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A young man with white shirt having black hair and beard is smiling brightly for the camera; Rhodes Revealed A Vegan's Guide to the Greek Island Sanctuary Giannis Xanthis Ep 123

Rhodes Revealed: A Vegan’s Guide to the Greek Island Sanctuary | Giannis Xanthis | Ep 123

Introducing Giannis

Meet Giannis Santhis: A Vegan Hospitality Visionary Join us on our podcast as we welcome Giannis Santhis, the brilliant mind behind GOJI Vegan Hotel in Rhodes, Greece. Discover the essence of sustainable living and veganism at GOJI, where guests experience authentic Greek hospitality and delectable vegan cuisine. Explore Rhodes’ vegan-friendly charm and local dining options as Giannis shares invaluable insights for vegan travelers. Tune in to our conversation and be inspired by Giannis’s dedication to a compassionate and eco-conscious world. Embrace the beauty of veganism, sustainable travel, and the magic of GOJI Vegan Hotel!

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The philosophy and unique offerings of GOJI Vegan Hotel, emphasize veganism and sustainability
  • How Giannis and his family have created a welcoming environment for vegan travelers
  • Authentic Greek hospitality is experienced by guests at GOJI Vegan Hotel.
  • Insights for vegan travelers visiting Rhodes, including vegan-friendly aspects of the island

Learn more about what we talk about

  • The charm of Rhodes as a vegan-friendly destination
  • The delicious vegan cuisine offered at the hotel and its commitment to sustainability
  • Local vegan dining options in Rhodes and how to make the most of the island while adhering to a vegan lifestyle
  • Giannis Xanthis’s vision and passion for creating an eco-conscious and compassionate hospitality experience at GOJI Vegan Hotel

Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode

Connect with Giannis

Transcript

Brighde: Hello Giannis. Thank you so much for joining me on The World Vegan Travel Podcast.

Giannis: Hi Brighde. Thank you for having me.

Brighde: I am thrilled to have you on to talk about the Greek Island of Rhodes today. This is gonna be such a wonderful compliment to our other podcast episodes that we have on Santorini and Mykonos as well. Of course, each Greek island has its own sort of personality and I’m excited to learn more about this place, but before we do, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what it is that you do in the vegan travel space?

Giannis: Right. First of all, thank you for having me on your podcast. I’ve watched a few episodes and I have to say it’s really interesting content. So basically we recently opened the first exclusive vegan hotel, on the island of Rhodes. We are a small family-run business and we are trying to bring this concept of veganism and eco-friendly holidays here in Rhodes.

Our guests can experience Greek hospitality, but at the same time balance it with sustainability, eco-friendly and veganism of course. We opened our hotel last May, and I have to admit, it’s been a great journey so far. We have really nice feedback and I look forward to what the future will bring.

Brighde: So why did you decide to open this hotel? Just a 100% vegan hotel? I’m guessing that you are vegan, or at least vegan-curious. What made you decide to do that? Because there is an element of risk there, I guess. 

Giannis: That’s a question I’ve been asked a lot, to be honest. As I said, the hotel used to belong to my parents but then my dad recently retired. He said to me, just to stay here. I used to live in England, in Europe, for 10 years. So my dad said to me, what do you want to do with the hotel now that I’m retiring?

I said, Look, I’ll come back and try something new. We do have this concept of massive tourism here in Greece with a lot of all-inclusive hotels. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great. I’m not saying they shouldn’t exist or something like this, but I wanted to create something unique where we respect, not only the animals but also the environment.

So yes, as you said, having lived abroad. I came in touch with veganism and I wanted to bring this concept, back to Rhodes. It’s an interesting journey, step by step. There are lots of things that we haven’t considered before and we learn along the journey. But yeah, it’s really nice to see how our guests are open-minded, and even if they have any extra requirements or something special to ask, always with a smile, you can solve every single problem.

Brighde: I love it. How did your family react when you said you wanted to open a vegan hotel? Because if they’re not vegan, I’m sure they were a little skeptical.

