Cruising the Greek Islands Part 2 – A day in Rhodes Town (and a recipe for delicious Spanakopita)

After departing Mykonos we cruised overnight to the island of Rhodes. This island holds fond memories. In fact the first holiday abroad I had with my husband many years ago was to Lindos, a town on the eastern side of Rhodes Island. It’s just under 50 miles from Rhodes Town, which is where our ship docked early morning.

It hadn’t occurred to me the previous day that we’d been on the wrong side of the ship for a view of Mykonos. But when I opened the curtains of our cabin that morning to a panoramic view of Rhodes Town I discovered just what a difference it made to be on the right side of the ship.

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It was at that moment I first felt the wonder of waking up each morning to a different view. Never having been on a cruise before it was a new experience. Definitely a tick in the pro column of cruising. The stunning view made me eager to get breakfast out of the way and disembark for another day in the Greek sunshine.

One of the more popular excursions on Rhodes is, in fact, to spend the day at Lindos. We chose not to as we had been to Lindos twice previously. But if you’ve never been to this town before then it’s definitely the excursion you want.

My husband and I were last there in 2010 and enjoyed it just as much the second time around. Lindos is the epitome of a Greek Island town – whitewashed buildings perched on the hillside, narrow and winding cobbled streets free of traffic, shops, markets, rooftop restaurants. I’ve always thought there is something very authentic about Lindos – you feel that you’re actually in Greece, which isn’t always the case when staying at a large and sprawling resort.

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There is a lot going for this town. I’ll start, as always, with food because Lindos has some great restaurants. If you’re staying a few days make sure you have dinner at least one night on a rooftop. Delicious food plus spectacular views equals a memorable evening. Then there is the long sandy beach offering loungers and umbrellas where you can while away a few hours under the Mediterranean sun (for a fee, of course).

One thing not to be missed is climbing up to the Acropolis. The Lindos Acropolis is an archaeological site, parts of which (one being the Doric Temple of Athena Lindia) date back to fourth century BC. It is well worth the walk to reach it and once again, the views are spectacular. If you can book a boat trip and get out on the water you’ll catch a view of the entire village with the Acropolis sitting proudly at the top of the hill.

Above are just a few of the photos we took during our 2010 trip. My advice – don’t miss out on Lindos!

So after telling you about where we didn’t go on the one day we had on Rhodes Island, let me tell you about Rhodes Town itself because it’s also not to be missed. The architecture is steeped in so many layers of history, in particular the medieval part of the town or the “Old Town” as it is known.

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When we were on Rhodes in 2010 we did make a brief trip to the main town but missed seeing The Palace of the Grand Masters. This time it was where we headed directly for.

It’s the most famous landmark in Rhodes sitting atop its highest point. It has a fascinating story. Originally built as a fortress in the late seventh century, it was converted into a palace by the Knights of St John during the fourteenth century. During the Siege of Rhodes in 1522 the Ottoman Empire took control of the island, a rule that lasted almost 400 years. In 1856 the palace was badly damaged by an ammunition explosion caused by a lightning bolt. Jump forward to 1937 and the island was by then under the control of the Italians. A sizeable reconstruction of the palace began, which was completed in 1939. What a history!

The rooms of the palace are situated around a vast and impressive courtyard, as impressive as the rooms themselves – it is so beautifully kept. Look out in particular for the stunning floor mosaics. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the tour. Separately you can also do a tour of the ramparts.

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After leaving the palace we strolled down the Street of the Knights. This stretch is famous for its historical inns that were once occupied by the Crusaders. I do love moments when you find yourself walking the same steps as those who lived centuries before you. To stand amid such history and imagine what the buildings and cobbles must have witnessed. I’ve always said that if ever I had the opportunity to travel through time it would be the past I would choose.

We spent the rest of the morning exploring the streets of Rhodes Town under another clear blue sky. The town was busy and lively and colourful – lots of shops and markets and people eating al fresco.

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Indeed, as we explored I kept out a keen eye for a restaurant that would be up to the job for lunch. I’m always thinking ahead to my next meal and I was not missing out on the local cuisine a second time.

The restaurant I picked out was a good choice. Securing a table in the shade – very important – followed by a drinks order made for a good start. As usual I went with a glass of the local white. And actually my husband is always up for trying local beers wherever he goes. That’s what travelling is all about – seeing and experiencing new things.

