Gavdos is the amazing island where the shipwrecked Odysseus was welcomed the Calypso, the anchorage of travelers and traders from Africa and the pirates, the place of thousands of summer visitors.
Gavdos is the southernmost part of Europe, 32 nautical miles away from Paleochora, 22 from Sfakia and 170 in Tobruk, Libya. It is a small island, just 30 km squares with triangular shape, with a maximum length of 10 km and width 5km.
Karave, Korfos, Lakkoudi, Tripiti, Fetife, Bo, Sarakiniko, Agiannis, Lavrakas, Pirgos and Potamos beaches are some of the finest pearls of coast of the island. Kastri, Xenaki, Vatsiana and Ambelos are some of the picturesque villages of the island. Stone houses and abandoned cottages that are scattered everywhere on the island, left to decay in time, remind the visitor of old seasons when the island was flourishing and inhabited by more people.
A few residents live on the island throughout the year and the infrastructure for tourists is very basic. According to the census of 2001, Gavdos has 98 permanent residents. The truth is that fewer than 50 live permanently here, but when the census was done, 98 people were on the island. In summer, the total population reaches 3500, most of whom are campers. The port of Gavdos is Karave. It’s capital village is Kastri, while the southernmost inhabited village is Vatsiana with 23 residents. Gavdos is a fishing place, with few but good-hearted people who with patience wait for better days of summer to see their island swarmed with visitors.
Gavdos, together with the neighboring Gavdopoula, are a migratory bird station in their long journey from Africa to Europe and vice versa, and a refuge for the endangered species of mediterranean seals and turtles caretta-caretta.
Gavdos is a unique gem of Southern Europe, away from the bustling "civilized" world, with wild beauty, with crystal blue waters, with dreamy sunrises, breathtaking sunsets, with amazing coastline and beaches, where cedars reach the sea; an island of great beauty that deserves to be discovered. The only thing that you have to do, is leave the easy resting on the extensive sand of Sarakiniko and Agiannis beaches and walk to discover the island, its inaccessible places and virgin beaches.
Pines, cedars and local flora decorate the island, and heather, anger other scrumbs leave their fragrances in the air. It is no coincidence that the Gavdos joined the Natura 2000 program.
Well-designed trails offer wonderful tours on the island: from Korfos to Tripiti, from Kastri to Ambelos, from Chamourio to Kedre and Lavrakias, from Vatsiana to Korfos, from St. Panteleimon to Kastri and other routes. Tours that require appropriate shoes, sunscreen and of course supplies, particularly water.
Ogygia, Ogyges, Goygia, Gafgia, Gavdos, Gavdos, Claudius, Gozo, Godoy, Claudia, Klaountos are some of the names with which Gavdos was known during various periods of history. Names that are indicative of the continuous habitation of the island from Neolithic times until today. Signs of uninterrupted habitation that can be seen in the excavations of Sarakiniko, in Korfos, the Agiannis and Lavrakas.
The Apostle Paul passed to the lee of Gavdos on his final voyage to Rome. After leaving Crete, a storm swept up blowing his ship off course such that he passed near to the island. The account is recorded in Acts 27:16.
Later, at the time of the Byzantine Empire, the island had some 8,000 inhabitants (900-1000 AD) and supported 3 bishops and an archbishop. During the Ottoman Empire's reign on the island, which lasted from 1665 up until 1895, Gavdos was known as Gondzo. During this period the population decreased considerably to only 500 inhabitants by 1882. A reference to Saracens on the island survives - a beach is named Sarakiniko (a name meaning "of the Saracens" in Greek).
In the 1930s the island was used as a place of exile of communists; more than 250 people were exiled including leading figures of the Greek movement, such as Markos Vafiadis. During World War II, allied forces evacuated some forces to Gavdos following the German victory in the battle of Crete. Later on, the general phase of urbanization that started in other parts of Greece in the 1960s, took place in the 1950s on Gavdos. During that period the islanders exchanged their land on Gavdos with ex-Turkish land on Crete, which had now become exchangeable via the state. Upon settling in Crete they created a community known as Gavdiotika, which is part of the town of Paleochora.
