Islands of Industry part 2: Milos

 

You will have definitely seen Milos, it perhaps exists in people’s imaginations long before they visit it. Its images infiltrated your vision when you think about that Cycladic Greek paradise with azure blue seas and white sand, the contrasting colours of fisherman’s houses right at the sea and boats bobbing in the harbour. Milos has all of this and a whole lot more, which is why it’s having a bit of a moment. This is a good thing for the Miliots haven’t been reliant on tourism – so it’s a supplementary activity. It has been a steady industrial island, with a history of mining and mineral extraction plants since the turn of the Century. In fact the mines here contribute about 5% of Greece’s national GDP.

Milos

 

I had ‘ummed and ahh’ed about Milos – for the reason that it’s getting lots of coverage in tourism press, so is building a following, not yet on the Santorini / Mykonos scale, but on its way as tourists add in Milos to an island hopping route. It has a ton of high speed connections too. That’s why we went in June before it got too busy. I was finding it tricky to secure somewhere relatively good value quite last minute. There is a lot of ‘boutique’ places which 10 years ago I suspect had meaning, now is a tired trend in hotels that often means double the price for some white painted furniture (sorry!).

As we’d just stayed in Kimolos, being blissful and low key, the inter-island hop to stay on Pollonia for 4 nights on Milos was super simple. The Panagia Fanomerini boat actually runs all year round and the mine workers use it to commute to work between the two islands. Although the timetable had just that day changed, hence a ‘will it / won’t it’ panic about whether there would be a 12 midday service or wait until 5pm. The café waitress offered to help us and a few conversations later soon established it was on at midday as promised. Like everything in Greece, having ‘travel-faith’ always helps (taxi’s turn up on time, boats run, people offer lifts).

Arriving in Pollonia was certainly a contrast to sleepy Psathi. Pollonia is a little harbour and swathe of sandy beach fringed by tamarisk trees, it has about a dozen café’s and restaurants on the front, from souvlaki houses to higher-end cocktail bars. Kind of traditional but feels well established for tourism as most of the buildings have sprung up in the past 10 years or so. But the traffic was a little crazy, lots of ATV, quads and mopeds buzzing around! When we rocked up at the travel office to check in to the apartments, the sales girl spent too long trying to tell me how I definitely needed a vehicle to see the island properly. Pah, we have legs! It’s not that I don’t trust us as drivers, its more I don’t trust other drivers – especially younger kids who maybe don’t drive mopeds normally.

We stayed in the Eleni, which was clean and quiet and just a short walk from the seafront at Pollonia. And more importantly close to breakfast at Kivotos ton Gefseos (the ark of taste!) which did amazing homemade honey, cakes and ice creams. We even ate breakfast there one day; eggs and bacon in the gorgeous paradise garden.

Milos

So Pollonia is right next to this huge benzonite mine, which I think most people don’t even realise as they sip cocktails on the seafront and work on their tan. The island has been well mapped into 6 routes with descriptions here. As it was too windy to head to the beach, G decided on route 4 as it sounded like one of the most interesting and different hikes you can take. It covers a vast area still in use mines along the cost and interior sites.

Milos

It starts in Polllonia, heading out the back of the village on a well –marked road. For the majority you are on unfinished roads with mining traffic. We did this on a Sunday and given everything else is closed in Greece, it was astonishing that trucks worked tirelessly up and down this road. The mine and processing plants form a vast area belonging to S&B Industrial Minerals whose main product in bentonite, used in clay and concrete manufacturing. The truck drivers have painted personalised trucks (like ‘the yellow dragon’) and given the strangeness of people wandering around a dangerous site, they were friendly too.  Waving at us, not to scare us away which is what I feared!

Milos

This isn’t an ideal hike for everyone, the only other walkers we saw were a French couple, the lady was not having a good time and hated walking on the roads with the trucks. They stopped twice and asked us a few questions, eventually abandoning the hike before reaching its real highlight.

Milos

The view from the massive mine makes it all worth it. They have even made a viewing point shelter where you can sit and enjoy the view. And it is quite an amazing view which really reminds you of the sheer scale of mines like this.

