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.

Share This:

The mountain village of Koustoyerako, high above and 10 km north-east of Sougia, has a long and proud history of resistance to foreign occupation, and so was destroyed by the Venetians, Turks, and most recently (in 1943) by the Germans.

Koustoyerako

The wild and forested area above, fringing the White Mountains, was a stronghold for Cretan fighters, assisted by Allied survivors of the Battle of Crete (1941).  A radio station, constantly moved, linked Crete with the outside world, but the supply route for equipment and ammunition, although sometimes by parachute drop, was more often across the Mediterranean Sea, from Egypt (Alexandria) to the south coast of Crete.

The ‘rendez-vous’ was initially at Tripiti, east of Sougia, at the foot of the gorge, but after a German post was established there, it moved 3 km west to the tiny inlet of Kaloyeros, more of which later.  From here a steep-sided ravine, Keratidias, often referred to as the Ochra Gorge, rises 725m through crags and pine forest to emerge above Koustoyerako.

The descent of the gorge to Kaloyeros, then a walk along the E4 path to Sougia, makes a memorable if demanding day out.  It’s 9 km, and a climb of 510m from Sougia to Koustoyerako, and with no bus service, two taxi firms will take you there (mobile 6977745160 & 6972370480).

Leave the taxi, or park at the memorial as you enter the village ; this commemorates the destruction of Koustoyerako, Livadas and Moni in October 1943 following a momentous incident in the village.

Memorial

On 25th September German troops surrounded Koustoyerako following an arms drop the previous week.  “Finding no men, the German patrol lined the women and children up in the square and demanded to know where they were hiding. Infuriated by the women’s silence they set up a machine gun for an execution.  The menfolk, notably Costas Paterakis, had in fact crept on to a bluff above the village, their rifles trained on the German firing party. At a range of 400 yards, Paterakis’ shot felled the machine gunner, and a fusillade from fellow villagers brought down several others.  The surviving Germans fled.” *   Reaction next week was swift ….

Walk on into the village ‘platea’ where there are several memorial plaques, and a fearsome looking statue of Giorgos Kandanoleon, leader of a doomed and unsuccessful revolt against the Venetians in the mid-16th century.

Take the road (east) out of the village, which climbs steadily to swing south and reach a distinctive concrete water cistern, which marks the start of the route down the Keratidias Gorge to the sea.  Keep initially left of a wire fence, then find the best way through and between boulders and pine trees, always downhill.  There’s no waymarking, but if things become steeper or more difficult, keep well to the left against the gorge wall, especially through oleander bushes lower down.

Keratidias gorge

Eventually (c. 1.5 hrs) you’ll meet the E4 coast path, slightly inland here.  Turn right for Sougia directly, but a 15-minute diversion to the caves/coast at Kaloyeros is recommended.  Walk a short distance east, then take a narrow path, past a threshing circle, and scramble down over rocks to the shoreline.

Gorge exit

Here is a small inlet where a launch would arrive from Egypt, under cover of darkness, guided in by torch signals.  Supplies of clothing, food and ammunition were stored in  two caves, at the rear of which was a passage/tunnel directly inland (though I’ve failed to find this.)  Sitting under blue skies beside a calm sea, it’s hard to imagine events here during those terrible times in Crete.

 

Return to the main path, passing  the exit of the Keratidias Gorge, and climb a steep ‘kalerimi’ to reach a col/saddle.  Descending, a path (blue/white marking) leaves the E4, climbing NW to the “Cyclops Cave” (see ‘Explore’ – March 2011.)

View East on E4

The way ahead towards Sougia is obvious, the route contouring high above the coast with splendid views in both directions.  A slight rise leads to a wide track, where you keep left, with Sougia now below you.

View to Sougia

Two easily-missable ‘short-cuts’ will save a few minutes, otherwise stay on the track, which will eventually take you across the riverbed into the village.

*    Extract from ‘Crete : the Battle and the Resistance’  – Antony Beevor

More about Koustoyerako and Kaloyeros can be found in the fascinating story :
“Vasili ; the Lion of Crete”  (Murray Elliott)   Both books available in “To Delfini”

Share This: