The Greek island of Sifnos is a place of Greek mythology and idyllic island life. It is an island where charm, natural beauty, and stress-free enjoyment are blended together to create the ideal eco-vacation.
By Pamela Grant
There are 200 inhabited Greek islands glittering in the Mediterranean, and one promises visitors something that is very difficult to find today – a stress-free eco-vacation. On the island of Sifnos, the flower-filled, charming capital city of Apollonia, the glittering Aegean Sea, an ancient history filled with Greek gods, beaches, Cycladic villages, and a friendly population blend together to create a place that makes liars out of people who say such places no longer exist.
For the eco-traveler, this is paradise lost because life is slow and beautiful, and people are appreciative of nature's beauty. An enjoyable five-hour ferry trip from Athens places visitors on the island – a place where many say they never want to leave.
Sifnos is only 35 square miles in size and has fewer than 3,000 residents. It is one of the Cyclades islands, which are located southeast of mainland Greece. This is an island with a history built on ancient stories of gods, and it has retained traditional Greek life in its many villages. Those are two very good reasons Sifnos is attractive to ecotravelers. Its tranquility, blissful beaches, delicious food and brilliantly white villages have an irresistible allure.
The island was once known in ancient times for its gold and silver mines, the richest one being Agios Sostis. The riches the mines held attracted many invaders, but it was a failure to send an offering to the Oracle of Delphi that ended the mines. The myth says that the god Apollo got angry when the offering was not sent and flooded the mines as punishment. Today, those mines remain flooded. There is something so captivating about standing on an island that attracted the Greek gods, even if one did get angry. Maybe the ancients forgot to send an offering so long ago, but the island offers up its tranquility every day.
Visit the Archeological Museum of Sifnos in the village of Kastro and view fascinating historical items that include ancient items like a marble funerary stele dating back to the Hellenistic period, and statuary and pottery equally ancient.
The Ecclesiastical Museum of Sifnos is another cultural adventure. Located in the monastery of Panagia Vryssiani, it holds a wealth of religious artifacts that also tell the story of Sifnos from a different perspective.
Apollonia is the capital city and a good place to begin a visit. It is built in amphitheater style on three hills and is a pedestrian's dream. The oh-so-white buildings and paved walkways take visitors by a number of churches, the Folklore Museum of Sifnos, and restaurants and cafes serving wonderful traditional Greek dishes. A visit to O Drakasis may lead to enjoying an octopus salad in one of the local restaurants or to Patisserie Gerontopoulos where Greek orange cake (Portokalopita) beckons the sweet tooth. There is traditional Greek and Mediterranean cuisine prepared and served in simple but elegant ways.
The many narrow alleys meandering through the city hold surprises around every corner. An island guest can easily end up at an outdoor table, high on a hillside overlooking the ocean, enjoying mastelo (a soft white cheese) and rooster cooked with wine. This is the place to get the freshest fish possible – straight from ocean to tray after preparation.
It is easy to quickly unwind in Sifnos, and that is really what makes this small island so special. Just a short distance in any direction from Apollonia are uncrowded beaches where ecotravelers can enjoy snorkeling, swimming and sunbathing. There is a choice, too, when people want to indulge their mood.
Sifnos has nine beaches from which to choose. Sandy beach Apokoftos with its blue waters is secluded and tranquil. It also has a view of the Chrissopigi monastery. Sandy and pebbled Faros beach with emerald waters has many nearby coves. Hersonissos is a fishing village beach with several nearby taverns; it is virtually untouched by tourism, and local villagers have a tradition of producing pottery that is well known outside the islands. Platys Gialos is one of the island's busiest beaches; so if escaping people is the goal, this is not the place to go.
Islanders will readily shout "Kalimera" (Good morning!) as they pass you on your journey to visit one of the many churches. There are hundreds of churches, and some are very small but most hold religious festivals. With 365 churches, it is safe to say that most ecotravelers will find a festival to enjoy during their stay.
Some of the churches are quite mysterious, like the tiny blue and white Efta Martyres which overlooks the Aegean Sea while sitting perched on the crest of a rocky hill. The Monastery of Chrissopigi is the religious center and sits on a rock in the sea. Legend has it that a medieval nun was running away from pirates, prayed to the Virgin Mary for safety, and a rock was divided into two parts to cut off the pirates, leaving a narrow strip of sea between the rock in the sea and the island.
Do Something or Nothing
When the moon shines on the Aegean Sea, some people are found just sitting on their patios or the beach just to savor the beauty. There are recognized sunset spots like the Beach of Vathy and the Settlement of Troulaki.
Others may decide to enjoy the night life with newfound friends. There are plenty of choices among the cafes, bars and clubs, including the Lost Bay Beach Bar at Platis Yialos, the Folie Sifnos in north Sifnos and the cozy Argo Bar. There are opportunities to learn traditional Greek dances, to dance in the street and to enjoy modern dance at a dance club.
Sifnos is an island where enjoying life seems like just the right thing to do. It is a place for true rest and relaxation. Hike along the many paths that go by island monuments, monasteries and villagers. Go for a sail on the Aegean Sea. Try spearfishing and experience the life of traditional Greek fishermen or do nothing.
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