I remember one evening back in 1986, sitting with my friend and landlord, Markos, the old potter of Kamares, Sifnos, as we often did, watching the sunset on the bay of Kamares. In the distance I could see the island of Serifos.
"Have you ever been to Serifos, Markos?" I asked the old man.
"Why would I go there?" he answered.
"To see it. Aren't you curious? You live so close to this island that you see it on the horizon every evening when you watch the sunset. You pass it every time you go to Athens. Don't you wonder what it is like? What the people are like?"
Markos looked at me with his half-blind eyes and the wisdom of his 89 years. "I already know what they are like. They are a bunch of crooks."
"How do you know this?" I asked him in the manner of Luke Skywalker talking to Yoda or a young Caine (David Caradine) in Kung Fu respectfully partaking of the wisdom of his teacher the blind Master Po.
"Because if you go to jail in Syros, the Cycladic capital, everyone there is from Serifos."
Like an idiot I accepted this and never went to Serifos.
Until the summer of 2006. I was in Sifnos for the nine-hundredth summer in a row and the only way I could convince Andrea to come with me was to promise to go to Serifos. Having never lived with Old Markos, Andrea had an entirely different perception of Serifos. A love of architecture Andrea could not help but notice that some of the most beautiful houses in Greece were on the island of Serifos, and some of the most well known artists, writers and yes, architects,
had made their summer home on the island.
"But Markos says the island is full of criminals", was the argument I used every year when she would want to cut our Sifnos holiday short to spend a few days in Serifos. Yannis (also from Sifnos) said he went once and it was dirty. Kosta (from Sifnos) said he got off the ferry once for a look and ran screaming back. George (Sifnos again) went there on his boat and got food poisoning and almost died. The list was long of the friends
from Sifnos who had spent an hour on Serifos
and returned with the type of memories one has after years of captivity in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Serifos was a hell on earth and if I knew what was good for me I would stay in Sifnos and not even think of going there. But, what about Jacquie, the beautiful girl from Manchester, who left for a couple days in Serifos and never came back to Sifnos. If Serifos was so terrible than how come she never returned? And what about Anna who spent every summer on Sifnos but when it was time to buy a house
she bought one on Serifos?
Maybe my friends in Sifnos were hiding something from me. Maybe they did not want me to go to Serifos because it was better than Sifnos and they were afraid I would never come back to see them. Maybe I had been duped by a conspiracy of Sifnos fanatics. I had wasted 20 years, going past the island of Serifos, taking some photos from the ferry for some future website, and then spending my holiday on Sifnos, eating at the same restaurants, swimming at the same beaches,
taking to the same friends. So what if I
loved the food, the beaches and my pals in Sifnos. I am a travel writer. It is my duty to explore uncharted islands.
I agreed to go to Serifos on the way home. But only for a night.
Serifos: First Impression
Let me start off by saying that my friends from Sifnos, including Markos, the wise old sage, had truly tricked me. I realized this as soon as I got off the ferry and walked past the fish taverns and shops that lined Livadi, the harbor of Serifos. There was something innocent and unpretentious about it, and reminded me of the Greek Islands
in the early seventies with tables and chairs of the fish tavernas right on the sand, a couple feet away from the sea. We dragged our bags to the Hotel Maistrali where Aegean Thesaurus had booked us. It was an Athens-style apartment building from the sixties or the seventies, the
kind of place that Andrea normally says destroyed the traditional architecture of the Cyclades. But this was different and she loved it. Clean and decorated with historical photos and interesting art, the doors to the rooms reminded her of her old apartment in Patission in the sixties. The view of the Chora (village)on the mountain was spectacular and the hotel was surrounded by kalamia (reeds) and farms. The owner, an Athenian named Babis Bobolos was a walking, talking guidebook for the
island. He had moved here from Athens 20 years ago and fallen in love, with his wife and Serifos. "You have to leave the port and see the beaches",
he told us. "You may think I am exaggerating but Serifos has beaches of the variety and quality of Milos, which as you know people say are the best in Greece." I didn't have the heart to tell him that we only had a night in Serifos and if we hurried we may be able to get up to the Chora before it got too dark to take photos. We left our daughter Amarandi in the room (she was 13) and found the bus that climbed the mountain to the chora every 15 minutes.
The Chora of Serifos
The Chora of Serifos is one of the most spectacular in the Cyclades, perched on the side of a mountain, overlooking the large harbor. The trip is about 20 minutes of hairpin turns, going back and forth across the face of the mountain until you come to a spot where the bus is able to turn around and leave you at the entrance to
the lower square of the village. We followed the signs to the Kastro and came upon the main square, in front of the Dimarcheo building, a carbon copy of the Schiller-designed town-hall
in Ioulida, Kea. In fact the Chora of Serifos was very similar to Ioulida, another Cycladic village built ampitheatrical on top of a mountain to deter pirates. The square, called Pano Piatsa which means upper square, was as cozy as a platia can be, with tables from several small ouzeries and a taverna called Zorba's occupying a good portion of it. There was also the 17th Century church of Agios Athanasios.
A climb of about 10 more minutes brought us to the peak of the village and the Church of Agios Konstantinos and the amazing view of all below it. We returned to the lower Piatsa and a small Ouzerie called Karavoumbas which specialized in tsipuro-raki, an anise-less cousin of ouzo, and traditional mezedes, ouzo snacks and a large menu of traditional
Serifos dishes and other Mediterranean fare. Tastefully decorated in traditional ouzerie fashion with tables outside and a restaurant-bar inside, Karavoumbas was the kind of place any Philhellene wishes someone would open in their home town so they
would not have to fly to Greece for their fix of ouzo, food and tradition. The kind of place I would open and just invite my friends to every weekend. We caught the next bus down after a couple tsipuros.
