I just don’t understand the lack of tourists on Rhodes during the winter. This island has so much to give to the people all year around. For sure, the winter months are completely different than the summer ones: the social life, the actions move back from the seaside into the 42 villages and Rhodes town, mainly to the interiors of the ‘kafenios’ and taverns. From the edge of the island into the heart of the island. Most of the local people shift from working hard at touristic seaside businesses and resorts to a more passive “village lifestyle” from the end of October when the long Rhodian summer season ends.
Winter is a really good period for travelers, who are deeply interested in the local culture of Rhodes, a perfect occasion to observe the authentic everyday life of the community of the island. Also because most of the local people have more time than during the summer, so they can tell you a lot about their life, and at the same time you can enjoy the winter filoxenia with some wine, souma, mezedakia (Greek word for group of appetizers) next to the warm fireplace. Because winter on Rhodes is cold. This period is also for the travelers who adore Nature, silence, who prefer to visit a Unesco site, and ancient, byzantine remains without the crowds of people. For people who are looking for an alternative peaceful, relaxing holiday with good, healthy food and breathtaking Nature.
This period could be the paradise also for photographers, because you can photograph all the famous (or non-famous, but stunning hidden) sights without the crowds of tourists. One cannot imagine the quietness, the space, the slow life after the tourist season. Sometimes I have the feeling, that the land, the earth, the air, the whole Nature on the island have a lot more quiet, peaceful vibe during winter (despite of some stormy days).
After October most of the direct flights and ferries, ships stop their routes to, and from the island, so the tourists disappear. People (including foreigners and Greeks from other parts of Greece) who come to the island to work in tourism only for the summer season, they leave also. Some of the locals who also work in the tourism business take the chance this time to go on holidays or visit relatives at other parts of Greece. So the rest of the locals and some crazy foreigners like me (who have chosen this island as home all year around) stay here, and we have the privilege to enjoy the colorful, tasteful winter season on Rhodes. Suddenly the island becomes kind of empty. The touristic businesses close their doors, but Nature keeps breathing, pulsating and gives us A LOT.
Usually from November Rhodes has the first important showers. From this moment the season, the colors, the lights, the landscape, the wind – so the sea – change. And they change everyday and each minute of the day. You cannot experience this diversity of the island’s nature during summer, when you have a constant sunny weather. No surprise, everyday strong sunshine for sure. During winter, especially from November you can see incredible spectrum of colors on the island. Impressionist painters would have loved Rhodes during winter for sure…
I have been living on this island for 13 months now, so this is my second winter season here and I just adore this period. I decided to collect some ideas for activities for travelers who decide to visit Rhodes during winter – focusing mainly on December which is the month of Christmas holidays with some interesting customs. But my hidden goal is also to give ideas to a few local people who always tell me: “Rhodes is boring in the winter, there is nothing to do”. According to my opinion the possibilities are unlimited here during winter. But don’t worry, my list will be limited (but really long). 😉 Because Rhodes is such a big, fertile, diverse, interesting island with too many gifts of Nature all around the year cycle.
The truly romantic season of the island
Whoever came to Greece during summer knows, that Greeks know how to enjoy life and creating special moments with the power of music, good food and wine, living a life close to the sea with its incredible beauty. But for me winter is the real romantic period on Rhodes island, because Greeks know how to enjoy even the cold days.
The ‘places to be’ this time are the village kafenios and taverns where people gather next to the fireplace. They often play music and eat local seasonal food with olive oil from the fresh harvest (after December), drinking wine, souma, or mainly Greek coffee – the coffee that makes you sit for a long while (waiting for the coffee grounds to sit on the bottom of your cup) and chat, spend time with others.
1. Try the Greek coffee (ellinikos) and meze in a village kafeneio
Every village has at least one kafeneio, which in Greece is the place originally for men drinking coffee (mainly Greek coffee) or ouzo, souma (local grape spirit), playing cards or backgammon, and talk about all the important news of the village and their life. In the past it was a men’s place, but nowadays you can find also women inside. They usually serve some meze beside the drinks. The meze in the kafeneio traditionally is some fresh, simple, local bites of food. Like olives, cheese, sometimes fish, baked aubergine slices, boiled greens, dolmades (or on Rhodes they call it giaprakia – the stuffed wine leaves) usually served with village bread, and the list goes on… Each place has its on meze choices, and they are different probably everyday. Depending on the weather and the available ingredients. Traditionally they offer that Nature offers. Choose a village from the 42, find the local kafeneio (close to the main square of the village, not far from the church), where the locals sit and try the traditional Greek coffee and some meze. Don’t be surprised if they don’t have espresso, or cappuccino, because it is not part of the root culture here.
