Sifnos – a hidden treasure

 

Sifnos is a small island in the Western Cyclades. It is relatively unspoiled because it has no airport and you arrive by fast boat from Piraeus or Milos. I have been coming here for years, and my heart lifts as the bus descends the steep, curving road and I catch my first glimpse of the enchanting little port of Vathi where I usually stay.

There is no road along the beach so the bus turns round and heads up the hill and you trudge along the beach to your chosen taverna. There are six tavernas, serving traditional Greek food, and many of them have simple studio rooms above.

Vathi is a sleepy cluster of houses in a single row and the hills host goats, donkeys and bees. Near the landing stage for boats there is the little Greek Orthodox church of Taxiarchis and when I was there in September for the saint’s day I was made very welcome and invited to share the famous celebratory chickpea soup which is always prepared all over the island for Sunday lunch.

There are 365 churches on an island which is only 74 square miles. Each Church has its own saint’s day and the local family who hosts the celebration gets to take the holy icon home for the following year. The austere, isolated monastery at Chryssopighi has an icon which is said to perform miracles with the grace of Panaghia – the virgin Mary – and is a place of pilgrimage for Sifnos and other Cyclades islands.

On the island the light is very special and the sea is always present. Even in August in Vathi I have been the only person swimming and around the island there are small beaches or rocky coves for every mood.

Sifnos is known as the island of potters. The clay here is very fine and the many potteries prove an irresistible lure. I always stagger back to Italy laden down with their ware. The island is also famous for its cooks. The best known Greek chef and food writer, Tselementes, was born here and the art of casserole cooking is believed to have originated on the island.

In ancient Greece Sifnos was a wealthy island with gold and silver mines and they sent treasure to Apollo at Delphi every year. There is a legend that when the gold and silver mines stopped being productive it was because Apollo was angry when one year they sent a gold-plated egg in place of the real thing. In spite of this the main town is named in his honour, Apollonia, and further up the hill is the sister town of Artemonas where historic, elegant mansions can be found. Kastro, the walled Venetian fortress, and the lively port of Kamares are both worth a visit.

Gourmet Adventure  June 17-24 2017

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