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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
Mayhem myth in 'debauched' resort
Faliraki boasts more than 100 bars

Faliraki is under siege. Young Britons are flocking to the Greek resort, sparking media reports of debauchery, a police crackdown and even a diplomatic row. But what's it really like?
You'd be forgiven for thinking there's not a moment's peace to be had in Faliraki.

But on this balmy afternoon the loudest noise on the infamous "Bar" Street are the ripples of applause from the Wimbledon final. The smell of roast Sunday lunches fills the air, while at sea boats dart around the rocky coves.

The new Faliraki is sleeping.

As the day wears on there are fewer families and older couples to be seen. The streets become dominated by groups of young, often teenage, Britons.

Britons enjoying a night out
For locals it's a case of better the devil you know
The past three years has seen the village become the trendiest European resort this side of Ibiza. At night the young drink to excess, and their wild exploits have been gratefully captured by reporters looking for the next sun and sex sensation.

Faliraki just can't get a good headline nowadays.

Scare stories abound. Tabloids report a loutish mini-Britain partying out of control, plagued by violence and hooliganism.

But few locals recognise this description - even the local police chief admits the British are behaving no worse than usual.

Crime fears

A recent police crackdown on the inevitable lewd behaviour, an effort by the local authorities to head off its plummeting reputation, was reported in Britain as a mini crime-wave.

Only increasing reports of sexual assaults on Rhodes as a whole - many of which are unconfirmed - have brought genuine fears that criminals are moving in.

So what is a night in Faliraki really like?

An army of taxis and scooters converge on the two main streets at about nine, dumping mainly British men into neon-lit clubs with names like Temptation and Sinners.

Sinners nightclub
Saints unwelcome
There are scores of bars playing ear-splitting music and selling cheap alcohol. A fishbowl of spirits is a local speciality.

But there are families too around the late-night funfair, and some of the best-dressed girls are with their parents.

There are a handful strip clubs, and a bikini competition on Fridays, but what really dominates are the club promoters that have brought over some of the UK's biggest dance nights.

Streets unthreatening

By midnight many are staggering towards them, already too drunk to make sense of the flyers.

In truth the atmosphere is friendly, the streets are unthreatening and the sexual tension is of the school disco variety. The police keep a low profile.

Greek revellers stay away but the local workers have few complaints. All are used to the British by now and they greet questions about their exuberance with a weary but accepting nod. None thought their behaviour had worsened, one even said their conduct was "good". Praise indeed.

View of Faliraki
Few clubbers make it this far out of town
But the tabloids back home are judging by different standards, and the club managers are the first to defend the resort.

The manager of one the biggest bars accuses the papers of whipping up a storm.

She says the behaviour is no worse than in any British town at night, and the crime rate is proportionally far lower. Even drugs aren't a problem here, she points out.

The start of the media interest is widely blamed on Club Reps, the ITV1 show that loosely followed Club 18-30 tourists to show the resort at its sex-driven worst.

Economic problems

No-one in Greece saw the programme, but they are offended by its portrayal and have seen the family visitors who keep the area going outside the summer months pushed away. Business is suffering.

Shopkeeper Tasos Famateros says the club scene is just "food for the papers", and the Club Reps phenomenon has caused "trouble for nothing".

No-one took it seriously at first, he says, but now the "good" older customers with money are being forced out and many businesses are in trouble.

Other locals are worried too. Ex-pat Michelle Stephenson Savviou has lived here with her Greek husband Mike for nine years.

Michelle Stephenson Savviou with husband Mike
Michelle Savviou: Fall-out from the bad publicity
Their boat tour business in the old harbour has seen takings halve this year.

She was "horrified" by Club Reps and the lurid reporting it spawned.

"Club 18-30 will get a stranglehold in this area now. You can't blame the young people per se," she says.

Marc Jones, head of 18-30 holidays in the area, says they are simply responding to increased demand. He admits good and bad things came out of the programme, but they won't be co-operating again and he believes the authorities would be na´ve to let them back.

A sign, perhaps, that the media circus here has had its day.

British ritual

Faliraki is genuinely stung that its family image has been hurt.

It has seen British youths flood the resort, encouraged by British travel firms, only for their own media to demonise them.

It's a curiously British ritual that has left the locals rather bemused.

The village is left standing out from the sophisticated reputation enjoyed by the rest of Rhodes.

Rhodes Town, a few miles north, even keeps a Marks & Spencer in business and a marina full of yachts, sheltering from the fierce Aegean winds.

Faliraki has little choice, it seems, but to ride out its own storm.

See also:

04 Jul 02 | Talking Point
12 Jul 01 | Europe
29 Jun 02 | Europe
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