Also you can find some mezedopoleio mainly in Rhodes town, which are small places mainly for meze plates as the perfect accompanist of wine, souma, ouzo. Fresh fish is often part of the list of mezedes at these spots.
2. Taste the winter on Rhodes in authentic taverns – where locals eat
And taste the real Rhodes at the same time. Because the restaurants that stay open even during winter are a kind of guarantee for quality. Otherwise they wouldn’t survive the winter period.
So what are the most seasonal dishes of Rhodes that you can find in an authentic tavern or restaurant during winter?
First of all ‘horta’ (χόρτα), the boiled greens. Rhodes has too much wild greens, especially during winter, and they even have the saying: “Φαε χόρτα, να χορτάσεις”. Which means: “Eat greens, and you will be pleased.” The locals know so many types, that I cannot even distinguish, and most of them have different names in different villages. They boil the greens and put lots of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt, maybe vinegar, maybe garlic. Recipes vary from village to village and from tavern to tavern. Such a boost for the immune system! Go for it!
And then we have the beetroot salad, panzaria (παντζάρια) usually served with the traditional garlic sauce called skordalia (σκορδαλιά), which is another support for the immune system and the recipe also varies from place to place. They boil the beetroot and usually boil and serve it together with its leaves. Recipes: here.
We also have the snails prepared in different ways. When it rains, there are a lot of snails and the traditional kitchen of Rhodes has some typical recipes with ‘karavoloi’ (καραβóλοι). Healthy like seafood, full of omega3 and proteins. What else do we need? 😀 I tried the snail stifado at T’Alonia in Kalithies village, which is a ‘souvlatzidiko’ (place for gyros, souflaki and meats on the grill), but they are open during winter too and offer wonderful seasonal plates of meze. They have their own herbs and spices and sea salt collected by the family and they always cook something in their outside oven. Always seasonal and local. And don’t worry, they will teach you how to eat the snails. 😉
Another “thing” appears when the rain arrives to Rhodes: mushroom. And the local mushroom professor for me on the island is Manolis Ironias, the owner of Old Monolithos Taverna in Monolithos village. He knows so much about the wild local species (and keep learning about them) and whenever he can, he goes to the neighbouring mountains with his wife Despoina to collect them. They took me once also with them and showed me the secrets of preparing the best wild mushrooms ever. Manolis did his own plate and Despoina prepared a different one. They are a fantastic team in the kitchen. And yesss, Metaxa is also part of the recipe:
Instead of Greek salad, order Green salad during winter. Why? It is not the season of tomato, which is a main ingredient of Greek salad, so it is better to shift to the local seasonal food. Always. And Rhodes has lot of greens during winter as I said before, so many places have the ‘Green salad’ with fresh green vegetables. With olive oil and sea salt all the greens are lovely. And there are some other varieties of salads of course for example with cabbage which is another seasonal vegetable. Like this following one, the very rich Fountoukli salad in Taverna Fountoukli near Eleousa village, close to the charming 15th century Fountoukli chapel in the forest. The tavern is open only during winter and only on weekends and holidays. Managed by a lovely family with high standards even in food and in the service. Traditional Greek kitchen in an amazing wooden forest house, which is an exceptional experience even for the locals. Love and care can be experienced in the smallest details.
Some other varieties of meze could be the stuffed zucchini flower (which is stuffed with goat cheese) and it is my personal favourite, aubergine salad which is the best in Old Monolithos Taverna for sure, ‘pitarudia’ which are fried vegetable balls (every village, every tavern prepares it in a different way – typical Rhodian plate), feta fournou is a piece of feta baked with spicy peppers in olive oil in the oven. The best version of it I think is in Koskinou village at Koutouki Ta Mandala, where they bake this spicy feta on a piece of crunchy bread. Potatoes with garlic and cheese is a divine plate of Mesostrati taverna in Soroni village where you also better to taste the meat plates.
And mainly the small homefood places (mainly in Rhodes town) prepare some dishes that the Greek housewives make for their family, like: chicken soup (kotosoupa) – always very thick, lentils (fakes), lentils with rice (fakorizo), beans in tomato sauce (gigantes), meat balls in tomato sauce (soutzoukakia) and so on. I recommend especially the following three places in town to taste home food: Ovelix, Dina’s kitchen, To Steki tou Psilou, Oi Simpetheres.
