Where families meet

Barry Hankey

Nisyros - a personal homage

My wife Enfys (a Welsh name pronounced 'Envis') and I first visited Nisyros in 2001 on a day trip on the catamaran Sea Star from Tilos. We arrived and jumped on a 'volcano bus' which ground its way up the tortuous mountain road to the rim of the caldera and then down to the crater for the standard tourist package. Both the volcano and the journey there were very impressive. At the end of the allocated time we were whisked back to Mandraki where we bought a tourist guide and headed off on foot up to the Paleocastro. Amazing place! In the few hours we were on the island we took two 36-exposure rolls of film.

We went back to the Dodecanese in 2002 and this time included a two-day stay on Nisyros. In fact we have included Nisyros in our Dodecanese itinerary every year since, some years, including 2006, visiting twice. In 2006 we visited in June and again in September, staying for nearly 3 weeks in all.

What is it which draws us back to Nisyros time after time?

We like small, quiet, as-near-as-possible-unspoilt islands which have not given in to commercialisation. As a rule of thumb that means islands which do not have their own airport but rely on ferry service from larger islands. Nisyros relies on ferries from nearby Kos and on ferries from Rhodes either direct or via Symi or Tilos. Sometimes the ferries let you down. In 2004 our stay was extended by 2 days because the ferry could not pull into harbour as the sea was so rough it was rolling over the end of the harbour wall. In 2006 our stay was extended by 3 days because the ferry was pulled out of service for a week to have its MoT (safety) tests carried out. But hey! that's all part of the Greek island experience. On the extra 3 days in 2006 we went to 3 new places and did 3 new things. And took a lot more photographs.

Which is another reason we like Nisyros. It is so amazingly varied it almost defies description. We like walking and by judicious use of the islands free bus service we have now walked around most parts of it.

It has a large hole in the middle which is the caldera of a still smouldering volcano with a crater at one end so large that from its rim the people walking around on the floor look like ants and from the mountains of the caldera rim above are invisible except through binoculars.

Around the coast the scenery varies from outcropping lava flows and dramatic Pembrokeshire/Cornwall (UK) style cliffs, to long shingle beaches, to pumice cliffs undercut by caves. The sunsets from Mandraki are stunning, attracting boat-loads of evening visitors from Kos. Inland there are mountains up to 700 metres and hidden 'valleys' which are in fact small, high level volcanic crater floors.

And everywhere there are remains of ancient communities. The Paleocastro above Mandraki is known to date back to 1500 BC, some say it is considerably older. Certainly it is of an age with the world famous ancient Mycenae in the Peloponissos where you buy a ticket to wander around with 30,000 schoolchildren from all over Greece (I made the figure up but it's mega lots of kids). Everywhere there are ancient houses built underneath the terraced fields of the mountainsides. The village of Emborios perched on the rim of the caldera has a natural sauna in the cliff at the side of the road and houses with under-floor heating from the volcano. There are houses built into the caves in the mountainside with tiny chapels hidden inside to escape detection by the Ottomans who occupied this part of Greece for nearly a Millennium. I could rabbit on for hours. If this is the sort of stuff you like finding, Nisyros has it in bucketloads.

There is far more to see than we ever thought on our first high speed fly-past in 2001. In September 2006 we revisited some familiar much-loved places and followed some familiar paths. But in 10 days we went to at least 5 new places and areas of the island never visited before. There is just so much to see. I bomb around manically with my camera and then stop for ages to get the right angle or the right position for a shot. Or wait an hour to get the dragonfly on the right plant with the right blurry background and then for it to stop waving about in the breeze so that I can focus properly. You can see the results on the Nisyros page of my web site. Enfys wanders along a lot more coolly and sits under a tree watching the bird life through binoculars - it's amazing how many species she sees.

Despite the pointless destruction of at least one good kalderimi there is still a network of old pathways which link up the ancient settlements and which offer great opportunities to explore and which the island council is now actively repairing. The path up to the monastery just below the peak of the highest mountain, Oros Diavatis, is a classic. You've got to climb it yourself to appreciate it.

Will the island stay unspoilt? I reckon so. Lack of an airport and a not always reliable ferry service puts off the big travel companies, including those which specialise in small, unspoilt islands. The island has industrial wealth in the form of the 'pumice island' of Yialli which is extensively quarried and brings in an income which gives the islanders a good level of services and facilities for its size, freeing it from the need to squeeze every last drop of blood from the tourist industry. And Nisyros is not over-endowed with sandy beaches. So a very positive prognosis.

Will we go back? God willing, most definitely.