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Visiting Kassos, Greece

Living on a Greek Island

What It's Like with No Tourists

Neither of us had lived on an island before, so when my husband and I decided to relocate to Greece we had to convince friends and family we hadn’t lost our minds. We knew Greece only from summer vacations, when the day’s major decision was whether to swim in the hotel pool or the sea.

Our move was well planned. We studied modern Greek in evening classes and considered a number of island possibilities, checklist in hand. We looked for an island with adequate water, trees, some paved roads, a hospital or clinic, a bus system, shops open in winter, and an airport. Most islands we visited over a 4-year period lacked either the water supply or trees.

When the Olympic Airways 18-seater brought us to the island of Karpathos we knew it was the right island for us. It just felt comfortable. We looked at a number of houses, from new to crumbling, and decided on a 200-year-old farmhouse in a remote mountain village. We wanted to buy the house but thought we needed an outside opinion.

My husband traveled back to Karpathos with a building inspector who checked the stability of the house, its foundation, the state of the roof. He declared it a steal and we bought it.

Facing the Elements

When we moved here in fall 1999, the wind was our first shock. It comes at you like a train out of control. Laundry flies off the line and protective plastic flies off the windows. You have to duck your head just to walk. We often get seven or eight on the Beaufort scale and have experienced gale-force 9- and 10-level winds. The electricity can go out for hours, forcing us to take a break from our work as freelance writers.

Trees on our island bend toward the south, a reminder of the raw power of the wind as it sweeps across the Aegean. Not only do you battle the wind but the sun. It was hard for us to comprehend that sun protection would be necessary almost every day of the year.

Island Life

The relatively small number of tourists who have discovered our 302-square-kilometer island come in July and August, when sunshine averages 12.5 hours per day. By October, the charter flights have ended, marking the unofficial end of the season. Shops close their doors and restaurants roll down their awnings. Many hotels close until Easter.

It’s not that the 7,000 inhabitants wouldn’t welcome more outsiders. After all, the Greek word xeni means both “foreigner” and “guest.” It’s just that tourists seem to prefer to follow the crowds to larger islands to play in the sun. Karpathos, some 250 sea miles from Athens, is barely on most maps.

Day-to-day life on Karpathos is unrushed. . You can get a glimpse of it from the bus as it maneuvers the sharp turns of the narrow roadways. You’ll see cats napping as they wait at the harbor for the fishing boats to offer up the day’s catch. Olive groves soon give way to patches of orange and lemon trees. The smell of wild sage and thyme fills the air.

There are few cars. Most of the cubed whitewashed houses nestled in the mountainous terrain are accessible only via stepped pathways. The only noise is the barking of a dog or the bleating of a sheep.

Indeed, most of our neighbors are goats. They scamper across our metal roof, sounding like claps of thunder. Startling at first, this is another local sound we now embrace. It is a routine part of our island life.

Finding Greek Island Properties

Few of the smaller islands have real estate agents, so you must be ready to hoof it village to village if you’re searching for a place to live. When time is limited, there is no need to be shy. Ask around. It helps that Greeks love to chat.


Roberta Beach Jacobson lives on the Greek island of Karpathos, surrounded by goats and cats.

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