Finally, if you are eating somewhere don’t forget to ask about the mountain tea (τσάι του βουνού). It is a tea made of herbs like sideritis (the so called Cretan mountain tea), glifoni or fliskouni (local wild mint of Rhodes – divine!), or alesfakia (sage). Some of the kafeneios and village tavernas has their own, collected by the owners. Ask local pine or thyme honey with it.
The Greek Christmas season
3. Taste the sweets of the Christmas season
The Greek mothers know how to pamper you (maybe a bit more than it is necessary). The traditional sweets support them in this project. And Christmas has its special treats with their special taste. The 3 most important and specific cakes of the Christmas season on Rhodes are melomakarona (μελομακάρονα), kourambiedes (κουραμπιέδες) and kserotigana (ξεροτήγανα). Honey, nuts, walnut, almond and cinnamon are the main ingredients. Most of the supermarkets and pastry shops, bakeries are offering these sweets even from the first of December. And also during this period the tavernas are offering them as a dessert after your meal as a present. Because Christmas is not exactly one, or two days in Greece, it is rather a period: the whole December month. And if we look at the traditions deeper, we realize that this month is rather dedicated to Agios Nicolaos than Jesus in Greece…
Oh, and by the way, if you are on the island already on the 30th of November, don’t forget to taste loukoumades (λουκουμάδες), a sweet also with lots of honey and cinnamon which is prepared especially for Saint Andreas day according to the tradition. Available in bakeries, pastries all over the island that day.
Christmas decoration on Rhodes
As I said above, Greeks actually dedicate this holiday season for Saint Nicolas. His celebration is on the 6th of December and this is the time when most of the Greek families decorate their homes with Christmas ornaments. Also the streets of Rhodes has the festive decoration from the beginning of December.
4. Visit the chruch service for Saint Nikolas
For the ones who are interested in the church service for Saint Nicolas, I recommend one of the churches dedicated for him in Rhodes town in Kanada street: here
Originally people on the Greek islands put and decorate a wooden boat into their homes (next to the fireplace) as a symbol of Saint Nicolas, who is considered as the patron saint of sailors. They did not have the Christmas tree before, but now even the islands are influenced by the mainstream holiday fashions, so they have also Christmas tree everywhere and they have it for the whole month. You can recognize ‘Betlehem’ (φάτνη) installations at each village square and some of the villages have the decorated a boat also. And the good news is that if you don’t visit Rhodes town, the pressure of Christmas consumption will not reach you at all. This is what I call Christmas detox. And even in Rhodes town, there is no crazy traffic on roads just because of Christmas, you don’t feel the stress of the holiday. Except Black Friday. Unfortunately it infected Rhodes town as well…
Christmas customs in Greece
Compared to the Hungarian Christmas (which is intimate and a more family-focused celebration) Greek Christmas is an extrovert, outgoing social celebration. On the 24th of December shops are open and in the evening big groups of people (families and friends) gather in restaurants, taverns, kafeneios to eat as much as they can and to drink, sing, play music. And this is a very common activity of the evenings even until New Year’s Eve.
Originally and even practically on the 24th of December the children are going around the neighbourhood (houses, taverns, cafés) and singing, performing the carols of the day – they call it ‘kalanta’ (κάλαντα). They can appear anywhere in small groups with musical instruments wearing the hat of Santa Claus, and this is their good opportunity to collect some pocket money for their performance. They do it also on New Year’s Eve and on the 5th of January on Epiphany Eve (one day before the big celebration of Ta fota – the Blessing of the waters). And each occasion has its own specific carols.
5. Visit Salakos village at Christmas Eve
A truly special event on the 24th December evening takes place in Salakos village by the feet of Profitis Ilias mountain. Around 18 o’clock the whole village walks together from the village square to spring Nimfi, where they set up a live Betlehem inside a natural cave with children and animals. The children have lampions to light in the dark while walking, and a big orchestra is following them on the way playing Christmas songs. When everybody arrives (after visiting the sacred family inside the cave) locals give the special Christmas tea of Salakos village to warm you up. They are very proud of this tea and the recipe is a secret, they will never tell you! 😉 They say it is made of 30 different herbs. One thing is sure: you can taste this tea only in Salakos and only during the Christmas period.
So don’t worry, you will not be bored during Christmas on Rhodes, because the restaurants and taverns are open these days where you can taste the typical dishes of winter.
What else to do on Rhodes during winter?
