Nisyros is one of the smallest islands of the Dodecanese archipelago. It was created after a volcanic explosion, many thousands of years ago and has formed into an almost perfect circle with a diameter of approximately 8 km. The island is known for its active volcano that has one of the world’s largest hydrothermal craters.
Science may say that Nisyros was created by a volcanic eruption, however, according to Greek mythology it is believed that the island was formed during the battle between the gods and the Giants. Poseidon, God of the Sea, chased the Giant Polyvotis to Kos and in order to eliminate him he threw a huge piece of the island of Kos at the Giant. This piece of land is believed to be Nisyros, and the volcanic activity is actually caused by the never resting Polyvotis Giant, who is trying to escape from below the land that imprisoned him.
We anchored in the small harbour at Pali on the north of the island. It is a pretty fishing village and one of the oldest settlements in Nisyros. Set around a natural bay it has a sandy beach, whitewashed buildings and a very good traditional bakery (which we visited daily).
After walking along the seafront we came to a large abandoned building. Several decades ago it was a luxury Spa Hotel taking advantage of one of the many hot springs on the island. Unfortunately, despite being in excellent condition structurally, it has been completely stripped and is now deserted, there do not seem to be any plans to reopen it.
We had heard about a great car hire company in the village, so decided to hire a car and explore the island. It is owned by a husband and wife team who were very friendly and passionate about the island. They gave us a full itinerary of all the interesting places to visit, gave us a car, told us to go and explore and just bring the car back in one piece at the end of the day. There was no checking for scratches as required when hiring from the corporate companies to ensure that you don’t get caught out (ripped off) when you return cars.
One of the best recommendations that they gave us was to visit the crater early before the tour buses arrive. Following this advice, we left the harbour and headed there first.
On the way we took a slight detour to the village of Emporios where there is a tiny cave, or natural sauna, fuelled by hot steam (40°C) heated by the hydrothermal system and escaping through vents caused by cracks in the lava. It felt so hot and humid that we could only stand the heat for a few seconds (it was also a little smelly). ‘Saunas’ like this can be found inside some of the village houses, where they provide natural heating in the winter.
Our next stop was the hydrothermal field which is active but not erupting. The island has a 3-4 km wide caldera which was formed within the past 150,000 years. It has had several historical eruptions forming swollen elevations and craters, the latest being a steam explosion in 1888.
When we arrived, we were the only people at the site. The path goes through a lunar landscape of rocks and ashes, before reaching the different craters. We walked up a trail to some small craters passing 100°C hot fumaroles with fresh sulphur crystals and slippery mud pools filled with sulphuric acid. There wasn’t access inside these craters due to the high concentration of sulphur gases, the smell of rotten eggs was very intense from the top.
Once the smell and heat had overpowered us we went back down to explore the largest hydrothermal crater on Nisyros and one of the largest of its kind in the world. Named Stefanos, it measures 260m x 350m with a depth of 27m. Like the other smaller craters, it has been formed by steamy explosions of gas. We were able to go down into this crater, and walk around the hot surface, steam was puffing out of cracks in the ground giving of a smell of sulphur, which we were now starting to get used to.
After taking our time to explore the craters, the cafe had opened, so we stopped for a coffee before moving on. We were still alone at the site, and as it is now out of the main tourist season, we didn’t expect large crowds to appear. However, just as we were leaving, six tour buses arrived and people were swarming all over the craters. We were very pleased that we followed the advice of the car hire company and were able to have our own private viewing before the crowds descended.
Continuing on, our next stop was towards the village of Nikia, the advice was to go to the top of the hill where there is a beautiful small Church of the Prophet of Elias and panoramic views of the caldera, the village and the Aegean Sea towards Tilos and Rhodes.
In the village of Nikia there is an excellent Volcanological Museum where we learnt all about volcanic processes and structures, the volcanos forming Nisyros and other eruptions in the Greek islands and around the world.
After all of that information, we needed some lunch. Nikia is considered by the locals as one of the most beautiful villages in Greece.
It has a quaint little main square overlooked by a pretty church where we sat down for lunch at one of the cafes.
Our last stop of the day was Mandraki village, just above the village is the ancient wall of Nisyros. The fortification was built in the 4th century BC and protected the ancient acropolis of the city which occupied the same site since the 7th century BC. It is now one of the most complete fortifications surviving from the classical period. The walls are 2m – 3.5m thick and are built with two faces of huge blocks of volcanic black stone and filled with rubble between. Six of the square defence towers still stand in part and were built 10m high.
There is one gateway surviving in a protected position unseen by the enemy. It is over 2m wide and 3m high closed by double wooden doors secured by a cross bar. We were able to walk through and explore in peaceful solitude.
Over recent years cleaning and restoration work has taken place to repair parts of the ancient wall. Many blocks have been found during research and placed back into their original position and some new stones have been installed.
It’s incredible how this was initially built back in the 4th century BC, how did they get those huge stone blocks, made with one of the hardest rocks, to the top of the hill. Then construct such a sturdy defensive wall where the original blocks are locked together so tightly that you cannot even slide a piece of paper between them. Our conclusion to this is that the locals must have had some help from the Giants!
It was almost time for the sun to set, so we went down to the village for a sundowner before returning the car back to Pali where the proprietors were interested to hear about our day. We can thoroughly recommend The Eagles Nest Car Hire.
There were strong winds forecasted in the wrong direction so rather than beating into the wind, we waited a couple of days before continuing on to the next island.
Luckily we were on board the next day when a charter boat on the opposite side of the small harbour managed to pick up our anchor chain and get it twisted around their anchor, which took them a while to untangle. By this time the afternoon wind had picked up and we had to leave the berth to relay our anchor which thankfully all went well. I was pleased that we were on board and that it didn’t happen the previous day when we were touring the island. We did have a little damage to our transom but we were able to fend Ziggy off from the wall to prevent major damage.
The following day there was a perfect force 4 westerly wind so we left the harbour and had a great downwind sail 33nm to the island of Symi.
Arriving just before the sun set, we dropped our anchor in the very protected Ormos Panormitis on the south side of the island where we plan to wait out the next period of stormy weather.