Nisyros is only a small island; it has a diameter of 7 to 8 km and is about 41 Sq km in area. It has 4 villages, about 6 roads and you can visit everywhere there is to see by car in 2 days. There may not be much, but what there is, is worth the visit.
As our time here comes to an end here are the highlights in photos.
Although the generally blue and white colour scheme of the village’s with their narrow streets and splashes of colourful bougainvillea are typical of many villages in the island, what is so far unique are the decorated pavements.
The island has been inhabited since about 4000 BC but the most impressive archeological remains are those of the Kastro on the hill above Mandraki, the ruins of ancient Nisyros.
In prehistory the small island of Yiali, just north of Nisyros, was the original draw to the area. It is one of two Agean sources of Obsidian, the other source being Milos. Apparently Milos Obsidian is harder, while Yiali Obsidian is more brittle and of less use in making tools and weapons, instead being used for decoration. Despite this the little island supported Neolithic settlements aimed at extracting Obsidian. Nisyros by comparison has few if any traces of this early occupation.
During the Trojan War, believed to have been in the 13th century BC, Homer described Poseidon (creator of Nisyros) as supporting the Greeks and so that perhaps accounts for the presence of ships from Nisyros in the Greek fleet. This suggests that Nisyros was a thriving population centre with enough wealth to have its own ships.
From about the 7th century BC the original town on Nisyros began to appear on the large flat topped hill above the current village of Mandraki.
By the 6th century the island was part of the Persian Empire. Again ships from Nisyros were mentioned but this time as part of the Persian fleet which was soundly defeated by the Athenians at the Battle of Salamis in 480BC. Salamis is one of the islands in the Saronic Gulf, South of Piraeus.
For about 200 years in the 3rd and 4th century BC the island was independent, even minting it’s own coins and during this period the fortifications around the ancient agora were constructed; and they were massive.
Being built on a volcanic island in an earthquake zone it is suprising anything survived at all, but some serious restoration and underpinning work has been undertaken on parts of the wall.
Although each block of stone appears to have been individually cut to shape to fit it’s neighbour, making the project into a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle, the description of employing ‘extensive research’ in order to accurately make the reconstruction is probably an understatement!
The result gives some idea of the scale of the original construction. It is impressive today, two and a half thousand years ago it would have been breathtaking and impregnable.
The wall defended three sides of the site, the remaining side being a precipice above the current village of Mandraki; the views are pretty stunning.
This site was amazing. The mere fact that after 2500 years of earthquakes and warfare there was enough left to restore is a testament to the original build.
Mandraki is the main commercial harbour on Nisyros, the biggest village and the site of the original capital.
High above the town is the site of the ancient Agora and dominating the village, perched on a headland at its western edge is medieval castle built by the Knights of St John and the 14th century Monastery of Panagia Spiliani. The monastery overlooks the village’s black stone beach, picturesque but not overly comfortable, probably accounting for the lack of sunbathers!
As the first point tourists get to on the island it is pretty tourist orientated but in a subdued sort of way. The day trippers don’t seem to penetrate too far into the town before they are whisked off to the volcano. It is busy in the season, but apparently when the tourists leave the population of the entire island drops to about 800.
It is all delightfully narrow streets and tiny ‘squares’ with mopeds and those convertible tuks-tuks whizzing about delivering goods, fresh off the ferries, to the shops and tavernas. It also has a great archeological museum.
Although the town is similar to almost every other that we have visited in the islands, what really stands out here are the wonderful mosaic pavements made from black and white pebbles, simple but amazing intricate. And it isn’t just pavements, almost any horizontal surface can be decorated with them.
Mandraki is a confusing jumble of alleys and narrow streets but after your second visit they seem to fall into place. Following directions, such as go right at the ice cream shop then left at the baker suddenly make sense. A lovely relaxed village which is really pleasant to just wander around.
The official Nisyros website only actually lists four villages on the island; Pali, where we are staying, Mandraki, Emborios and Nikia. The latter are two small villages on the rim of the caldera of Nisyros, both offering fantastic views into it.