6. Visit an olive press
From around mid November the farmers start the olive harvest on the lands. Many villages have their own olive press where they always have olive oil for sale. You can visit these factories and ask the workers about the oil making process. 😉
7. Discover the orange fields around Malona, Massari
These are the 2 villages that provide the main production of citrus fruits of the island (mainly orange and mandarin). This area is really amazing this time of the year with lots of citrus trees full of fruits and there are some hiking path around. But in general, the island is full of amazing orange and lemon trees, enjoy the exceptional sight. It isn’t really wintery, is it? 😉
8. Go to the local market of Rhodes
You can find all the local and seasonal gifts of Nature if you visit the market in Rhodes Town which takes place 2 times a week (Wednesday & Saturday) next to Agios Dimitrios cemetery, and a smaller version every Thursday next to the Stadium of Diagoras (close to ‘kokkini porta’ – the Gate of Saint John of the Old Town). I don’t know exactly when does the market start usually, I am always arriving around 11-12 and this time they still have a lot of beautiful products. What you will find there during winter: lemon, orange, mandarin, grapefruit, bergamot (no chemicals, 100% bio from the land of Rhodes – orange: sweet as honey, really the best one in the World), pomegranate, snails, all the green leaves, herbs like lemongrass, sage, rosemary, thyme, then beetroot with its long leaves, carrot, cabbage, potato (they say that the best ones are from Apollakia village), olive oil from the fresh harvest, aubergine, zukkini, and the beautiful types of honey of the island (pine, thyme, and the real special one with unique taste is the Ereika honey available usually from November). And a lot more…. discover the rest! 😉
9. Visit ‘Apolloniatisses’, the women of Apollona village
A lovely group of ladies, ‘The Women’s Cooperative of Apollonas’ protect and practice the traditional way of making pastries, sweets, bread learning from their grandmothers. They maintain a workshop in their village, Apollona close to Profitis Ilias mountain, where they bake fresh bread everyday (around 13:00 the bread is still warm, go for it!), and they make all of the typical local sweets of Apollona throughout the year. Around the Christmas period they make lovely packages of the traditional Christmas cookies which are available in their workshop in Apollona and in their shop in Rhodes Town also. More information here.
10. Greek island winter in the mountain
When the weather is rainy one of the most romantic things to do is driving up to Profitis Ilias mountain to the famous Elafos Hotel & Restaurant where you can enjoy an amazing sight next to the warm fireplace. Next to the Hotel there is a beautiful small church to visit.
Few kilometers away from the top of Profitis Ilias you can visit the chapel of Fountoukli and the fountain and old hospital near Eleousa village.
11. ‘Fatni’ in Salakos
The live Betlehem in the cave near Spring Nimfi in Salakos village can be visited during the Christmas period. You can taste the special herb tea, visit the cave with the children inside, buying some local products (like honey, souma, wine, bread, etc), special sweets and there is a heated ‘pop-up souflatzidiko’, where people can eat grilled sausages, souflaki, other meat with salads and some mezedakia. It is a lovely Christmas installation, with beautiful local products. But this winter in 2018 when I visited the fatni, everything was about selfies. I saw people doing selfies all the time. Selfie with the animals, selfie with the cave, selfie with the tea, everybody was doing selfies around me. What happened with the people?
12. Hiking up to Profitis Ilias
From the spot of the ‘Fatni’ in Salakos there is a pathway up to Elafos Hotel. It is about a 50-minutes long hike and worth every second. Up in the mountain you will find a Michail Archangelos church with a breathtaking view to Turkey ans Symi island (if the qeather is clear).
13. Visit the most famous ancient sites: Lindos, Kameiros, Akropolis of Rhodes
The Acropolis of Lindos is open also during winter and absolutely nobody is visiting it… at least compared to summertime. If you want to enjoy the acropolis alone, it is yours during winter… and also the streets of the village.
Ancient Kameiros, one of the three big ancient cities of the island (beside Lindos and Ialyssos) is also open for visitors during winter. In winter abandoned like Lindos, so you can enjoy it alone for hours. It is a very fertile ancient site with incredible blooming rosemary bushes around. Provance has the purple levanders, but Rhodes has the purple blooming rosemary during winter… ❤
The Acropolis in Rhodes Town is an open site that you can visit all year around. It was built on the highest point of the area where you can find a remain of the Temple of Apollon, a theater and a stadium. Amazing view, breathtaking site.
14. Hike around the Butterfly Valley and collect thyme and thrimbi
Although the valley is closed during winter, the area around Kalopetra monastery is perfect for hiking and full of wild thyme and this special type of thyme: the thrimbi, which is perfect with potatoe dishes and chicken. 😉
15. Hike around Amarthos church
This area is under Kritinia village, the village of a lot of farmers. You can hike from the village down to Amarthos church (Monastery of Panagia Amartou), and from the church to another chapel in a caves (Agiopetra) close to the seacoast where you can see Halki island from. And where they say holy water comes from the rocks which has a healing effect.
