Gavdos Island is located 50 kilometres south of Crete. Libya is just over 200 kilometres away and the Libyan Sea continues to the horizon. The tectonic plates of Africa and Europe meet just south of Gavdos. The isolated island has its own and peculiar history. Gavdos has always belonged firmly to Greece and Europe resisting the African influence. In 300 BC a friendship pact was signed with Gortys, the capitol of Crete at that time. There are two seaways to Gavdos, and in emergency cases also a helicopter is available.
On a boat trip to Gavdos from Crete your thoughts wander to the African continent as the ship closes on its destiny leaving a good two hundred kilometres between the island and the continent. In Gavdos you enter not only a unique and local culture of the island, but also to the subtropical climate and atmosphere.
Panorama photo to the north. Background the Crete island and its mountains.
Arrival into Gavdos
… Just fewer than one hundred passengers have been taken in less than two hours from Chora Sfakionis to Gavdos, which rises slowly up from the fuzzy horizon. The sound and the smell of the diesel engines fill the vessel, all the hatches and doors are opened and the hot air blows to your face and body all around the boat. The massive silhouette of Crete follows the boat.
… A dozen workers of the harbour are ready for the approaching boat. Descent to the hot dock area makes you wonder, whether or not you will get anywhere from there. The harbour itself is just a couple of small buildings and a tavern. It seems like all other passengers are acquainted with the harbour crew. We will discover only later, that if you ever get to Gavdos, you shall return there again and again.
We had no reservations of any kind for our visit to Gavdos. All we knew was there were a couple of taverns open in May, and lodging and rental cars should be available. The harbour is loud and action filled place, goods and people are unloaded from the ship and people are hugging each other, rejoicing reunions and organizing transportation. The only doctor and the priest of the island are also meeting the incoming passengers.
Soon a blond hair fellow asks in good English about our plans. We reply that we have no plans, but at least we need a car. He disappears for awhile, and returns with a promise of a car. All we need to do is get to a tavern a couple of kilometres away. The local minibus is full, so the man organizes his son to pick us up and take us to the tavern, for three Euros total for the two kilometer drive. In Gavdos you don’t get left alone, because Gavdos is a small world of its own, on the southernmost island of Europe.
After a few moments wait a young man approaches us. He takes us by car uphill on a poor road to a yard of a house. Communicating through an open car window our driver finds out – after a few shouted lines – that the man renting cars is elsewhere on the island. We make a quick turn and head out to the tavern. On the way the driver realizes his cell phone battery has a dead battery, so he can’t make a call to the tavern. We realize that Gavdos will be a unique experience for us; we just don’t know exactly what kind of experience.
The friendly host Giorgis holds the Panorama tavern with his wife Maria. Maria lives winter weekdays in Chania because their youngest son attends school there. During summer Maria, their older son and his girlfriend all help out at the tavern.
Giorgis is an excellent cook, diligent fisherman and builder, quick to help and upholds a nice and relaxed atmosphere at his tavern. Many visitors have made friends with him with lasting bonds.
The view from tavern is among the best on the island. The sun rising from behind Crete is a breathtaking experience.
Praise to a simple lifestyle
In Gavdos you need to put aside a bunch of things you have accustomed yourself to on earlier visits to other destinations. Three beaches, 1-2 star lodging, rocky 10 kilometer shoreline in the west and the total land area of 37 square kilometres is Gavdos in a nutshell.
… Electricity is produced from solar panels for just a few houses.
At our tavern there was a generator, which was turned on at dusk and turned off by midnight. The generator and cars were fuelled from jerry cans. We had seen a mention of a grocer shop in a brochure before the trip, but didn’t see any during our visit. But what we did find was brand new amphitheatre in the middle of the island. The roads are at places like forest roads, but in many other places paved or concrete. You may have to twist and turn around loose stones, and keep an eye on the ride height of you car in changing circumstances – with these skills the island can be explored by car in a couple of days. You should note that the boats sail different seaways in the beginning of the week than in the end, so you either stay just a couple of days on the island, or a whole week if the destination of the ships change during your visit.
If you want to get rid of being busy and in a hurry, you are well on your way in Crete, but in Gavdos you can reach that feeling completely.
The population of Gavdos is 40-50 during winter
Most of the permanent inhabitants of Gavdos Island are senior citizens. There are 7 pupils at the local primary school, and the older boys and girls attend school on Crete Island. The winter temperatures are 10-13°C at the lowest. The infrastructure in Gavdos began to develop as late as some 20 years ago, when first roads were built to replace the trails and tracks used formerly. At that time there were 48 pupils attending the local school.
The main income comes from the 14 taverns and a few lodging services on the island. Sheep herding comes second in importance, followed by fishing and wintertime construction jobs. There are a few hundred tourists visiting the island during summertime and new services are being built for tourism.
A peculiar feature is the hippie community living “hidden” on the north coast, with a maximum population of a few hundred during summertime. The inhabitants of the island aren’t too keen on them, but as they live isolated and out of sight there aren’t any particular problems caused by the existence of the hippie community.
The people in Gavdos are open and friendly, and help willingly neighbours and strangers all alike. The food at our tavern was excellent and the tsatsiki prepared by Giorgis was best tsatsiki we have ever had. The grilled fish had been caught the preceding night from the clear Libyan Sea by Giorgis himself, and excellent in taste as well.
The island of myths, Calypso and Odysseus
The uniqueness of Gavdos has resulted in many myths during its history. Odysseus had to berth to Gavdos when returning from the Trojan war, and met nymph Calypso, with whom he spent seven incredible years. The island of mythic love and happiness has also been the hideout of the legendary but non-fictional pirate Barbarossa, and Herodotus and Ptolemaist both mention Gavdos Island. According to a legend Paul also visited the island. The strange appeal of this isolated island has drawn known statesmen and celebrities for a visit.
But most of all, ordinary travellers have fallen in love with this mystic island, and returned time and a time again, some over 20 times.
A Dutch couple, both photographers, said they stayed at the only 1000 star hotel on the island, as they slept in a tent with no other roof than the Mediterranean sky filled with stars above them. It is easy to be enchanted with this island, which at first sight seems deserted, dusty and rocky, but leaves you with a longing you feel strongly as soon as you set sails from the Gavdos harbour.
The trail to the southern point of the island is well kept and sets out below Panorama tavern. The walk took about two hours back and forth, so you need to bring a lot of water with you.