Saturday, 7 May 2011

Why Not Take a Drive?

If you're coming to Rhodes any time soon I'd like to suggest an excursion to embark on should you hire a car or motorbike. For some simply beautiful scenery, albeit exhibiting the scars of the fires of 2008, then you really ought to drive from Kiotari up to the village of Asklipio and take the road through the hills to Laerma. This road has only been surfaced with tarmac in the last couple of years (though to witness the damage to the surface from the winter weather - and shoddy workmanship - you'd think it was longer!) and is very (that is, very with a capital "V") "curly". I know, "curly" isn't the most commonly used adjective to describe a country road, but it's the only one that really gives the right impression of the road in question.

Travelling south from Lardos on the main road through Kiotari you'll come to a crossroads, where to the left is a road leading the few hundred yards down to the nicest part of Kiotari beach (where you'll find a smattering of traditional beach front tavernas and a bar, see pic below) and to the right is the Asklipio road. Just prior to the crossroads on the right is a huge new sign advertising a taverna in Asklipio called "Nikolas". You can't miss it - it's that big. There's another sign right on the crossroads itself too, just in case you needed another reminder of the taverna's existence and location. Take the right at the crossroads and climb the 4 kilometers to Asklipio village.

When you enter the village you'll see the square below to your left and the road continues along the upper right hand side of the square, where to the right and a few feet higher is the Agapitos Taverna, where my wife and I collect our mail, run by Kyrios Agapitos and his wife Athanasia. They serve as a sub-post office too and you'll note the small ELTA (Greek post office) sign on the wall above the geranium-filled garden terraces beside the steps leading up to the taverna's main terrace.

If you thought Lindos was the be-all and end-all of quaint Greek sugar-cube villages, then Asklipio will delight and surprise you. If you take the time to stop the vehicle in the square by the recently restored Byzantine Church and village museum to the Church's left, then wander the streets on foot, you won't be disappointed. The village is full of photogenic streets and lanes (not to mention occasionally breathtaking views), many sporting outdoor bread ovens (for some photos, see links at the bottom of this post), most of which are still in regular use. Choose the right hour to make the walk and you'll be rewarded by the irresistible smell of baking bread. In fact, my wife and I were walking through the village on a bright, sunny day back in March and struck up a conversation with an old "ya ya" who insisted on giving us a chunk of sweet bread that she'd baked in the very oven beside which we were talking. The village or "horiatiko" loaf is round, dense, brown and keeps for ages. Ingredients vary, but this particular loaf had cinnamon in it and we chewed it gratefully in the car later as we drove back down toward home.

The best thing and the greatest difference between Asklipio's streets and those of Lindos is the fact that in Asklipio there are no tourist shops, with all their wares hanging in such density and profusion that you can no longer appreciate the simplicity of the whitewashed village houses and "avlis". For some more photos of Asklipio and the Kastro's view, click HERE.

At the far end of the square is the right turn that takes you up the steep and occasionally poorly surfaced road to the kastro, which is well worth exploring for the stunning 360º view once you're up on the wall inside the kastro itself. But continue on for the Laerma road, passing the aforementioned Nikolas Taverna on your right and, a few metres further along the street (which narrows alarmingly, so please don't be alarmed), Sylvia's Taverna too. At this point you'll probably doubt yourself as, despite the fact that as you entered the village you'll have seen the sign indicating the one may indeed travel on to Laerma by passing through Asklipio, this "street" is getting not only narrower, but decidedly badly surfaced to boot.

Never fear, because, just when you've decided that you're going to end up in a field or down a dead-end alley, you'll spot the hand-painted sign saying "Laerma" with a small arrow on it too, fetchingly daubed on a piece of wood and hanging jauntily from a bit of chain-link fence on your left, thus confirming that the stout-hearted travellers will indeed find the way.

(pic below shows scene as you enter Asklipio, you'll need to keep right here)

(the pic below is just north of Asklipio. This one was taken, though, with the car pointing back toward the village)

Once you've driven past this sign and begun a short descent you'll notice that you are indeed exiting the village and as you drive down a short hill you must ignore the urge to take the first left by going straight on, past a steep, rough track which joins the road from the right and also passing a small citrus grove, above a bank which is also to your right. Now you're actually on the road to Laerma. It's very twisty turny (yup, "curly" in fact!) and rises and falls over small hillocks which eventually make way to larger hills and more beautiful views of the ever changing valley which you're skirting. Not too far north of Asklipio you'll know you're going in the correct direction if you note the small solar energy installation between the olive groves a few metres from the road on your right. It's a field not much different in size to a tennis court, but contains a grid of solar panels, none more than a few feet high, which rotate with the sun. They may not look all that conducive to the rustic Greek scenery, but give me these things any day over a power station!! They make no noise and require very little maintenance.