Emborios apparently used to be home to blacksmiths, tailors and skilled stone masons although in the 1960s most of the population moved to Pali. The current population is very small and the big draw for tourists appears to be the Balcony restaurant which offers great views over the caldera. As might be expected with such an isolated location the village has a rather dilapidated, run down feel to it.
Run down except for the floors that is. Every where we go on the island we find these wonderful ‘mosaic’ pavements made from black and white pebbles, and Emborios was no exception.
All pictures you see of the village will include this one, taken with a wide angle lens as a panorama. In reality the plaza is about 25 metres across and is taken over by sun umbrellas and tables from the taverna on the left of the picture!
Nikia has a far more ‘loved’ feel to it and boasting both the Porta and the Vulcanalogical Museum probably receives more visitors.
The Vulcanalogical Museum was, in our opinion, not really worth the entry money. The Stefanos crater itself cost €3 each, the museum cost €4 and you could obtain the same information from the internet. It would be far better located at the crater, but then all that European grant money wouldn’t encourage tourism to the village!!
Both villages have loads of character and are worth the visit. But, they are very isolated and would appear to be entirely reliant on tourism for support, so we are glad we went. There are tourist buses which run to them but a hire car is better, giving more flexibility. We visited the villages on separate days and added the crater and Mandraki as well, a steal at €25!
Nisyros island is the cone of a dormant, but still ‘active’, volcano laying just south of Kos. Mythology has it that during the war between the Gods and the Giants, Poseidon picked up a large chunk of rock on the island of Kos and threw it at the giant Polivotis as he tried to escape, trapping him beneath it. That rock is the island of Nisyros. Apparently Polivotis is still rather miffed at being trapped beneath Nisyros and all the earthquakes in the area are the result of him struggling to get free.
A more scientific version is that Nisyros lays on the join between the Eurasian and African tectonic plates, as do Stromboli, Etna, Milos and Santorini and is a part of something called the Agean Arch which includes Kos and neignbouring islands. Although the area is still subject to earthquakes the last volcanic activity on Nisyros was a steam eruption in 1888. Today the main crater of St Stefanos just steams quietly to itself.
The island took its present form maybe 150,000 years ago. It is about 8km in diameter and it’s almost 700 metres high and apparently the magma chamber beneath Nisyros is ‘only’ 3 to 4 km deep and is rising!
We visited the caldera on Saturday 30th and had a walk down into the St Stefanos crater. It is perhaps 30 or 40 metres deep and a couple of hundred meters across and appears to be mostly volcanic ash, which sounds hollow when you walk on it. The crater floor is littered with old fumaroles and sulphur deposits and on the eastern side are a line of them still steaming. The smell of sulphur is all pervading and everywhere is streaked with yellow. It is really impressive.
With Lu returned home we sat down to plan our next steps. We have 9 days before Valeria catches her flight home from Kos, and want to find a place for me to wait for her return.
First thing Tuesday morning we checked the weather and found the previously forecast light variable winds had set in from the south west and were now predicted to remain thus for the rest of the week at 10 to 15 knots, which general means 20 knots. Although well sheltered from the northerly winds Kamares Bay is completely open to the south and the wind would soon started sending a swell into the bay which would have made it rather uncomfortable. Then, of course, there was no guarantee the forecast wouldn’t change for the worst.
So we decided to head to the island of Nisyros, 12 or so miles south of Kefalos in the hope of finding a space in the small harbour of Palon, or Palos, Paloi or Pali, on the north coast of the island. We would then aim to return to Kardemena during the weekend calm and I would spend the week on the town quay there while Valeria was in the UK. We even enlisted the help of Alexandra from Malu Kai to spot for us and let us know if a place for us became available!
We set off from Kefalos at 9.30 hoping to beat the afternoon rush, arriving off the harbour at 1230. Pali is a small harbour apparently with space for perhaps 45 yachts and although pretty full there were spaces, but ….
