Travel

A slow boat to Sifnos, Greece

webtopWe learned two lessons on our visit to the Greek island of Sifnos: always check your ticket before boarding a busy ferry, and it pays—big time—to explore the lesser-known island destinations.

We boarded the ferry precisely at the right time, 1 pm sharp. Our tickets were snapped up. The voyage from Serifos to Sifnos was to take half an hour. After 20 minutes or so, we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and asked the purser what was going on. She checked our tickets and confirmed our worst suspicions—we were on our way to Piraeus, a four-hour journey. Along with two young women from France, we were told we would have to pay, not for the trip to Piraeus, but for the trip back to Sifnos, because the boat was simply going to turn around. I flatly refused while Irwin walked away from me, embarrassed by my aggressive tone.

I gathered my troops, the women and Irwin, and told them in no uncertain terms that we were being inconvenienced enough having to sit on the boat for eight hours and it was the company’s fault for accepting our tickets without looking at them, and we should all sit tight when we docked at Piraeus, stay on the boat and definitely not pay for the trip back—which is exactly what we did.

We finally docked in Sifnos after dark. Sifnos was a dream come true. The ferry landed at the edge of a glorious bay, lined on two sides with steep, rocky hills. At the centre of this horseshoe is the long, sandy beach. The water is clear opal. It is shallow for about 100 metres, ideal for easing into the just-bracing water and great for little ones. We passed a row of open-air restaurants and cafés, with tables on wooden platforms that abut the water’s edge.

Without reservations, we checked into the Stavros Hotel, right on the strip, and it turned out to be perfect—clean, bright, renovated, double bed, AC, WiFi, flat-screen TV, fridge, great bathroom, and a balcony overlooking the bay, for only 40 euro a night.

The swimming was heavenly. Perfect temperature, perfect setting, just a few ripples when a ferry arrived and the only sounds we heard were squeals from happy children frolicking in the water. It’s the kind of spot where you say, “This is it, no point in going on. It can’t get any better.”

For food, we relied on a mini-market for Greek yogurt, honey and almonds, peaches, apricots and juice for breakfast. People lunch at 3 p.m. and dine around 9. We had our evening meals mainly at one family-run spot, right on the water, with one of us honing in on the fried sardines while the other feasted on moussaka and braised goat.

For side trips, we toured the capital, Apollonia, which is big but not memorable, and Kastro, the ancient capital with houses built atop one another at the crest of a hill, connected by narrow roads big enough for two donkeys to pass each other but not wide enough for an SUV. It is amazing how clean and white and totally preserved this place is, a testament to the isolation of these islands and the way Greeks love and preserve their architectural heritage.

Our other outing by bus was to another cove, Vathy, bigger than our base at Kamares but without the feeling of intimacy created by the hills. We met Patricia and Laurence, two lovely Belgian women, and had lunch with them.

While swimming, we met a British couple, retired teachers who had bought a house on the island and were spending six months a year on Sifnos. The overweight husband noted that if one were to have a heart attack, they could die waiting for the helicopter to Athens, since there are no hospitals on these islands.

Back at our dream spot, we wanted to have a drink at the Café Stavros. We politely asked the waiter if they could turn off the techno music. He consulted the owner, and offered to turn it down, not off. That was when we decided it was time to move on to our next destination, though Sifnos had been simply … Sifnotic.

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