Karpathos Island in Greece (Photo: Meitar Schleider Potashnik)
As Europe prepares for a summer suffocated by swarms of tourists and limits visits to desirable selfie sites, on the Greek island of Karpathos, summer is off to a slow start. And not because Karpathos is worth less. It's just that with him, it's different. It has no beach parties, no casino, no water parks, no brand chains. There isn't even a McDonald's. What's in it? Silent. Beauty. Empty beaches with transparent turquoise water. Mountain landscape with villages that are fun to wander around. Taverns with delicious local cuisine (recommendations come soon). Simplicity, and quiet, have we already said?!
It is one of the Dodecanese islands between Crete and Rhodes. Its 6,000 inhabitants are spread over 324 square kilometers, so there's plenty of room for everyone. 100 km of coastline. About 100 beaches. Many of them have no living soul, and there is also a beautiful and wild mountainous area. All its residents earn their living from tourism 5-4 months a year. The rest of the year they close the sea, and many of them move to Athens or family in the US or Canada, and spend the winter with Netflix.
Empty beaches and turquoise waters. Karpathos (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
On the way to Olympus - a view of the magic beaches of Karpathos (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
Siga Siga. Lunch on Pigadia pedestrian mall (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
When zucchini blooms
At noon, the small pedestrian street of Pigadia, the island's main town, comes to life. Souvenir shops, clothes, ceramics, jewelry, cafes and restaurants. At the end of each staircase that descends from the pedestrian mall to the harbor, a piece of blue peeks out, usually with a cat in the picture. It is an island of cats. They are on every street corner, inside the shops. All are sterilized and treated. In front of the small travelers clinic on the pedestrian mall sits a tall man with long hair, chain-smoking, looking like a refugee of the Sixties. Doctor Socrates is for you. Caught a virus? Have you sprained your ankle? Socrates is here.
At the Elinikon restaurant on the pedestrian mall, we get to know the local cuisine for the first time. Peppers and wonderful zucchini flowers stuffed with rice and vine leaves stuffed with lamb meat. For a main course, we move on to Sofia on the dock of the port, an energy bomb that handily manages the business, as well as its diners. Bream and bream on the grill, Greek salad of course (there are heavenly flavored tomatoes and cucumbers in every restaurant on this island!) with a surprise of pickled capers leaves, which catapults the salad to new heights. Then came the king: Kontoshubali - a pig's neck, which dipped five hours in a marinade before moving on to the grill. Before dispersing, we extract from Sofia how to prepare the pickled capers leaves. Five days in vinegar and lemon salt. "Not fresh lemon," she warns us, "it kills the leaves."
Socrates Superstar. Dr. Socrates, Pigadia Travel Clinic (Photo: Walla! Editorial Board, Roni Eran)
What stuffed! Alinikon restaurant on Pigadia's pedestrian mall (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
A parasol and towel on the island cost €30 per person (Photo: Walla! system, Roni Eran)
We joined a full-day trip to Karpathos villages (there are 12 villages on the island) with Nimrod Iron, an excellent tour guide, who serves as a representative of Ayala Travel in Karpathos, and has an impressive familiarity with the island and its residents. The road is paved with turquoise bays, a mountain landscape of pine trees, olive trees, pink blossoms of thyme bushes and the smells of sage, rosemary and oregano in the air.
Goats perch on the cliffs and the small white chapels on the slopes (there are 2,500 on the island) attest to the presence of Greek Orthodox Christianity in local life. Only 50 years ago there was no electricity in the villages, now they show well-kept villas - many of the island's residents who immigrated to the United States, Canada and Australia last century due to lack of employment, returned to the island and built beautiful homes for them by American standard. In the driveway to a beautiful villa, the Greek flag flies on one side and the California flag on the other. Three years ago, a hospital with a maternity ward was finally established on the island, and in the past two years, we are told, six babies have been born here.
We stop at Lefkos. Not exactly a village, more than the cluster of summer homes of the villagers of Mesochuri on the cliff, who converted them into bungalows on the edge of the beautiful bay with the sandy bathing beach (30 minutes from the airport). In the small stretch of beach, bounded by several cafes and taverns, the blonde dominates, indicating the northern origin of most vacationers. Leonard and Elisabeth, about 70, from a town near Stockholm, are already red as crabs. They are lepcos addicts. This is their 15th year here and unless a global pandemic happens, they will be here as usual next summer. The water is clear and cold and what is heard is just the sound of the waves. Price of sun lounger and parasol - 30 euros.
Maria and Manoli, Let's Eat Cafe, Lefkos Beach (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
The exiles who left for America returned and built new homes for themselves. The village of Menetes (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
The old summer houses of the villagers were turned into bed and breakfasts. Lefkos Marina (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
The Stronger Species of Olympus
Olympos is the village of Karpathos and a kind of tourist attraction. Twice they uprooted and rebuilt it in a higher place to the terror of pirates, who raided it again and again. Ten years ago, the road was paved to it and opened it to the world and to tourist visits, and its inhabitants still preserve their traditional costumes, old crafts and dialect. A narrow central street climbs up the mountain among the houses and shops - souvenirs, carpets, embroidery and ceramics, the honey shop from thyme flowers, the manufacturer of musical instruments, the workshop of Yannis the cobbler, who makes shoes, strange boots for the graceful, wallets and leather belts.
Life in Olympus is run by women. So it was and it will be. "Up until 10 years ago, all the property, houses and jewelry of a family in Karpathos would have been inherited by the eldest daughter, not the son," Zoe Litos, a tour guide and owner of a local tour company, tells us. "Today the inheritance is divided equally among the children, but in Olympus the women still run the affairs and control the money." The men are happy with the arrangement, it turns out, and they respect their men. "When the husband dies, his wife will continue to wear black for the rest of her life," Zoe says.
