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Travel review, Pefkos: All Rhodes lead to luxury

Claire Cromie tries some five-star pampering on the romantic isle of Rhodes, sampling delicious Greek cuisine and local history with equal gusto

I had just awoken from sun-lounger slumber, having been incapacitated by the 37°C Grecian heat, when I stumbled across a timely travel tip in a magazine. Pefkos, where I just happened to be lazing at that exact moment, was "prescribed" by the writer Alain de Botton in the latest edition of his 'Art of Travel' book as the place to go to cure anxiety.

Well you can't argue with that, I thought, stretching my arms towards the sun and swivelling to press my rested feet onto the hot tiles that surrounded the Island Blue hotel's glorious pool.

With apartments big enough to swing a dozen cats in - you might have to given the number of kitties roaming Greece - and a terrace just eight steps from the pool, it was clear this was the place to come to do as little as possible.

It had been a whirlwind summer, so a late-season week in the sun was exactly the escape my friend and I craved.

A three-minute walk took us to Pefkos beach, a quiet spot on the ribbon of virtually uninterrupted sand and crystal clear water on the island's spectacular east coast. This part of Rhodes is a "pocket of heat", our rep Nikki informed us, "Add about 7 or 8C to what the weather forecast tells you".

It wasn't much further to the village's bars and restaurants; dozens of them, a pleasant surprise to have so much choice in a tiny resort.

'Mmm, so this is how hummus is supposed to taste, not like that packaged supermarket rubbish back home,' we remarked, lumping huge dollops of the stuff, rich and garlicky, onto warm pitta bread.

We had wandered into 'George's' on our first night, after surveying four or five big-fat-Greek menus that had about a hundred too many dishes for two hungry and indecisive women to choose from.

The solution was of course a mezze platter, a little of everything. Onion-sweetened Stifado (slow cooked beef stew) and tender Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) were plated alongside a huge block of feta cheese baked in filo pastry with honey drizzled over the top. Heavenly.

The wine, as we found everywhere in Rhodes, was dreadful. But that just gave us more room for food, and over the next seven days and nights we munched our way around the island.

A presumptuous local taxi driver, George, (it quickly became apparent that almost every man in Greece is called George) scoffed at our guide book suggestions and phoned his friend who owned a restaurant in nearby Lindos - no prizes for guessing what his name was - to book us a table.

And we were grateful he did. Ambrosia - 'food of the Gods' , appropriately - was a classy little taverna tucked into a corner of Lindos town's labyrinth of narrow streets.

George (The Third) talked us through each of his lovingly created dishes and we savoured every last scraping of a classic Greek lamb shank as he described how he had turned his own house into this charming, intimate little venue.

But it was during daylight hours we discovered how breathtakingly beautiful Lindos is. Dazzlingly whitewashed sugar-cube buildings tumble down to a serenely aquamarine bay. The whole town is an archaeological site - and like a scene straight out of Shirley Valentine.

We navigated the warren of alleyways and climbed the steep steps up to the ancient hilltop Acropolis. It's well worth the effort to take in the views of the archipelagos and St Paul's Bay, a stunning wedding destination.

But the romance was soon shattered by a commotion below, where a trekking couple were engaged in an animated domestic. We, along with a handful of other tourists, peered over the crumbling walls of the ruins to see what all the shouting was about.

Now if only I'd kept up my Spanish classes I could tell you what they were arguing about, but as the man gestured wildly and the woman stomped her feet I was reminded of a leaflet I had read about the temple of Athena that sits atop the Acropolis. According to mythology it was founded by Danaus, who came to the island with his 50 daughters to escape the rage of the goddess Hera.

Perhaps Hera had tracked the poor sod down.

The ancient ruins on Rhodes island date back the Trojan War, terracotta-topped churches remember the Byzantine glory years, and Ottoman towers recall the time the island spent under Turkish rule.

We took a guided tour of Rhodes Old Town, on the northern tip of the island. The medieval citadel, built by the famous Knights of St John, is one of the best-preserved in Europe, gated by two layers of high walls and a moat.

And here, built into the walls, we found a gem. A little cavern bore a rustic wooden sign reading 'The Cellar of the Knights wine shop'. At last! A decent glass of wine refreshed us mid-tour.

The shops in the Old Town are unremarkable but it's worth the trip to stroll through the web of cobbled streets and admire the architectural history.

The harbour was once the centre of the Aegean and Mediterranean Sea trade but the town now depends on tourism, with luxury yachts and cruise ships ferrying in hordes of visitors.

We fancied the look of the glistening white boats so the next morning we hopped on a Thomson 'VIP cruise' along the coast. We spent the day sunbathing, swimming in the sea and devouring the most delicious Greek salad we'd ever tasted, rustled up by Sophia, one of the cheerful crew.

The cruise was the best day of the trip, but as a dinghy escorted us back to dry land we were eager to rush back to Pefkos and our luxurious hotel. The pool bar's delicious Pina Coladas awaited, along with as many hours of "nothing" we could squeeze in.

Anxiety? What anxiety?

Claire stayed at the 4-star Hotel Island Blue, which is part of Thomson's handpicked Platinum hotel range. Direct weekly flights from Belfast International to Rhodes start from 24 May 2016, until 20 September.

First Choice SplashWorld Offer: 14 June 2016, Belfast to Rhodes, Sun Palace, 3-star, Faliraki, All Inclusive, 2+1 £1,369.

Thomson Offer: 31 May 2016, Belfast to Rhodes, Hotel Island Blue, 4-star, B&B, 7 Nights, £489pp based on 2 share; 26 July 2016, Belfast to Rhodes, Pefkos Beach Studios, 3-star, Pefkos, self catering, 7 Nights, 2+1 £1299.

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