Daybreak was breaking as I swam out from Paliochori seashore. Twenty metres offshore, within the first rays of daylight, I may see bubbles rising from the ocean mattress. There was a roaring in my ears, like Poseidon’s kettle about to boil, plus some alarming gusts of heat water. Island of Milos, I believed, you’re filled with surprises: a volcanic Jacuzzi within the sea itself. Then I acquired out of the water and walked up the seashore barefoot, straight into my second shock: a thorn bush.
Milos & Sifnos
I yanked out each single one of many finger-long spines, however the final one broke off in my ankle. An hour later I couldn’t put my foot down. Was Milos having a joke? Anybody for island-hopping?
Milos was the fifth cease on my exploration of the lesser identified Aegean islands, a journey that has revealed the great range inside these specks of land scattered between mainland Greece and Turkey. However Milos, I used to be quick realising, is completely different on an entirely completely different scale: starker, sharper and typically downright bizarre. There’s a seashore solely accessible by ladder, a taverna that stands within the sea and unusual rock formations in all places.
I used to be staying in a stunning resort, Villa Notos, tucked into the cliffs on the outskirts of the port city of Adamanatas. My subsequent few days have been purported to be spent climbing, however that prospect now appeared unlikely. Elena, the resort proprietor, dug round in my ankle with a needle and declared the thorn too deep. I caught the bus up the mountain to the hospital the place a stern-faced physician spent 10 minutes exploring the inside of my ankle with an extended needle, then instructed me there was no thorn. I agreed: something to flee his alarming skill to resist ache, in different folks. I may really feel the thorn. I named it Odysseus and put a plaster on the furious pink scar the place he had entered the Malicious program known as Kevin.

Clambering down the ladder to Tsigrado seashore on Milos. {Photograph}: Kevin Rushby/The Guardian
Elena on the resort was decided to search out issues I may do whereas internet hosting Odysseus. She known as her pal Dimitrios, who had the keys to the caves below the resort. I solely needed to hop down two flights of steps and there was Dimitrios subsequent to an enormous iron door that I hadn’t observed earlier than. We entered a protracted tunnel within the rock and walked into the mountain.
“Within the second world conflict,” Dimitrios mentioned, “the Germans occupied Milos due to its pure harbour. They tunnelled into right here to create shops and a hospital.”
For years after the conflict the tunnels lay empty and unused, a warren of cool caverns, crying out for a goal. Now Dimitrios and buddies have began placing on artwork reveals, which add surreal touches to a few of the areas.
I went as much as see Elena. “Sit down in your terrace and we’ll deliver you meals.”

Within the tunnels beneath Adamanatas city, Milos {Photograph}: Kevin Rushby/The Guardian
Elena is Greek hospitality incarnate. Sit in entrance of her spectacular desk overlooking the little seashore beneath and earlier than lengthy espresso and cake will seem. Give it a bit longer and a few fascinating story will emerge, perhaps about her nice grandfather, who refused to give up his pistols to the federal government and was named after his moustache – I’m summarising. Do-it-yourself cheese pie got here on a tray with espresso. Later a bus timetable and map arrived, together with a message. I used to be to go to the costume and cultural museum up the mountain at Plaka.
The bus companies on Milos are wonderful. I rode up the hill, then limped by means of the labyrinthine lanes of Plaka. Down by the ocean you may discover “blissful hour” bars and memento outlets, however Plaka feels genuine: household homes, youngsters’s toys within the alley, cats, just a few good eating places and bars. One of many homes has been become a museum. It’s a tiny place and you may simply miss it. There aren’t any movies, no interactive displays, not even an illustration of something. Had been it not for Odysseus, I might by no means have gone, and by no means met the custodian, Iro. “Elena Gaitanis despatched you? Do you know her surname means ‘curly moustache’? Let me present you her nice grandfather.”
His photograph was on one wall: a piratical outlaw in large pantaloons, pistols in his belt and that eponymous moustache. No surprise that when the island governor had demanded he give up his pistols, Gaitanis had despatched phrase: “Come and get them.” However no person dared.

