Rhodes, Greece and back 2023

This would be our sixth Lampoon across Europe to the sunshine island of Rhodes. Covid and Brexit taught us not to take anything for granted, so our plans remained as flexible as possible. The ferries were booked in February, the route down through the Balkans and the simpler return route mapped, and we were all set. It was nature that would upset all that. The heatwave hit the Mediterranean countries two weeks before we were due to leave and at the same time, the annual wildfires started. High winds fanned the flames, and much of Greece and the islands were ablaze; we watched the depressing progress as the fires swept seemingly out of control. Unusually, fires were also reported in Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Albania, with huge damage being caused along our intended route. We were confident that being mobile in our motorhome, we could avoid the worst dangers, and we may even be able to help with the clear-up operations, although subsequently, red tape prevented this. Regrettably, though, we had to concede that the risks of driving in the Balkans outweighed the benefits, and we booked a last-minute ferry from Italy to mainland Greece, unsure of what to expect.

(Please click on a picture to enlarge the image and find a description, and go to the bottom of the page for a written account of our trip)

France – The early morning crossing from Poole to Cherbourg landed at 2 pm leaving enough time for a gentle no-toll meander through northern France. We stopped overnight at the wonderful medieval towns of Pont de l’Arche, Reins National Parc, Saint Imoges and Kayserberg before heading south through Switzerland and the Gotthard Tunnel.

Switzerland – We planned to enjoy the scenic drive through Switzerland, take the notoriously dangerous Gotthard Tunnel and spend the night in an aire near the mountainous village of Prato. While the Swiss scenery did not disappoint, the aire did, and we made the big mistake of carrying on to try the campsites on Lago di Lugano, none having any spaces. With all the sites full, and observing Switzerland’s strict no wild camping rules, we ended up driving straight through to Italy.    

Italy – We tumbled out of Switzerland, exhausted from the long drive, into the chaos of Como, Italy. Despite several previous visits, we have never seen it so busy and we were grateful to find an aire near Merate, a little run-down but with plenty of space and a delightful lake nearby. Fortunately, we had booked three nights at Camping Covelo on Lago di’ Iseo, to recharge our batteries and get out on the lake. Away from the main touristy areas, we had no problems staying in the quiet aires at Medieval Mantua (also called Montova) and Bagnara before a much-anticipated visit to San Marino high on Mount Titano. The ancient walled city of Corinaldo has become our preferred last night in Italy before catching the ferry from Ancona to Greece.   

Mainland Greece – We arrived at Igoumenitsa an hour and a half late in the early evening, so we were glad that our first couple of nights were to be spent on Deprano Beach a few miles away. New ‘No Camping’ signs that looked suspiciously unofficial had been erected since our last visit, but we found a quiet corner and we were undisturbed by any police cars that passed. Our route to Lefkas took us through the immersed tunnel at Preveza after which we almost immediately joined a stationary queue to get across the causeway and onto the island. I did a U-turn as soon as I could and we passed miles of stationary cars as we headed for Mytikas where an elderly gentleman insisted that we stay free of charge in his small mulberry tree grove on the beach with its weighted tree branches. The little harbour at Mytikas is beautiful and the streets were buzzing, so we stayed a couple of nights before the scenic drive to the unusual island town of Etoliko. Driving through the complex of Missolonghi – Aitoliko Salt Lagoons, we saw our first flamingos of the trip. We overnighted under a huge eucalyptus tree at Riza Beach overlooking the Rion Antirrion Bridge and the following night at a beach taverna at Valimitika before catching the ferry for Rhodes from Piraeus Port.

           

Rhodes – We were not sure what to expect when we arrived on Rhodes. Reports of the wildfires in the south varied considerably and we knew that many of the services were still down. We aimed to meander down to the worst damaged areas and to help wherever we could, but as it turned out local politics meant there was very little we could do. A few locals were ignoring the bureaucratic delays, and it was heartwarming to see that their determination and efforts were already paying off. Travelling around the affected areas was sad, but at the same time, we marvelled that there had been no loss of life. Unable to help, we spent our time seeing old friends, making new and visiting familiar and new places by land and sea. Rhodes offers tantalising delights in every sense, it is a virtual tonic for everyday life, and our five weeks there seemed to pass in a flash.