After many years of isolation, in 1996 the island came to media prominence. In a NATO exercise Gavdos was the focal point of a confrontation between Greece and Turkey. Following that, prime minister Simitis, visited Gavdos and announced a five-year, €1.5 million plan for Gavdos' development. In 2001, Costis Stephanopoulos, the Greek President, inaugurated a telemedicine centre on Gavdos, an island which has never had a doctor. This exercise, however, was marred as the island's infrastructure could not provide the necessary power required by the centre. For the purposes of the inauguration, generators were brought in, which were then removed. However, according to a 2008 BBC News report the island now features stable electrical power, and young medical graduates can serve for six months on Gavdos in lieu of compulsory military service. But visitors to Gavdos in June 2008 found that the power station was not functioning and that businesses were relying on gas generators operated for a few hours a night; locals stated that the power station worked initially, but no longer serves the entire island reliably.
In 2002, the island was in the news again, due to the arrests of members of the extremist Marxist group November 17. The leader of this organization had been living openly for several years on Gavdos as a beekeeper.
Apart from the excavations on the island, there are many interesting places you can see. Seventeen small, austere churches decorate the island. The metropolitan church is named after Holy Trinity and is located in Kastri. Apostle Paul passed from Gavdos and the 99 fathers with the Saint John the Hermit. Gavdos was once diocese.
Trademark of Gavdos is the old lighthouse that was once towered over the rugged southwest coastline, called Aspes, with almost vertical cliffs for about ten kilometers. Constructed in 1880 at an altitude of 368m, it was visible from a distance of 40 miles, the longest distance in the world then. It was bombed by the Germans in May 1942 and was almost completely destroyed. Today the lighthouse is, reconstructed, dominating again in the same place a few hundred meters before reaching Ambelos.
The lighthouse is one of the attractions. The building of the exiles in Sarakiniko, the Venetian castle at Kefali, the Roman and early Christian ruins on the hill of Agiannis, the carved tombs in Lavrakas, the famous three arches of Kamareles in Tripiti, the excavations in Sarakiniko and Korfos and of course the small folk museum in Vatsiana can be added in the attractions.
Since rain is rare in Gavdos, there is little water available here. This is despite the futile efforts of the government for pumping water from wells. During dry years, there is no water even for shower. The problem of power, as mentioned earlier, is very important and demand is fulfilled by generators.
There are many abandoned terraces on Gavdos where farmers used to grow crops on the hillsides. There still is some agriculture on Gavdos.
The lighthouse tower serves as a cafe during the summer season; the complex also contains a museum on the history of the original lighthouse with several rooms of photos and antique equipment. Gavdos is home to an FM radio station Gavdos FM 88.8.
In the castle you will find the only post office on the island. You can also find phone and a small clinic in Kastri (+30 28230 42195). There is a police station with a single policeman on the island (+30 28230 41109).
You can find rooms in Karave (+30 28230 41104), in Selakia (+30 28230 42118), in Sarakiniko (+30 28230 41103,+ 30 28230 41106, +30 28230 42120, +30 28230 42182, +30 28230 42122), in Korfos (+30 28230 42166, +30 28230 42384) and Sgoudiana (30 28230 42457). Also, Sarakiniko there is a camping.
There is a cafe open all year round in Karave. There are also several restaurants on the island: one in Karavas, nine in Sarakiniko, one in Agiannis, one in Sgoudiana, two in Korfos and one in Kopanellos (on the road to Kastri). Finally, there is a mini market in Sarakiniko.
In Sarakiniko you can rent a car or motorcycle (+30 28230 42457). However, there is a local bus that operates from Karave to Sarakiniko, Agiannis and Korfos, while daily transitions and excursions are organized to the lighthouse, Ambelos and Vatsiana.
Proposed hiking trails
Gavdos is one of the best places for hiking and favored by all hiking clubs of Crete. The first suggested route is Lighthouse - Ambelos - Potamos - Pirgos and back. You should also not miss the trail from Korfos to Tripiti beach and back to Vatsiana, where you will see some of the most amazing landscapes in your life. Lastly, the easy trail from Sarakiniko to Agiannis and Lavrakas is suitalble for everyone and you will meet the tropical side of Gavdos with the long pine- and cedarwooded emerald beaches.
Ferry to Gavdos
Gavdos can be reached either from Paleochora, Plakias, Sougia and Chora Sfakion. The routes are not stable, so one should consult the port authorities in Sfakia (+30 28250 91292) or Paleochora (+30 28230 41214). You can find information in ANENDYK website and Gavdos Lines ( two ferries company).
Photos of Gavdos (from Gavdos Group in Flickr)