Posted by: Delfini Studios - Diafani, Karpathos | April 3, 2019

Wall Street Journal’s “The Alluring Remoteness of Karpathos”

The Alluring Remoteness of Karpathos

Among the southernmost islands in the Dodecanese chain, the Greek island offers crystalline waters and endless bays

A quiet harbor on Karpathos ALAMY

Karpathos, Greece

SNORKELING A METER above the seabed, an excited 7-year-old is tugging on my ankle. I twist to see my son act out an aquatic pantomime of agitation, eyes bulging behind his mask, a finger stabbing down through the seawater to point at…What?

The water is so clear we can make out distant swimmers churning their legs on the opposite end of the cove. A school of blue-lined sardines sweeps around us, startled by my son’s splashing to slip away over the rocks like a lady’s scarf caught in the wind. A lone bright silver sea bream streaks off into deeper blue, its black half-moon tail slicing the water in a burst of energy. Dentex and rainbow-colored wrasse snuffle the white sand below, stirring up a meal, while tiger-striped gobies lay among the rocks, waiting to snap the smaller fish up in turn.

Any one of these could capture my attention. What, exactly, has captured his?

We were exploring a cove in Amoopi Bay, one of several limestone-lined turquoise pools of water on the Greek island of Karpathos, which feels as if it were destined to showcase them. Among the southernmost islands in the Dodecanese chain, it is deep in the heart of the Aegean Sea. There is no way to stumble onto Karpathos; you have to make an effort to get here.

The distance from the rest of the world, however, is part of the island’s distinct charm. Karpathos has an international airport, but there is rarely more than one plane parked there at a time, and reaching the island by ferry from Athens is a 20-hour, 415-kilometer affair.

Whitewashed windmills overlooking the sea. GETTY IMAGES

In addition to fewer tourists, more privacy and relatively low prices, there were few signs of the turmoil investing the rest of the country during our visit to Karpathos in August. When Greek Prime Minister George A. Papandreou set stringent economic austerity measures in place earlier this summer, the island has remained essentially free of the strikes, protests and widespread social unrest that have plagued other parts of Greece.

While the turmoil has taken a toll on stores and supermarket shelves, nearly everywhere want was met with a shrug and a smile. On an island where almost everyone speaks workable English, a rapid-fire “it’s O.K.” has become a sort of island mantra. There’s no coffee on the shelf? “It’s O.K. It’s O.K. It’s O.K.,” responds a clerk in a single breath. “Next week.”

Geographically, Karpathos comprises mostly coastline — a thin, 47-kilometer long sliver of mountains jutting up out of the Mediterranean like an exclamation point. Fewer than a dozen small, brightly painted towns dot its arid hillsides, and none is more than a few minutes’ drive away from a beach.

In Pigadia, the island’s capital, only a handful of small fishing boats are docked at the port, as well as bigger vessels, with names such as “Vasily’s Love Boat” and “Private Karpathos Pleasure Cruise” that for €7 to €20 will take you on a day tour to popular beaches.

Part of the reason so few boats berth in its waters is the meltemi, a constant summer wind so strong it bends pine trees over permanently into bonsai-like sculptures. This strong wind makes mooring along the island’s coast difficult at best, but keeps temperatures generally lower than on other Greek isles. During the third week of August, when most of Greece was in the grip of a heat wave, the meltemi died down and temperatures on Karpathos promptly shot above 40 degrees centigrade during the day. “We never have heat like this,” complained Nina Ekizoglou, owner of Nina’s Studios, a restaurant and hotel complex in Amoopi. “Without the wind, we’re all suffering!”

A priest walks through the town of Olympos. GIJS DE KRUIJFF

The coast itself is a collection of water-worn escarpments, creating an endless succession of individual coves and bays. There is a beach for every flavor, from the small, rocky and abandoned for people in search of privacy, to broad, sandy and serviced for sunbathers who like to people-watch. Our tourist map showed 68 official beaches. Adding the unmarked and unnamed beaches would easily push that number into the hundreds.

But whether deep and craggy, smooth and sandy, level and rocky, or vast and shallow, these beaches all have one thing in common: extraordinarily crystalline water. Snorkeling the coast of Karpathos is like swimming in liquid glass.

Sabrina Locatelli, 39, a tourist from Monza, Italy, and an experienced scuba diver, was on her first diving trip to Karpathos. “There are some marvelous rock formations here, including underwater caves and grottoes,” she says. “You don’t have the variety of sea life you’d find at a tropical destination, but the water is crystal-clear and there’s still plenty to see. Best of all, there are so few tourists that most of the time you’re alone.”

Despite its beautiful waters, Karpathian culture is concentrated on land rather than the sea. Evidence of this can be found in the food served in its restaurants, where meats such as lamb, chicken and pork play a leading role. Tender spiced skewers called souvlaki, feta-cheese-stuffed hamburgers called bifteki and a range of oven-roasted meats with potatoes, green beans, eggplant and tomatoes can be found on every menu.

Seafood dishes are walk-ons, limited to the rare grilled octopus, fried calamari, tiny Karpathian shrimp or sardines, and occasional fish fillets, more often than not accompanied by little asterisks that lead to small print reading “some ingredients may be frozen.”

