Karpathos Island, Greece: Sun, Sea and Sobriety

4 Sep

I’ve passed the twelve month mark in my travels and whilst the novelty has not palled it was time for a pause. This is going to sound like utter wankery but seriously, where would you go in mid-August in Europe with one week’s notice when you want a holiday from a year of almost constant travel?

We needed an affordable, pleasant place to stay put for a fortnight. One with guaranteed sunshine, decent food and no temptation to exert ourselves so that Stuart’s poor brain could continue to heal. He’d plateaued and was becoming depressed about the constant ‘fug’ that descended on his brain a few minutes after waking each day. We also agreed to go teetotal for two weeks to see if alcohol was somehow affecting his neural functioning.

The answer: A Greek Island. Fine, but which one? There are so many…. Then I remembered an iphone note I’d made when visiting my Greek-Zimbabwean friend Liza in Johannesburg last year. We’d been swapping travel stories and Liza told me her favourite Greek island is Karpathos. I had no idea where it was or why it was so wonderful but made a note anyway. Karpathos it would be!

After consulting the google machine I found Karpathos is located on the extreme edge of the Dodecanese and that it’s famous for unspoilt beaches. Transport would be simple. Easyjet would fly us direct to Rhodes from Gatwick then we’d have a short hop on Olympic Airways. So far so good. More research led me to Arkasa village on the south west coast where the strong Meltemi winds blow off the sea. I hoped this would keep us a little cooler than other parts of the island. On the way back to the UK we’d have to overnight in Rhodes town but that was a small price to pay.

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Apartments with decent kitchens work best for us, especially in meat and fish loving countries. I booked us into Arkasa Palace Villas on the basis of its 12 smart blue, yellow and white painted, bouganvillea-covered apartments climbing a hill overlooking the bay. It also had the all important positive web reviews and staff who helped me with a Greek travel agency booking for the Olympic Air flight when I was struggling with communications.

After only two hours sleep on the floor at Gatwick airport the flights were a blurr and it felt surreal being transported from England’s green and pleasant fields to what appeared to be a desert island. Our Dash 8 Olympic Airways flight only carried 20 people. They all dispersed quickly on arrival leaving us and the bored car rental staff twiddling our thumbs. No sign of anyone to meet us as arranged. The contact number rang out twice and I was just starting to think we’d have to get a taxi when a tiny, attractive, bleached blonde woman in a denim miniskirt arrived apologising for being late. This was Evi, our airport transfer/apartment manager/car rental/travel advisor. On the drive to Arkasa Evi told us her Mother had lived in Australia for several years but returned to Karpathos before Evi was born. This is a feature of Karpathian life. Its people have a history of leaving the island; for the US, Australia, or Canada, in tough economic times, but like salmon, they have a strong homing instinct and return to Karpathos when funds allow.

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Our first impression of an arid landscape proved correct. In late summer the island resembles a large mass of dirt and rock dumped in the Aegean Sea. There’s a smattering of pine trees but the overwhelming impression is of a harsh lanscape softened only by low wind-shaped shrubs and patches of fragrant purple flowering sage and prickle bushes. Developments are low-rise, clustered around natural harbours and beaches along the coast, or traditional villages with their blue and white churches perched on mountain ridges to keep safe from the Genoese pirates who ravaged the island for several centuries. There are mercifully no campsites, camper vans, clubs, Thai fish spas or Macdonalds. The closest we got to a party scene was the night the neighbours had a few people over for beers, BBQ and cranked up the rap music. It was all over by 11pm.

The look on Stuart’s face after we’d unpacked and strolled around Arkasa said it all; ‘Where the hell have you brought me?’

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Happily, over the next two weeks Karpathos worked its considerable charm. Strong sunshine, frequent swims in the warm, high salt content, pristine waters, friendly folk, an alcohol-free, healthy diet and lots of sleep proved to be a balm for body and soul. Added to that the sunsets on the west coast are glorious. I would sit and watch a full hour’s worth of constantly changing skyscapes from the deepest red to the faintest pink blush.

After testing the neighbouring beaches on foot we rented some wheels. We worked our way through scooters, a quad bike and various cars to explore the island and sample the beaches we could access below Spoa. To reach those accessible only by sea we chartered a small boat from Pigadia for a day.

