARIADNE CONNECTION feels the same way:
“He kicked hard, straight down into hushed shadow. The water split and reformed around him as he arrowed into it, sharp-edged as flowing crystal. It was bare underneath, too, rock outlined precise below him, not much in the way of fish or plants. Here and there a sparse weed curtsied in the swell, fingerlings scattering in a silver spurt of alarm. But the water: incredible clear blue like swimming in air, and the pure salt cool of it you could almost see forever stay forever, siren voices calling him deeper….”
One of the beaches north of Lindos was tucked just south of Kallithea in a rocky cove that seemed to be a getaway for just a few locals. After stepping gingerly over the rough rocks and down a rusty metal ladder attached to the stone, we discovered more of those sleeping giants of smooth boulders under the surface, tumbled together with narrow passageways between them where we could dive down and through the archways they created.
Even on the edge of Rhodos Old City, just outside the Medieval walls, there is a lovely sandy beach where the town folk can take a break. Our hostess at the Camelot guest-house directed us there when we arrived on a hot afternoon, telling us how she used to swim there as a girl with her family. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of it or the pretty, smooth marble pebbles we collected by diving down in the shallows where they glimmered their assorted colors. We did discover to our surprise that even this modest beach without facilities offered a hose with a shutoff valve, with warm, fresh water to rinse off after swimming. All the public beaches we visited later had different versions of these freshwater showers, simple or more elaborate, such a thoughtful amenity.
Our favorite beach, also on the east coast, was Tassos, in another small, rocky cove frequented mostly by locals. Among the rocky headlands, a marble-pebbled beach allowed easy entry to the deeper cove and more of the mysterious, drowned boulders to explore. After swimming out into the deeper water, we enjoyed drifting back to the warmer shallows, floating above the flickering sunlight over the polished pebbles.
Most European beachgoers have a relaxed attitude, with women of all ages enjoying equal opportunity by going topless if they wish to dispense with binding straps and chafing dampness. I always want to avoid offending locals when traveling, and asked a couple of attendants about the rules. The middle-aged woman grinned and flung out her arms, exhorting me, “Be free!”
Thor and I rented loungers and basked in alternating bouts of hot sunshine and cool sea. We also made acquaintance with the beach cat, Tassos, who made himself at home by jumping up on loungers to be petted. I love it that Greeks love cats and welcome their useful presence patrolling the grounds. This couple graciously consented to have a photo taken with Tassos, who had climbed up and made himself quite at home.
And the final touch of perfection at the beach: A small, open-air taverna against the cliff offered snacks and cold beer! We lifted our glasses and spilled the traditional thank-you drops to the magical pleasures of the Greek islands. “Chairete!” Rejoice.
Next week: One last outing on Rhodos, visiting traditional villages.
You will now find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection. It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?” The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from a research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at www.sarastamey.com