Olympos on the northwest of Karpathos, built on mountain slopes at an altitude of 310m…a village surrounded by clouds, a step back in time and an absolute must if you visit the island. Here are 5 reasons why you should bother!
1. It is the most traditional place in Karpathos
Pigadia or Karpathos town, the capital and main port of Karpathos, unlike the capital, port or “Chora” of most greek islands, is everything but traditional. Therefore, in order to get some authentic feeling and color of the island, its history and culture, you will need to visit more remote areas. Olympos was first established in the 7th century A.D (ruins of the ancient city are still standing there), when residents of the coast left their place, as they were threatened by Saracen pirates. Till the 80’s Olympos had no electricity, whereas asphalt road between the settlement and Pigadia was only completed in 2013. Their only connection to the world had been the small port of Diafani (pretty isolated itself as well) and even nowadays access to other areas remains somewhat challenging and infrequent. As a result of the isolation, the village was untouched by development and kept its architectural style, customs and traditions almost intact. Its inhabitants are still using a own dialect, whereas women over 40 all dress in folklore costumes in everyday life. During the last years, touristic development has spoilt a bit the character and authenticity of Olympos (ladies for example wear their traditional outfit but with very poor and broken Italian, stand in front of their stores and “grab” tourists). The same applies to some restaurants and cafes but with some positive energy you can focus on the medieval vibes of the place and the beauty it offers.
2. For its churches, chapels, windmills and narrow alleys
3. It offers incredible views
You can enjoy magnificent panoramic views of the village itself and its surroundings, as you approach it, as well as from the bell tower of the church of Panagia, from the blue-white chapel or the windmill at the top of the village. The valley on the east and the mountains offer an amazing scenery and the view of the Sea of Crete on the west (there is a steep, dirt road snaking down to a beautiful, quiet, wild beach that can be visited on foot or with a motorbike but depending on the direction of the wind can be littered with plastic waste) will take your breath away. And since you cannot find many tiny villages in the world with both sunrise and sunset viewpoints, try to schedule an overnight stay.
4. For its festivals and festivities, its traditional Karpathian food and products
When they celebrate the Assumption of Mary, on the 15th of August, women of Olympos wear a colorful costume and special jewellery, men play music and there is traditional dancing at the main square, in front of the church of Panagia. The village is overcrowded with Karpathians and tourists from Greece and abroad. Special festivities and peculiar customs you can also witness around Easter, the epitaph for example is decorated not only with flowers but also with photos of locals who passed away in the respective year.
You should taste some local dishes, like macarounes (very similar to the Austrian Spätzle), lamb stuffed with rice, skordopsomo (bread with onion), armotyri (very salty cheese) and several pies. Fruits and vegetables are usually from their own gardens, meat from their own animals and pasta, pastries and bread all homemade. There is also traditional clothing, leather and textiles and other products on display in the shops you will come across, in case you would like to buy a souvenir and further support the local community. I had lunch at a cute place (cretan “kafeneio”) on a tiny street just in front of a chapel and bought a traditional head scarf, which I appreciated a lot under the strong sun and whenever it was getting windy.
5. For the amazing landscapes you will find on your way to Olympos (and how to get there)
Olympos is 3km from the port and fishing village of Diafani, which you can access daily (during the summer months) by boat from Pigadia. The day trip (including bus transfer to Olympos) costs 20-25 Euros. It takes around 1.5h to reach Diafani and then another 15-20min to drive to Olympos. It allows you a 3-3.5h stay at Olympos and another 1.5h at Diafani for a swim. The boat goes along the east coast of Karpathos and one part of the route (from Pigadia to Kyra Panagia or even further) is super close to the coast. The landscape, forests, rocks and caves, the green and blue water and the reflections make this cruise unforgettable (the photos below were taken without any zoom).
There is a public bus from Pigadia to Olympos scheduled 4 times per week in high season (8 Euros one way including usually one hour stop at Diafani) but it is in general unreliable (it only operates when there are more than 10 passengers, which you only find out a minute before the departure time or it can get cancelled without prior warning for obscure reasons). The 60km drive is however is very rewarding, as you pass other traditional settlements and a scenery of green valleys and cliffs. Renting a car or a motorbike is an option but keep in mind that parts of the road are narrow, over steep cliffs just over the sea or among rocky mountains and that winds in that area are common and quite strong.
No matter how you choose to get there, I recommend a 2-3 days minimum stay in Olympos and/or Diafani, which will give you the chance to see the sunrise and the sunset from Olympos, to interact with the locals, swim in wild, secluded beaches, which you can access on foot or by boat (there are daily cruises from the port of Diafani) or visit the amazing island of Saria. There is definitely much to do in the remote and virgin northern part of Karpathos, which I personally liked way more than the South that is more touristic and crowded.