During our two-week-long stay, we ate several meals at Nina’s Taverna, which specializes in traditional Karpathian meals. We enjoyed classic Greek salads, tzatziki, a traditional dish made with yogurt, cucumbers and garlic, as well as tender pork roast lined with grape leaves and filled with fresh sweet Karpathian goat cheese. Like at almost all restaurants on Karpathos, there were makarounes, a whole-wheat pasta dressed with fried onions, olive oil and aged feta, and saganaki, a pan-fried fresh goat cheese.

Nina’s Taverna is run by Apostolis Ekizoglou, 30, while his brother Leftekis, 26, oversees the kitchen. Both moved back to Karpathos after studying and working in large hotels in Athens. “I like it much more here. Life is easier, no stress,” says Apostolis Ekizoglou, gesturing out from the restaurant terrace to the vast blue Amoopi Bay below. “We serve the traditional foods, but my brother studied as a chef in Athens, and he likes to surprise people.” The surprise that evening was a delicious lamb stuffato, cinnamon-flavored roasted lamb served on a bed of pinoli-shaped pasta.

7-year-old Michelangelo Maines builds a sandcastle on Michaliou Kipos beach. AARON MAINES

Two days later we took an afternoon to drive up to Olympos, a mountain town in the north of the island, where centuries-old traditions still reign supreme. The 27-kilometer road leading up to the town was all dust, gravel and potholes, but cranes and massive construction machines parked along the roadside spoke of asphalt to come.

In the town square, Massimo Oneglia, 39 years old, a lawyer from Milan, Italy, mused about the changes he’d seen the island make in just a few years. He returned to Karpathos this summer with his wife after an initial visit in 2005, and found it surprisingly modernized. “You can drive almost everywhere now,” he said. “When we first came here none of the secondary roads were paved. We had to rent a motorbike just to get to beaches like Apella and Agios Nikolaos.”

In Olympus the surroundings remained reminiscent of a time long ago with its whitewashed cement walls — common to many of the Greek isles — and an elegant bell tower cupola outlined in blue, bright red geraniums and fuchsia bougainvillea. Elderly women dressed in traditional garb of black, billowing dresses with crisp white shirts and vests of colorful cloth, skillfully sold handmade olive oil and honey soaps that the island is famous for to interested tourists.

A visit a few days later to Menetes, a hilltop town located at the center of the island, coincided with Panagia, an annual religious festival. In keeping with tradition, tourists were genuinely treated as honored guests and pressed by locals to accept thick slices of home baked bread, the crusts constellated with sesame seeds and fragrant anise, then roasted bell peppers, black kalamata olives, white wine and cloudy, iced glasses of ouzo. When we returned to the town the following evening to dine at a restaurant that had caught our eye during the festival, we found it still full of life, with children chasing each other up and down the town’s narrow alleys, and old men drinking ouzo and arguing about soccer outside the cafe in its main square.

The streets leading to Menetes were all paved, and satellite dishes sat atop almost every house. For all its modernization, there was nothing cynical about Menetes, no hint of the commercialization of Karpathos we’d found in Olympos.

Nevertheless, the greatest delights lay down below, off the coast and underwater.

In the bay in Amoopi, my son finally managed to direct my attention to what he’d seen: a dark green, black-speckled Mediterranean moray eel coiled near the edge of a vast rocky plateau barely a meter beneath us.

We followed the moray as it swam out over the edge. The plateau dropped dizzyingly away to white sand and seabed at least six meters below, where every individual rock, urchin, seaweed and seashell was clear in the bright sunlight. With a kick of our feet we’d flown off a mountain’s edge and out over a vast aquatic valley, no seatbelts required.

Returning to the surface to clean our masks, my son’s face was radiant. “Dad!” he exclaimed, “it’s just like flying, but in the water!”

ON THE ISLAND

Where to stay

The Apolis features luxury accommodations including a beautiful terrace restaurant and pool overlooking the bay. During peak season, double rooms range between €100 and €120 per night, including breakfast.

+30-22450-81200

www.apolis.eu

Nina’s Studios provides studio apartments with kitchenettes — traditionally a popular solution across Greece — and is located just above picturesque Kastelia Bay. Double rooms from €50 per night, including breakfast at Nina’s Taverna, which serves a variety of Greek and Karpathian specialties.

+30-22450-81006 studios

+30-22450-81044

tavernatavernanina@hotmail.com

The Aegean Village provides both full hotel services and independent suites with kitchenettes, and is located directly above Amoopi Bay. Double rooms start €90 per night, including breakfast.

+30-22450-81194

www.aegeanvillage.gr

A plate of makarounes, a traditional Karpathian whole-wheat pasta dressed with fried onions, olive oil and aged feta at Nina’s Taverna. AARON MAINES

Where to eat

Rina, a restaurant located on the main road between Amoopi and the airport, is famous for its excellent Karpathian dishes such as makarounes and roast lamb.

+30-22450-91051

In Menetes, Pelaga Taverna serves excellent Karpathian fare at tables set up outside on the main square.

+30-22450-81135

What to do

In Pigadia, the Karpathos Diving School provides training courses, tours and equipment to divers.

www.diveinkarpathos.gr

On the southern tip of the island, Club Mistral Karpathos provides windsurf stations, training and equipment.

www.windsurfing-karpathos.com

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: