Holidays to Greece can take many different forms – partying in Mykonos, sailing the Aegean, hob-nobing in Hydra but there is only one island where everyone goes specifically to eat: Sifnos. The father of Greek cooking, Nikos Tselementes, was born and bred here and, although he may not be famous to the outsider, every Greek has a copy of his book Odigos Mageirikis somewhere in the house. Published in 1910, it remains the go-to for every Greek chef. A pilgrimage to Sifnos is a must for the perfect Greek Salad seeker in all of us!
We had really heard very little about Sifnos before booking our holiday in Greece. There really is not that much written about this tiny island, which is exactly what attracted us to Sifnos in the first place. All we wanted were quiet, lazy days by the beach.
Our home base was the Verina Suites in Platys Gialos, one of the nicest beach areas on the island, and it was absolutely perfect in our eyes: simple, yet tres chic, Hellenic-style villas, plus a lovely pool which never seemed to be busy. The pool bar was near enough that a frappe or mojito was there practically on demand depending on how early you wanted to party. The service was impeccable and everyone was so helpful and friendly. They even managed to finagle us a car even though we had not pre-booked – not an easy task as the island was busy, or so they told us. In our opinion, we never saw that many tourists even though it was the middle of July!
When enquiring about our lunch options for the day, out poured the whole history of Sifnos as a foodie destination spot from Isidora, the GM. Beaming with pride, she informed us that all the restaurants are good, just with various degrees of good-ness. She followed this by explaining that, unlike other Greek islands, every Sifnos chef has a reputation to uphold so it’s tough to get a bad meal anywhere. Then she gave us in-depth descriptions of all the island specialities: mizithra, mastelo, revithada, revithokeftedes, manoura, etc. As the list got longer, I could feel my tummy getting bigger and bigger and it was only the first day!
1. Breakfast at the Verina Suites
Our first delicious taste of the island was breakfast at our hotel. This is not your typical breakfast buffet – island honey, homemade apricot, apple, pear, banana preserves, toasted sandwiches, eggs all made to order, fresh fruit (peaches, watermelon, cherries, melon) and yogurt all washed down with freshly squeezed orange juice. Greek-style French toast (or as I named it toast alla Greque) – egg-dipped lightly fried local bread dripping with honey and powdered sugar on top -was the pièce-de-résistance. Everything is sourced locally and you can tell. Breakfast is open from 9 – 11 and almost everyone stays the whole time contemplating their next big decisions – which beach today and where to eat lunch!
2. Omega 3, Platys Gialos
We headed straight to the sea and sand and sat under a huge umbrella waiting for our hunger to return sooner or later. Platys Gialos is one of the busier beaches but saying that it was still relatively quiet. We never had difficulty finding a lounge chair and umbrella and no one played music or disturbed anyone else. The water was warm and it was super clean. There was even an outdoor shower to wash off after the salty dip in the sea.
As it always happens, we soon needed to eat again. We wandered down the beach, flip-flops in hand, looking for Omega 3. This was the one place I was told not to miss by Isidora. It is the trendiest & tiniest spot on the island. Creative dishes using local produce and seafood: sea bream ceviche, potato salad with capers and fresh anchovies, tuna tartare and the like. It seemed empty when we got there but were quickly informed that only a few seats were left as the whole place was reserved for a late lunch.
3. O Drakakis, Apollonia
Our first night, we cabbed it up to Apollonia – the capital of Sifnos. (We had seen someone trying to hail our booked cab, so we picked them up along the way. Who should be our cab mate but one of the most important Cypriot baritones – baritone Kyros Patsalides!) Hands down one of the best places we ate for dinner, so of course we ate there three times in one week, was O Drakakis. Nestled in between jewellery and scarves shops sits this local, everyone knows your name kind of, spot. We were so lucky to grab seats for two in the middle of rush hour. The moment we sat down, the table of three next to us leaned over and told us that we had picked the best place in town. They then proceeded to order for us: pickled vegetables from the kitchen garden, chicken with honey and rosemary, zucchini fritters with spicy tzaziki, on and on. They then took out a piece of paper and wrote down the rest of the places we needed to try while in Sifnos! Thanks to the kindness of strangers, we had a plan!
4. Nero & Alati, Platys Gialos
Our second day here, we returned to Platys Gialos as our car was being delivered in the late afternoon. If your wants lend themselves to more traditional Greek fare and you are on Platys Gialos then Nero & Alati (Water & Salt) is your place. Greek salad in Sifnos comes with the local cheese mizithra instead of feta – a creamy soft cheese with a hint of sharpness (a cheese that’s also in Bulgaria). We followed that up with revithokeftedes (chickpea fritters), imam bayildi (eggplant heaven) and watermelon for dessert. We kept ordering one quartino of local white wine – one after the other after the other, until we finally admitted to ourselves that 4 quartinos equalled one bottle! What were we thinking? We are on holiday in Greece – drinking at lunch is de-rigeur (if you are into that kind of thing)!
5. To Tsikali, Vathi Beach
As we finally had our car, it was time to explore the other beaches Sifnos had on offer. Vathi beach was first – this long sandy beach is home to the fanciest resort on the island – the Elies Resort. When we arrived, there was almost no one there. To Tsikali is all the way at the end of the beach hidden from view by a wonderful church and monastery. When we looked for a table, we quickly realized where the crowds were. Super busy, everyone was eating what looked like the best roast chicken in the world. Even though I wanted to try the local mastelo (goat or lamb cooked in the oven with wine), I was swayed by the smiles on everyone’s lips as they tucked in and was not disappointed. After our watermelon, they brought over two sugary balls of an almond candy that I had never seen before. They were gone before the check arrived.
6. Vroulidia Taverna, Vroulidia Beach
Next beach hop was Vroulidia Beach. Recommended by our three new friends from Drakakis, they had warned us that it was a bit of a treacherous route down to the taverna but worth it. In fact, the rental agency has advised us NOT to go under any circumstances…but hey I knew there was a great taverna down there and I was not to be stopped. A little treacherous was putting it mildly: straight down, no guard rails and not a paved road in site – thank goodness the Cypriot is very adept at everything, especially driving, or we would not have made it to tell the tale. Needless to say, there were very few of us enjoying what in my opinion is the prettiest cove on Sifnos. Here the taverna delivers right to your lounger if you want but we chose to sit on their porch. Sun dried fish and octopus were their specialties so that’s what we had. Their House Greek Salad also had tiny sun-dried fish mixed in with the mizithra. Slightly chewy but with a wonderful flavor, wine and watermelon gave us the courage to get back up the hill later on that afternoon. (BTW: Up was much easier than down.) Bumped into our Drakakis buddies here!
7. Chrysopigi Tavern, Chrysopigi Beach
Can I say that the food here is almost equal to the setting? Our favorite taverna lunch of the trip was at this simple beach taverna. It has an amazing reputation and well worth it. How can a salad, grilled octopus and yiouvetsi (lamb cooked with orso pasta) be our favorite? It was just was cooked to perfection. The cove is lovely especially when you are lying in the sand gazing toward one of the important monasteries on the island. You can sit on the beach or climb down the rocks near the monastery to get to the water. It’s all fantastic. Be forewarned: there are no lounge chairs or umbrellas, so get there early to grab your spot under one of the lovely Cedar trees. If you are feeling enthusiastic you can walk the hour-long path to Faros – another lovely cove, where we ate dinner the following evening.
8. To Limanaki, Faros
We joined the baritone Kyros Patsalides and his wife for dinner at one of their favorite places on the island. They have been coming to Sifnos for fifteen years. They couldn’t imagine an island better in Greece so stay they did. The two Cypriots examined and chose our dinner from fish that had been caught that day. Served with salad (of course), delicious grilled potatoes and an escarole-like green, it felt like our healthiest meal so far….until they brought out three gooey desserts on the house! As the sun set, the lights from the path to Chrysopigi turned on and you could see people making their way back in the night.
Down some scary steps and through Seralia’s maze of streets you get to this taverna. Hovering over the sea, you could practically dip your toe in the water. Seralia is a tiny spot right below the heavenly, perfectly picturesque hilltop town of Kastro. Here I finally tried manoura, the local hard “spicy” cheese! Enjoy the peace and solitude as well as the fish. This was on the last of the three places that our Drakakis pals recommended and I am so glad we made the effort.
Our final night in Sifnos we finally made it to Kamares, the port town, for dinner at Captain Andreas, one of the most famous of the island’s restaurant. We came for one thing and one thing only – the Cypriot’s favorite dish – Lobster Spaghetti! Tables are set up outside on the beach so off go the shoes. Taking thirty minutes to prepare – it was so worth the wait. Every table around us was having the same thing – it became almost a game to see who would get theirs first. Served in a oversized ceramic dish, the spag-lob was perfect. Our trip was complete as we waddled to check out the shopping.
NB: Another unmissable Best Bit and our extra special addition to the list is (wait for it!):
Loukoumades Aggelon, Apollonia
These little round cushions of pure sugar are really your friends! There is only one Loukoumades Aggelon and you can’t miss it. Even though it’s easy to be swayed by chocolate covered things, don’t mess with the original. My advise is to keep it simple and have them the traditional way – with honey and cinnamon. You won’t regret it. You have to have it – you’re in Sifnos!
So if sun, beach and food is what you want from a holiday in Greece – Sifnos is the island for you!