Giannis: Yeah, absolutely. Because it was a successful small hotel, like most of the places around here. When I said to my parents, look, I want to start something from scratch, and as you said it’s a risk that I took. Vegans are all around the world, but it is a small market. At the same time, you don’t have this massive market that you can aim for. So when I say, I want to do this, their first question was, are you sure you want to put all your savings into renovating the hotel and do this? At the same time, they were very supportive because all our food is homemade.

My grandma, who is like 93, makes most of the food around here, and I call her vegan by accident. Because in all her life, she’s vegan. Most of the Greek food is vegan. People don’t know it, but most of the Greek recipes, the traditional ones, are vegan. What we are trying to do here is, to promote exactly this concept of Greek traditional food. I’m sure there are really nice vegan restaurants, you can have fusion cuisine or gourmet things but I think our guests also like this concept of family, homemade food that we as Greeks have in my house.

Brighde: Hmm. I love Greek food, so I’m sure the food is amazing. Now, if you wouldn’t mind telling us a little bit about what the hotel is like? Is it a small hotel, or a big hotel? What’s the vibe? Where is it located? Is it luxury or kind of a little bit more comfortable? Tell me more about that.

Giannis: Right. It’s based in Lalysos of Rhodes. Lalysos, basically was one of the three ancient cities of Rhodes. It’s somewhere in between the airport of Rhodes and Rhodes’ Town, like 10 minutes from Rhodes Town. So not that far away. We are a small hotel. We have up to 14 rooms, with a nice pool and a nice snack bar restaurant around the pool.

I’ve been to places where the waiters and all the staff go around quickly and they are trying to serve. I respect that, but I also want, like our guests to understand that, we run the hotel as a family, we’ll do our best, but if you don’t have your drink within seconds and you have it in a minute or two, it’s absolutely fine.

Obviously, we are trying our best. We are not a five-star hotel, but at the same time, I think our service and our hospitality make them feel like they are in a five-star hotel. Sometimes, you don’t have the stars on paper, but it’s better if you have the stars on the faces of your guests.

Brighde: So you have 14 rooms, you have a pool, I’m sure that is very important in Greece and you mentioned you have like a snack bar. Is that open for dinner as well? And what other kinds of facilities do you have?

Giannis: That’s correct. So we do serve breakfast and dinner. We also have some light snacks, not only for our guests but also we do have lots of requests from external visitors to come and dine with us. So we have a few light snacks with a Greek thought again. Basically, every day the menu for dinner is preset. So it’s a four-course meal, for example, our guests will have it around the pool that absolutely love it. 

Brighde: Your hotel sounds like a lovely spot to head to in its own right. But my question is, why would people wanna come to Rhodes? And I guess that brings us onto the topic of the podcast, what is it about Rhodes that is so interesting? Before we do that though, could you explain a little bit about, how you get to Rhodes? By the sounds of it, there’s an airport. Does it have international flights? Can people take ferries if they can from where? I just wanna give people a sense of the geography and the transportation to get there.

Giannis: Absolutely. So, Rhodes has the third or fourth biggest airport increase. And I guess it could be the second busiest during the summertime because we do welcome a lot of tourists every year. We have direct flights to, I want to say all major European cities. If you come from overseas, like States, or Canada, now there are almost every day flights to Athens. Then from Athens, which is the capital of Greece, the flight to Rhodes is like 40 minutes. So, not a big deal. You can also get the boat, as you said, the trip from Athens will be a day though.

 It’s a long journey because they will stop in every simple little island between Athens and Rhodes. So I think the best way to come is, by airplane. And why visit Rhodes, not because I come from Rhodes, but Rhodes is amazing. It’s a big island that combines a lot of things. So we do have a lot of history because Rhodes is at crossroads between Europe, Africa, and Asia.

