Despite being the third-largest Dodecanese island, poised halfway between Rhodes and Crete, long, narrow KÁRPATHOS has always been a wild and underpopulated backwater. The island’s usually cloud-capped mountainous spine, which rises to over 1200m, divides it into two very distinct sections – the low-lying south, with its pretty bays and long beaches, and the exceptionally rugged north, where deeply traditional villages nest atop towering cliffs. If you prefer to stay in a sizeable town, then Pigádhia on the east coast, Kárpathos’s capital and largest port, is a good choice, with a wide range of hotels as well as a good beach, but several smaller resorts and isolated coves also hold lovely beachfront accommodation.
Continue reading to find out more about...
Touring Kárpathos’s magnificent, windswept coastline is consistently superb, with its verdant meadows, high peaks, isolated promontories and secluded beaches, lapped by crystalline waters. The interior, however, isn’t always as alluring: the central and northern forests have been scorched by repeated fires, while agriculture plays a minor role. The Karpathians are too well off to bother much with farming; emigration to North America and the resulting remittances have made this one of Greece’s wealthiest islands.
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.
Northern Kárpathos still feels very much a world apart. Despite repeated promises, the road north from Spóa has not been fully paved, and remains a hair-raising prospect for all but the hardiest mountain drivers. Most visitors therefore still arrive by boat at the little port of Dhiafáni, and then take a bus up to the traditional hilltop village of Ólymbos.
Hiking in northern Kárpathos
Northern Kárpathos is renowned for excellent hiking. While the most popular walk of all simply follows the jeep track down from Ólymbos to the superb west-coast beach at Fýsses, a sharp drop below the village, most local trails head more gently north or east, on waymarked paths.
Ólymbos to Dhiafáni
An easy ninety-minute walk leads back down to Dhiafáni, starting just below the two working windmills. The way is well marked, with water twenty minutes along, and eventually drops to a ravine amid extensive forest. The final half-hour, unfortunately, follows a bulldozed riverbed.
Ólymbos to Vrykoúnda
Heading north from Ólymbos, it takes around 1hr 30min to reach sparsely inhabited Avlóna, set on a high upland devoted to grain. From there, less than an hour more of descending first moderately, then steeply, along an ancient walled-in path that takes off from the valley-floor track, will bring you to the ruins and beach at Vrykoúnda. Once you’ve seen the Hellenistic/Roman masonry courses and rock-cut tombs here, and the remote cave-shrine of John the Baptist on the promontory (focus of a major Aug 28–29 festival), there’s good swimming in the pebble coves to one side.
Avlóna to Trístomo
Starting just above Avlóna, a magnificent cobbled way leads in 2hr 30min, via the abandoned agricultural hamlets of Ahordhéa and Kílios, to Trístomo, a Byzantine anchorage in the far northeast of Kárpathos. The views en route, and the path itself, are the thing; Trístomo itself is dreary, with not even a beach.
Trístomo to Vanánda
If you’ve already hiked to Trístomo, and would prefer not to retrace your steps to Avlóna, you can hook up, via a shortish link trail east from Trístomo, with a spectacular coastal path back to Vanánda (3hr 30min). Once clear of abandoned agricultural valleys and over a pine-tufted pass, it’s often a corniche route through the trees, with distant glimpses of Dhiafáni and no real challenge except at the steep rock-stairs known as Xylóskala.