Back in the port we had dinner at Stamatis, a traditional fish and meat taverna on the beach just beyond where the pavement ends and the dirt road begins. Waiters crossed the street with trays of food, wine, and beer to a full house of clientele that except for us did not include one foreigner. The restaurant was unpretentious, the food which was a mixture of fish and meat dishes, some oven-cooked and some grilled, delicious and the staff were friendly and
Livadi is an interesting port and takes up a very small part of the large bay of the same name. When you get off the ferry you walk past restaurants with their signs in English, advertising fresh fish or whatever their specialties or what they think people want (mousaka, pastitsio etc). There are cafes, a couple tourist shops, ferry ticket
offices, a bakery, and even a small mini-mall of tourist and art shops. If you continue walking the road becomes dirt and turns into a long beach before going up and around the bay where there are some small coves with beaches. In fact the whole bay of Livadi has a number of coves, including Livadakia, a tree-shaded beach with an excellent campground.
The center of Livadi has to be the Yacht Club, a cafeneon-ouzerie where the fishermen go for coffee in the morning, to be joined by the foreign and Athenians tourists for breakfast, frappe-drinkers in the afternoon and in the evening becomes the place to hang out for ouzo, mezedes, dinner and conversation or to just watch
the ferries come and go on their way to Sifnos and Milos or back to Pireaus. Brought to you by the same people who own Karavomylos in the upper village, the Yacht Club is tastefully
decorated with interesting antiques and has a tree-shaded patio. They serve excellent Greek coffee in a traditional vriki with loukoumia, omelets, salads, mezedes (appetisers), yogurt with fruit, and at night an interesting variety of main courses, many of local origins. (As far as I could tell they shared the same menu as Karavomylos, which was fine with me because it was a terrific menu).
The back street of Livadi , which is actually the main street of the town, is a mixture of traditional Cycladic architecture and the worst of 1967-Junta and seventies cement buildings. There are a few interesting shops but on a whole it is the kind of street that was not created with 21st century tourism
in mind. It's a throwback to an age when islands like Serifos, Milos and Sifnos did not have tourism or what some people might call 'unspoiled' Greece. Maybe unspoiled is an unfortunate choice of words since it brings to mind pristine, which the back streets of Serifos are not. In fact the streets off the main coastal road have a Third-world feel to them, something I like and find fascinating. But if you stick to the coast you may not even notice this so why mention it? In fact except
for your hotel and evening meal, your nightlife and maybe breakfast there is not much reason to be wandering around exploring Livadi in the day time because the reason to come to Serifos is to visit the many beaches and villages scattered around the island.
In the bay of Koutala are three beaches, called Vagia, Ganema and Koutalas, the last two with tavernas on the sea. Megalo Horio has a Hellenistic Tower known as Aspropirgos or Lefkos Pyrgos (White Tower). Below is the small port village of Megalo Livadi with a couple restaurants and cafes. There is a 10th century church in the village
of Panagia and near the village of Galani the 17th century Taxiarchon Monastery with its fresco of the Archangels brought to the island from Cyprus, and
the Kentarchos beach, reached by foot path. The beach at Plati Gialos is a small sandy beach with a taverna. Beaches accessible by road, some with restaurants include Psili Ammos (Cafe-restaurant Stefanakos), Agios Ioanis, and Sikamia (Cafe-restaurant Akroyiali). Other beaches accessible by footpath you need to bring your own food and water.
So what about Old Markos and my Sifnos friends and all the terrible things they told me about Serifos? Were they lying? For the answer we turn to Yiorgos Nikolao, of the Yacht Club and Karavomylos. "You see Matt, this is what all the islands say about those islands that are close to them and on the same ferry route. For example the old people won't leave their bags in the luggage storage on the ferry boats because they say the people from Kythnos steal them. The people of Serifos call the people of Sifnos 'Palavos' (close to an idiot) and Milos, and Kimilos and the others its the same."
So there you have it. You can just imagine what some of the other islands say about their neighbors. What do the inhabitants of the holy island of Tinos say about their next-door neighbors in Mykonos and vice versa?
"Don't go to Mykonos. Its like Sodom and Gomorrah full of perverts and hedonists".
"Tinos! Its full of religious fanatics and flagellants!"
It just goes to show you. You can't believe everything you hear. Sometimes you have to go and check it out yourself.
Serifos: Practical Information
Getting to Serifos from Pireaus is easy. The boats that go to Sifnos usually stop here. For those looking for the authentic Greek island experience, before the age of mass tourism then Serifos is a great destination. If you feel your ability to keep yourself occupied might be challenged then I would recommend doing
Serifos and Sifnos together if you have a week or more. For a longer trip you could throw in Milos and you will have seen the best of the Western Cyclades. For hotels I recommend the Hotel Maistrali
and make sure you let Babis Bobolos (photo) give you a map and a quick lesson on the island and point out the best beaches and places to eat. You can book the Hotel Mastriali and ferry tickets through Aegean Thesaurus Travel in Sifnos. You may consider renting a jeep too or at least a car or motorbike. Serifos is a popular stop for sailboats and yachts cruising the Western Cyclades. For more Serifos photos see my Serifos Photo Album
Click here to book the Maistrali Hotel on Serifos
For more hotels in Serifos see Booking.com's Serifos Pages
For travel Arrangements see Aegean Thesaurus Travel
For Sifnos, Kythnos and Milos Information which all have daily connections to Serifos see Matt's Sifnos Guide and Matt's Milos Guide and Matt's Kythnos Guide
For information on sailing see www.greecetravel.com/sailing
For More Greek Islands see Matt's Greek Island Guide