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Karpathos turned out to be an inspired choice. It encourages total relaxation and we did not miss alcohol at all. The current mix of summer holidaymakers are mostly couples and families from Italy, (the former coloniser), Norway, Sweden, The Netherlands, Athens and Austria. Their only goal seems to be to lie on the beach and bronze (see previous blog). No Brits, Germans and very few Spanish people. We had a thoroughly lovely, lazy fortnight and if you’re thinking of doing something similar here’s our rough guide to Karpathos’ beaches:

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WEST COAST
Finiki- Tiny sandy beach and fishing harbour 2K north of Arkasa. Couple of tavernas across the road from the beach and one partly up the hill that catches its own seafood.

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Lefkos- Small village, natural harbour and sandy beach halfway up west coast. Also has two surf beaches on the other side of the spit. Perfect for families who want sand for toddlers but also surf options for older kids and adults. Choice of several tavernas and an amazing bakery.

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Araki- 4K from Arkasa. Dirt road recently bulldozed down to murky, pebble beach to sell overpriced villas. Don’t go.

Theodorus – 2K from Arkasa. Short unsealed section from main road. Steep walk down to pebble beach with sun shades serviced by one taverna up the top. Ok but there are much better.

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Nikolaou – Ten minute walk from Arkasa. Fairly large pebble bay beach with small waves. Used by families staying in hotel next to beach. Two tavernas with one family-run, Glaros, serving tasty, simple food. Lovely spot to watch the sunset.

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EAST COAST
Apella – The prettiest sandy-pebbly beach. Has a section without rental sun loungers and umbrellas. Two boats go there with daytrippers. We swam around to ‘Small Apella’ which is a pebble beach. There’s just one taverna above the beach and it has decent food. Limited parking so go early.

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Kyra Panagia – Half way up east coast. Smallish sandy beach with rock to jump off into deep sea. It has a couple of tavernas and a hotel.

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Ahata (aka Achata) – Lovely pebble beach accessible by unsealed road with one tiny taverna.

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Kato Lakkos – Gorgeous! Hard to get to on an unsealed road. Sheer cliffs rise off a narrow beach of tiny pebbles. No cafe/taverna.

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Cha- Paradise. Has a spring running out of the rocks that makes the sea cooler near the beach. Accessible only by boat so blissfully serene.

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Vronti – In the bay next to Pigadia town, largest beach with lots of cafes and tavernas servicing it. We moved to an apartment with a swimming pool in Almyra Village across from Vronti Beach for the last three nights to see what the east coast is like.

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Mikri Ammopi – A small, pretty quiet pebble beach with interesting rock formations popular with snorkellers and couples. There are three tavernas above it.

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Megali Ammopi – A larger crowded, shallower sandy-pebbly beach favoured by families. Has three restaurants.

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Nikolaou below Spoa – A small natural harbour and pebbly beach close to Spoa. It has a nice traditional taverna right next to the beach.

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I could relay some interesting local perspectives we heard about the Greek economic crisis but I’m well over my word count and concerned I’ll offend someone by repeating them here. Suffice to say our conversations with a range of islanders caused us to reconsider how and why the Greek economic and political situation eventuated. We now have much more sympathy with the islanders’ plight.

The way out for over eleven million Greeks is by no means clear but Karpathians have survived worse privations for thousands of years under the thumb of Romans, Genoese Corsaires, Venetians, Ottoman Turks, Italians and finally the Greek government. There will be more economic migrations but Karpathians will prevail.

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Footnote: We chartered the small boat for four people from local man, Haris, and were very happy with our experience. He also has a boat for eight people. Contact him on spiridonsevdalis@yahoo.com Tel: +30 6974102362

Since we didn’t venture above Spoa I can’t say what the diving is like in the far north and around Saria Island but from what I saw there isn’t much in the way of interesting sea life for snorkellers and divers compared with my experience of The Great Barrier Reef. What would be really exciting is sea cliff climbing.

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2 Responses to “Karpathos Island, Greece: Sun, Sea and Sobriety”

  1. Michelle Noble September 7, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    Yes, yes…makes me want to return to Greece – my favourite destination for holidays and chilling out. But did the 2 weeks off alcohol work for you???? M&B xx

    • Sharon Tickle September 7, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

      Worked for me Michelle, feel more energetic and sleep better but no change for Stu. In fact he’s had some days when symptoms are worse so we’re looking forward to a second medical opinion when we get back to Brisbane. My main problem is getting one very anxious individual onto a twelve hour flight….wish me luck! Bizou, S

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