 We did have influence from a lot of different cultures. We have an amazing medieval city, which is a world heritage monument. It’s protected under UNESCO. We have nature like we have the Butterfly Valley. We have really nice villages like Lindos, which is a big attraction for Rhodes. Obviously have really nice beaches where people would love to go and swim in our crystal waters. So different reasons, but I think the main selling point, if you like for Rhodes is that we constantly evolve. Now, we have a plan as an island to become the first sustainable island when it comes to tourism.

So that means whatever the whole industry of tourism produces, it won’t create any footprint on the local nature or environment. I think this is the future, and if you like, what we are trying to do here with our hotel, we contributed toward this goal.

Brighde: That’s a really interesting initiative by the authorities there. That’s really cool. Do you happen to know, of the other things that they’re doing, as well as, hopefully supporting hotels like yours?

Giannis: Yeah, I think it’s a 10 years plan, where they will give not only funding but also opportunities to advertise your business or like how we can make a plan so we can manage the rubbish and all the things that we produce in the hotel.

But this is not only limited to waste management and carbon footprint, it’s also part of the experience that our guests will have here. They have plants. So the tourists, they don’t sit just around the pool, which is amazing. I would do that. But there are so many things that you can experience here in Greece, like go and produce your own wine or see how we make our local desserts, or go out and grab some fresh lemons and then make lemonade. I think the future of tourism is the experience rather than, just holidays if you like.

Brighde: Yeah, I agree. That’s usually what people love about the trips they come on with us is just all of the activities and the things that you see and the people that you interact with. There’s often the highlight rather than, Just relaxing. So of course, Greek beaches have got a big reputation. What are the beaches like in Rhodes and which is your favorite?

Giannis: Right. So as a big island, we have different options and I think this is what people like. Some beaches are rocky, so there are big or smaller rocks. We have sand. So you will go to a beach and you will never find a single stone or rock. It’s just pure gold sand. Here in Rhodes, we have a joke like are you a rocky type, or are you a sand type of person? Personally, I love, St. Pauls Bay, which is close to Lindos because it has an amazing view of the Acropolis of Lindos and believe me that the water is crystal clear. You can see the bottom of the sea even from right above. So it’s amazing.

Brighde: Wow, that does sound really lovely. You also mentioned that Rhodes’ old town, the city is like the capital. Could you talk a little bit about what that’s like? How big is it? How many people, is it like a bustling metropolis? What could people expect when they go to the city?

Giannis: Right. So, it’s not a city like the big cities in Europe, States, or in Canada. At the same time, Rhodes is the fourth biggest island in Greece, I think. Because we have been welcoming tourists from almost 1970. The infrastructure here is a lot more developed than other big cities, Greek cities of the mainland, if you like. Having said that, the permanent population of Rhodes is around 120,000 people and that’s the whole island. In the city of Rhodes, which is at the tip of the island, at the very top, we are about 70,000. But imagine that our population almost doubles in summer because we welcome people from all around the world. It’s a lovely place. What I really like is that within five minutes you can go and have a nice swim. I think we have this privilege here compared to other big islands of Greece that within the city, we have really nice beaches where someone can go and enjoy a swim, especially when it’s very hot. So imagine you have a stressful day at work. It’s really warm in Greece, and then as soon as you finish work, you go straight to the sea.

Brighde: I love that. Something that I remember from my other conversations with my other guests when we talked about Greek Islands is, just how full of history they are as well. And I don’t think that there are many kinds of beach destinations that have so much cultural heritage and history as well.

So is Rhodes like that? And could you tell us a little bit about this history and how people might learn about it?

Giannis: Yeah, Rhodes is full of history. We are maybe the only one or the top three islands in the Mediterranean Sea where we have so much history. We had a Maltese Knight, who built the castle, and the medieval city, the old town of Rhodes. Then we had other people conquering and bringing their own culture. Back in ancient times, for example, we had the Colossus of Rhodes, which was one of the seven wonders of ancient times. Then we have the pirates. When you walk, especially in Oldtown, every single alley, has a different story to say, because you can see even in the architecture, the influence of the different cultures.

