Dodecanese Islands hug the coast of Turkey in the far south east corner of the Aegean Sea. Dodecka means 12 in Greek and refers to the group of islands which was granted special privileges for willingly submitting to the Turkish sultans who held sway here for centuries. In fact there are 32 islands in total - 18 of which are uninhabited. Having suffered a turbulent history at the hands of various invaders, these days the Dodecanese happily embrace the seasonal arrival of international tourists who come here to enjoy the islands' hot climate, beautiful beaches and spectacular historic sites.
Rhodes is the capital of the archipelago - by far the biggest island in the group with good air and sea links to the other islands, Athens, Turkey, Cyprus and Israel. Rhodes and Kos both have international airports with regular charter flights to and from the UK and other European destinations. If you're planning an island-hopping tour of the Dodecanese your best bet is to fly into one of the main islands then rely on ferries or hydrofoils to take you the rest of the way.
Your holiday here can be whatever you want it to be. The islands offer ancient walking trails, awe-inspiring archaeological sites, some of the holiest places of pilgrimage in Greece and magnificent medieval castles. You'll also find some of the liveliest nightlife in Europe - it's been said that Rhodes has more bars and discos per person than New York, Paris or Berlin. And the frantic frolicking at the island's top seaside resort of Faliraki has attracted international media attention on more than one occasion.
Kos, the second largest island in the group, can give Rhodes a run for its money when it comes to serious partying. Besides hardened revellers, the island also attracts hordes of visitors to the medical school and sanctuary built in the 4th century BC after the death of Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine who was born on the island.
One of the archipelago's top tourist attractions is the magnificent Monastery of St John on the "holy island" of Patmos where the apostle compiled the Book of Revelation, the last book of the bible. You can visit the Cave of the Apocalypse where St John "The Divine" is said to have received a series of visions and heard the word of God through a cleft in the rock.
Those thirsting for a taste of the "real Greece " will find some lovely unspoilt corners mercifully unscathed by the ravages of mass tourism. The rugged mountains of Karpathos conceal delightful villages where age-old customs are fiercely preserved. The local women dress in traditional costumes, grind their corn in the local windmills and bake bread in outdoor communal ovens.
Kalymnos offers mountainous scenery interspersed with fertile valleys, some of the finest fresh fish tavernas in the Aegean and lovely unspoilt beaches, some of which can only be accessed by boat.
An increasing number of foreign travellers are starting to discover the many delights of Leros which boasts good beaches and tourist facilities whilst still retaining its essentially Greek character. But most package holidaymakers by-pass the small islands of Symi and Tilos which appeal to hikers, nature lovers and those who simply want to relax on an uncrowded beach.