Enjoy our photobox book on how The Tower House was built
What and Where is Nissyros?
When you look out of any south-facing window at The Tower House, you will see the active volcanic island of Nissyros on the horizon. It lies south of Kos and north of Tilos and Rhodes. The island is circular with a huge caldera in the middle – think of a Polo mint and you get the idea! There is not much tourism here, so it is very unspoilt. Daily ferries bring tourists across from Kos and Rhodes to experience the huge volcanic crater in the summer months.
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 live on the island, taking daily readings of its rumblings. When I first came to Kos 20 years ago, an eruption was being expected “soon” but nothing has happened as yet! If it does erupt again, there won’t be anything dramatic to see from Kos because the lava will be contained in the huge caldera.
The top of Nissyros blown off during a major eruption about 16000 years ago. People say that Kastri Island was that very top and that it landed in the sea by Kefalos. I don’t know how true that is, but I do know that it caused a tsunami. If you look around the land at The Tower House, you will see lots of fossils of shells. We found these when we were building the House, and continue to find more. We think this proves that the waters came up as high as the House.
Kamari Bay, the shoreline below The Tower House, was originally the capital town of Kos island. “Kefalo” means “Head, or chief”, hence the name “Kefalos”. The tsunami completely submerged the town. If you go snorkelling you can still see outlines of buildings 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.
Going into the Volcano
Anyway, back to Nissyros itself. From Kefalos Harbour, you can take a ferry 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 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 away. The vista opens up and reveals 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. This is the largest of 10 craters on the floor of the caldera. You will be immediately struck by the smell of sulphur and the heat.
I recommend sturdy shoes or trainers for getting down into the crater. The floor is still very warm and geothermal geysers are still bubbling, so don’t get too close! 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 but they have now put some warning tape around the most active geysers. An hour or so will probably be enough in the crater as it is very hot and smelly.
Where to Eat
Coaches will return you back to Mandraki village, where you can have lunch at any of a number of tavernas. Alternatively, take one of the little side streets inland. 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. If you are wearing shorts or sleeveless tops, please use them. Inside the monastery, you will find an icon of St Mary holding her palms up and forward. It is said that these are permanently warm, and have healing properties.
The Annual Festival
The festival of Ag Panayia (The Assumption of St Mary) is celebrated on August 15th each year. The whole island population goes up to the Monastery. Thousands of people from Kos, Tilos and Rhodes also arrive for the huge event. There is plenty of food, wine, singing, dancing and fireworks. If you are staying on Kos in August, it is well worth going.
The rest of the Island
Car hire is reasonable, but limited, so it is best to book in advance. Hiring a car gives you more flexibility and opportunity to explore the rest of the island. There are several mountain villages worth seeing, like Emporio, which was abandoned after the earthquake of 1933. Properties are now being renovated so it is slowly coming back to life. Nikia sits high above the Caldera and has amazing views into the craters. The narrow, cobbled streets and white-washed town houses are impressive. I like the colourful central square with a patterned cobbled floor – it is a good place to rest.
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.
When in Greece, it is fun to try to speak some Greek. It is quite a difficult language to learn, especially because of its non-roman alphabet, multi-syllabic words and grammatical rules. But don’t let that put you off. Have a go – the Greek people love it when tourists make an effort; they appreciate how difficult it is for us! Here are a few common phrases that you could try on your first visit to Greece. I have written the word phonetically, as you would say it, and have underlined the syllable that you should stress.
Greek Lesson 1
|Hello/Goodbye (to someone you don’t know, or to a group of people)||Yassas|
|Hello/Goodbye (to someone you are familiar with)||Yassoo|
|Good evening (to someone you don’t know, or to a group of people)||Kalispera sas|
|Good evening (to someone you are familiar with)||Kalispera|
|Good morning (to someone you don’t know, or to a group of people)||Kalimera sas|
|Good morning (to someone you are familiar with)||Kalimera|
|I would like…||Tha ithela …|
|…a coffee (you will be given a traditional Greek coffe)||Enas caffes|
|…a Nescafe (if you don’t want a Greek coffee)||Mia Nescafe|
|…a beer||Mia beera|
|…a small bottle of water||Ena mikro boukali nero|
|…a large bottle of water||Ena megalo boukali nero|
|…the menu, please||To menu, parakalo|
|…the bill, please||Ton logariasmo parakalo|
|Where are the toilets?||Poo eene ee tooalettes|
|Do you speak English please?||Milaatay Anglika parakalo|
I often give my guests an easy way of remembering some of the words. For example, saying “a ferret’s toe” quickly, sounds very much like “efharisto” for Thank You. And “parrots galore” said quickly and without sounding the “s” sounds very much like “parakalo” for Please.
