Gavdos Island

“ One of the pleasantest things in the world is going on a journey,”
wrote English essayist William Hazlitt, “ but I like to go by myself.”

I don’t agree entirely, as sharing experiences with others seems an integral part of travel, but for various reasons, I spent three days alone last May on the island of Gavdos. I’d been several times before, once memorably on friend Mike’s yacht, when we circumnavigated the island, anchored two nights in Tripiti bay to explore ashore, then headed to Loutro. Another, equally memorable, was one November, when rough seas delayed the ferry home to Paleochora, resulting in long lonely nights in a tent with diminishing food supplies.

The 4.5 hr voyage to Gavdos was not without interest. A high sea at the ‘Skala’ meant the ‘Samaria’ left from the Marina, causing confusion, and similarly at Sougia, necessitating a D-Day type landing on the beach. Then more placidly to reach Karave port slightly late, nearing 2pm.


Climbing steeply away from the harbour, and taking a path to Korfos bay, the scent of the pine trees was pervasive, much of the island covered by Cretan cypress, juniper and Calabrian pines.

Gavdos map board

Gavdos has a well-marked network of trails and footpaths, perhaps the best being from Korfos to Tripiti, at the far south of the island, where I would camp for the night. But a sad sight met my arrival, the beached wreck of a boat which had brought 151 immigrants ashore in April 2015, refugees from Syria, Somalia, Egypt, Sudan, Iraq and Eritrea, including 40 unaccompanied children. Happily all survived, and 6 Egyptian trafficers were arrested.

Later, wooden debris made a fine fire on the beach as darkness fell. Next morning, a climb to the huge wooden chair high above the three-arched promontory, which marks Europe’s most southerly point, and off on a track along and high above the rugged west coast to Vatsiana.

Tripiti cliffs

 

I anticipated a stop at Vatsiana’s small ‘kafenion’, but found it closed ; Maria waved, calling “We’re not open for summer yet, but I can make you coffee, come on in.”

Vatsiana cafe

We chatted for half an hour, Maria, originally from Athens, telling me her two children were two/thirds of the primary school roll, and despite recent developments, their house still had no main water supply. Very much dependent on summer tourism, the remainder of the year would be difficult.

The day becoming warmer, I walked into Kastri, the island’s ‘capital’, on the chance of buying more bottled water, and a bonus – a late lunch of salad and eggs (plus water) at ‘Gogos’ taverna. Then along another marked path through the pines to Ambelos, passing close to Gavdos’ high point of 364m, and through two long-abandoned settlements of Pateridon and Fragediana. The latter, I thought, would be a nice place to camp later, and so it proved.

But first to Ambelos, and the path below to the long beach of Potamos bay, deserted now but thronged with visitors in high summer.

Potamos beach

Eight km distant is the uninhabited islet of Gavdopoula. A long but rewarding day’s walk ended with the tent pitched inside the ruined walls of Fragediana, and sufficient calories on the Gaz stove to replenish the long day’s exertions.

Camp nr Kastri

Next morning, breakfast in Kastri, then a delightful easily-followed path north over to Sarakiniko, the beach totally empty except for tavernas making preparations for the coming season. And from there back to Karave, well in time to relax and enjoy cool drinks before the 45km voyage over to Agia Roumeli, and from there along the coast home.

Footnote

Gavdos measures c. 8.6km x 6km, and covers 32 sq. km. Its name originates from the Roman governor/commisioner Marcus Orbilious KLAVDOUS, and became ‘Gavdos’ during Venetian times. St Paul was blown past here in a storm in AD 64 (ref. Acts 27). During the Middle Ages some 8000 people lived here, and even in 1914 the population was 1400. Now it has dwindled to less than 50 permanent residents, although (bizarrely) the 2011 Census records 152. The Anendyk ferry runs twice-weekly from Paleochora in summer, and also from Chora Sfakia.

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It’s not the best line of poetry ever written, but ….. “Spring has sprung, the grass is ris …”,
and so, with apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson  –  “ In the spring, this month’s ‘Explore’, lightly turns to thoughts of a walk from Mahia over to Sarakina.”

Mahia

 

Allow four hours for this walk from one valley to another, Vlithias to Sarakina, reaching a high pass at 588m and possibly a higher summit at 654m, with en route some of the best views in the area.  Catch the 12.00pm bus from Paleochora to Vlithias, 7km north, and take the road marked ‘Mahia 4’, passing through the village and descending gently above the Kakodikianos river and gorge (see ‘Explore’ – Searching for a Waterfall – August 2013.)  After the bridge, the road climbs to the settlement of Xeniana, then more easily to reach the (permanently closed it seems) cafenion at Mahia.  (By car, you could park here, and make the walk circular, see footnote.)

 

Almond tree in blossom

 

Just before the cafe, and opposite the track leading down to the beautiful old stone bridge, take the concrete path leading up and out of the village, soon becoming unsurfaced.  Ignore two left forks – roads less travelled – and always keep north until at a sharp bend, the track swings to the west, with the pass you’re heading for now high above.

Road not taken

 

Wild flowers line the way, notably varieties of lupin, daisy and cistus, and the scent of almond blossom is heady.  In around an hour, and two hours from leaving the ‘bus, pass through a gate to reach the watershed, and a view down to a different valley, that of the Chondriano, which reaches the sea at Karavopetra beach.

Wild lupins

 

Follow the track easily downhill, but for the adventurous and sure-footed, there’s a recommended diversion, although it’s on rough rocky ground with no path.

Pear blossom

 

Leave the track left, and, keeping close to a wire fence, walk along then scramble over rocks to the first of two summits ; the second, higher at 654m (2145 ft) is easier to reach, and gives the best views, especially down the lower Kakodikianos valley to Paleochora, far below.  To the west is the distinctive peak of Kastri, 819m, best climbed from Stavros (see ‘Explore’ – Sept  2015).

 

Summit, 654m

 

Continue down the ridge, then re-join the track at a prominent bend.  If you’ve omitted the summits, it’s worth making the 5-minute climb from here to the ridge, the view is spectacular.

Easy walking now, soon with Kefali hamlet below, and Sarakina beyond.

 

Kefali

 

Keep right below the second of two stock gates, the track wending into and out of a small valley, through another gate, then reaching little Kefali.  After another kilometre, passing the local olive press, join the “main” road, and turn left into Sarakina, and up the steps into the cafenion.

Sarakina cafe

 

With forethought, you’ll have arranged for a taxi from Paleochora (14 km away) to meet you here (book at Psarakis – 28230-41128 or Sergentanis – 28230-41368) but allow time to relax with a drink after what (in my opinion at least) is one of our finest local walks.

Footnote :
To make this walk circular, take the road north out of Sarakina, through Hondros, and after 4km fork right, then rise a further 2km into Grigoriana.  A track out of the village, always uphill, crosses the ridge at 628m, then winds down to meet the road just 500m from your car at Mahia.

This walk is covered by the revised Anavasi 1:30 000 map Crete 11.13, available locally, though incongruously Grigoriana is not marked on an otherwise accurate sheet.

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