Time for lunch. "My name is Nikos and I am the beauty of the island!" declares Nikos Hatsippas, owner of Blue Garden Restaurant, restaurateur and one-man show. In the summer he is here and the rest of the year he lives with his family in Athens. Olympus' kitchen offers delicious vegetarian dishes: fava (like chickpeas made from beans), macaronas - wholemeal pasta, rolled up in a small small one, left to dry on the roof, with cooking add olive oil and fried onions and at the end sprinkle grated feta cheese. Simple and delicious. Also here the stuffed - tomatoes and onions - are great. Nikos takes a look at our table. "I'm not satisfied!" he scolds us at the sight of the trays that have not yet emptied. The honey lokomades, the little cousins of the Moroccan spinge, you can't stop eating.
They are the boss - the women of Olympus (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
Olympus's Manolo Blahnik - Yanni, shoemaker-artist (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
Facing the Israeli tourist. Tavern in the village of Olympus (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
Beach to coast to coast
For some people, four hours of zero action on Apella Beach is all it takes to fill them with happiness. On board the ship that took us between the coast of Karpathos there were several such people. Darkness is a secluded stretch of beach with a pebble bottom, clear turquoise waters and complete silence. There's nothing there. We heard that high above the beach there was a taverna with bad coffee and there was a thief of sun loungers (15 euros for a chair and parasol), but it was far enough away from our boat. We spread out a towel in the shade of the cliff and stared at the turquoise without thinking about anything. Those who enter the water feel the cool currents of the spring water mixing with the warm sea water. Two who snorkeled at the foot of the cliff and reported an encounter with two large lions.
At half-past one, Yanni and his three musketeers – the boy, the fat old man ("who is also an engineer!") – opened a folding table in the shade of the cliff and transported lunch to it - a chicken souvlaki skewer, with rice and salad for 15 euros. Not bad. On the way back we stopped at Pigadia Bay. The brave jumped into the water and were swallowed up by the dark opening of a large cave. A great day passed for our forces.
You can also get from Pigadia to Apela Beach by car, about a 45-minute drive on a narrow and winding road, but the cruise is more fun.
Apella Beach (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
We were untouched. The turquoise waters of Apela Beach (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
Yanni, captain. A day of sailing on the beaches of Karpathos (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
A treat in Finiki
As much as nothing happens in Pigadia, it doesn't reach Finiki's outstanding ankles. The village that used to be the port of Karpathos, is now a charming fishing port shrouded in complete tranquility, about 20 minutes drive from Pigadia (about 30 euros per taxi). There is a feeling that we need to talk quietly here. We are sitting at Vasilia and Nikos Kaukakis' Delfini restaurant, facing the bay. It is fringed with limestone cliffs, planted with white houses with blue balconies.
"The bream and sea bream we ate yesterday came from a fish farm," Nimrod says. "In the sea of Karpathos there are completely different fish, and in Phoenician restaurants you find them." Taverns in Phoenician have fishing boats, which bring daily skaros, barebonies, tiny shrimp and more. Nikos opens the drawers of the daily catch for us and we choose fish for lunch. Here, too, the Greek salad is served with a twist: pickled critamon - pickled green leaves that, like Sofia's capers leaves, upgrade the salad miraculously. If you get there, don't miss the fish souvlaki and the delicate scarus (parrotfish). Mandarin liqueur and lemon cake closed the corner just in time to sit back and stare at the sunset.
In the evening we said goodbye to Karpathos at Pelagos, a cute taverna in Pigadia, with a good quartet of guitar, bouzouki and two singers, who perform there every evening from 20:30 until the last diner or the last dancer. There were Israelis in the audience, and even those who sang in public were not their thing, couldn't help but hum with them the original Greek versions of "The Lights of Piraeus" and "Song of the Convoy." The strangest and most pleasant thing was to hear them singing in Hebrew "Praise of Jerusalem," which made the journey from Israel to Karpathos thanks to Galikaria. There is no doubt that Israelis are treated warmly here.
Constantine Palace, a 5-star hotel with a 5-star beach (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
Once the port of Karpathos, today a fishing port with good restaurants (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
Concoct rose leaves on the yogurt. Spoon Sweet (Photo: Walla!, Roni Eran)
Good to know
• The tap water on the island is not good for drinking, not even in the hotel. On the other hand, the small stone trough taps in the town and villages have excellent spring water.
• There are two ways to explore the island. Public transport is not an option. It is possible to rent a car for 40-50 euros per day. The roads on the island are narrow and winding and all vehicles are manual. Alternatively, you can take a day trip with Nimrod Iron. He makes two trips to the island each week and both are recommended: a day trip to the villages by bus. 40 euros per person, children up to 12 years old - half price' and a day of sailing on Karpathos beaches. EUR 35 per person, children up to 12 years old - half price. Meal not included.
• There are two 5-star hotels on the island - Konstantinos Palace and Alimounda Mare.
Konstantinos Palace offers a beautiful stretch of beach, three fun pools, gym, spa, and the Junior Suite is the most beautiful room, with two huge windows to the wonderful view of Pigadia Bay.
• Another recommended restaurant with fresh local fish in the middle of beautiful nowhere, about half an hour's drive from Pigadia - "under the trees" Under-the-trees.business.site. The owner grows his own vegetables and also the sheep. Nimrod Iron: "The most delicious lamb chops there are."
• At Spoon Sweet in Pigadia (adjacent to Sofia's restaurant) it is recommended to eat yogurt with a wonderful concoction of fruits in sugar or honey: tangerines, black cherries, and best of all - bergamot and rose leaves.
• There are two weekly Arkia flights to Karpathos, every Monday and Friday, from June to October.
The writer was a guest of Ayala Travel
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