The most popular Greek islands are places like Mykonos and Santorini, the first with its gleaming white fishing village on the seaport, the latter with its cerulean domes perched above the caldera. The photos look dreamy but once visitors arrive, they can sometimes find it’s more crowded than Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
Quick tip: There are other islands!
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Sifnos is one of them and while it’s off the radar for most tourists, celebs are sighted there. Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson and Scarlett Johansson are just a few of the stars that have visited the island for its gourmet cuisine, and Margot Robbie visited Sifnos this past summer with husband Tom Ackerley after the debut of Barbie. The island also served as the perfect backdrop for the 2007 Greek comedy Kiss of Life and the comedic crime dramas The Island and Nicostratos the Pelican.
The cruise ships don’t stop there and there is no airport. Without your own yacht, the only way to reach it is by SeaJet, a regular fairy leaving the Athens port of Piraeus, about 80 miles north.
Once there, visitors may opt for rustic relaxation on a clifftop aerie, from which to take in the unfathomable Aegean after sunrise and a canopy of stars after sunset.
That’s what Verina Astra offers, a 16-suite boutique hotel perched 650 feet above sea level on the edge of Poulati cliff. Each elegant domicile includes a private terrace with breathtaking views of the Aegean and neighboring islands. And when the sun sets, there’s no better place for stargazing, thus the name Astra, meaning stars.
Visitors can stay in the Indus or the Norma, the hotel’s largest suites at 55 square meters, with a private infinity pool and veranda. Slightly smaller is the Pegasus suite, offering similar accommodations, or visitors can try the bargain-priced Lyra, at 29 square meters. Rates vary from around $200 to $1,000 a night.
Sifnos was the birthplace of chef Nikolaos Tselementes who wrote the book on Greek cuisine, literally. It’s called, Greek Cookery, published in 1950. Continuing the tradition today is Nikos Thomas of Bostani Bar and Restaurant at Verina Astra, offering open-air dining on a seaside cliff. In Greek, bostani means a small garden of herbs and plants like sage, thyme, rosemary and verbena. Most traditional dishes are made from simple ingredients like locally sourced vegetables, slowly cooked in a wood oven, which tenderizes meat and enhances flavors
Offerings include fresh fish and meat dishes like mastelo, a festive dish containing lamb, wine and dill. Vegetarian options include revithada, a chickpea soup with onion, garlic and bay leaves, also slowly-cooked. Manoura gilomeni is an aged cheese made of goat and mutton milk with an acerbic and spicy taste that’s best accompanied by dried fruit and aged wines. For dessert, try the melopita, a pie without pastry made of honey and a cheese called anthotiro. Or try some loli, which means “crazy” in Greek, an apt description for this otherworldly pumpkin cake with raisins, honey, orange and sesame seeds.
Culinary expertise perfected over time implies equally fine-tuned techniques for preparation and food storage. In other words, pottery is a thing on Sifnos. Dozens of classes enable visitors to spend time with local artisans and learn techniques dating to the Bronze Age.
Ideal for burning the calories consumed at Bostani are Sifnos’ more than 62 miles of trails, one of the largest networks in the Aegean. One popular destination is the church of Panayia Poulati, built in 1870, charming with its blue dome and bell towers. Summertime hikers can cool off with a dip in a secluded bay, or swim and snorkel by the rocks of Dialiskari. Don’t miss Kastro (the castle), a cliffside village on the edge of the sea. The former capital of the island, it’s been inhabited for roughly 3,000 years.
For a day of island hopping, Serifos, Paros, Milos or the uninhabited island of Polyaigos, where the beaches know few footprints, are all options. Take a seven-hour tour on a caïque, a traditional boat, with a light lunch and beverages included. Or try a three-hour sunset tour including dinner wine or beer.
After a day of hiking and sailing, stop by Bostani Spa where treatments are inspired by aromatic herbs and plants, the basis of centuries old Greek remedies. Lovers and friends can enjoy the two-hour Honeymooners Bostani Experience (around $500), including a deep tissue botanical massage, a skin superfood booster facial and carob and fresh botanicals exfoliation.
For hardcore fans, there’s the Bostani Ultimate State of Calmness regimen, a five-day series of treatments like the Intensely Cleansing Salt Scrub, Contouring & Drainage Massage and the Hot Stone Full Body Massage. Another way to restore one’s chakra is doing yoga, either private sessions or group classes, on the deck under the olive trees where the sea breeze cools participants.
Verina Astra’s sister establishment, Verina Terra, is located in Platys Gialos, the largest and most cosmopolitan beach on the island. A hot spot for foodies and sunbathers, its adjacent restaurants, taverns, coffee shops and bars offer a wide variety of flavors and potent potables.
Maisonettes at Verina Terra feature two bedrooms, a small living room and two large verandas. The family apartment includes a private garden and entrance, independent from the hotel area. It features a master bedroom and a separate floor with two single beds, a dressing room, dining room and living room. Prices range from around $180 to $685.
Other hotel options loved by travelers to Sifnos include the minimalist Gerofinikis Boutique Hotel offering a pool with stunning sea views or Niriedes Hotel with private verandas overlooking Platis Gialos bay.
Newly elected Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has sworn to boost revenue from tourism as part of his plan to keep his country’s fragile economy stable. This means the islands can no doubt anticipate more development, hotels and cruise ships.
Sifnos is a place to avoid all of that and experience what makes the Cyclades so charming to begin with — rustic, days filled with flawless beaches, wilderness walks and a chilling dip in the glistening surf and nights of good food, better wine and bewitching evening breezes under a star-strewn canopy.
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