If you were asked where the southernmost part of Europe was, would you say Spain, or Italy or Greece? The more geographically informed of you might say Gibraltar, Sicily, or Crete. One of you would certainly answer the Canary Islands. And some bright spark would argue that it was the Falkland Islands because they’re part of Britain, and Britain’s in Europe isn’t it? Well Crete is nearly right, but there’s an island off the south coast of Crete that is the southernmost part of Europe.
The island of Gavdos lies in the Libyan Sea, 48 kilometres south of Hora Sfakion, a small coastal town in the Sfakia region, the wild west of Crete. You can get to Gavdos by a ferry from Hora Sfakion, which takes two hours, though guide books warn somewhat dramatically that you can sometimes be marooned on the island as sailings can be cancelled due to bad weather so you need to come prepared.
The island is roughly triangular in shape, it is 33 square km in area (about the size of Hastings or Worthing), and the highest point is Mount Vardia, 345m.
Fewer than 50 people live permanently on the island in small villages and hamlets, but in the summer the numbers can swell to several thousand, almost all of whom arrive by ferry at the harbour in Karave. There are no hotels, and not that many apartments or rooms to rent. Many of the summer visitors sleep in tents on the beaches or under the trees. There is some agriculture but tourism is the economic mainstay of the island. The rocky landscape of Gavdos is covered by low-lying shrubs but there are some pine and juniper forests, and it is an important stop for migrating birds. More information is given in this Wikipedia entry.
The attraction to tourists apart from the sun and several good beaches, is its remoteness, lack of commercial development, and the hippie-like laid back pace of life. This article gives you a good idea of why some see the island as the last paradise in Europe.
Obscure bits of history of the island include Gavdos being known as Gondzo during the Ottoman Empire’s reign over the island, which lasted from 1665 until 1895. A reference to Saracens (a medieval term for Muslims) survives in the name of Sarakiniko beach. There is a modern non-functioning reproduction lighthouse tower on the south coast of Gavdos which now serves as a cafe and a museum about the original lighthouse that was destroyed in the Second World War. And in 2002, the leader of the extremist Marxist group November 17, was arrested on the island where he had been living openly for several years as a beekeeper. Finally, there is an islet to the north-west of Gavdos, Gavdopoula (‘little’ Gavdos) where in 1998 it was proposed to build a major trans-shipment port for container ships and which would require the island to be levelled. Conservationists campaigned successfully to block the development and Gavdopoula is now a protected nature reserve.
The southernmost point on the island, and hence the southernmost point in Europe is Cape Tripiti, in the south-east of the island. From here it is about 260km to Tobruk in Libya, across the main shipping lanes of the Mediterranean and the Libyan Sea.
But why are the Canary Islands not the southernmost part of Europe? The clever answer is that although the Canary Islands politically belong to Spain, they are geologically part of the African tectonic plate, and hence part of Africa. Gavdos is within the Aegean Sea tectonic plate, which forms part of south-eastern Europe, although the junction with the African plate is only just to the south of the island. So there you are.