Guide-book along the Gavdos Island
Gavdos island — is a small dot on the map of Greece, the most southern Greek island, and genuine Mediterranean paradise for lovers of calm life and solitude. This tiny plot of land separated by 40 km strait from the huge Crete is covered by sun burnt rocky hills, stunning sandy beaches, little Mediterranean shrubby groves and has absolutely no high-rise buildings, heavy traffic and noisy cities. All in all, it’s perfect for anchorites…
The history of Gavdos covers many centuries. The island had constantly been populated since Neolithic age. Almost all ancient Greek and Roman poets and writers have mentioned this little island. According to the legend, Gavdos was the very glorified Ogygia where Calypso nereid had for 7 years captured Odysseus returning from the Trojan War. Archeological excavations testify the presence of the Romans on the island and as if a sudden storm had thrown the little ship of Paul the Apostle heading into Rome ashore, right to Gavdos‘s coasts. During the reign of pirate Barbarossa the Great in the Mediterranean Sea Gavdos was a notable pirate harbor, the analog of Tortuga and Port Royal in the Caribbean Sea. Ottoman Turks lived on Gavdos for a long time, and this part of its history we may consider the period of the most densely-populated one – more than 1000 people lived here at that time. Later the Turks preferred to move to Crete, and already in the modern historical period of Gavdos it served as a place of exile for communists. During the Second World War the leftovers of armed forces of Crete after the famous battle of Crete were evacuated in here.
In 1996 there began a struggle for Gavdos between Greece and Turkey. However, the Greeks gave European Community the plan of economics development of Gavdos, taking into consideration one and half a million euro of investment capital for every year and have become full owners of the island.
Gavdos is located 40 km to the south of Crete’s sea shore and is included into nomes – so are called provinces in Greece – Chania. Some more you can see far in the sea passing over the Crete Mountains along the narrow, winding mountain road by car or bus is a vague spot – this is it.
Gavdos is of about 27 km2 square and has the biggest length from north-west to south-east of 8 km. It has hilly, crossed relief the main area of the island is covered with thick shrubby overgrowth.
Tall trees on the island were cut down by settlers, and nowadays it took great amount of work so to recover the small wood on the south-west end of the island.
The highest point of the island – is Vardia mount, having the height of 345m above the sea.
The major part of the island’s coast – is continuous sandy beaches, now and then broken off by low rocks facing the sea. There are rocky reefs, serving as main fishing sites for the local people round the northern coast of the island.
To the north of Gavdos there is a small deserted island Gavdopoula, where you can swim by a hired boat. There is nothing at all except cushioned bushes and high rock, installed on the top of Gavdopoula, but its silence and desert will help any visitor to feel detachment from real time and mundane fuss in here.
The main highlight of Gavdos is its savagery and barbarism which is along with its miniature sizes the reason of practically full lack of usual attributes of civilized rest for tourists.
There are three little villages on the island – Karave, which is partly a port and a harbor for fishing boats, Kastri – the administrative center of the island, which has the only school of the island, little settlement Sarakiniko near the beach of the same name, Ambelos little village on the western part of the island and the most southern village on the island, called Vatsiana. All these villages are connected by narrow asphalted road. There are a few little shops and café of Mrs. Evangeline Tsigonakis opened all year round in Karave. Besides, there is couple of little shops in Sarakino and near Agios Ioannis beach, but they are opened only in summer, in tourist season for several hours and only in days when their owners have high spirits, so if you would need some food with you, you should better take them from the Big Crete.
There are no hotels on the island, but by the time ferry arrives local taxi drivers of old broken pick-ups of about two or three people gather and take those wishing to pay and not willing to go foot couple of kilometers along the beaches, and they offer to rent a small room or a whole little house for quite acceptable price as well, though surely you wait for no special comfort of these houses.
In the very centre of the island there is a helicopter pad with road extending to it, but it plays no special role in life of the island.
According to the last population census 98 people constantly live on the island, from which about 40 people live in Kastri and 23 – in Vatsiana. However, during the summer tourist season the amount of people on the island may be up to three thousand five hundred people on account of
tourists arrived for rest. The demographic situation on the island goes on changing for the worse because of absence of full-time job, as a result of which all young people are willing to move to the mainland.
The main occupation of Gavdos is agriculture. Here, as in Crete you can always meet straying pets like goats, and a few olive groves that bloom and bear fruits on gentle slopes.
The majority of tourists coming to the island consist of hippies, nudists and barbarian tourists. They equip real campsites on beaches and near them, and often build cabins, huts and wigwams from apprentice material in which they spend practically all summer. A little bit north from Agios Ioannis there is even a small beach settlement all the huts of which are built from cardboard and branches of bushes. Hippie tourists come here from all over Europe and it is very interesting to get acquainted with absolutely different people, whose main aim being on the island is to have wild and calm rest.
Beaches here are wild and absolutely not equipped. There are no deck chairs, parasols, service staff and no hue-and-cry of the crowd. There are rocky reefs by every beach, where you can go snorkeling and watch wonderful small Mediterranean fish, can simply lie on the heated sand or go fishing with local fishermen.