The pilotage info we had said to keep close to the harbour wall and they weren’t kidding. The harbour entrance is about 30 metres wide and is half obstructed by a shoal patch marked out with a host of small orange buoys. Quite daunting when you are first faced with it! The ‘but’ became apparent as we got into the harbour. A yacht had anchored and started to manoeuvre onto the quay and promptly got a line wrapped around its propeller and so was swinging around in the middle obstructing our approach to the spaces we had been aiming for. Then we spotted a ‘cat’ sized gap on the other side of the harbour and went for that. We almost made it first time but as we were going in the rudder kicked over and sent us the wrong way. All this in a stiff cross wind! But we got in, tied up and connected up to electricity and water and sat to await the Harbour Master. But there isn’t one! Free to park, free power and water.
Pali is a really pretty little village, quiet, with plenty of tavernas, some food shops, car hire and a bakery. If there was a handy ferry from the island to Kos, we wouldn’t need to move until Valeria returned. Enquiries at a helpful car hire firm revealed a ferry from the main village of Mandraki which would get Valeria to Kos in plenty of time to get the bus to the airport. They would even drive her to Mandraki to catch it!
So it looks like we will be staying here until Valeria returns. It will mean I am here for 2 weeks, on an island you can visit in a day, but there are far worse places to be, and did I mention there is a bakery?
Lu got to Kos on Friday afternoon, got a cab from the airport and was on board by 3 pm, and after a restorative Prosecco or two, she and Valeria went into Kos for the evening for a GNO.
On Saturday morning they went ashore for some last minute supplies and Lu bought me a present, some proper Saganaki Cheese! She has even found where she can get it in the UK!
We had paid in the marina up until midday on Saturday so we slipped at 11.35 and set off for Kardemena, half way along the south coast of Kos. The Pilot Book didn’t make it sound too inviting, or even accessible, but we had other sources of information!
A while ago a couple, Mark and Alexandra in Malu Kai were researching Roccella Ionica for this winter and came across the web site and sent me an email ‘Soon to be winter buddies in Roccella’. As it turned out they were in based Kardemena and so we decided to go and introduce ourselves as we were passing. Mark is away at the moment so, once tied up, we went and said hello to Alexandra. They have been based in Kardemena for a while and even have their own reserved berth. With a restaurant recommendation from Alexandra set off for a wander through town.
Rod Heikell in his Pilot Book describes Kardemena as, ‘a sprawl of a resort catering for package holiday makers who want little to do with things Greek and frequent any establishment that resembles the ‘local ’ at home” and this is an accurate description. We wandered along what appeared to be the main street between alternating pubs and bars with large TV screens showing the World Cup and some rather chav souvenir shops. Mercifully the restaurant was a bit away from there and the food was excellent. Back on board Lu and Valeria had a GNI and I left them to it.
Arriving in Kardemena we had planned a BBQ, but the berth we managed to find was alongside a rather scruffy ferry jetty away from the town quay and was not a pleasant setting for a BBQ on one’s yacht dharling. It also seemed to be the sleeping quarters for a large group of travellers aboard a small people carrier with very over worked suspension! We put off the BBQ and decided to move on in the morning to anchor in the bay off the town of Kefalos in Ormos Kamares.
The draw back was that the GNI had gone on until 4 in the morning and so Valeria was a little tired when we left at 9.30 and Lu was rudely awoken when I started the engines ….. that combined with me having deserted my post as wine waiter on the previous evening and our Trip Advisor rating was plummeting!!
We had motored from Kos to Kardemena but on Sunday morning we had a good offshore breeze and as soon as we were out of the port we had the sails up and headed for Paradise Beach; Lu had found it on the web and wanted to visit. We sailed almost the entire way, which is unheard of, only dropping the sails as we reached Paradise …… The trouble with places with names like ‘Paradise Beach’, or ‘Tranquil Bay’ in Lefkas, is that they seldom are and it was the case here. We would have had trouble anchoring close enough to the beach and even if we had managed it we’d have spent the afternoon being buzzed by jet skis and trip boats; we bore away and carried on round the headland to Kefalos and anchored off the small harbour.