 This is what we are trying to promote here as a destination that you don’t come to Rhodes, just for the sea, which is amazing, or the sun, which is beautiful. But you can stroll around and learn a lot about Greek history altogether.

Brighde: Hmm. You mentioned something about the Valley of Butterflies. Can you talk a little bit about that? It seems so interesting.

Giannis: That’s correct. It’s a very famous, popular, and busy attraction in the middle of the island. So it’s a really nice park, I would say protected, it’s like a forest, with nice small rivers and streams. Between the beginning of July, and the end of August, we have thousands of butterflies, that inhabit this place.

 A species of this butterfly only grows in this forest. So it has a very characteristic brown color when they open their wings, they have a nice red color underneath and it’s very beautiful. I think one of the highlights when you go there is, they will cover the whole tree. When they start moving their wings, you think that the tree is moving. It’s amazing to watch it, and I only hope you can imagine how it is. But if you don’t experience it, you can’t really understand. 

Brighde: I have seen some wonderful footage of the migrating monarch butterflies, and they spend some time in the rainforest in Mexico somewhere. I’ve seen footage from that. So I’m guessing it’s a little bit similar, but it’s really quite incredible I have the website for the place up and these are really interesting, even shaped butterflies, they’re quite unique.

Giannis: Absolutely. They have a very characteristic shape and color. And it’s not just the butterfly itself as it’s the whole environment and microclimate there that you feel, you are not on an island. Because most people, when they think about Greek islands, they think of nice small white houses or the sea in the sun. So, Imagine if you go to a place and visit a valley like this. To be honest, we are trying our best to protect this place because as you can imagine, wildfires in summer with climate change, become more and more difficult. But I think we are doing a great job and we had some incidences in the past few years. Because the locals love this place so much. I think we are doing our best.

Brighde: Mm. Fingers crossed, but it can stay the same as it always has been. That’s something I’m curious about. What is the geography of Rhodes? For example, when I spoke with the lovely folks at Koukoumi Hotel, who is in, I think, Mykonos, they said that it’s a very dry island and quite windy. You are talking about how there’s like this forest there with this lovely valley. So I’m just curious about the geography of the area.

Giannis: Yeah. Where Mykonos, Santorini, and these islands belong, it’s true that they are very dry islands. But here, in Rhodes, I don’t want to say a lot, but we do have a few forests that change the microclimate a bit. As I said, we are trying to protect them. It’s hard during summertime. This breeze that you mentioned, the nice wind, I think it’s something very characteristic of the Greek islands because it might be very warm during summertime, but always after seven, eight o’clock at night, this nice breeze will cool you down.

Altogether I think Rhodes is quite a green Island, compared to the Greek Islands. So it’s not only Butterfly Valley, for example, we have another place called Seven Springs, which we call Natura Place. Again, protected by a small forest, and as you can imagine, it has seven springs. That’s why, we named it like this. There are small spots of green places around the island, that make the environment here quite unique and chilling.

Brighde: Yeah, I’m just looking at the website for the seven springs. It just looks absolutely gorgeous there too. I’m so surprised that there are these beautiful green lush trees that are really different from what I was expecting. A question that I had is how do most people who come to Rhodes get around? Like, is public transport really good? Do people hire a scooter or a car, Tell me about that. Because I think sometimes people worry a little bit about how they’re gonna get around, particularly if they’re gonna stay in a hotel that’s maybe not right on the beach or in town.

Giannis: Yeah, absolutely. Rhodes offers all sorts of options. Because we are a big island, we do have highways and really big roads. You can go around by public transport by bus and it’s quite easy. In the summertime, because we have a lot of guests around here, it could be a bit busier than someone would expect. On the other hand, it’s easy to drive as well because we do have good roads. Personally, I do have a scooter but if you don’t know the area and the driving behavior as well, or you are not really familiar with the place, I wouldn’t advise a scooter, because again, we are a big island and sometimes people think, oh, I’ll rent a scooter and I can go everywhere, but they forget.

