Walking in an active Volcano…

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Nissyros is the active volcanic island that you can see on the horizon from every window at The Tower House.  It lies south of Kos and north of Tilos and Rhodes.  It is a circular island with a huge caldera in the middle – think of a Polo mint and you get the idea!  It is very much unspoilt by tourism, although in the summer months there are daily ferries bring tourists across from Kos and Rhodes to experience the huge volcanic crater.

 

There are not many places in the world where you can actually walk on the floor of a “dozing” volcano.  Nissyros is still active; seismologists are resident on the island, taking daily readings of its rumblings.  When I first came to Kos 20 years ago, there was talk of an eruption being expected “soon” but nothing has happened as yet.  The caldera is so big that any eruption will be contained within it so there won’t be anything dramatic to see visually from Kos.  A major eruption about 16000 years ago blew off the islands’ top in dramatic fashion and caused a tsunami.  The Tower House stands high on the hillside on Kos, but there are fossils of shells everywhere on the land, showing that the tsunami waters rose this high.  Kamari Bay, the shoreline below The Tower House, was originally the capital town of Kos islan; “Kefalo” means “Head, or chief”, hence the name “Kefalos”.  The town was completely submerged in the tsunami, and if you go snorkelling you can still see some of the buildings outlines on the seabed.  You can also see ruins of houses along the shoreline in between the tavernas and restaurants.  A particularly good example can be found at the back of Faros Beach, which lies directly beyond Kefalos harbour.

Anyway, back to Nissyros itself.  From Kefalos Harbour, Captain Yianni and Captain Manolis run their boats across to the harbour village of Mandraki on the north coast of Nissyros.  This is a beautiful place to explore and is mainly level.  From the harbour you can hire cars (best to pre-book as there is a limited number of vehicles available) or take one of the coaches up to the volcano.  The ride is spectacular, climbing higher and higher until you eventually enter the top of the caldera.  As you come around the last corner, the land falls steeply and the vista opens up to reveal a huge expanse about 2km in diameter.  The first time I visited Nissyros, I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of the size of the whole caldera, it really is enormous.  The road winds gently down to its floor.  From here you can go down (by foot) into the very epicentre of the Stefanos crater, the largest of 10 craters on the floor of the caldera.  You will be immediately struck by the smell of sulphur, and the heat.  You will need sturdy shoes for getting down into the crater where the floor is still very warm and geothermal geysers are still bubbling. You can crack an egg on the floor and it will cook in seconds, so be careful!  Greece is not known for its health and safety measures (despite being in the EU!) but they have now put some warning tape around the most active geysers.

Nissyros is the active volcanic island that you can see on the horizon from every window at The Tower House.  It lies south of Kos and north of Tilos and Rhodes.  It is a circular island with a huge caldera in the middle – think of a Polo mint and you get the idea!  It is very much unspoilt by tourism, although in the summer months there are daily ferries bring tourists across from Kos and Rhodes to experience the huge volcanic crater.

There are not many places in the world where you can actually walk on the floor of a “dozing” volcano.  Nissyros is still active; seismologists are resident on the island, taking daily readings of its rumblings.  When I first came to Kos 20 years ago, there was talk of an eruption being expected “soon” but nothing has happened as yet.  The caldera is so big that any eruption will be contained within it – there won’t be any dramatic lava flows to watch!  There are bubbling geysers and steam holes, so be careful and don’t get too close.  You will also need to wear decent shoes – flip flops may melt! An hour or so will probably be enough in the crater as it is very hot and smelly.

 

 

Coaches will return you back to Mandraki village, where you can have lunch at any of a number of waterside tavernas.  Or take one of the little side streets inland, and you will come across a beautiful square, enjoying shade from ancient trees.  There are traditional restaurants here (which are also cheaper).  If you’re in a car, it is worth driving a little way along the coast to the harbour village of Pali.  This is much quieter than Mandraki, and private yachts moor here.  I can recommend Taverna Salonikios where everything is made fresh to order and is authentically Greek – and delicious!

Back in Mandraki, if you are feeling energetic, follow the signs to Ag. Panayia Monastery.  This does involve climbing up quite a number of steps, but it is worth it.  The sea views across to Kos are fantastic, and the monastery itself is really interesting.  It is cut into the rock.  As you go in you will see hooks with what look like capes hanging up.  It is polite and customary to have your shoulders and knees covered when entering a place of worship.  The capes are there to use if you are wearing shorts or sleeveless tops.  There is an icon of St Mary inside, holding her palms up and forward.  It is said that these are permanently warm, and have healing properties.  On August 15th each year there is the festival of Ag Panayia (The Assumption of St Mary).  The whole island goes up to the Monastery, thousands of the Greeks from Kos, Tilos and Rhodes go over for the huge event.  There is plenty of food, wine, singing, dancing and fireworks.  Well worth going if you are staying on Kos in August.

If you have a car, you may like to explore the rest of the island.  There are several mountain villages; the village of Emporio, which was abandoned after the earthquake of 1933, although it is slowly coming back to life as properties are being renovated.   Nikia, which sits high above the Caldera, has amazing views into the Caldera and the craters.  It has narrow, cobbled streets and white-washed impressive town houses, and an impressive central square with a patterned cobbled floor.  You’ll just have time to have a freshly-squeezed orange or lemon juice before needing to get back for the ferry.  And you never know, you may be accompanied back to Kos by some dolphins!  A visit to Nissyros should certainly be put on your holiday list.

 

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