Mines, Catacombs and Glorious Beaches | A Guide to Milos
This island, sculpted by volcanic eruptions and time, remains relatively untouched by mass tourism
On Milos you spend your day like a pirate, moving from cove to cove, and later climb into bed feeling deeply satisfied. The island has only a few bars, and nobody minds. Here you will graze your knees climbing on rocks that change colors every few meters, you will cook in caves, you will see human and animal forms in the impressive geological formations, and you will doubtlessly find your own secret beach on which to sunbathe in solitude – perhaps without even a swimsuit. Milos is an entirely volcanic creation, built over eons by successive underwater eruptions. There are spots where the sea becomes a natural jacuzzi, with warm gases bubbling up from the seabed. Elsewhere, the sand on some beaches is so hot that it is impossible to walk barefoot. In Paliochori, on the southwestern part of the island, Stella Tseroni, the owner of the taverna Sirocco, places a Dutch oven in the sand in the evening and the next day has slow-cooked meat or fish ready for her customers.
On the renowned beach of Sarakiniko – again a landscape reminiscent of those in the film Zabriskie Point and one where you won’t know whether to lie down or jump and frolic like Antonioni’s young protagonists – you will see the fossils of fish and shellfish that lived 2 million years ago. Milos’ geological wonders are fully revealed by a trip around the island by sea: you will pass by the dramatic landscape of Vani with its massive, deep red rock formations and where, until 1920, a manganese mine operated. You will also visit the famed Kleftiko, with postcard-perfect white rocks lapped by turquoise waters, the narrow coves once the lairs of pirates. Taking this excursion on the catamaran of Milos Adventures we also stopped at the cave of Sykia, entering deep into its interior with an inflatable boat and lying on a small private beach looking up at the sky through the gaping hole left by the collapsed roof. Indeed the company also arranges private barbecues here by appointment. Alternatively, you can take a tour around the island, or go another route of your choosing on the traditional sailboat “Thalassitra”, or via kayak with the geologist Rod Feldtmann as your guide (www.seakayakgreece.com), or go fishing on the caique of Kyriakos Haldaios (www.milosfishingtrip.gr) who organizes super fishing excursions together with his daughter.
THE COLORFUL “SYRMATA”
Fisherman Kostis Palaios spends his summer in a house that looks like a boat. It is literally on the water and from the “bridge” (i.e. his balcony) we can see children playing on a beach. He invited us for lunch and to see up close one of the syrmata – the colorful boathouses dug out of the rock where fishermen store their boats in the winter. In the summer, they are converted into refuges for midday siestas with a rudimentary kitchen and mattress, or into complete summer homes with all of the basic comforts for their owners, who are mainly local fishermen. The majority of the syrmata continue to belong to the locals as their title deeds cannot be sold – they can only be given for longterm leases. As such, foreign visitors who want to stay in them for their holidays usually rent them. Cleaning and gutting two barracudas in the shallows, Palaios recalls the 1960s, when, with basins, they would wash even their dishes in the sea. “Only Ava dish soap created a lather. We would cook, we would sleep all together on a tavloto [a makeshift bed made of wooden planks extending wall to wall] and we would go to the bathroom… in the mountains,” he says. Today they have solar panels which provide extra electricity.
When asked why these buildings, which date to before the 20th century are brightly colored, there are two answers, says the president of the Municipal Port Fund of Milos, Nikos Xenakis. Their bright hues were either inspired by the multicolored rock layers of the island, or they were painted in order for each fisherman to be able to easily identify his home when returning by boat at night.
It is also said that the locals kept them brightly colored in open defiance of an order issued by the dictator Ioannis Metaxas (1936-1941) that stipulated that all homes on the island be repainted blue and white. You will see syrmata in traditional settlements such as Fyropotamos, Klima and Mandrakia. At sunset they become small, romantic paradises.
AN UP-AND-COMING DESTINATION
The highly active mayor of Milos, Gerasimos Damoulakis does not reject the oft-repeated description of Milos as the “island for couples”. But he adds that it is also visited by many families in search of relaxed holidays. He and the municipal board – the majority of whom are active in the tourism industry – have succeeded in growing tourism on the island by 40-50% over the past five years, with the biggest markets being France and Italy. There are also efforts to promote Milos among Asian travelers. So far, the development has been gradual and low-key. Tourism never exploded on Milos, as mining has long been the main source of wealth on the island. Even today, more than half of Milos’ permanent inhabitants live off the mines.
“When I was a child, in the 1970s, I remember a few foreign backpackers coming to the island. Mr Thanasis who had a greengrocers, when he would see them passing by his shop, would cut them a slice of watermelon and feed it to them. That was as far as tourism went, no one dared to invest – they didn’t think that it could also be a source of income,” explains Mr Damoulakis, who is also President of the Committee for Tourism Development of the Central Union of Municipalities of Greece (KEDE).