There are two reasons I wanted to visit Sifnos – excellent food and excellent sandy beaches. This is pretty much my favourite combination of things, so it’s fair to say I had high hope for this little Cycladic island.
Unlike Santorini, Mykonos, and the increasingly popular Paros and Naxos, Sifnos is still somewhat under-the-radar as a tourist destination. It’s the kind of island you visit on your fourth or fifth trip to the Greek islands, once you’re in the know about these things.
Don’t expect to be the only tourists on the island though! I was expecting Sifnos to be rustic but it actually has quite a boutiquey vibe. It’s not so quiet as to feel empty, and it’s not far enough away from Athens to feel remote.
I counted a high number of stylish weekending Athenians, chic French families, and posh British couples, either staying in expensive villas up in the hills or dropping anchor on their yachts. Platys Gialos and Vathi have upmarket beach hotels for those who have long since moved on from Mykonos. There are some fancy bars in Apollonia, and stores sell pricey elegant kaftans and jewellery alongside the lovely pottery. But it’s understated, not flashy.
So, here are 7 things that knocked me sideways with delight in Sifnos:
The Delicious Food
In my admittedly brief experience over one lazy lazy week, it’s impossible to get bad food on Sifnos. It’s a small-ish island. I stayed in Kamares which is the island’s main port. That description makes it sound huge, but it consists of one short main road with a handful of tavernas, bars, and shops. The other villages on the island are similarly sized. There’s nowhere for a bad restaurant to hide.
Even the moussaka I ate at a pizza restaurant (Kamaron) was the best moussaka I’ve ever tasted.
Sifnos is one of the best Greek islands for foodies and that’s in part because it was the home of 20th century chef Nikolaos Tselementes, the forefather of modern Greek cuisine. You can thank him for introducing elements of French cuisine to Greek cooking, such as the bechamel you find in moussaka. He authored a cookbook which is still represented in households and on taverna menus around the country.
The island also has been a centre for pottery since the ancient times, which has left a legacy of delicious dishes slow-cooked in earthenware pots in wood-fired ovens. The most famous is revithada, the island’s famous chickpea stew which is eaten after church on Sundays. You’ve never tasted chickpeas like it!
The other speciality is delicious cookies like the almond amygdalota and bourekia.
Up in the north of the island, Cheronissos is known for its fish tavernas. And there are a few restaurants on Sifnos offering creative modern fare such as Omega 3 in Platys Gialos, loved by visiting celebs.
Sifnos Events organised food-focused walking tour and cooking classes.
The Sandy Beaches
Don’t tell everyone, but I think Sifnos might just have some of the best beaches in Greece. They’re not as famous as the beaches on Mykonos – but the sand is better. Much better. Within 2 minutes of stepping off the ferry in Kamares (pictured above) you can be reclining on its very long and wide beach which stretches all the way around to Agia Marina. The water is very shallow and sheltered – perfect for tots, and so Kamares has a family-friendly and relatively unpretentious vibe. You can watch the ferries come in and out all day.
The real magic of the Cyclades is the light and the colours. There’s nothing quite like bobbing in the sea in this part of the world, watching the way the light plays with the scenery. The sea is deliciously turquoise and glows like molten lava as the sun goes down.
Over at Platys Gialos (pictured below) and Vathi you’ll find two of the nicest sandy beach resorts I’ve seen. Low-key whitewashed villages with hotels right by the beach, nestled in amongst tavernas, pottery shops, tamarisk trees, and a few stylish bars. The sand at these two is fine, and paler than at Kamares. The sea is wavier. Well-kept secrets indeed.
Next time I visit I plan to stay in Platys Gialos rather than Kamares as it feels more spacious and has more places to eat.
The island’s capital is Apollonia, which sits in the centre of the island and blends into the smaller villages which fan out around it. It’s perched high up in the hills with excellent views out in every direction. The bus service on Sifnos is pretty good but if you’re staying by the coast you’ll inevitably have to change at Apollonia (or Artemonas) to get anywhere else.
Life in Apollonia centres around one long main street which is pedestrianised and lined with appealing shops, restaurants and bars. In the evenings it is surprisingly buzzy for a small village but in the afternoon expect a sleepy siesta vibe accompanied by the most incredible smells of warm spiced cookies mingled with pine, jasmine, and herbs. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s one of the best smells I’ve ever smelled. If only you could bottle it and sell it!
The Walking Trails
Sifnos has a one of the best networks of walking trails in the Greek islands and is increasingly popular as a hiking destination. Many of these paths are on old donkey trails which criss-cross the island and take in both inland and coastal scenery. The great thing about these donkey trails is that they tend to be made of low marble steps which make them really pleasant to use.
Start and finish points are well-connected by bus. Route information is frequently pasted alongside timetables in the bus stops. This is an easy-going place for walking where you don’t have to plan much in advance. See Sifnos Trails for routes and information.
Whilst the bus service is good, if you plan on doing a lot of walking I would suggest considering a base in Apollonia or Artemonas (pictured above) rather than the coast otherwise those bus changes will eat into your day.
Got a kitchen to furnish? You’ll drool over the ceramics here. There are still a number of potteries still producing the traditional Sifniot dishes and pots. Only the more expensive styles and items are available for shipping, but in general the prices are very reasonable. Most villages have at least one pottery or store.
This Infinity Pool
If you walk along the beach at Kamares to Agia Marina and keep going you’ll find a cluster of hotels and apartment complexes. One of these – Delfini – has a fab infinity pool which looks out across the bay to Kamares. Perfect for sunsets. Non-guests can use the pool if you purchase drinks and snacks from the 7 Seas pool bar. It’s a 20-minute walk from the main part of Kamares.
One of my favourite walks took me along the coast from Chrysopigi past Apokofto Beach (pictured below) to the scenic little fishing village of Faros. This part of the island feels less manicured and modern than the other beach villages and is all the better for it. There are 3 small beaches of dark golden sand at Faros along with a few places to eat and drink. Apokofto is unorganised and shady and has 2 simple tavernas with parking.
So, all in all pretty heavenly. There must be some downsides though, right?
The Ferry Options
Sifnos is only a few hours from Pireaus but the ferry connections are surprisingly infrequent. The main connections are fast car-carrying hydrofoils which can whisk you there in under 3 hours but are expensive and enclosed. Personally I prefer to travel on the cheaper slower car ferries and sit out on deck with a coffee.
There are a few slow routes around the western Cyclades but these don’t connect daily with Pireaus. You’re more likely to use them for travelling on to neighbouring islands like Kimolos and Milos.
(I use Ferryhopper to check and buy my tickets these days.)
Sifnos is Small
Yes, this is stating the obvious somewhat. It’s not overcrowded but to me it felt a little claustrophobic (perhaps it’s the steep landscape?) and – dare I say it – cliquey.
However I do think it’s a perfect destination for small group of friends or family who want to eat out at delicious restaurants every night. Next time I’m bringing all my friends!
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Image credits: All images © The Mediterranean Traveller