Iro (left) with guests in Plaka’s cultural museum. Elena’s great-grandfather is within the photograph on the wall. {Photograph}: Kevin Rushby/The Guardian
With Iro as information the museum was a revelation, a window into the previous lifetime of the island. She instructed me how each night in Plaka would finish with every housewife calling in her chickens by title, confirmed me the stunning clothes ladies wore for his or her wedding ceremony nights, defined how the priest acquired his each day bread, and so forth and on. Every time I used to be about to go away, she yelled, “Cease! There’s one factor I have to present you.”
Finally I hobbled away and climbed steps to the highest of the hill, the fort, the place I loved the magnificent view and took off my boots. The plaster was intact. One other bus trip took me again to sea degree and the great Klima, a collection of vibrant boathouses dug into the cliff. I swam and fell asleep on a bench. Subsequent morning Elena enquired after my ankle. The plaster had survived one swim and two showers. Odysseus had gone quiet. I may stroll once more, and island hop too.
The final island on my journey was Sifnos, a 50-minute ferry trip away. It loomed up on the horizon, wanting large and forbidding and much quieter than Milos. I stayed at Delfini, a pleasant little resort on the rocky coast inside strolling distance of the port. I took a relaxation day for the sake of my ankle after which set off at 5am on what I had determined can be my final and most bold yomp of the journey.
I climbed the huge mountainside reverse the resort in semi-darkness, crossed a windy ridge after which took an historic cliff path by means of crumbling vintage terraces aromatic with juniper, thyme and sage. I drank from springs and explored deserted villages. Lizards and partridges scattered earlier than me. At noon I reached Vathy, a seaside village fashionable with French vacationers.

Kevin on the path on Sifnos
After a swim I selected the best taverna and ordered revithada, chickpea stew, a Sifnos speciality. George, the proprietor’s son, talked proudly of the island’s culinary traditions. “When folks have a cooking query in Greece, or they need a recipe, they are saying, ‘look in Tselementes’. It’s a ebook – the ebook. Tselementes has come to imply fantastic cooking. However Nikólaos Tselementes was an actual individual, a chef from Sifnos.” (He wrote an influential cooking collection in 1910 known as Odigos Mageirikis however his title has grow to be a synonym for “cookbook.”)
George introduced me caper salad, one other Sifnos delicacy. Finally I dragged myself away and continued strolling, now in beautiful warmth, over a few hills and all the way down to a abandoned seashore at Fikiada, the place I collapsed within the shade after a swim.
Later, in golden night mild, I discovered some spectacularly historic olive timber, hollowed-out giants that may have been saplings when Alexander the Nice was alive. The oldest olive tree in Greece is alleged to be greater than 3,000 years previous.

George and his mum, homeowners of Taverna Symposio at Vathy on Sifnos. {Photograph}: Kevin Rushby/The Guardian
I walked on and on till darkish, then caught the final bus dwelling. My Greek strolling epic was completed.
It had been an exquisite and provoking journey. Behind its success lay a complete and dependable ferry system (it by no means failed me), and a dependably hospitable roster of small family-run lodges. I by no means ate fancy or costly meals, usually pleased with pies from the bakery or a salad. It was the easy issues I loved most: the morning mild, the sun-blessed tomatoes, the vintage cobbled paths, the cool swims, the falcons taking part in with the wind.
Each morning at daybreak I pulled on my boots, desirous to get outdoors and see what the day would deliver. And so they all introduced sheer pleasure.
Besides, in fact, for Odysseus. That accursed wanderer got here again to England with me, hiding below the miraculously tenacious plaster. After which, once I first acquired in a automobile to drive, as if in horror on the finish of my wonderful summer time of strolling, he protested. I reached down, ripped that plaster off, and there, caught to the floor, was a grisly black thorn, a centimetre lengthy. Odysseus had made his level: my island-hopping was over – for now.
• Lodging was offered by Inntravel, whose three-centre, ten-night, self-guided Enchanting Cyclades strolling tour begins at £915pp, together with B&B, notes and maps, transfers between ports and lodges and an inside flight Milos to Athens. E book ferries at ferries.gr; Folegandros to Milos €39.80, Milos to Sifnos €15, Sifnos to Piraeus €50. Lodging in Athens was offered by The Foundry Suites (flats for 2 from £102)
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