Once at anchor we got the BBQ out and Lu fried us some Saganaki as an appetiser. Valeria and Lu then spent the afternoon relaxing / recovering while I put the tender in the water. The outboard wouldn’t start again but this time a new, dry, clean spark plug cured the problem and so, come the evening, we went ashore in the tender.
Kefalos is a very small fishing boat harbour with a commercial quay outside, at the south west end of Kamares Bay. The old town of Kefalos is a short walk in land from the harbour, although we didn’t go to look, and the new ‘town’ is a rather uninteresting strip of restaurants and small hotels along the shore line. We had a wander around before settling down for a snack including saganaki and wine, obviously, as the sun went down. We selected the restaurant / bar of the Sydney Hotel, whose rickety jetty we’d tied the tender to. Back on board, still hoping to bump up our ratings I remained on duty to hthe end although as Lu was travelling on the following day it was a far more reserved evening.
The following morning we spent lazing around, although I did whizz out to try and help an exhausted wind surfer. He was ancient, older than me!!! I was all ready to do a text book RYA recovery but he said my boat was too small and he wanted me to go get the school rescue boat. I didn’t try to explain I had a Rescue Boat ticket and was quite capable of hauling his tired old ….. etc, etc, so, harumphing to myself, I went off in search of the rescue boat. The positive thing was I got the tender up onto the plane and gave the outboard a good blast.
But then it was time to take Lu ashore and wait for her taxi to the airport, the Sydney Hotel had been very helpful and booked one the previous evening. We said our farewells, although Valeria will be seeing her in a week or so. It was lovely to see her again and I have my fingers crossed for that 5 star rating!!!
Leaving Kalymnos as planned we arrived in Kos marina at 1230. Our prime reason for being here was to meet Lu Viricimo for her long anticipated visit. Originally we booked 4 days in the marina just in case the weather was bad; happily it wasn’t and we just stayed for two.
So with our preparations for Lu’s arrival complete, including a visit to Lidl, we had a quick visit to Kos Town on Thursday evening and then a longer look around on Friday morning.
I know there are earthquakes here but I didn’t appreciate that Kos is right in the middle of an earthquake zone. I was trying to find out when the earthquake was which caused to old fortress to be closed; I didn’t take a photo of the notice on the door and then promptly forgot the date! So I searched on Google for earthquakes in Kos, I mean how many can there be?? I got a direct hit and, reassuringly, found that there had been none in the last week, phew, but there had been 2 in the last month and 45 in the last 12 months! Most seem to be about magnitude 4, and those between magnitude 2.5 to 5.4 are ‘often felt but only cause minor damage’. What a relief. So it is unsurprising that there are extensive archaeological ruins in Kos; more surprisingly, perhaps, is that any are actually recognisable!
Kos was first settled by the Minoans in the 14th century BC and, being a meeting point between east and west trades routes the island has changed hands many times.
The Persians took the island in the 5th century BC but lost it to the Athenians in 460BC, the year in which Kos’ most famous son, Hippocrates, was born. From Athens control passed to the Macedonians, then the Ptolomies. After them came the Byzantines, the Romans and then the Venetians. In 1315AD the Knights of St John took control and built the fort by the Harbour, now closed by the earthquake in July last year. The Ottoman Turks held the island from1522 until 1912 when the Italians invaded. They held the islands until 1943 when the German occupation began, ending in 1945 when the British took control. Kos became a part of Greece in 1948.
The town itself is, understandably, new. Very clean and very tourist orientated with numerous shops and restaurants. It is pleasant enough to wander around and you cannot help but fall over the extensive archaeological sites.
The best preserved site is the Odeum, a small Roman Amphitheatre, dating from the 2nd century AD. It is small by comparison to others with seating for only 750 persons; it apparently hosted sessions of the Senate, music festivals and theatrical shows. The real surprise was the ‘backstage areas’ beneath the terraces.
