Olympos on Karpathos

Olympos (or Olimbos, as the Greek spell it) is an isolated village in northern Karpathos. The village was founded more than a thousand years ago when pillaging pirates drove the inhabitants up into the remote mountains.

Until a (relatively) few years ago it was one of the most isolated communities in Greece. Even the language differed from Greek. Many men left to earn money, and the women had to run the show at home. The small community became matriarchal.

From Pigadia to Diafani

Windmill in Olympos

The tour boat leaves from Pigadia at 9, Friday September 21st 2007.

Being lazy we have booked through the travel agency. We could have saved 2 x 9 if we had bought the tickets ourselves on the harbour. Then we would have had to do without the young Swedish guide, but we don't listen to her anyway.

It is one and a half hours brisk sail to the small port town of Diafani. The sea is calm. The sky is clear above the sea, but clouds shroud the mountains along the coastline. Here and there you see houses and a small village, but most of this rugged shore looks uninhabited.

We enter a bus in Diafani. It deserves retirement, and some of the seats cannot keep an upright position. Soon we go through hairpin bends high in the mountains, and I silently pray that the breaks are in a better condition than the seats. You see many beehives in the landscape.

Clouds shroud the mountains on Karpathos' east coast Olympos on Karpathos
Click to enlarge


After some 20 minutes we arrive to Olympos. The village clings to a mountain slope, and the neighbouring mountain peaks are dramatically shrouded in clouds.

The houses are picturesque and the narrow streets crooked with many stairs. Women in folk costumes sell homemade souvenirs: scarves, lace cloths, olive soap, spices, thyme honey, ceramics and bric-a-brac. Tourists are an important source of income.

It is a bit of a paradox: in one of the supposedly best-preserved and authentic villages in Greece some streets are gauntlets of souvenir shops.


The blond Swedish guide climbs a rock and gives a lecture. We have difficulties hearing her, and what we do hear is difficult to understand. Why can't the Swedes just speak English?

The tavern where we had lunch.  

We detach ourselves from the company and walk on our own. The stomach growls and guides us to a small tavern with a formidable view over the sea and the rocky shoreline to the south. Two local men are having coffee.

The young girl behind the counter speaks excellent English. Soon she is preparing two delicious omelettes with crisp onions, tomatoes and green pepper. With this we have a glass of cold white wine and a Greek salad. The tomatoes are fabulously tasty.

Outside papa with frizzy, grey hair starts to fish for guests, but hasn't much luck. The toilet has a seat. It may be because the women rule this town, but I cannot say for sure. The bill is 21 .

Church in Olympos. From Olympos. Woman in Greek folk costume.. House and sea view in Olympos.

We walk the steep and crooked streets. The houses and the windmills are picturesque, and the views are stunning. Fortunately it isn't hot. We were a bit apprehensive about having to walk about under the midday sun, but there is a haze and a cooling breeze from the sea.

Helle wants to be a sustainable tourist and buys some olive soap and a jar of thyme honey. Further down the street she is trapped by a saleswoman. She drapes Helle's head in a scarf Greek style, and after this intimacy Helle just has to buy.

Near the bus stop an elderly woman serves Greek coffee. She wears a black folk costume and has an impressive moustache. Two cats have found shadow under a table.

Back to Diafani and Pigadia

The bus leaves at 2 p.m. The guide gets off some kilometres before Diafani. Those who want can follow her on a hike through a ravine. Only six follow her while the rest remain prudently seated. It is now 14:15 and 50 minutes walk in the sweltering heat is either madness or a military exercise.

The bus stops by the harbour, and we stop by the nearest tavern. A terrace with shadow and sea view, Greek coffee on the table and later a glass of cold retsina. Who could ask for more? The small town Diafani seems to be a very peaceful place. Some swim in the harbour's crystal clear water.

The ship sets course for Pigadia at 4. There is a brisk wind now and it is a refreshing return trip.