CULTURE

Charm and elegance at hotel in medieval Rhodes

Driving through the better part of coastal Rhodes, the succession of colossal hotels seems almost unending if not surreal. The terrain of tour operators, these hotels are huge and costly enterprises that receive thousands of visitors annually. Most of them can be appreciated for the variety of facilities, standard of organized service, and proximity to the beach that they offer. These, however, are the very same benefits that can trap the visitor inside the hotel, numbing him from any incentive to explore the island of his destination. On the opposite extreme from the huge, coastal resort-type hotels is a small, charming «boutique» hotel located right in the center of medieval Rhodes, which offers the unique experience of vacationing in an old house and sensing the island’s history. The Marco Polo Mansion is just a five-minute walk away from the medieval fortress and just a few steps off the main tourist artery of the medieval town. Unnoticed by the passer-by unless one happens to look into the open door and the inner patio that lies behind the building’s austere, stone facade, this sophisticated hotel feels like a small treasure, tasteful and pleasant in its unpretentious, home-like environment. The Marco Polo Mansion is one of the first boutique hotels on the island. Its owner, an Italian engineer and painter by the name of Marco Giuseppe Sala, was looking to buy some real estate in Rhodes in order to open a hotel. A frequent visitor to Greece, he had already opened an art gallery on the island, which is still running just a few steps away from the hotel. Through mutual friends he met Effie Dede, manager of the Marco Polo Mansion who pointed out to him a disused, old building that had been on the market for five years. The building had served as a hotel in the early 20th century and during the ’60s was a bouzouki venue for tourists. Although in a dilapidated state, the building lured its owner-to-be with its historical character: Part of it dated from the time of the Knights of St John, another part was from the Turkish period and some of its interior decoration pointed to the Italian occupation, thus capturing the island’s layers of history. Sala and Dede made a point of preserving the building’s original architecture and character. They used traditional techniques of stone masonry, took old slabs of carved marble and surrounding stones to rebuild the parts that had been destroyed, and incorporated some of the original elements, for example the Turkish well and the 1920s Italian tiling of the grand hall, in the building’s new function. After two years of renovation, the Marco Polo Mansion opened in the summer of 1999. Its seven rooms are divided up between the elegant grand hall and a separate part of the building (the former storerooms) adjacent to the garden. Each room has its own character and decoration. A room styled after a Turkish harem is one example. The furniture and decorative objects are either original Mediterranean or oriental antiques or styled after them. The carpets are Moroccan or oriental. One of the most striking aspects of hotel is the wall coloring. The deep oxblood red and Mediterranean blue and yellow (all colors connected to Greek tradition) which adorn the walls surrounding the interior courtyard exude a striking vibrancy and depth as well as a glow which is partly owed to the use of natural pigments (a mixture of powder and chalk). The grand hall is painted in an unusual terracotta hue, a strange blend of brown with rose which changes according to the hour of the day and the light streaming in from the array of windows looking out to the garden. Another of the hotel’s highlights is its interior courtyard, essentially a garden filled with shadows and often swept by a pleasant wind. A peaceful refuge, this is where breakfast, lunch and dinner are also served, all prepared with seasonal ingredients carefully selected by the hotel’s manager. It is this peaceful and family-like environment that Effie Dede hopes to maintain. Coupled with its sophisticated styling, this is what has kept clients coming back to the hotel whenever they visit Rhodes. Asked about whether a hotel as small as the Marco Polo Mansion can survive the competition in the tourist industry, Effie Dede said that increasingly people are getting tired of the impersonal character of large hotels and are glad to find the «cocooning-like» experience, familiarity and domestic-type care offered by small hotels similar to the Marco Polo Mansion. Dede also said that another benefit of small hotels is that clients often get to know each other. Familiarity, comfort and warmth in an elegant, relaxing environment right in the heart of Rhodes makes accommodation the Marco Polo Mansion a gratifying experience. At Aghiou Fanuriou Street in the Old Town of Rhodes 22410.25562).