Visit The Paradise Island of Gavdos
Gavdos Paradise on Earth
The Paradise Island of Gavdos
In Dominic and I have been to the Greek Island of Crete four times for our annual holidays. This year we would have returned in a heart beat on getting back to the UK. The cool and grey weather we encountered on return made us feel as though we'd be catapulted into the depths of autumn.
Crete is located on to the south of mainland Greece, and Gavdos Island at the most southerly part of Europe. In 2011 as we were returning back to London, we made a short stop over in Chania town, taking in the site and walking around the market. There we met a young man who asked us where we were from, how we'd liked out stay in Crete, you know the usual chit-chat locals have with strangers to make feel welcome in their country.
Dominic and I both have dredlocks. The young man we were speaking with asked us whether we'd been to Gavdos Island? That on our next visit we must go there because it has a lot of people like us. We looked at his quizically at the phrase 'people like us', and he quickly explained that people with hair like ours. The strange thing about his question is that on our hikes we'd seen the Island but hadn't asked anyone about it. Anyway we said we'd return the following year and give it a try, which we dully did and loved the place.
We found out that Gavdos is around 33 kilometres square, that's about 12.7 square miles. It has a capital, Kastri, located in the South West of the Island not far from the southern most headland of Europe, Tripiti.
The Island has a resident doctor and a police present throughout the year. In fact when we saw the island's police car on our way to the port, Dominic wondered what he/they did all day. There is little or no theft on the island, so maybe he/they keep the peace when visitors get somewhat boisterous from drinking too much Retsina.
Gavdos has a standing population of 50 residents, including an eccentric group that has come to be called 'the immortals of Gavdos'. There is scant water and electricity supplies, the main reasons the island remains off the beaten track. When you go out on hikes around the island one of the things that you'll notice are abandoned stone house dwelling, where a hamlet has stopped being viable and the people simply left.
I hope I haven't give you the wrong impression about the Island being populated by people with dreadlocks, its just you find a lot of young people there and a lot of them tend to have locks. So don't be put off visiting Kalypso's hot beautiful, and peaceful Island even if it's just for the sake of curiosity.
Odysseus and Calypso
Gavdos Island in History
Despite the small number of people who live permanently on Gavdos now, as an Island it has had a permanent population going back to Neolithic times. Indeed it is mentioned by Homer is book V of the Odyssey as the Ogygia where the nymph Kalypso held Odysseus prisoner; there is a small controversy about the location of Ogygia.
The Maltese claim that Ogygia was their island. There is archaeological evidence that shows that the Roman Empire had and active presence on the island.
The island is called 'the juniper coast', because of the preponderance of juniper bushes to be found almost everywhere on Gavdos. The shrub is at present a protected species on the island. Juniper oil was collected and sold as export, especially to Egypt because the ancient Egyptians used it as part of their funereal rites.
Roman and some Byzantine traces are still evident be in the north and the north west of the island. During the Byzantine period that populations of Gavdos was sizeable at around about 8,000 inhabitants.
At that time the island even had a resident archbishop. Later when, the rulers of Gavdos were Venetians, island was abandoned mainly due to piracy and pirates. The memory of the infamous pirates Barbarosa who used the island as his hide away way back in 1539, must have been rekindled.
The name of the Island may have changed from the Ogygia to what it is now because of Ottoman rule, when it was called Gondzo. It was during the rule of the Ottomans that the population of Gavdos dropped dramatically, decreasing to around 500 inhabitants by 1882.
Evidence of the Turks having been these can be found in the name of Sarakiniko beach. The word Sarakiniko means place of the Saracens.
Gavdos Walking Trails
Visit Gavdos Island
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Gavdos Isle, place of exile.
The island has a bit of a chequered really, I say this because in the 1930s more than 250 people were exiled on Gavdos Isle, including the then leading figures with Greek politics, people like Markos Vafiadis who was exiled to Gavdos because he was a communist.
A decade or so later, the island was refuge for the allied forces who had to evacuated some their troops forces to Gavdos following the battle of Crete.
