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KARPATHOS is perhaps the worst-kept secret in the Aegean.

A spectacular island, the second largest in the Dodecanese, behind Rhodes, Karpathos has rich rewards for those who endure the long ferry trip from Pireaus, or the difficulty of finding a seat on the small planes that service the regular daily flights from Athens.

Karpathos has spent its history in relative isolation. It sent ships to the Trojan War, and was an ally of Athens in the 5th century BC, and, later, an important Roman and Venetian naval station. Otherwise, its history is one of relative calm and isolation, with its people in a constant battle to carve a living out of the mountainous terrain of this sliver of land that lies in the southeastern corner of the Aegean. The hard life of the island led many of its sons and daughters to the maritime shipping business and, more recently, to the lands of oppportunity in the New Worlds that emerged in the 19th century. There are thriving Karpathian communities today in the US, Canada and Australia, where many of the locals ended up, looking for a better life. The bond with the old country, though, is extremely strong for Karpathians. Many of them have returned to the island, and have opened businesses here, mainly catering to the tourism industry. You have the feeling that most hotels and restaurants are owned by returning immigrants, and English seems to be the prevailing tongue in many of them. The island's charms include the landscapes, the villages and the beaches. Basically a mountain range jutting out from the sea, Karpathos offers spectacular views of the Aegean from anywhere on the road that connects Pigadia, the capital, in the south, and Diafani, the secondary harbor, in the north. The island's villages are picturesque and traditional, with wonderful architecture and charming little, narrow streets running through them. Although Spoa, Mesochori and Pigadia are beautiful, unspoilt Aegean settlements in their own right, Olympos, in the north, is an absolute must-see and one of the most spectacular sights of the Aegean. The working windmills, the brightly-colored houses, the cliff-hanging restaurants and the unique food served here make Olympos an absolute delight. Uniquely in Greece, the women of Olympos still dress in traditional garb daily, providing a charming, living exhibition of traditional village life that does not exist anymore anywhere else in the country.

The beaches are mostly empty or almost empty, many of them sandy, and all of them offer crystal clear waters and deep blue Aegean skies. From the busy resort area of Amoopi ("Sand Hole"), near Pigadia, to the delight that is Apella beach (recently voted the best beach in the Mediterranean), the island features spectacular swimming and diving.

 

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