If you climb up any of the southern peaks of the White Mountains of Crete, on a clear day, you will see the island of Gavdos lying flat on the horizon amidst the Libyan Sea.
Gavdos is the southernmost tip of Greece and consequently of Europe. It is a low, sandy island wooded with pine trees and cedars. Of its 5 old villages 3 are still inhabited. Two new settlements grew in recent years. The first at the port, the Karave, and the second at the bay of Sarakiniko. Altogether the inhabitants of Gavdos today do not exceed 40 people. In the summer there is an influx of racksacks tourists, mostly germans and austrians, who freelance camp at the Sarakiniko bay.
The word you hear most on the island is the word "destruction", or "Zerstoerung" in german, or "anaptixi" in greek. Ironically, the greek word means "developement", but for the Gavdiotes, "anaptixi" was the irrevesible abandoning of traditional peasant life, and the building of numerous illegal dwellings such as tavernas and rooms to let, at the island's most beatiful areas, promoting the destruction of the delicate ecosystem, and of the archeological remains.
The Gavdiotes claim that their island was the Isle of Kalypso, where according to Homer Ulysses stayed for 7 years. Many scolars disagree with the Gavdiotes, but they insist, pointing out some dunes at the north of the island under where they claim the cave and the palace of Kalypso were buried, after a severe storm hit the island at the end of last century.
The island had a roman era city, traces of which are still to be seen at the north west of the island. The ancient city was succeded by a byzantine town, which was situated on the hill of Agios Ioannis at the north of the island. The byzantine town must have been of a considerable size, since it had 8000 inhabitants, and even its own archbishop. In later times the island should have been desolated and the nest of pirates. The names of two bays on the island, that carry the name of Sarakiniko and Sarakinou, is all what reaches us today from this dark period of history.
My favourite routes on Gavdos:
Walk 1.: Starting from Karave, take the road to Agios Georgios Bay. Then, walk up the valey and the path that emerges near the Vatsiana village, Europe's southernmost. Then head to the south of the village. The trail will lead you to the southern most tip of Gavdos, where there are 3 sea caves, and a long beach.
Walk 2.: Take the road from Karave to Kastri village. The road passes through pine tree forest, and some fields. Continue on the road and at fork you will soon encounter, take the turn to the left, which will led you to Vatsiana, passing you from an abandoned village. The road to the right of the fork will eventually lead you to Ambelos village, passing you next to another abandoned ruined hamlet, as well as next to a light house, which stands ruined on the island's highest point (360m). The light house is reputed to be the world's second highest in altitude and was built in the second half of the 18th century. It was bombed along with the other light houses at the south of Crete, during World War II.
From Ambelos, there is a path, that leads to Agios Ioanis hill and beach. From there on, you can walk trail less along the shore to finally reach Sarakiniko. At the bay's northwest tip, there is a "ikonostasi' marking the place where according to the tradition, Saint Paul's ship was wreched during his journey from Jerusalem to Rome. To the south you will see the stone houses built by the pre World War II greek junta political exiles, which are today converted into "rooms to let".
Sarakiniko is connected by road to Karave.
This walk can be done at your leisure in one day. If it is a summer day take all the water you will need with you. Sun protection is also nessessary, while bathing suits are to be avoided in the nudist beaches you will encounter.
Κελαιδης Π.: Αρχαιες Πολεις στα Σφακια
Μπικογιαννακης Εμμ. Γαυδος το Νησι της Καλυψως, 1981.
Σπανακης Στ.: Κρητη, Β' τομ., σελ.131-133
Spratt Τ.Α.Β.: Travels and Researches in Crete, 1865, vol.2, p.274