I’m here. For the next 83 days I’m on the Greek island of Sifnos. The quality of light is the first thing you notice when stepping onto a Greek island. Proof enough that Lord Byron was on to something when he noticed how beautifully “Eternal summer gilds them” in his poem The Isles of Greece. But with more than 200 to choose from, was it wise to choose just one?
Will we find enough to do?
That’s the question I’ve often pondered in the lead-up to this trip. We’ll be here for almost three months. Is that too long? Sifnos is one small island in the Cyclades. One of many small islands. Should we have a more aggressive itinerary? Will we get bored?
I know many of our friends have thought the same thing. None have said it directly, but I can tell that some of them think it’s downright crazy to spend so much time in one place. And I get it. Vacations are great and being a tourist is fine. But on this trip, we decided to shake off the limitations of resort-minded tourism and experience the place as the locals do. Or at least as much are we are able. There is that language barrier. I’ve tried to get somewhat acquainted with the Greek language on Duolingo. I’m trying, but I need to keep trying…
But why Sifnos?
First of all, it has a reputation among the foodies of the world. It was the home of 20th-century chef Nikolaos Tselementes, the father of modern Greek cuisine. He’s credited with introducing elements of French cuisine into Greek cooking. He’s the reason bechamel found its way into moussaka. In 1930 he wrote a cookbook, Οδηγός μαγειρικής και ζαχαροπλαστικής (Cooking and Patisserie Guide). Like America’s Joy of Cooking it’s still considered essential to everyday Greek households.
But there’s more to our choice than food. Surrounded by piercing sunlight and azure waters, the 28-square-mile rocky island is the antithesis of the more well-known islands like Santorini and Mykonos. Not that there’s anything wrong with Santorini and Mykonos. But we were looking for a more peaceful way to experience the Aegean.
Sifnos might be just that.
For starters, it isn’t all that easy to get to. It has no airport, which is bound to preserve the laid-back, unhurried feel of the island. It’s a 6‑hour ferry ride from Athens. 3 hours if you can handle the (bumpy) high-speed catamaran. Which probably helps the island maintain its traditional allure: picturesque whitewashed villages, cliff-ringed beaches, and an abundance of locally run restaurants offering fresh catch and traditional flair.
As I sit here typing I can see that the island is waking up from its long winter nap. The few tourists that do know this island will begin arriving after Easter. For now the locals are set about spiffing things up. It seems every building in the main village of Apollonia is getting a fresh white paint job. Even the stone pathways are getting meticulous white borders painted along the grout lines of each and every stone. The whole town is pitching in!
While we wait for the paint to dry (and the restaurants to open) we’re plotting our time as well as we can. I’d like to spend some time trekking. The island — so I have heard — has fantastic hikes along the ancient marble footpaths and donkey trails that connect the villages, landmarks, and beaches. The faces of these hills are lined with stone-walled agricultural terraces, occasionally interrupted by the stark white paint of a simple dome-topped chapel. These paths and these vistas are another reason we chose Sifnos.
But I’ve barely arrived. There’s plenty of time to explore the stony trails. As I write this we’ve not yet accomplished much more than a couple of slow and aimless strolls through the clutch of white-painted cuboid houses that make up the main village of Apollonia. I’ll have more to report later. For now, let these few words of introduction be enough. Well, these words and a few pictures too. Have I mentioned that Spanish Conde Nast Traveler declared Sifnos to be the #1 most photogenic place in the world? GREG