Our evening ferry crossing to Sifnos was rough. The darkened waters were not kind and I spent most of the trip laying down on a lounge or outside gulping down fresh air while shivering in the unforgiving winds. Erin, Mia and Caius didn’t really seem to notice the heaving boat which was both a relief and a little disheartening at the same time.
It was with much relief when we landed on solid ground in Sifnos and heartily greeted by the effer vescent Mrs Mosxa Apostolidi, the President of Rented Rooms & Apartments of Sifnos Owners Association.
Our hotel had sent a car to pick us up and, despite a heart warming offer for a late night Greek dinner, we politely had to decline so I could get to the hotel to recover and it was long past the kids bedtimes. We were driven to the newly developed Hotel Xerolithia, only a few minutes from the port. Our hosts were unbelievably sweet and gentle.
They presented us with a large one-bed room suite, complete with kitchenette, and a recessed area with 2 single beds for the kids. I will never forget that first night when we lay on our enormous king size bed. It had to be the softest, dreamiest beds in which I had slept in a long time. We still talk about it. And the shower featured Erin’s perpetually favourite rain fall head style.
The next morning we made our way over to the hotel restaurant. They had a scenic pool area overlooking the town of Kamares and outdoor seating along with a buffet breakfast.
My only complaint about the majority of Greek hotels is the thick walls. These walls block Wi-Fi signals from reaching into the rooms so anytime we needed to be online the strongest signal was by the pool (hey, not so bad, right?) or sitting outside our front door.
Tour With George
Later that morning, Mosxa’s brother George arrived to give us a tour of Sifnos.
Covering just under 74km2, this Cycladic island lies between Serifos and Milos, about 130km south of Piraeus, the port of Athens. Archaeological evidence shows the island was inhabited since at least 4000 BC, and it was a major producer of gold, silver and lead. In fact the oldest known mine in the world is located in the north of the island and the first coin ever minted was made here.
Our first stop on this day trip was Kastro, one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in Greece.
We took a walk along the postcard-perfect streets and on top of the high stone walls overlooking the luminous blue Mediterranean Sea. We ended up the Archaeological Museum of Sifnos, which was filled with ancient artefacts from Kastro and all over Sifnos.
The rich collection of Archaic (6th century BC) and Hellenistic (2nd century BC) sculptures brought the tales of ancient Greece to life unlike anything else. Don’t be fooled by the compact size of the museum. The number and quality of exhibits definitely makes this a must-see attraction for any history fan.
After climbing back into the van we headed to Faros on the southeast coast of the island. We grabbed a delicious fresh orange juice at Gorgona Cafe, situated along the beach, overlooking the tranquil bay. This cafe was named after the sister of Alexander the Great who supposedly turned into a mermaid. Caius was more interested in throwing rocks in the sea, and was in paradise with a virtually unlimited supply of smooth pebbles.
Refreshed, we next visited Madonna of the Mountain Church (Panagia Vouno) which overlooks Platis Gialos Bay. I can see why the altitude makes these holy sites feel closer to heaven with views like this…
Next we drove to the nearby church, Panagia Chryssopigi. Jutting out on a rocky cape, this place holds a special significance to the island. In 1875 a severe storm approached the island and miraculously stopped at the church, preventing wide spread damage to boats and the island alike. The rocky out crop also holds a swath of beautiful formations, which makes it a popular location for weddings and christenings.
After lunch we picked up a rental car and drove through the southern side of the island and headed back to our hotel so the kids could have a nap.
With recharged batteries that evening, we headed to dinner in the ancient town of Apollona. The stone walkway to the restaurant Felos was long, only accessible by foot, and we were a bit puffed by the time we reached the highest point where the restaurant was located. But it was worth it. This iconic restaurant has been open for over 100 years, and was the very first coffee shop in town.
The next morning, the heavens opened up and brought a deluge of rain. So we made the most of the time and caught up on work in our hotel room. Once the sun came out in the late morning, we got started on our second day trip.
We met Zefi, our friendly guide, at Atamonis and, since we were behind schedule due to the rain, headed straight for Aghios Andreas. This destination is an archaeological and historical wonderland - an ancient Mycenaean town (acropolis) founded around1300 BC, and first discovered in 1899 with ongoing excavations starting in 1970. The engineering ingenuity demonstrated by the ancient builders is impressive, with a double-layer wall surrounding the city, so if any attackers got past the first wall they would be trapped and routed into a locked pen like a rat.
Around 100 to 150 people lived in this ancient town, and it had a direct line of site with 3 other ancient towns on the island, including Kastro. Using a network of at least 76 towers, these people were able to communicate across the whole island of Sifnos quickly and effectively. Incredible!
The museum situated nearby provided more insight into this amazing site with well-preserved artefacts, well-presented information panels, and an interactive multimedia presentation.
To top it off, an adjacent church dating from the 17th century, provided a jaw-dropping view of the eastern side of the island, and over the sea to Antiparos. This site was one of the highlights of our visit to Sifnos.
But just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we drove down the hill to the town of Vathi for lunch at the restaurant Tsikali. This meal was one of the highlights of our entire Greek island trip. I could even go as far as saying it was a life changing experience. Everything was faultless, the hospitality, the location, the view, the food, the flavour. As a well-travelled food buff, I easily find areas for improvement in each restaurant we visit, sometimes only very minor. But this place was a rare exception. A high benchmark against which all other Greek dining experiences were compared.
The owner’s son took some time to chat to us about his journey as well as the food that was served. All the produce was locally grown on the owner’s farm, from the vegetables right through to the meat. Inspired in a moment of nirvana we wrote the post, This Is Greece.
I’ll let the photos of the food do the talking…
Our kids loved the beach, and after quickly eating their fill, took no time to get their clothes off and splash around in the shallow water. As parents, this gave us a few rare moments of uninterrupted relaxation.
The pace of life in Vathi could not be rushed. It compelled complete relaxation. The natural sense of independence and self-reliance was refreshing. This place gave me a glimpse of what life can be like without coercion. Without consumerism. Without hectic schedules. Complete harmony with the environment that was pure and simple. It was impossible not to be changed by this experience.
Wrapping Up Our Road Trip
With full tummies we slowly drove our car to the northern end of the island. The kids were exhausted and quickly fell asleep which made the drive not only scenic, but also soothing.
Up on reaching Heronissos, we captured a few photos and soaked up the secluded landscape then jumped back in the car for our final pit stop - Panagia Mangana. This church is positioned at one of the highest points of the island, overlooking the both the north of the island and also the port town of Kamares to the south, where our hotel was located. In a full circle, this church was the very one which we spotted on our arrival night, appearing the float mysteriously in the sky. By day we could tell it was firmly planted on the ground, but this location provided the closest experience to flying without leaving the ground.
After the twisted descent into Kamares, we rested briefly at the hotel before checking out. Upon our kids repeated requests, we stopped past the playground near the centre of town for 15 minutes before a final visit to Mosxa at her hotel, Nymfes, to say farewell. She generously gave the kids hand made ceramic bowls which they loved.
As the sun was setting, we had just enough time to return our rental car and grab a quick and delicious dinner of local pasta and wood fired pizza at Cameron near the ferry terminal. A perfect way to finish an amazing visit.
What Makes Sifnos So Enticing?
Our whirl wind visit to Sifnos was only 2 nights, but I’d highly recommend staying longer in order to get a real feel for this laid back, friendly island. This island offers something for everyone – relaxing, secluded beaches, ancient history, mind altering food, warm hospitality, and eye-popping panoramas. But what made Sifnos stand out? An exquisite country side, waiting to be explored, where the sea meets the mountains and the mountains meet the sky.