travel

Sifnos: an authentic Cycladean island with a rich heritage

Attitude sails to the Greek island of Sifnos to discover authentic island life

2022-08-09

Words and pictures: Markus Bidaux

It’s an early start for my boyfriend Leigh and I before we catch the ferry to Greek island Sifnos from Athens’ port (read our Athens feature here). Although its neighbours Mykonos and Santorini may be more famous, I’m assured that the island is a culinary powerhouse with a landscape to match.

Sunset over Kamares' bay

After a smooth, two-hour sailing, we alight under a warm sun at its port, Kamares, where a charming collection of shops and al-fresco restaurants cluster around the bay. One of these is Isalos, where we stop to meet owner Theodore, a member of the local tourism committee.

He tells us about the island’s gourmet claim to fame as the former home of Greek chef Nikolaos Tselementes — his surname is now a synonym for ‘cookbook’ after he wrote a hugely popular collection of recipes in 1910.

Today, Theodore recommends Omega3, a chic waterfront fish restaurant as one of the best on the island, but to make sure you book ahead.

Sifnos' dry-stone walls circling its hills

The well-marked trails snaking around the mountainous island are incredibly popular with hikers in cooler months, but it is simply too hot to trek when we visit in June, so we rely on our rental car to get around.

Our hotel is on the opposite side of the island, which even with the winding roads only takes 30 minutes. Although I am supposed to be navigating while Leigh drives, I struggle to concentrate on my phone’s map — the stunning hilly landscape, encircled by ancient dry-stone walls built into the slopes for growing crops, keeps grabbing my attention.

Our private pool at NÓS 

Just uphill from the harbour of Faros, NÓS is an 18-suite luxury hideaway that takes its design influences from the local architecture. Its stone and slightly rough cream plastered island landmark Chrisopigi Monastery is surrounded by the Aegean Sea.

Our suite at NÓS

After entering our suite, my boyfriend asks if we just got married, because everything about it screams honeymoon — a generously sized bed, an extra-wide shower room with two shower heads on either side, and a large patio with a private plunge pool.

Additional touches include a Marshall speaker, a flatscreen telly with a wooden frame and an unchanging image that makes it look like a photograph, and Acqua Di Parma toiletries. It’s tempting to stay put, but the spa is calling.

The pool at NÓS

I am blown away as I approach the property’s treatment “room”. On a cliff, facing away from the rest of the property, the spa is open-air, with just a staircase leading to the most spectacular view of the water.

A massage bed sits in the middle of the space while a door off it leads to a changing room and shower. After several days of carrying my heavy camera bag around, I am beyond grateful as the masseuse soothes my backache away.

As my body is realigned, the sound of the lapping waves and birdsong gently relaxes me, adding to the bliss. When it’s his turn, Leigh opts for a melting candle massage, which sounds sublime.

The treatment room at NÓS

Later, we eat dinner in NÓS’s restaurant overlooking an infinity pool. On the menu is classic Greek cuisine with a modern touch.

Following the waiter’s recommendation, we have the spicy local goat’s cheese spread, which is blended to our taste at the table: it’s yet another scrape-the-bottom-of-the-bowl dish.

For mains, Leigh goes for lobster with orzo pasta, while I choose the lamb shoulder — which our waiter describes as being just like his family’s Easter Sunday roast. A bottle of fine Greek wine from the wine cellar keeps us refreshed and lively.

Farmer George Narlis

The following morning, we visit a farm where George Narlis grows fruit and vegetables without water in Sifnos’s arid landscape. We chat about it in his kitchen, where he often gives cooking demonstrations, over a small cup of chickpea “coffee”, a post-Second World War invention created when islanders were too poor to afford real coffee.

Although it is uncaffeinated, it is delightfully nutty.

Chickpea coffe at Narlis Farm

George explains that by not irrigating his tomatoes, courgettes, or even watermelons, it forces the plant’s roots to work harder to find water underground. He gives us a tour of the farm, offering us freshly picked tomatoes, which are juicy and full of flavour.

We also climb the steps of his dry-stone walls to sample pears from an orchard of trees that exist nowhere else in the world.

Markus Bidaux (right), Attitude's Travel editor, and partner Leigh in Kastro

Near the farm is Kastro, a whitewashed village on the coast that overlooks windmills, a bay, and the blue-domed Church of Seven Martyrs which sits atop a peninsula. Along the pathway to the church, a flight of steps leads down the cliff face to the sea.

We don’t have swimwear or towels, but we can’t resist. After stripping off our T-shirts, we jump into the turquoise waters. We keep our shorts on — soon realising that white linen goes transparent when wet — but later we learn we needn’t have worried: this is a popular local skinny-dipping spot.

Church of Seven Martyrs in Kastro

After we dry off in the sun, we visit Atsonios Ceramics on the beach of Vathi. The pottery of Sifnos is so ingrained within the history of the island that it is recognised as culturally significant by UNESCO.

We meet the owner Antonis, whose family has fired the kilns here since 1870. He shows us one of the island’s few remaining fire kilns — although he also has electric ones — and demonstrates the Sifnos method of throwing pottery on the wheel.

Here, they perch next to the wheel and manoeuvre themselves over the clay, rather than sitting with the wheel between their legs. No chance of recreating the infamous Ghost scene when we have a go, then…

NÓS skipper Yannis

On our final day on the island, NÓS treat us to a ride on their Seafarer 36X black Rib, a sexy beast of a boat skippered by the lovely Yannis. He takes us to the neighbouring uninhabited island of Poliegos, where we discover the most idyllic bays I’ve ever seen.

The waters are so clear we can see the seabed even though it is eight metres deep and we can’t resist jumping off the boat for dips along the way.

Coastal bay on our boat trip

But this is the only way to enjoy Greece’s highlights: simply dive right in.

Attitude was hosted by Visit Greece

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