When asking Greek-Americans in New York the oft-asked question “what part of Greece are you from,” the answer, a great deal of the time, is: Nisyros. One would think, then, that Nisyros is a big Greek city, like Athens or Thessaloniki. Or a large island, like Crete or Rhodes.
Well, it’s an island, all right, but the size of a dot on a Greek map – too small to name – and as many joke, that size is not scaled down for the map, that’s really how big it is!
That is an exaggeration, of course, but to put things in perspective, Rhodes, the capital of the Dodecanese Islands, has about 100,000 year round residents, whereas Nisyros has about 1,000 – maybe even less. The island has four villages, all of which can be seen in the better part of an hour, and no traffic lights.
It has a historic dormant volcano, was referenced by Homer in the Iliad, and has a neighboring island called Yiali – Glass – which doubles as the world’s largest pumice stone. The church Panagia Spiliani – Virgin of the Caves, sits atop the sea, and when the moon illuminates it at night, the image is too breathtaking for any photograph to do it justice.
Its beaches are not the stuff of Club-Med vacation postcards. But they are pristinely clean and private. On any given day, you can go for a swim and have the entire beach to yourself. And the good thing about an island that small, you can see the water no matter where you are.
If you are of the “party ‘till dawn” crowd, you can always hop the ferry to Kardamena in Kos. But if you truly want to “get away from it all,” there’s no better place to be!
Wherever you are in Greece, there is that special energy of being in a different place than home. But on Nisyros, because of its natural unspoiled beauty, you will literally feel as if you are in a different world.
You are unlikely to run into the Kardashians there – if that’s your thing – though once on a blue moon you might spot a wealthy vacationer’s yacht anchored near an empty beach, as was that of Prince Charles over a dozen years ago, when he was there to enjoy water just as beautiful as anywhere else in the country, but without the paparazzi.
If your family happens to hail from one of the four villages – Emporios, Mandraki, Nikia, or Paloi – then by all means stay there, to walk the same unpaved roads your parents or grandparents did. But if you have no family ties to the island, I strongly recommend the capital, Mandraki, as your home base: it is all about location-location-location.
The Porfyris (Nisyros’ Ancient name) is the only full-sized, full-fledged hotel in the capital town, and conveniently located to everything. There are even a couple of beaches on Mandraki. In fact, anywhere you see water and jump right in – voila! There’s your beach!
Full disclosure: my cousins own the Porfyris. But I mention it not for that reason, but rather for how it transformed vacationing in Nisyros. As a teenager in the early 1980s, after about three or four days on the island, I would be bored out of my mind. But then, my uncle built the Porfyris in 1986, and I went for a trip in 1988 and didn’t want to leave! It was as if Nisyros finally got on the map. But tourism never overcrowded the island, except around August 15, the Feast of Panagia (the Virgin Mary), when it feels like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Then, a day or two later, the island empties out again, returning to its usual year-round status of being a bastion of solitude.
There are other accommodations on Mandraki, too – some smaller hotels, some more in the “Rooms to Let” status. After Mandraki, I would recommend the seafearing village of Paloi. Though a trip to the island is not complete without at least a day visit to Nikia and Emporio.
So, if you’d like to see and be seen in the touristy hotspots, then by all means, take the next flight to Mykonos or Santorini. But if natural, non-commercial beauty is your thing, then Nisyros awaits.