You're now in deer country. This area, which soon begins to sport hundreds of burnt tree trunks from the 2008 fires, is a favorite spot during the winter time for locals (us included) to come with their chainsaws to gather logs for their wood-burners and fireplaces. In wintertime we saw deer here on several occasions. One time a family of seven or eight strolled across the road right in front of the car. The best chance of seeing them during summer is to drive along this road at dawn or during early evening. But you can be lucky any time as the deer seem to be quite comfortable and not often phased in this untouched mini-wilderness. The times when we've seen them have often been during late morning.

The scenery on this road is ever changing and puts me in mind of several different parts of the UK, especially during the winter months. Every undulation or turn in the road offers another beautiful vista to gaze upon. One part is hugely reminiscent of the New Forest in Hampshire, which is not in fact, as anyone who's been there will testify, all forest. Large parts of this stunningly lovely National Park are heathland and in such areas one can often spot wild New Forest Ponies. Other views along this road are much like some areas of South Wales, one part particularly reminds me of the hills above Treorchy in the Rhondda. The [mining] pits having long gone, so anyone who thought that this area of Wales would be full of slag heaps and drab terraced streets would do well to go there now and take the road up to the Bwlch. Be prepared to amaze yourself at the scenery, it's - as the Americans would say - awesome. Then again, there are areas of Scotland too that you'll probably also be reminded of as you cruise this road.

At a couple of places the road fords a stream, which may be dry during the summer months, but it's evident that it is a ford during the wet season since there is a concrete base in the stream bed enabling ordinary cars to cross without too much difficulty. We've driven through quite a fast-moving current there several times during the winter, since they don't normally get particularly deep. If you visit this area during the early part of the season the fords may just bear evidence of the current that flowed just a few weeks back.

This road constantly throws views at you that scream "Stop here and take photos or have a picnic!!" The sad sight, though, of thousands of now scorched fir trees helps one to imagine just how wonderful this drive would have been before the fires, but it still is a superbly enjoyable experience to drive this road nonetheless. Eventually, you'll round a bend and make the ascent to the Thari Monastery, set in a superbly tranquil "nook" in the hills. It can be seen just how close the fires came to this place when you witness how near to the buildings burnt tree trunks can be seen. The fires of 2008 covered thousands of "stremmata" (one stremma is 1,000 square metres) and making this drive will show the individual just how much of an area was devastated. Thankfully the ground level vegetation is now recovering well, but of course trees take an awful lot longer to do likewise.

Just a few km further and the road enters the village of Laerma from the West. As you get into the village proper you'll descend gently and see a traditional taverna/bar on your right, then just a few metres further down and just before the church, a lovely cafeneion with a terrace under a huge tree which sits a little higher than the road to the left. I'd recommend you continue down to the T-junction, which is the heart of the village, and turn right. This road will eventually lead you back down into Lardos, some 15 km away, but as you drive around the bend from the T-junction you'll see a few tables and chairs on the right beside the road, shaded by a tree and sandwiched between the road you're on and a small turning which drops away down the steep hill to the right. The views from these tables are fab and the small taverna/bar which serves them is across the road on the left. It's the ideal place to relax with a drink while you absorb the atmosphere and the view, or even better, to take a light lunch of Greek salad, tzatziki and maybe a cool beer or two, while chatting with the locals.

Following this road back down to Lardos also affords some spectacular views, making this whole excursion something that I don't think you'd forget for a while. You'll also come away with the abiding impression that Rhodes is anything but spoilt by mass tourism. The old Greece is still alive and well here, I promise!

Maybe it would be good to read the follow-up post to this one, HERE.

Asklipio video Youtube:
Good site with photos:


  1. Will be doing it in June,,Tsampika as a house in Laerma, love to go around this part John . Yamas Nige&Fay Sparks!!

  2. That's great. Keep an eye on this post too as I may add a few more photos soon as I'm doing the drive again myself tomorrow. No doubt your pics will knock mine into the proverbial "cocked hat" though!!

  3. That is what I like. Just driving out into the countryside and discovering delightful tiny villages and tavernas with no menu, just what is cooking. Having a conversation in badly spoken Greek and sign language. We will defo be doing this drive in June. I have until then to convince my hubby it is safe to drive down the very narrow streets. He is always convinced he is going to get stuck. Of course I'm not a driver and I am always telling him double decker bus would get through!

    1. Diane, there is a 2nd instalment to follow too!