Many westerners know little about Rhodes in the Greek isles, save for its Colossus, which once ranked among the seven wonders of the ancient world. (An earthquake toppled the 105-foot-tall statue about 2,240 years ago.) Archaeologist Portokalenia Vratsali is out to change that. “We have beautiful beaches, an amazing medieval city, very diverse nature, a long cultural heritage, great nightlife,” she says. “The list is too long to narrow down.”
Vratsali leads tours around this island that has been a magnet for the moneyed class of the Mediterranean for millennia. She knows its wonders well. Her father’s family is from Rhodes, where she gravitated when following her mother’s footsteps into archaeology. Two decades of fieldwork have attuned her to the fine details that bring Rhodes’ history and architecture to life, such as the pebbled mosaic paths at the popular Kallithea Springs.
She takes special pride in leading guests around the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes. It’s inside a 15th-century hospital built by the Crusader Knights of Rhodes in the medieval city, a UNESCO World Heritage site. She wrote many of the display descriptions and cataloged the collection for a digital database. “It was a great experience,” she says, “to hold discoveries from the past 50 years of excavations in my hands.”
Tell us the story behind your name. It means “orange essence.” I was named by my godfather, the Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseus Elytis, after one of his poems.
Why do you think Rhodes is overlooked compared to other Greek islands? We don’t know how to promote what we have.
Where is your favorite spot on the island? From the Acropolis at Lindos, on a cliff 380 feet high, you have 360-degree views that take in the medieval village and the sea, which has the most amazing colors I’ve ever seen.
Portokalenia’s Prime Stops On Rhodes
Auvergne Cafe (medieval city of Rhodes): Its atmospheric setting, next to the Street of the Knights, is ideal for relaxing all day long. They serve a huge variety of high-quality dishes.
4 Rodies (modern city of Rhodes): This family-owned tavern uses local ingredients in its dishes. Its beautiful neoclassical building is surrounded by a courtyard brimming with flowers and wild herbs.
Kallithea Springs (Kallithea): This beautifully restored complex has wonderful bay views and a cafeteria that’s a lounge at night.