Travel

Karpathos – the Greek Island that trumps them all

greece4We know we’ve made that claim before about other islands such as Lipsi. Just call me the girl who cried: Heaven! In future, when we are even older and tired of hopping from isle to isle, I think we may just stay in Karpathos.

It’s perfect. The water is cool, not cold. The food is amazing, with everything made here. Our hotel is friendly and equipped with everything we want: the pool, huge and empty except for the charming swimming lessons for children; the beach a ten-minute walk away; the hair salon, excellent and inexpensive. Now we both look like bathing beauties with new haircuts and slimmer bodies thanks to our Keto diet!

But let’s start at the beginning: a bird hit the plane. It happened in Montreal before we had even begun our Greek Island journey of summer 2014. We had to go home for the evening and return the next morning by Air Canada voucher. Never mind, as I was able to unload some clothes and books and lighten our small bags. Actually it turned out perfectly because we got to spend a night in Geneva at a five-star airport hotel complete with dinner and breakfast.

When we landed in Athens at 3:15pm, we immediately took the metro to Piraeus, Athen’s port, and one hour later we were standing in a travel agency near the massive harbour buying our tickets for the ferry to Karpathos, leaving at 6pm. We had enough time to walk to the quay, find our ferry and board, with half an hour to spare. We paid a lot time for our lovely little cabin (€220) but it was wonderful to be on our way for the16-hour trip to Karpathos. By the way, it’s not a good idea to reserve your ferry from Canada because you never know if you’ll actually get to the port in time. If we had booked ahead, we would have lost our tickets, and all because of a bird.

greece2At the dock in the main port of Pigadia, Karpathos, hotel proprietors greeted us and many offered to take us to their establishments. But we wanted a hotel with a pool, and none was offered.

We began walking around the harbour and into the town, built around the bay. We walked and walked and didn’t find one, when lo’ and behold one of the men who greeted us at the dock drove up (was he following us?) and invited us to drive with him to a hotel with a pool in the centre of town.

We hopped in and two minutes later were in front of our dream accommodation, Hotel Regina, with a magnificent-sized pool, a large blue and white (Greek colours) room with AC, kitchenette, safety deposit box, TV, double bed, balcony facing the pool, all for €45 and Ewelina, the loveliest Polish receptionist you will ever meet, made our stay a joy.

The same family that runs the hotel also owns a café in the town facing the sea, where we had our late evening coffee. Ewelina directed me to Elizabeth Hair Salon down the street where I was treated to a colour and cut (one of the best I’ve had) for €35 and Irwin to his first professional cut in five or ten years (I do his hair at home) for €10. Lovely sisters, ethnic Greeks from Albania, pampered us with their massage/shampoo chair, experts at what they do. I promised to send more customers and return next year, which as far as I can see, is a sure thing.

greeceThe next day, at the suggestion of Tennassis, our angel in the car (who also owns a bar in the small square below our hotel), we took a boat trip with about 50 others to Diafini and Olymbus, in the northern part of the island.

Olymbus is a spectacular little village where the locals dress up in traditional costume with colourful headscarves. What a view! This mountain village is definitely worth a walk-about, but three hours before the bus returned to take us back to the boat was too long. In Diafini at the pebble beach, we swam in the cool refreshing but deep water and at 4:30pm returned to Pigadia, exhausted!

We found To Kyna, a fish restaurant for the first two nights, where we feasted on (yes, you guessed it!) fresh fish caught by the owner himself, crab salad, fried zucchini, and tzatziki.

The beach at a ten-minute slow walk from our hotel is sandy with a gradual entrance to the wave-less sea — good for practicing my sidestroke and combined dog paddle/butterfly. The beginning of the beach is the sandiest and beach beds are available for rent. A supermarket lies100 meters above where we chose our picnic delicacies, which we ate on our beach beds.

For dinner we tried La Mirage, which announces its offerings on about 27 signs and makes good on all its promises, especially the scrumptious mussels saganaki (baked with feta and tomatoes).

We finished off our last evening at our favourite café served by the gracious Ewelina, our hotel receptionist, who spends her summers working almost 24-hour days.

When you first arrive, Pigadia doesn’t look like much, a jumble of three and four-storey buildings hugging the hill and surrounding the harbour and bay. They are painted white or yellow. This is not the traditional look of the uncrowded Greek island village, exemplified by tourist-magnet Santorini. But by late afternoon and evening, with the harbour lined with restaurants and cafés, the atmosphere shifts. Tanned tourists from Northern Europe and Italy replace locals sipping their afternoon coffees and playing backgammon.

greece3They are families, young and old, relaxed, strolling by as they decide which restaurant to choose. There is certain calmness to the scene, no heavy hustle, though every restaurant has a blonde woman standing in front, or a young man, pointing to the menu. After the feast, we stroll up the main shopping street that is lined with ice cream and yogurt shops, and boutiques sporting all manner of purses, beach bags, jewellery, and shoes. Then we stop at our favourite coffee bar, with a view of the shimmering bay. We often get into a conversation with other patrons, as we did one night with some of the many former Karpathians who now live in the U.S. We heard again of the matrilineal traditions here, where the daughter, not the son, inherits the family property and business. We were told of cultural ties this island has with Crete, which makes sense since it is halfway between Crete and Rhodes. We also learned that this was an Italian island until 1948, when it became Greek. When you start a war and lose, you pay the price. But that does not stop many Italians from vacationing here and apparently enjoying Greek hospitality, including the version offered by Albanian and Polish workers.

After four nights we boarded a ferry for a four-hour ride to Rhodes, the necessary connection to most other islands. The following morning, we sailed for Kalymnos.

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