Destinations, Dodecanese Islands

Karpathos

Karpathos

A long, narrow island between Rhodes and Crete, wild Kárpathos has always been an underpopulated backwater, although it’s the third largest of the Dodecanese. A habitually cloud-capped mountainous spine rises to over 1200m, dividing the lower-lying south from an exceptionally rugged north. A magnificent, windswept coastline of cliffs and promontories attracts numerous package tourists, who pretty well monopolize several resorts in the southern part of the island, pushing independent travellers up to the remote north, where facilities are basic. Most visitors come for a glimpse of the far north’s traditional village life, and for various secluded beaches lapped by proverbial crystalline water.

Although the Minoans and Mycenaeans established trading posts on what they called Krapathos, the island’s four Classical cities figure little in ancient history. Kárpathos was held by the Genoese and Venetians after the Byzantine collapse and so has no castle of the Knights of St John, nor any surviving medieval fortresses of note. The Ottomans never bothered to settle or even garrison it properly; instead they just installed a civil governor, charging the Greek population plus a few scattered Muslim gendarmes with his safety during the many pirate attacks.

The island capital of Pigadia (or Kárpathos) nestles at the south end of scenic Vróndi Bay, whose sickle of sand extends 3km northwest. The town itself, curling around the quay and jetty where ferries and excursion boats dock, is as drab as its setting is beautiful; an ever-growing number of concrete blocks leaves the impression of a vast construction site, making the Italian-era port police and county-government buildings heirlooms by comparison.

While there’s nothing special to see, Pigádhia does offer the most conceivable facilities, albeit with a package-tourism slant. The name of the main commercial street – Apodhímon Karpathíon (“Karpathians Overseas”) – speaks volumes about the pivotal role of emigrants and emigration here. Another local quirk is a conspicuous community of several hundred Egyptians from the Damietta area, who have two coffee-houses to themselves (but as yet no mosque), and are locally esteemed as masons, fishermen and carpenters.

The southern extremity of Kárpathos, near the airport, is flattish, desolate and windswept. There are a few undeveloped sandy beaches along the southeast coast in Amfiárti district, but most are only attractive to foreign windsurfers who take advantage of the prevailing northwesterlies, especially during the annual summer European championships. The most established surf school here is Pro Center Kárpathosr, which has the advantage of three separate bays near the airport, catering to different ability levels; smaller, more personal Soultravels occupies an adjacent cove.

Non-surfers will be more interested in sheltered, sand-and-gravel Khristoú Pigádhi beach, just over 2km north of the airport, with a 500-meter access road, a kantína and a nudist annex just south. Beyond the headland bounding Khristoú Pigádhi to the north, with a separate 900-meter access drive, stretches Dhamatría beach, sandier but more exposed.

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