Later, during the peacetime dividend of the 1950s and 60s when urbanasation was taking place phase in Greece the residents of the Island chose to engage in an exchanged with the government, taking the land had previously been in Turkish hands in the town of Paleochora. They former Gavdonians created a community in old town Paleochora called Gavdiotika
Sunset on Agios Ioannis
There are 6 main sandy beaches on island, at Sarakiniko, at Agios Iannis, at Lavraka, at Potamos, at Pyrgos, at Korfos and Tripiti.
Unless you go to the island on a private boat, Sarakinikos Beach will be the nearest beach to the port on arrival. It's at most a 10 minutes drive from the harbour, and perhaps a 30 minutes and 2 kilo meters moderately paced walk. Situated at the North East end of the island. The beach has a mini market, several tavernas most with rooms for rent.
The next nearest beach to the port but in the opposite direction to Sarakiniko beach is Korfos Beach. As you leave the harbour the road ascends and soon enough you arrive at the crossroads, with sigh posts, and a couple of houses dotted around. The turning to the right leads to Sarakinikos beach, but if you turn left you'll be on the road to Korfos. Unlike walking along the road to Sarakiniko, as it's the fastest and easiest way to get there, the coast walk to Korfos is off road on a clearly marked track. Korfos Bay also has a mini market, few tavernas with rooms to rent, and a small bay where boats can land.
There is a clearly renovated and marked trail on which you can hike to the southern most point of Europe. The trail is about 4 kilometres and has three points where there are places where you can stop and sit down for lunch.
To the north of the Island, you'll find Agios Ioannis beach. A fifth of the Gavdonian population live in Agios Ioannis (St John's beach) in a village next to the beach. Ioannis has sea, sand beautiful views of the mainland Crete, and several impressively large caves.
There are three tavernas near the Anek bus stop, and two mini markets. The first of the three tavernas is Sofia's and has decent rooms to rent. Our favourite taverna however is the third of the three; run by a lovely couple Jorgos and Maria, who welcome all visitors. Maria is a wonderful chef. Their tavern has a lovely atmosphere created mostly by the wide range of chilled music they play.
Potamos Beach is another beautiful beach on the island. It is located in the northwest, has a golden beach whose yellow sand is peppered with hints of red. Be warned however that its location makes it inaccessible to all but the most adventurous of walkers/rock climbers, but can be reached by boat. It's unreachable due to being surrounded by hills and no footpath leading down to it.
The beach of Pyrgos is not too far from Lavraks beach, also on the north of the island. It also has steep hills surrounding it. Again due to the relatively steep decline to reach it, very few people go to it, so it's a pristine sandy beach, with no or very little shade. Please make sure that you have plenty of water, something to eat and some cover provide you with some shade. The beach can be reached by on foot after a moderate hike, or on a small boat.
Tripiti Beach in the southern part of the island is the most famous of all the beaches of Gavdos, not just for being the southern most point of the whole continent of Europe, but also for the rock formations that supports big chair at the headland. The word Tripiti has 'tripa' as its root, meaning hole. Indeed there are three rock holes (arches) on the headland the rock that juts out to sea.
Sunset on Gavdos
The Flora and Fauna of Gavdos
The beauty of Gavdos is its stark bareness. Natural manifests on the island as pine trees, mastic and a lot of juniper trees and a lot of shrubs. As to animal life including birds, we've seen during our three visits an Owl (there was one we heard every night. It sounded like the alarm of a reversing lorry), a beautiful Vulture, a sand coloured scorpion, a small snake and lots and lots of small black beetles and the incessant noise of crickets.
How To Get To Gavdos
As the island is located to the south of Crete, if you wish to visit Kalypso's Island you will need to get to Paleochora, Sougia, or Chora Sfakion. Most visitors who fly to Crete fly into Heraklion, the capital, or to Chania. From either of these two towns you can get on one of the regular Anek state coach to the three towns in the south to get the Anek ferry across.
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