The village of Emborios is perched high on the jagged northern rim of the caldera, 9km up from Mandraki, and has some lovely stone houses, two restaurants and some very appealing accommodation. Many of the houses, formerly ruins, have been renovated by foreigners in recent years. These cling to the steep flanks of the rocky ridge. Apart from a few yawning cats, only around nine people live here permanently.
The village of Nikea is 4km south along the crater’s edge. No vehicles can penetrate this tight warren of dazzling white houses, so every visitor experiences the thrill of walking along the narrow lane from road’s end to reach the tiny central square. Less a square than a circle, actually, it’s among the most jaw-droppingly beautiful spots in the Dodecanese, with geometric pebble-mosaic designs in the middle and the village church standing above.
Throughout Nikea, signposted overlooks command astonishing views of the volcano, laid out far below. The challenging trail down into the crater drops from behind the Volcanological Museum.
This wind-buffeted seaside village sits 5km east of Mandraki, just beyond the turnoff to the volcano. Now primarily a yachting marina, it has a handful of tavernas among the sun-beaten buildings on the quay.
The coast road continues another 5km to Lies, Nisyros’ most usable beach. Walking 1km along a precarious track from here brings you to Pahia Ammos, a shadeless expanse of coarse volcanic sand.
Feature: The Nisyros Volcano
Nisyros sits on a volcanic fault line that curves around the southern Aegean. While 25,000 years have passed since the volcano that formed it last erupted, it’s officially classified as dormant rather than extinct. Its summit originally stood around 850m tall, but three violent eruptions 30,000 to 40,000 years ago blew off the top 100m and caused the centre to collapse. White-and-orange pumice stones can still be seen on the northern, eastern and southern flanks of the island, while a large lava flow covers the entire southwest around Nikea.
The islanders call the volcano Polyvotis. Legend has it that during the battle between the gods and Titans, Poseidon ripped a chunk off Kos and used it to trap the giant Polyvotis deep beneath. That rock became Nisyros and the roar of the volcano is Polyvotis' angered voice.
Visitors keen to experience the power of the volcano head by bus, car or on foot into the island’s hollow caldera, a vast and otherworldly plain that was home to thousands of ancient farmers. Ruined agricultural terraces climb the walls, while cows graze amid sci-fi-set rocks.
The southern end encloses several distinct craters. Get there before 11am and you may have the place to yourself. A path descends into the largest crater, Stefanos, where you can examine the multicoloured 100°C fumaroles, sometimes listen to their hissing and smell the sulphurous vapours. The surface is soft and hot, making sturdy footwear essential. Don’t stray too far out, as the ground is unstable and can collapse (at the time of research, the centre was roped off).
An obvious track leads to the smaller and wilder crater of Polyvotis nearby. You can’t enter the caldera itself, and the fumaroles are around the edge here, so take great care.