The Dodecanese Islands are different from their siblings in the rest of the Aegean. Wild natural beauty combines with a slightly lower tourist burden to create a unique vacation environment. Carpathos or Karpathos is the queen of these lesser-known islands, preserving rich traditions and enjoying an environment which is rough and wild in the north, and tamed and beautiful in the south.
While part of the Dodecanese, Carpathos and its little sisters, Kassos, and mysterious Saria are set apart both in distance and in spirit, and occupy almost a world of their own.
Lawrence Durrell once wrote that Karpathos was an ideal hideaway. He was right: once the jagged coast provided cover for pirates, and some say that Carpathos's name derives from the word arpakatos, for "robbery".
The so-called "Light of Greece", loved by artists and immortalized by poets, is strong here, drenching the island and shadowing the sharp mountains. High above, the local Olymbos clings fiercely to its traditions, enjoying fame for its long, elaborate wedding ceremonies, the traditional costume still worn daily by the women, and its many religious festivals. The Olymbitic dialect still retains many ancient Doric words, a treat for linguists though it won't be noticed by most of the tourists who visit. Diafani shows traces of a Minoan settlement and Hellenistic-era public baths.
With so much living tradition on the island, Carpathos' music is particularly vivid and haunting, and will ring in the ears long after the visitor has traveled to some sunny crowded island elsewhere in the Aegean.
Here, musicians are respected community leaders. Since the island has often been isolated, they often have the skills to make their own instruments as well.
On Carpathos, the windmills still put in a full day's labor, and don't have the luxury of being merely decorative like their famous Mykonian counterparts.
The mountainous tracks of Carpathos are ideal for hiking, and several suggested treks can be followed by the interested visitor.
But Carpathos has as many beautiful beaches as it does rugged mountains. Generally, Carpathos beaches are uncrowded, perfect crescents of sand against vivid blue water which will provide a nice break from hiking or sightseeing.
Arkasa in recent years has become a tourist complex with hotels and services. One of these is the Arkesia Hotel, featuring an interpretation of the traditional architecture, complete with decorative windmills.
The Dodecanese is a popular area for yachting. If you are sailing to Carpathos, you will probably dock in the busy port of Pigadia in the southern part of the island. Some cruise lines with smaller ships also make it a port stop, such as Greece-based Variety Cruises. While this brings some visitors to the islands for day trips, it doesn't have the impact of the 'big-box' ships that favor Mykonos, Santorini and other islands.
In 2009, the northern part of Carpathos was declared a protected ecological area, so hopefully the many rare plants and animals on Carpathos will enjoy greater protection.
Like many Greek islands and regions, native sons and daughters return to Carpathos even after many years away, and rarely lose their love for this island that is harsh and beautiful by turn.
Expat Carpathians in the U.S. meet annually to remember the home island far away.
You'll remember Carpathos, too.
How to Get to Carpathos:
Although rugged, Carpathos has an airport in the south of the island. It's IATA code is AOK and is also known by its ICAO call letters: LGKP. If you are booking on-line or looking for direct flights, the AOK abbreviation is the one you will want to use. Remember it may be listed under the alternate island name spelling of Karpathos on some airline sites. During summer, there are daily flights from Athens and Rhodes.
Karpathos can also be reached by boat directly from Piraeus, and there are boats from Rhodes as well.
Here are some local links to help you plan your Karpathian interlude:
Brief but well-intentioned page. Their insider advice? Don't book a hotel - arrive and find -or, more likely, be met by room hawkers as you dock - a place you like.
Virtually visit the heart of Karpathos, the agricultural village of Avlona. Here's a real working windmill.
Towns - Olymbos and Diafani Village Homepage
Detailed, pleasant pages focusing on these two Karpathian villages, plus lots of extra information on Karpathos in general.
Check out the rest of the Dodecanese islands with my list for the island group.
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