Now down to the business end of lunch. I ordered Spanakopita, a classic Greek dish that involves baking a spinach and feta mix in filo pastry. It tastes as delicious as it sounds and did not disappoint. Washed down with a glass of wine as we lingered at our table I remember feeling completely relaxed and so privileged to be enjoying yet another perfect day.

After finally dragging ourselves away from the table we left the Old Town and took a stroll along the waterfront. The sky was cloudless and the sun was hot. We decided another refreshment stop was in order for coffee. The cafes and bars along this stretch have a more modern look and vibe about them but they certainly offer a great outlook across the harbour.

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Not a bad way to end the day. We returned to the ship happy – and ready for a little siesta.

Thinking about the recipe I wanted to share with you this week I decided it really had to be Spanakopita. This very Greek dish hits exactly the right note with its spinach and feta combination encased in crisp pastry. And filo pastry is a great choice because it’s available everywhere and is easy to work with.

My one departure from tradition is to add toasted pine nuts because I love them and think they go wonderfully with the spinach and feta. I used baby spinach because it was all I could get hold of at the time but when using normal spinach you want to give it a good chop once it’s been washed and dried.

One quick note about filo pastry – make sure you have your filling ready to go because once you unwrap the pastry it dries out quickly so you need to work efficiently – it’s a lot of fun though.

 

Spanakopita

 Makes 18

 

500g spinach

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small red onion, finely diced

3 spring onions, finely chopped

125g feta cheese

Small handful of mint leaves, chopped finely

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Freshly grated nutmeg

1 egg

Freshly ground sea salt and pepper, to taste

6 sheets filo pastry

Extra virgin olive oil

 

 

The first job is to wash the spinach and then dry it. I fill a large bowl about three quarters with water and submerge the spinach in the water. Leave it for a few minutes to get a good soaking and then fish it out, piling it onto large sheets of kitchen towel. I then cover it with more kitchen towel, pressing down to absorb most of the moisture. Now leave it to dry further. If you’re using baby spinach you don’t really need to chop it but if there are any large stalks I’ll remove them. If using normal spinach leaves, make sure you give them a good chop once dried.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the onion. Sauté the onion until it’s soft and translucent, but don’t allow it to catch. Now add the spinach, handful by handful and sauté with the onion until it’s wilted but still a vibrant green.

Tip the mixture into a colander to drain away the water that has come from the spinach. Press down with a spoon to make sure you remove as much moisture as possible.

Now add the mixture back to the pan with the spring onions and sauté for another couple of minutes. Transfer to a bowl and leave it to cool.

In a separate bowl crumble in the feta (make sure there are no large pieces) with the chopped mint and pine nuts, stirring them together. Grate over some fresh nutmeg and then season to your taste. Go easy with the salt; remember feta is quite salty. Give the egg a quick whisk and then stir it through the feta mixture.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Once the spinach has cooled add the feta mixture and stir together well.

Get an oven tray ready – line it with baking paper and lightly brush the paper with olive oil.

Now that your mixture is ready to go remove your sheets of filo pastry and place them on a large rectangular chopping board. Cut the sheets lengthways into three so that you have evenly sized strips (18 strips in total).

Pour some extra-virgin olive oil into a bowl and using a pastry brush quickly brush the first layer of sheets with the olive oil.

Take a heaped teaspoon of mixture from the bowl and place it at the top centre of your first strip of filo. Take the right hand corner and fold it over the filling on the diagonal so that if forms a triangle. Now fold it up and over on itself. Then fold it to the opposite side to form another triangle. Keep doing this until you get to the end of the strip. Place it on the prepared oven tray.

Repeat until all the pastry strips have been used – six sheets of pastry will make 18 triangles.

Once the filo parcels have been arranged on the tray lightly brush them with the extra-virgin olive oil and place in the heated oven. Bake for approximately 25 minutes by which time the pastry will be crisp and have turned a lovely golden brown.

Eat them while they’re hot and crispy. They make a delicious lunch served with a Greek salad or as part of Meze. They’re also great as a snack served with some spicy tomato relish – that’s what I went for and hoovered up half a dozen of them.

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