Karpathos: Get in quick before it goes
"Should I be telling you this?"
I don't know why Karpathos is so relatively unspoilt, but I am glad it is. In desperate need of a break, I fled there for a week. Although it has basic tourism infrastructure, it seems much less exploited than, for example, Crete. Some pockets, such as Olympos (also Olymbos) have only recently come into contact with the outside world, so you can get a much more realistic view of what Grecian islands were like before the tourist invasion.
That said, the airport can now take jets, so the tourist numbers are picking up. A local restaurant proprietor said Nordic charter companies are not promoting Karpathos as much as they could because it is so easy for people to organise things themselves rather than doing everything through the companies (which Swedes at least tend to like). That comment seemed to be right, because it was easy to get around and do what you like. Nonetheless, tourism to Karpathos is expected to pick up markedly in coming years, largely because of its unspoilt nature. For example, an entrepreneur is building a hotel (the first) in Olympos. Ironic, but that's life in tourism, I guess.
"Pigadia: the capital"
Pigadia is the largest town on Karpathos, with about 1000 permanent inhabitants. This can swell to 10,000 during tourist season. Set on a natural harbour, with mountains swelling across the water, it has a picturesque waterfront lined by the (now-) traditional cafés, tavernas and restaurants.
The beach is nothing to speak of: small and crowded, but the water is good. At the end of June-start of July, the notorious Karpathian wind ripped in viciously: good for windsurfers but bad for bathers on a sandy beach.
There is a small beach just east of the harbour, near the town centre; don't swim there. There is a sewage outlet not far away. The smell will probably let you know.
The taxi base is close to the main seafront strip. It will cost you €15 to get to the airport. The bus station is about 700m north of the taxi station, along the second street back from the seafront. Much cheaper for getting around, but won't take you to the airport.
"Olympos: going back in time"
All the literature and guides will tell you that the inhabitants of Karpathos withdrew into the mountains to avoid the pirates that plagued the shores in the middle ages, hence the village of Olympos. It is a striking location, set high in the mountains and originally clinging to the protected inner valley. It has grown a little since then, and some buildings look out to the sea. But this is not a beach resort.
Guides and locals say someone should do a sociological study of Olympos, mainly because it has maintained its traditions while much of the rest of Greece has not. The most obvious case here is gender politics. There is a strong matriarchal power structure, in which the eldest daughter inherits the family's property and the mother's surname. This is seen as wildly radical in a country that has such a strong patriarchal society. But Karpathians are proud of Olympos, ostensibly because it shows their ancient culture, but possibly because they realise it is just the formalisation of the reality, in which men pretend to rule the household while the women do everything and let the men pretend. But that is just me talking.
Many of the women wear traditional costume, which I am assured is not just for the tourists. I did see women clad traditionally catching the bus to Deifini to buy fish, so that seems to be right. The postcards you see showing traditional dress invariably depict Olympian women.
The men seemed all to wear brown pants, and several had moustaches. So that may be traditional too.
The medieval Church of the Virgin Mary is worth a look. Alas, the centuries-old frescoes have been damaged by water and soot, but the iconostasis is still wonderful.
Several people recommended staying over in Olympos, to see the real village once the tourists have left. I didn't get to do so, but would like to. There are few who overnight here, so those who do are supposed to experience real Olympian hospitality.