The cutest Greek island you have never heard of
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The cutest Greek island you have never heard of

Conde Nast Traveller presents a Greek islands described as “The cutest Greek island that you have never heard of”. The tribute is about the volcanic Dodecanese island of Nisyros, which has an energy all of its own, and it’s drawing an arty crowd to its black-sand beaches, hilltop villages and rocking tavernas.

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There’s more to Nisyros than its volcano. The Castle of the Knights, was destroyed in a 1933 earthquake. It’s hard to tell what’s what. The whole village is built on layers of lava, ash and pumice; there’s even a cave that’s used as a natural sauna. Houses have been built in and around the castle, on top of each other, and in a jumble along the hill, but only 25 or so are still lived in. The rest deteriorate, eventually becoming part of the landscape, among the purple thistles, wild flowers and fig trees.

Artists are drawn here by something else. Nisyros harbours secrets. There are the blue-domed churches with elaborate frescoes typical of most Greek islands, but there are also monasteries buried in caves, and ancient sites blanketed by ash, yet to be unearthed. And so much folklore there’s an entire museum dedicated to it. The best-known story is the creation of the island itself, depicted in mosaics and pottery scattered around the world. During the battle between the gods and the giants, Poseidon chased the giant Polybotes down to the Dodecanese. With his trident, he chipped off a chunk of Kos and hurled it at the running giant, pinning him to the sea floor. His deep, rumbling groans were the only part of him to escape.

The philosopher Strabo described the mythology of Nisyros in his geographical accounts of Greece, and made note of its stone (pumice is still mined on the nearby islet of Gyali) and wine. The only drink made here now is a bitter liquid marzipan called soumada, pressed from the island’s once abundant almonds. Nisyrians still farm furiously on terraces cut into the volcano’s conical slopes, producing their own specialities such as an almond, garlic and potato paste, which goes well with pitia, a light falafel made from chickpeas. Local artisan Yiorgis and his sister make the most divine cheese by hand, boiling milk over a fire and skimming from the top. The result looks like clotted cream; eaten fresh from the stove, it tastes like melted ricotta.

Sometimes abandoned places become beautiful, and sometimes the most beautiful places become abandoned. In the harbour village of Avlaki, crazy 10ft-high lava sculptures with holes like a natural sponge divide the beach. There’s no escaping this nutty little island’s energy.