Riddle: It has a volcano but it’s not Santorini
. Its nearest neighbour is long, green Kos but it doesn’t resemble it in the slightest. What is it? One of the hidden treasures of the Aegean: The small, round island of Nisyros. Well off the beaten track, it has kept a retro atmosphere but in recent years more and more people, drawn to its natural phenomena, have discovered it has other charms as well.
You, like them, will be rewarded by untouched villages, quiet spots to enjoy ouzo with mezedes, ancient walls of black volcanic stone, and the excitement of venturing into the moonscape and hiking along the rim of an active volcano.
What to do in Nisyros
Visit the volcano
You don’t get to visit a volcano every day. What’s more, this one has three craters. The locals feel so cosy with them, they’ve even baptised them: Stephanos, Alexandros and Polyvotis. Or maybe they hoped doing so would pacify them. Two eruptions, 25,000 and 15,000 years ago, gave birth to today’s caldera. As you descend into the enormous crater, you could be entering an unknown yellow-streaked, ashen planet, with bubbling pits, enormous cracks, and a powerful stench of sulphur. Only Mephistopheles is missing.
Mandraki, a cozy, homespun village
This sleepy port is just the right antidote to a hectic schedule or reassurance that you really are on an authentic Greek holiday. Sit down with the locals for a coffee in one of the town squares, or browse the alleys lined by vintage groceries and simple white houses with brightly coloured doors and windows. Take a stroll along the jetty and onto the beach, that features not sand but glistening smooth black stones.
At sunset all the landmarks – buildings, citrus groves, church domes – turn golden. At one of them, the white Panagia Spiliani above Mandraki, the celebrations honouring the Virgin in mid-August go on for nine days. Visitors from all the surrounding islands join the locals in rites that go back centuries.
‘I’ll meet you at the Porta in Nikeia’
You might think Porta is a gate but it’s really the square of this village, which is known for its elliptical shape and its elegant pebble mosaic flooring. The church above it ranks among one of the most beautiful in Greece.
Emborios, more local colour
An architectural gem of a village, topped by the fortress of Pantoniki – ‘Always Victorious’. Don’t miss the beautiful Aegean view.
A hiker’s dream
The paths of Nisyros attract hikers from all over, some returning year after year. They wind through dry-stone walls, past stone farmhouses, rustic distilleries and tiny churches.
Images of Nisyros
Hidden gems of Nisyros
The Volcanic Museum of Nisyros
The Volcanic Museum has all you want to know about Greece’s volcanoes and their different rock formations. It’s housed in Nikeia’s old elementary school.
The hot springs
There are spas with hot mineral springs all over the island. Just a kilometre from Mandraki you can see a vintage – early 20th-century – spa, where the water bubbled out at 55 degrees Celsius.
This is the name of the island’s acropolis. Its magnificent, massive walls, made of black volcanic rock, are really impressive.