The rhythm of traffic is different on the countryside. People love to talk to each other. Even on the road…
16. Go up to Attaviros mountain
Well, I have never reached the top of the highest mountain of Rhodes island, Attaviros, but I went up until a point where the dirt road was OK to drive a rented car… It didn’t matter, because even until this point the view is just incredible. And I saw the cutest goat baby ever in my life and one of the most beautiful sunset… But if the weather is kind to you, there is a Zeus temple on the highest peak of the mountain.
17. Visit South Rhodes
The 42 villages of Rhodes are all amazing for me. So one of my favourite activity on the island is to discover more and more the tiny villages with their own characteristics. On the South of the island you can find large untouched lands between each villages. There are more inhabited areas, maybe more peace also. Just drive down to South and stop wherever you feel like. Go with the flow and enjoy the elements of nature, the warm hospitality in the small village kafeneios, or just have a big walk in Prassonissi (the Southern spot of the island.
18. Enjoy Mandraki and Kolona harbour day and night
I think that no explanation needed for these harbours in Rhodes Town. In Kolona I adore the small fishing boats, and in Mandraki you will always find fishermen fishing.
19. Enjoy the old Town day and night
The Old Town is truly enjoyable in winter. No crowd, no chinese T-shirt shops, no frozen pizza place, no fake touristic bullsh*ts. Only the majestic beauty of this Medieval site. You can even drive in the Old Town during winter.
20. Enjoy sunset by Kato Petres
One of the most beautiful coastal area of Rhodes town. It is part of the West (windy) side and it is named after the big rocks along the coast. It is just below Monte Smith hill where the Acropolis is. Inside a small cave there is a chapel for Archangel Michail Taxiarchis, the patron saint of Symi island. And from this spot you are able to see Symi island on a clear day. It is a lovely walk even from the center of Rhodes town, and it shows its beauty during sunset the most. many people are running or doing power walks here.
First of January – Protohronia
Another typical cake of the year is Vasilopita, that Greeks eat after midnight on New Year’s Eve and always the father of the family cuts it. You can find it in the local bakeries and pastry shops around New Year for sure. And some locals on the first day of the year visit the Saint Nicolas church close to the ancient Acropolis of Rhodes Town, which is inside a small cave, a little bit hidden, not everybody knows this.
6th January – Blessing of the waters
It is called epiphany in Greece. People are swimming in the cold sea to find the cross. I don’t know what this event exactly means to the people here, but when I saw it for me it was something new, and yes: magical in a way. I loved the boats, the bells, the lovely kids around, the excitement of the people, the waves in front of my legs, the salty breeze of the sea and the comments of Antonis – the fisherman. More information here.
A video that I took of the first epiphany of my life in Eleousa village in 2017:
February – the crazy apokries festival
In Hungarian I was writing dozens of pages about this celebration, which is my personal favourite one in Greece around the year. It has very ancient roots, coming from the cultivation of Dionyssos, the theater, the wine, but it is much more than that. Rooted deeply in our nature as humans, it is an opportunity to meet our deeper world, the instincts, the darkness. Connecting with these elemental forces inside of ourselves helps people to have an easier cleansing, lenting period before Easter. Nowadays only a very few people know the meaning of this ritual and it is mainly a mascara party in some villages. But very very interesting ones. Locals love this celebration too, and even the workers of some shops and businesses are wearing costumes or scary masks during shift. It really worth a visit! Traditions of these days are vary from village to village.
Dear reader, if you finished the list you would probably not ask me (again) about the reason of staying on Rhodes during winter. Even if you don’t have big financial freedom, here on this island you can always connect to Nature in one second. This is free and this is healing. Connecting with a walk by the sea, or the ancient sites, or in the mountains, by collecting herbs, watching sunset or sunrise, buying local fresh products at the market. Eating well, walking, hiking, having fresh air and enough space around you are the basics for a healthy human life. And there are still some customs and habits that keeps the local community alive and together. Dancing, singing, playing music, eating together, sharing whatever we have are the best remedies for stress and an overloaded mind. Of course you can live differently also here, on this island and not everybody sees the island this way. But for me it is very important to stay human and connect to Nature and each other in an honest way.
~ Keep walking towards staying a human ~
Copyrigths of the written content, pics and videos belong to Mariann Lipcsei.