The volcanic island of Níssyros is unlike its neighbours in almost every respect. It’s much lusher and greener than dry Tílos and Hálki to the south, blessed with rich soil that nurtures a distinctive flora, and it supported a large agricultural population in ancient times. In contrast to long flat Kos to the north, Níssyros is round and tall, with the high walls of its central caldera rising abruptly from the shoreline around its entire perimeter. And Níssyros conceals a startling secret; behind those encircling hills, the interior of the island is hollow, centring on a huge crater floor that’s dotted with still-steaming vents and cones.
For most visitors, the volcano is Níssyros’ main attraction. It’s easy enough to see it on a day-trip from Kos, so few bother to spend the night. That’s a shame, because it’s a genuinely lovely island, very short on beaches but abounding in spectacular scenery. The port and sole large town, Mandhráki on the northwest coast, is an appealing tight-knit community with some fine ancient ruins, while two delightful villages, Emboriós and Nikiá, straddle the crater ridge.
These days, much of the island’s income is derived from the offshore islet of Yialí, a vast lump of pumice, all too clearly visible just north of Mandhráki, that’s slowly being quarried away. Substantial concession fees have given the islanders economic security.
Níssyros also offers good walking, on trails that lead through a countryside studded with oak and terebinth (pigs gorge themselves on the abundant acorns, and pork figures prominently on menus).