We do have mountains. We have like, uphill downhill. To be honest, like renting a car, especially if you have planned for a while, like well ahead. It’s not that expensive. So I think either you choose the bus or rent a car or a scooter. It’s easy.

Brighde: Yeah. I think it’s good to advise people against hiring a scooter. I have seen many people just try to drive a scooter in an unknown place when they’ve never even driven a scooter before. Of course, you’ll probably be fine, but I think the odds of something bad happening much increased, if you don’t know how to drive a scooter well and if you don’t know the local conditions. So yeah, I would agree. Hire a car or even better use public transportation.

Giannis: Exactly better safe than sorry.

Brighde: Yes. Of course, Rhodes sounds like it’s a great place for cultural exploration and relaxing. But what about those that want to do a bit of exercise, maybe do something a little bit more active, whether it’s just a little bit or a lot.

Giannis: I don’t want to say a perfect place for it, but we offer lots of options, activities where you can see like yoga classes either in the hotel or by the beach. We do offer hiking because Rhodes has mountains and we do have nice paths where someone can stroll around and explore nature. But please be advised, use a local guide. Don’t try to do it by yourself because we did have some examples where people were lost. On the other hand, as we have this wind here, this breeze, people can enjoy water sports, like windsurfing, and kite surfing. There are even classes for beginners. Rhodes is famous for the Green Island.

At the bottom of Rhodes, there is a tiny island. In summer there is a road that connects the main island of Rhodes with this Green island where I’ve seen winter when the sea will go up, there is no road and this becomes an independent small island.

So this place is really famous for windsurfing. We have different activities. We have an organized gym, if someone would like to hit the gym. We offer all the options that can fit your own desires.

Brighde: So another question I have is, when are some really good times to come to Rhodes and maybe what are some times to avoid? For example, there are some really interesting festivals that could be good to try to or maybe there are some times when it’s just too crazy, in the height of summer or maybe things close down in the wintertime. Can you tell us about that?

Giannis: Yeah. The summer season here lasts about six months, so it’s from April to the beginning of November. And we are lucky enough because of the weather here, it’s amazing throughout these months. So other Greek islands, every now and then, especially in September, and October, when the autumn begins, will have some rainfall. Whereas here in Rhodes, I think a year ago people used to go to the beach until the beginning of December, so it was almost Christmas time. We felt like being in Australia where they celebrate on the beach. Personally, it depends again on what you want. If you want to come and experience Rhodes with a bit cooler weather, temperatures around 20 Celsius.

 You can come around the beginning of May or September, October, or even June. Obviously, in July and August, it’s very warm. But there are people who say, we spend cold winters in North Northern Europe, so we want to visit the place and be absolutely hot. Again, because we are a big island with lots of hotels and places to visit and see, I don’t think you will ever feel overwhelmed in terms of how many people they are around.

 The most tourist attractions, it might be a bit busy, but I don’t think you feel, there are so many people around me I don’t like here. In terms of, festivals, here in Greece, we are Christian Orthodox if you like religion, we celebrate some name days of the local saints. So every now and then there will be a festival in a small village of Rhodes, where the local church will celebrate. It’s quite nice. I should warn you here that the vegan options are a bit limited in these kinds of festivals. As an experience and as a Greek tradition, I think it’s something really nice to watch when you visit.

Brighde: Of course and what can people expect if they go and watch them, like processions in the streets, that kind of thing?

Giannis: Yeah. There are local dances or there will be some, local treats like desserts or local food. They are specialized in these villages. There might be a small ceremony in the church, but mainly it includes a lot of food and drinks. At the end of the night, it will be all people dancing around the main square of the village. These are very typical pictures and images of Greece that I’m sure people have seen before.

Brighde: It sounds absolutely lovely and I’m curious about the wintertime. Do all of the hotels and restaurants close during, December, January, February, and March? And is your hotel closed during that time?