Milos

After this stop the trail returns to the rural farming fields and olive groves that one gets used to in the Cyclades. It heads out to the coast in a loop so we extended the walk through to the beaches at Pachena, where we ate a picnic lunch on the lunar landscape and tried to swim in the huge waves crashing on the shore. We contined the walk to Kambos and the caves at Papafragos- where we saw a few people idly ignore the crumbling rocks and warning signs to take slightly eye-watering photos leaning over ledges! Heading back into Pollonia, we passed an abandoned looking garden Nursery owned by the mining company – where apparently they grow plants to help stabilise the rock shelves and re-green the land.

Milos

Milos is a unique place, its geology and coastline are unique. That’s why going out on a boat trip seems to be one of the definitive experiences on the islands .But when I found a day trip offered on kayak this seemed like a much better experience than being trapped on a crowded boat for 6 hours!  Rod who runs Kayaking Milos, a geologist and Australian ex-pat knows the islands coastline like an expert having lived on Milos for over 20 years. The day trips are 9.30-4pm, with snacks and lunch, tons of help and guidance for new and novice kayakers. He plans routes based on the winds and currents each day, so our small group went out at Aghia Kiriaki on the south coast and kayaked about 13k on the water – which sounds like a lot but it is entertaining and informative, so you don’t notice the exercise! (well not much, but my arms were tired the next day!) The route took us past Tsigrado beach, which can only be reached by climbing down the rcks on a rope ladder. Yikes, I was much happier seeing it from the safetly of our double kayak. We explored the coast, team work all the way, paddling through caves and sulphur springs. Stopping for swim breaks along the way, firstly at Firaplaka and then lunch at Gerakas beach. All breathtraking views and a really interesting way to see the island up close.

Milos

Milos

Although it is a relatively small island it has a lot to do. Not just admiring the interesting industrial landscape and geology – of which there is plenty. But there are also stunning beaches and traditional tavernas. Like the one very close to our apartment in Polloonia, called Liofyto – a fab open air terrace set in a lovely garden. We fed our holiday bellies with a local speciality of lasagne with veal, tiganes pork bites and green salad with mustard dressing. The place was full of Greeks and locals celebrating a babies christening late into the evening.

Other nights we found some great seafood at Enalion on the sea-front– a sun-dried octopus with tangy fresh lemon and chickpea salad. I’d also recommend the souvlaki place on the main road, so cheap and so tasty. Luckily we balanced exercise and eating on this trip!

Even if you have a week on Milos there is probably a lot to see and do, contrary to belief you need a car or moped, or ATV, the islands bus service is frequent so you can get by without.

Here is my top 5 things to see and do:

1.Go hiking
Choose one of the 6 mapped routes to experience the island on foot. With 75 beaches to explore by foot, boat or vehicle, it is still possible to find your paradise. Despite the popular ones being Sarkoniko with its white lunar landscape and the caves at Kleftiko, there are dozens more to see off the tourist trail.

Milos

2. Walk down to see the restored fisherman’s houses at Klima
Most are painted in colourful hues and used as holiday homes. This would have been the islands original port for the ancient city of Melos.

Milos

3. Visit the Catacombs just outside Trypiti
Here outside the smaller settlement of Trypiti is a wonderfully preserved catacombs – the best in all of Greece apparently. Only 4 euros entry and you get a guided walk through, where the roots of plants hang spookily from the ceilings of the two open chambers. It’s well maintained and shows an interesting explanation of the islands shift to organised religion as orthodox buriels were established. There is a ton of interesting graffiti there too from as early as the 1920s

Milos

Milos

4. Explore the site of the ancient city of Melos and see the amphitheatre
The area is well signposted and explained. On the way you’ll see the marked spot where the famed statue of the Venus di Milo was found in the 1820s. Now in the Louvre in Paris, she is an interesting claim to fame from the islands past glory in the ancient world.

Milos

Milos

5. Wander around the streets of Plaka
Although I didn’t find it the most atmospheric of Chora settlements you can see in the islands, it is undeniably pretty, well maintained and has lots of interesting shops, bars and café’s.

