Arriving in Sifnos after a rollercoaster ride on wild seas from Milos, we had never before been so happy to set foot on dry land. Our elation was short-lived though, as for the first time in our tour of the Cyclades islands we felt we may have hit a bum note and picked a dud island. The port village, Kamares, was deserted, and as we walked from the ship to our accommodation we felt like the only souls in town. Our hostess was waiting for us, and after showing us our room, she explained that she lives inland in a different town, and then she too vanished. Exploring the area later, we found the village has a beautiful setting, in a pretty bay, with a sandy beach, all backed by rugged mountains.
But the place was deserted; the town’s hundreds of beautiful white houses shuttered for the winter. We felt ourselves the only people around and with a bitterly cold wind blowing, we did like everyone else, and hid indoors.
Next morning we walked up the hill and into the main town of Apollonia. Along the way we were mesmerized by the beauty of the terraced hills. The whole island seemed to be terraced, and despite the gale force winds, bitter cold and hail stones(!), we enjoyed the walk.
Returning to the port village that evening we were content to take the next ferry, scheduled for the following day. However, we later learned that that ferry may not be running due to the stormy seas, meaning a potential delay to Thursday, and a four-day stay on the island. We were pondering that, when we then heard a rumour that the Thursday ferry may in fact be heading in for service. With all the uncertainty, and the continuing strong winds, we decided to concentrate our hopes on the Sunday ferry, which was universally considered a certainty. Facing a full week on the island, our first priority was to book accommodation somewhere other than the ghost town of Kamares. We found a lovely apartment in a village on the south coast of the island, and with that, and the sudden appearance of the sun, our whole view of the island changed.
Our new home for the remaining 5 days was in Platis Gialos, a resort town home to one of the longest beaches in the Cyclades. Although largely in hibernation at this time of the year, there were signs of life a-plenty, unlike the ghost town feel of Kamares. Its location opened up the lovely beaches and villages along Sifnos’ south coast, and we made the most of them with the sudden increase in temperature, and the dying away of the freezing northerly wind.
And with more time on our hands, and the sunshine, we discovered that the hills of Sifnos are a paradise for walkers. The island is blessed with a network of ancient trails that link various villages and places of interest.
Many are wide cobble-stoned tracks that once served as the main routes between villages, and others are rough narrow paths contouring past terraces of olive trees, bee hives, or grazing sheep. Apart from the occasional lift from our host, we walked everywhere (there being few buses at this time of year), and easily clocked up 100 very-enjoyable-kilometres on the trails.
There are 365 churches and chapels on the island, and every trail passes a dozen or more. Most are small churches that open only on their consecration day, but others are grander affairs, occupying the high spots of the island and visible from a great distance.
While walking these tracks we met several Sifnians. One thing we learned from these encounters is that they have a lot of time. No such thing as a nod of hello and keep going. If you meet someone on the trail both parties stop, chat a while, stare into the middle distance for a while, chat a bit more, and so on, until each head their separate ways, all the better for the meeting. Our first such encounter was Francisco. He didn’t speak any English, and we were glad of the few words of Greek we have learned (about 200 words and counting).
Not long after him, we met a recently retired builder, who was cradling his yorkshire terrier in his arms. When we were well into our chat, and seeing how much we liked dogs, he told us that his other yorkie had died 14 months ago. He cried openly, still grieving him. Long after he had walked on, we were struck by that encounter, reminded that one never knows what sorrow someone else carries with them, just below the surface.
Being winter, and there being so few tourists about, most of the sea-front tavernas were closed for the season. However, we found one open in the lovely harbour of Faros, and we spent two afternoons here, soaking up the sun on their water-front terrace.
Our social encounters continued right to departure, where at the port Clara befriended a cat that was waiting in its crate, among the rest of the luggage, for the ferry. In due course we got chatting to her owner, a Greek man from the Peloponnese who had spent the previous 4 months learning the craft of pottery as practised on Sifnos. With a rich vein of clay and the right temperature, Sifnos is famous among the Cyclades islands for its ceramics, and Spiros – our new friend – was now heading off on a 7 hour trip to another island to start a new life and ceramics business.
We on the other hand were heading to the neighbouring island of Serifos, a mere 45 minutes away, for more of the good life. Although relieved to finally have a ferry off the island, we had really enjoyed our 7 days there, and were sad, sniff sniff, to be leaving, sniff sniff, SNifnos!