One evening a guest came back to The Tower House, having been determined to practise some Greek that day. She was quite despondent, saying that no-one understood her when she was trying to say “Thank You”. I asked her what phrase she had been using. “A weasel’s tail” she replied. Hmmmm….. not quite the same as a ferret’s toe, but I can see her line of thinking…!
Kos is blessed with lots of wildlife – some more unusual than others!
When we first arrived on Kos, we weren’t sure what to expect in terms of wildlife, but we hadn’t expected wild peacocks! They live in Plaka, which we call “The Hidden Forest” because you can’t see it until you’re in it. This is a beautiful and tranquil area, not far from the airport. There must be 50+ peacocks living in the forest.
This year a large number of babies hatched. They are SO cute! The Animal Welfare team from Kos Town came to feed them every day. The van honks its horn as it comes into the forest and the peacocks all come running to the clearing, their legs going as fast as they can, like Roadrunner from Looney Tunes! So funny! There is also a pool of Terrapins and frogs in the forest. They are hard to spot, but once your eyes get used to what you are looking for, you keep seeing more and more of them. Plaka is definitely worth a visit.
We were also surprised by just how many wild tortoises roam the island. You can find them everywhere – on the beaches, in the mountains and just crossing the road. There is one particular area on the mountainside near Pyli where they congregate each May for a certain activity. Let’s just say there’s a lot of clonking going on!
One day we took a group of tourists on a “tortoise hunt” in this area. We soon lost count of how many tortoises there were. One of the tourists was a Grecophile, you know the type – knew everything about anything to do with Greece and had to correct everything we said.
When we were recounting our visit to a (gullible!) friend later that day, Roger (who likes to tell tall tales) said that there were so many more tortoises than usual today, and that there was one huge, old tortoise, sitting on a rock, surrounded by all the other tortoises, as though they were having their annual Tortoise Conference. The Grecophile was eavesdropping on the conversation and blurt out in frustration “Oh blow, I must have missed that!” We quietly giggled and didn’t put her right!
There are not as many sheep on the island as I had expected. The flocks are well contained, and more often than not are huddled together, having a prayer meeting. They huddle in a circle, heads down under each other’s bellies, to shade their heads from the sun. This makes me think of them having a holy, woolly, prayer meeting!
Sheeps cheese is often steeped in red wine, creating a lovely rind. It goes off very quickly though, so has to be eaten very fresh. It is not often found in the supermarkets but can be bought directly from the shepherds, if you know where they live.
Grouse are beautiful birds. They used to wander over the land and around the House, making their cheerful, chirrupy, clucking sounds. With their black “sunglasses”, striped wings and red beak, they are very distinctive. Unfortunately, hunting is traditionally a favourite pastime for the Greeks during the winter months and many of the grouse get shot. It’s not a case of needing them for food anymore, but more a case of having them as trophies, which I find very sad.
When I first worked in Kos in 1996, there were only about 15 cars in the village of Kefalos. People still travelled about on donkeys. Since joining the European Union in 2001, this scenario has reversed. Donkeys are still around but in fewer numbers. They are well cared for and owners are usually very happy for them to be photographed.
Octopus swim in the waters around all of the Greek islands. They are very shy, yet inquisitive creatures. In shallow waters, they can curl up at rest on the seabed and look like large pebbles – so much so that I actually managed to step on one by mistake. Its tentacles quickly unfurled and he swam off, rising to the surface to have a look around and see who had trodden on him. They like to cling on to rocks and walls too.
We once watched a young man walking along Limionas Harbour. He suddenly quickened his pace, went to the edge of the harbour wall, knelt down, placed his arm into the water and snatched out an octopus, all within about 5 seconds! They are delicious to eat (apparently!) and to prepare them, (once killed) they are rinsed in the washing machine and hung out to dry (literally!)
Yes, honestly! They spend their time divided between the salt pans near Tigaki in the winter, and the wetlands north of Kos Town in the summer. They are very shy, so tend to stay near the middle of the salt pans/wetlands, so you need a good pair of binoculars or zoom-lens camera to get a good view of them. Sadly, I currently have neither – but that’s a challenge for you when you visit!
I hope you will enjoy looking out for some of the wild inhabitants of this beautiful island during your stay!
Whenever I go to Greece, the first dish I usually order is Xoriatiki (Greek Salad). You just can’t beat the freshness and flavour; the combination of red onion and feta is just sublime. There are only 6 ingredients for a real Greek Salad, which should be as fresh as possible – and it doesn’t include lettuce (even Cos lettuce!)
In a large bowl mix together:
Juicy red tomatoes, cut into chunks
Peeled cucumber, cut into chunks
Green pepper, cut into thin slices
Red onion, cut into thin slices
Place a slice, or chunks, of feta cheese on the top and add some Black Olives (Kalamata are best)
Dress with vinegar and olive oil and enjoy with some fresh bread. Kali Orexi!