A little piece of paradise, Rhodes has something to offer everyone, whether it be a relaxing day on the beach soaking up the sun or exploring one of the many ruins or monuments on the island such as the impressive Acropolis of Lindos, the Old Town of Rhodes where the Knights of St John resided, or the ruins of the once proud town of Kamiros. And there is just as much to keep those with a love of nature busy too.
Whenever I visit the island I never miss the opportunity to explore its fabulous forests, and perhaps one of the most beautiful walks is up through Butterfly Valley. The first time I did this walk I was a child, and leaving a lasting impression the forest has pulled me back time and again to enjoy the enchanting journey over wooden bridges and up winding stone steps.
Tall pine trees keep you sheltered from the worst of the sun’s rays and with a small stream trickling down the mountain beside the path it can be quite a relief to escape the worst of the heat. All around nature sings as the water flows over the rocks and the frogs croak as they splash about in it. A quick stop to look at the stream reveals a number of different creatures such as lizards, crabs, and dragonflies.
But the most important creature in Butterfly Valley is of course the Panaxia butterfly of the species quadripunctaria poda which gives the valley its name. The species come to the valley in their thousands every year to reproduce, attracted by the fragrant resin of the pine trees which fills the valley with the scent of vanilla. Between the months of June and September the butterflies can be seen everywhere on rocks and trees. Though they are brown in colour when resting, on opening their wings and taking to the air they create a wonderful cloud of red rising up to the tree tops. It is, however, forbidden to disturb the butterflies deliberately for it is vital to their survival that they conserve their energy and avoid flight wherever possible during these summer months.
Even without the butterflies this is a beautiful walk and one that I have enjoyed earlier in the year before the butterflies arrive. There are two cafes in the valley offering refreshments, the first at the entrance beside a souvenir shop and the second part way through the walk. The path winds all the way up the valley until it brings you to the Monastery of the Virgin of Kalopetra built in 1782.
A little further south of Butterfly Valley lies the Seven Springs, or Epta Piges as it is called in Greek. This is another beautiful and relaxing day out in the heart of nature and one I usually move onto after a stroll through Butterfly Valley. There is a large caf with ample outdoor seating under cool white umbrellas at the entrance where it is nice to sit and relax with a cold drink while watching the peacocks pecking about the forest floor.
There are two ways to reach the lake into which the seven springs run. The first is to walk over the road and through the trees, but for those a little more adventurous it can be reached via a 186 meter tunnel that runs below the forest floor. Removing your shoes and stepping into the cool water that runs through the tunnel is a good way to get out of the heat for a while, but it is not to be attempted by anyone who suffers from claustrophobia. The tunnel is barely wider than a person and stepping inside you are soon plunged into darkness and left to feel your way through to the other side. On my last attempt at making it through the tunnel we arrived at the end only to find the gate to the lake side locked shut. We had to back track a little to a point where a well reaches up to the forest floor with a thin metal ladder. Climbing all the way up while clutching your shoes and any bags or cameras you may have with you is no easy task, so it’s a good idea to find out before entering the tunnel if the way through to the lake is open.
The lake itself shines turquoise in the sun. Ducks glide along its surface and turtles lazily propel themselves through the water just below it. A stroll down the path alongside the lake leads to a manmade waterfall at which point the path becomes rather rocky and steep. Whether you take a seat and enjoy the tranquil scent of the pine trees and the sound of flowing water, or scramble on down the path, this is a beautiful place to be.
An alternative to venturing into the centre of the island to find Butterfly Valley or the Seven Springs is to visit Rodini Park. On the outskirts of Rhodes town on the way to Lindos this park is easy to get to, but just as beautiful and with a lot to offer the whole family. This is another place to take a stroll beneath beautiful pine and cypress trees and over quaint wooden bridges, and like the Seven Springs the park is home to peacocks that breed there. It is also home to the animals of a small zoo, and with a children’s’ play area this is a nice day out for kids as well.
As the first landscaped park ever built and once home to the School of Rhetoric it also has a lot to offer anyone interested in a little history. Whenever I take a stroll through the park I can’t help but imagine how the philosophers of ancient times once did the same.
The mark of history remains in the park and a short ten minute walk brings you to the tomb of Ptolemy dug into the rock. Decorated by twenty-one Doric half columns the tomb dates back to the Hellenistic period, but was restored in 1924. Claudius Ptolemaeus, better known in English as Ptolemy, was an ancient mathematician, geographer, astronomer and astrologer and wrote several important scientific treatises.
The remains of an old aqueduct can also still be found in the park. It was built by the Romans when they occupied the island, for the park was very popular with them. More recently it was used by the Knights of St. John, the religious crusaders who came to the island in the early fourteenth century and stayed for two hundred years, using the park for their Court of the Magistrates. Away from the busy life of the modern town a stroll through Rodini Park feels as though you have stepped back in time and into an important part of history.
I never fail to take the opportunity to enjoy the peace and simple beauty that is to be found in the forests of Rhodes when I visit the island. Be they in the mountains, or alongside the hustle and bustle of modern city life, it is always worth a visit.