Milos

 

It’s not often I have regrets about Greek Islands, but I do with Milos. I wish we had had just maybe one more day there so we could have visited the Milos Mining Museum in the capital Adamas as I understand it wonderfully weaves together the islands history and industry. Next time, there definitely has to be a next time!

Islands and lands of industry Part 1

I am writing this on the Blue Star Patmos as it weaves its way in the blinding July heat to Syros. It’s not as if the days in the UK weren’t the same temperature but I am adamant it’s a different type of heat. The fields across the SE and parks in London have yellowed, looking more like the end of summer rather than midsummer which is normally lush, green and bursting into flower. On the journey from the Airport down to Piraeus the suburban train it passes through some of Athens most industrial areas– I find them mesmerizing. Not just the trains warehoused and rusting near Lefkas Station, but the miles and miles of factories and even the crossings are still man powered rather than automated.

The train extension down to the port of Piraeus only opened in March so the track and stations are brand new. I can’t deny it’s a great service connecting the airport and port in under an hour – much less fuss than the Metro, which involves changing trains and less risk of traffic than the X96 bus.

As it rolls into the outskirts of the city, the brand new trains whoosh past the old rusting trains in the warehouses with falling in roofs and open battened down doors and windows. Hammered plywood and road signs for makeshift barriers. The train windows smashed, metal bent graffiti tagged and name of the brave scrawled over doors – I have no idea about this yards history or why they look so forlornly abandoned. The trees have grown in between the carriages and through the gaps in the rusting tracks, even sidings have been overtaken by creeping weeds. Nature is reclaiming it slowly season after season. The yellowed grasses and palm trees raggedly losing old brown branches and drying out in the sun. Trains seats gather dust in their graffitied tombs. As the train speeds by I see the breeze flapping patterned sheets on balconies that sit side by side in buildings that don’t match, thrown up in a rush next to older more palatial houses, now in a state of decay. The alleys are strewn with bike parts and toys, this is another Greece. Perhaps like a country within a country. This isn’t the world people come to see – it’s a gap between the past and the future. Its uncharted territory – a filament of light trapped in time, a glint, a door to what was and will never be again. A small act of reminding, like a tug on a thread to unravel.

The hand drawn railway barriers, loaded with weighted bricks are wound down and up to stop traffic. Otherwise it’s a free for all pedestrians, cars and bikes crossing over the tracks. The man stands next to hut or a brick house and whoever is on duty operates this all day and night – I imagine people don’t notice this much. This is probably the same in every big city, the areas left to their own fate once the businesses close up, sites for sale or rent.

The light in Greece is phenomenal – as soon as the boat races out of Piraeus and out of the bay of Salamina. The haze gives the coast line an ethereal glow. Cranes and processing plants look like oblique structures of beauty. The tankers and tug boats lined out at seas even look full of adventure, like a fleet ready to take battle. Why doesn’t the coast in Kent look like this? It is the Aegean light, basking an incandescent veil over industrial ugliness.

I wanted to tell you about Kimolos and there I was distracted with one thought colliding with the next. Easily done.

So Milos and Kimolos sit next to each other like two very different colleagues in the Cyclades. Some islands are sisters I think, but these two have their differences. Both in outlook and beauty. The Artemis on her faithful inter-cyclades loop was our steed to Kimolos first. Its beauty as an island isn’t right there on display, it needs discovering – it isn’t showy as you arrive, it’s a typical Greek island with a port, a strip of beach and flat low rise buildings painted white. We got whisked up to where we were staying by a friendly local who gave us the keys and a warm welcome to the island. The village is known as the Chorio – it’s the only real town settlement on Kimolos and turned out to be the best option to base ourselves for 4 days. The village has a sleepy ordinary feel, like everyone is going about their business –especially wandering through it at 1pm when small groups of elders sat chatting in the café that lined the square and children played in the shade. What I found lovely was the sense that despite it being June the island was just waking up and getting ready to open for summer tourism. There were 3 of 4 café/bars were painting and laying chairs out in the nights we were there. Many of the houses in the village are inhabited rather than tarted up for tourism and rentals or second homes. But that’s nice, why rush if most people only visit in August anyway. Which is a good thing to keep things smaller and more off the beaten track. The ‘tourist’ roads have only recently been built – given that the island still has active quarries and perlite mines, industry has always been the driver for infrastructure.