Giannis: Yes. So I think, Rhodes is a completely different island, during wintertime because as you imagine most of the hotels and restaurants are closed. We, here at Goji do have demand and we have some requests for wintertime. But winters here, we do have storms, they might not last very long. It might be just half an hour, but it could be like a tornado, so it’s not very pleasant. At the same time, even though we are trying to extend the tourist season, the small family-run hotels, do need some time off just to recharge because it’s a 24/7 job. So I think three months in winter, we do need some time. This is what most people here in Rhodes will do, but it’s also very beautiful to see and experience Rhodes, when the big hotels, the bars, and the restaurants are closed. Cause you can appreciate the small things that maybe you miss when the whole island is buzzing. It’s different but beautiful.

Brighde: Hhmm. Apart from your snack bar, and restaurant at your hotel, are vegans going to starve to death or are they going to find some fun options?

Giannis: Right. That’s a very interesting question. We have a lot here in our hotel. There are a few vegan slash vegetarian only. Restaurants here in Rhodes, which I mean for the size of Rhodes and the guests that we welcome every year, I think it’s not enough. It’s not nice not to have options. At the same time because Greeks as well, they learn veganism. They are making steps forward. There are a few vegan options now in almost every single restaurant, Greek Taverna, that someone can enjoy. But sometimes they miss this twist. So, don’t expect a lot. At the same time, there are a few places where you can enjoy vegan options, nice cafes,s or desserts.

Brighde: Hmm. I have another question for you. This is something that was a conversation that I had with one of my last guests when we were talking about Greek islands. The fact is that donkeys are often used as beasts of burden. We did talk about that a lot, but my question is, Is that something that people see a lot of evidence of around, are they taking people’s bags? I’m guessing probably not in your hotel’s case, but could you just give us a bit of a sense as to what people might see around themselves, apart from of course, lots of dead animals in the form of meat?

Giannis: Absolutely. In our hotel, we respect all sorts of animals and we are a pet-friendly hotel. We did have some guests visiting us with their dogs, which we loved it. But coming to this unfortunate story of donkeys and yes, we do have this here as well, like in Santorini.

We do have donkeys carrying tourists and climbing steps, especially in Lindos, which is, as I said, a very tourist attraction. We have done a lot personally and like through some campaigns, to inform not only the local authorities, but also the tourists that this is not acceptable.

At the same time, the argument is that this is a tradition and all these. The most important thing is to educate the guests, the tourists themselves when they visit Rhodes. This is not something that it’s fun or it’s nice to do. So if they stop paying for this service, I’m pretty sure people here won’t do it.

Brighde: Yeah. The fact is that there are so many of these kinds of things around the world. Like in New York City, you’ll see the horse carriage rides and there are pretty much cases of this kind of thing all over the world. But of course, it’s nice that some work is being done and I agree, telling people about why this is a problem is a big key. Although I’m sure most of your guests were probably not going to have a donkey ride anyway, that’s still interesting. 

 All right, so Giannis, this was so interesting to talk to you about your new hotel. I’m so excited for you and to see where this journey is going to take you. Listeners, make sure that you go and have a look at the show notes so that you can see all of the links to places that Giannis has shared with us today.

Giannis, would you mind telling us how people might get in touch with you? Make a booking, maybe making a booking directly with you is even better, and your social media handles.

Giannis: Yeah. Thank you. So the best way to book a room is by our own website, gojiveganhotel.com. We have a presence on Facebook, GOJI Vegan Hotel, and obviously on Instagram. Drop us a message, if you have a question, or even if you want to visit us just for dinner, please do so via either email or on our social media and we will come back to you, as soon as possible.

Brighde: Yeah. I love that. A lot of people think that if a restaurant is attached to a hotel and they’re not staying there, they can’t eat there. But very often these restaurants are open to the public too. And definitely, it sounds like the place where you’re gonna get your best vegan meal whilst you are in Rhodes.

That sounds wonderful. Giannis, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the podcast today. I really appreciate it.

Giannis: Thank you so much Brighde for having me and hopefully, we’ll see you here in Rhodes and GOJI soon.

Brighde: I would love it. Thank you.

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