The most famous beach here is – Agios Ioanis. It is rather ample and stretches far in the hills where tents of rastafars and hippies are cooped up. This is a typical nude beach, and many visitors come here exactly for complete solid tan. From Karave you may drive up by car to several little shops from which you need to go a few hundred meters along the walking path to the beach. Right on the beach there is a well with drinking water, however, there is no information as for testing of the water from it by local sanitary station, and it’s better to take water yourself. By the way, parts with pink sand formed from crumbled shells of some seashell species are seen somewhere on the beach and are considered the exclusive sight of Elafonisi beach on Crete.
Sarakiniko is considered to be the most beautiful and picturesque beach of Gavdos. It even got to the list of the most beautiful European beaches in 2009. There is a small village near the beach where you can buy food products or find the place to stay overnight. The beach is surrounded by beautiful rocky hills with bald patches of sandy dunes, that already in May are heated up to very high temperature. So prepare good shoes if you want to get to know the nature of the island!
Two beaches – Potamos and Pyrgos are the most remote and difficult to reach. You can get to them on foot only and they are on the opposite end of the island of the ferry station. You can reach it in hour and a half – two hours from Aigos Ioanis. Pyrgos – is just a small pocket between the cliffs you can easily pass by, and Potamos – is quite stretched beach with long sandbank – paradise for lovers of wallowing in shallow water.
The very southern part of the island has only one place which can be called “beach” – the most protruding to the south part of the island. Beautiful equipped path ending with the only monument on the island –big wooden chair, installed above wonderful grotto in the rock, called Tripiti leads there.
Despite its small sizes Gavdos is home for many interesting plants and animals.
There is a unique grove of the slowest growing cedars in the world near Agios Ioanis – some trees here are more than seven hundred years, but because of very dry climate and permanent winds all the trees have height of only a few meters.
Acacias and pine-trees growing at beaches look very fantastic as their crown is bent according to the prevailing direction of the wind.
All the slopes are covered with thorny bushes making their way between stones and to go for excursion you should take into account your shoes of high quality and tight pants.
There are no dangerous animals on the island. Even if little scorpions which can be found under stones sting you they won’t harm you more than our horse-flies and the only local as if poisonous cat snake though having poisonous fangs, still can’t bite a human with them. At night tiny gekkonidaes are sitting on walls of the houses looking out for prey – moths and spiders with their huge eyes.
Everywhere on the island there are straying domestic goats being on the free pasture and near every settlement wild cats are running at night.
The underwater fauna around the island is very rich. Here you can meet beautiful wrasse-fish, sebastes, barbatuses, flounders and octopuses.
How can you reach here?
Gavdos is by right considered island of Greece which is the most difficult to reach. Though, passengers’ transportation works great here and with competent planning you can easily get to Calypso island.
Ferry from Crete swims to the island. Due to cahier’s statements in Hora Sfakion on Crete the captain of the ferry is also mayor of Gavdos. And the driver of the only Gavdos’s commuter bus – the school bus, shepherds flock of goats in his free time. The ferry runs most of the time along the southern coast of Crete, connecting towns Hora Sfakion, Palaiochora and Agia Roumeli and three times per week – on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday after intensive day shift the ferry goes for night on Gavdos. On Tuesday, Thursday and Friday morning it swims back on Crete. You can buy ferry tickets in any of three mentioned ports, but to Gavdos directly the ferry goes just from Hora Sfakion and if you like to swim to Gavdos from Palaiochora or Agia Roumeli you wiill still have to pay for the ticket to Hora Sfakion. As of the May 2010 one single ticket for adult to Hora Sfakion – Gavdos cost 12.5 euros. To buy the ticket you should have your passport with you.
Departure from Hora Sfakion is on 6pm., although taking into account Crete’s optionality and relaxed mood it’s quite natural to swim away between 7-8pm from here.
The ferry goes back to Crete at 9 am.
Also there is a small motor boat that is regularly swimming between Palaiochora and Gavdos, but its fare is higher and its passenger’s capacity is lower than on the ferry.
If you wish you can always come to agreement with fishermen as for taking you to the island, but this way it won’t be cheap.
We should mention the fact that even if schedule is set , the cruise to Gavdos may be cancelled in case of bad weather or small amount of passengers, so going to the island be ready that you might swim back on a private boat.
When is it better to go?
It’s in spring or autumn. It’s rather warm here already in April and during the day the temperature may rise up to 30C˚ (86F) in shade. Water in the sea is heated up to 20C˚ (68F) by middle of May, and in June tourists overcrowding the island. So if you want to look at such Mediterranean region and see it as heroes of ancient Greek myths had seen – wild, desert, silent and mysterious, it’s better for you to go to Gavdos not at the very ‘rush hour’ of tourist season. Though, you anyway won’t hear rattle of cars, music and noise of the big city here.
So if you really want to have rest, get away from the city fuss for a while, find yourself in nature, glorified in ancient Greek myths and legends, swim in pure azure sea and lie enjoying golden sand and by all that you are not too capricious as for the comfort – Gavdos will perhaps be your rightest choice for spring vacation.
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