I could have spent hours wandering around amongst the rubble but we had a far more important reason for being in Kos. Meeting Lu! Leaving the Odeum it was time to meet her from the airport bus, although she got a cab as the bus didn’t run for an hour or so and that was too much time to waste with Prosecco in the fridge with her name on it!!!!
We set off from Pandeli on Monday morning headed for Pothia, or Port Kalymnos, a large harbour on the south coast of the island. Inside the harbour wall the harbour looks quite empty until you see the big inter island ferry turning around in it! Originally a fishing harbour it has grown to accommodate small cargo ships, the ferries and long quaysides for visiting yachts and local boats. With three days left until we needed to be in Kos, and a sick outboard, we decided to stay in Pothia until the 21st.
Happily, as soon as we arrived, the Harbour Master was able to point me in the direction of a mechanic and the following morning found someone to transport me and the engine.
The transport is best described as a convertible tuk tuk and perching beside the driver on the bench seat as he drove leaning half across me to reach the handlebars was a frightening, but mercifully short, experience; apparently my face was a picture as we returned! Relief on two counts! Firstly I had made it back without becoming a statistic and secondly it was with a working outboard.
The problem was water in the fuel, the carburettor float chamber was clogged with a watery emulsion. As I watched the mechanic dismantled and did a very thorough clean of the whole carburettor and all the fuel pipes. Very educational. The following day I walked back there with the external fuel tank and dumped the contents. I can only assume the petrol I bought in Merikha was the cause of the problem.
But back to Kalymnos. The island was, for centuries, renowned as the centre for sponge fishing but with the decline in the numbers of sponges and with the advent of artificial ones the sponges caught now are now mostly sold as tourist souvenirs. The sponges used to be fished in the shallow island waters by divers who would tie themselves to a stone weight and scoop the sponges from the sea floor. Now they use compressed air gear to reach greater depths and range as far afield as North Africa and the Ionian.
The Italians occupied the island between the two World Wars and to annoy the occupiers the locals apparently painted most things blue and white, the Greek national colours; however, this colour scheme is not so much in evidence now. During WW2 the Italians stopped the sponge fishermen from working which led to a huge exodus of ‘Kalymnots’ to America and Australia. Apparently many of these ex-pats have returned home and so the presence of a beer and wine shop called ‘Bottle Shop’ (Aussie for ‘off licence’) was no real surprise!
Pothia is a busy tourist town which only really livens up in the evening. It is not a particularly attractive place but, having said that it was quite pleasant to wander round the harbour in the evening being instructed on the finer points of ‘sponges’ by the shop keepers.
Kalymnos was a nice stop over, doubly so as the outboard is now working! We have booked into Kos marina for the 21st and 22nd to prepare for the arrival of Lu Viricimo who is to stay with us for the long weekend and so plan to leave Pothia at about 9 on Thursday morning to get to Kos by midday which is the earliest you can ‘check in’!
Leaving Patmos on Saturday we continued on our way towards Kos spending a night at anchor in Lipsi, on the island of Leipsos and another at anchor off the small harbour of Pandeli on the east side of the island of Leros.
Arriving in Leipsos the wind was slightly stronger than I felt comfortable to leave the boat while we went ashore, so we stayrd on board, setting off for Leros the following morning.
As we approached the anchorage off Pandeli we came across our first rain in weeks. And not a gentle shower either. The rain was heavy enough to show up on the radar and arrived at Pandeli just as we did. We got well and truly soaked anchoring, and just as we finished the sun came out!
We dropped the tender in the water intending to go ashore and have a wander around the town but got about 50 metres from the boat when the outboard packed up again. To say I was less than impressed was an understatement. We managed to limp back to the boat and after numerous attempts to start the engine I gave up.
We plan to spend day or so on the Town Quay in Pothia on Kalymnos but this is now going to revolve around finding a mechanic.