20180622_20143920180620_17214420180620_17183620180622_105735It is sparsely populated – less than 600 islanders live their year round. There are a few small apartments and rooms to rent and so tourism is increasing. But no major hotels, or complexes. Plenty of people also day-trip there from Milos, via the small ferry that connects the two islands at Pollonia. Now an island bus connects the beaches with the Chorio and does a loop a few times a day. We eschewed the formal travel options and got our hiking boots on to explore.

20180620_142732On the first afternoon we found what ended up being our favourite swimming spots at Kara and Groupa. Both these places are less beaches and more pretty places for swimming from the rocks. At Kara there are beautiful boat huts carved into the rocks by fisherman. Framed by a natural pool for swimming It was late afternoon when we swam here on the first day and after a family packed up their picnic we were the only ones there. Nothing but little fish to keep you company in the deep blue reflected in the white sand and stone, and the fisherman sitting to repair their nets.

20180621_14060120180621_11432220180622_094210Walking to Skiadi Rock the next day was a great hike, it takes you out the back of the village, passing farms and out into the wild landscape. It was a beautiful trail, well-marked and also passes the remains of the Kastro settlement high on the hill and through old paved mule trails. We didn’t see another walker at all which was surprising given that the route is so well signposted and fairly manageable for all abilities. There is more detailed route maps to be found here: https://www.kimolos.gr/en/tourism-at-kimolos/walking-routes/detailed-outlines-of-hiking-routes-in-kimolos-island

The rock at Skiadi has been formed through two types of rocks. The softer rock is been eroded by the wind and the harder rock is more resilient and remains as canopy over the top – hence its mushroom shape. We picnicked here on traditional pastries and then climbed down to the deserted beach at Mavrospillia for a swim. Then on to Ellinkia where the remains of a submerged ancient city lie near the shore. Our untrained eyes didn’t see much. But it’s never the less a pretty and remote beach with only a few sunbathers and swimmers.

The beaches on Kimolos are all quiet different, some shingle, some stone and some white sand. A few have nice traditional tavernas on like Kalamatsi and Aliki beaches, which we also walked through as part of the Skiadi hike. It ended up being a full days hiking, 14k but with plenty of stop offs and swims. An evening spent feasting on goat stew and local cheese in the To Kala Kardia (the good heart) was a perfect way to refuel and recuperate.

Kimolos has a strong mining industry, like Milos and to this day still has active mines, including the perlite mine at Prassa. We walked there from Choria along the coastal road, passing the small harbour and bay at Agia Minas which we couldn’t find much about but looks like a man made boat landing cut into the rocks. It has much older stone buildings and the remains of stepped rocks, which look like there have been quarried and build up in walls and terraces to prevent the land from slipping. (if anyone can tell me what went on here, I’d love to know)

Before we reached Prassa we took a nosy around the Therma Loutra (thermal baths) – which were just two concrete covers over natural thermal springs that go into sea. One had very hot water and the other cold. Apparently you take buckets from each and make a bath in the thermal spring water in the bathhouse, which looked closed up from what we could see. Interesting to see anyway!

At is at the stage in the road after Loutra that the industry and working life of Kimolos meets tourism head on. Cars and ATV’s jostle for space on the unfinished road, while trucks from the perlite mine trundle up and down all day. Perlite is a natural mineral rock that is heated at high temps to increase absorbency and is a key ingredient in growing media like compost. The beach at Prassa is made of Perlite – small white shingle / sand which makes the sea take on a magic turquoise colour. It was much busier here with day trippers from Milos and boats parked in the bay.

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It is easy to see why people visit this beach – it stands out for its clean water and perfect blue colours, it has loungers and a beach bar so suits everyone. It is just really intriguing to be so close to an active mine and be lounging about while this all goes on. Given that Milos and Kimolos have hardly any unemployment at all compared with the mainland and mining contributes around 40% of the economy here, and 50% coming from tourism (mainly in Milos). Mining and tourism are strange but vital bedfellows.

Next stop… Part 2: Mining in Milos