Sifnos is 76 nautical
miles from Piraeus and has a land mass of 74 sq. km with 70 km of
coast. Sifnos' capitol is Apollonia, its
main port is Kamares with Aghia Marina just across the bay.
Sifnos has numerous sandy beaches and lovely
coves and over 350 churches. Sifnos is a mountainous island with its
highest peak being Profitis Illias, 680 m.
There was mineral wealth
on Sifnos, including gold,
iron and clay, which has been mined since ancient times. The Treasury of the Siphnians was one of the most opulent at ancient Delphi, surpassing even the Athenian.
Sifnos is famous for its pottery, poets, and chefs. It's probably the most popular island of the western Cyclades, with thousands of visitors in summer. There are charming villages, gently rolling green hills, watermelon patches, vineyards, olive groves, and long sandy beaches.
Exploratory walking is a pleasure, as the island is strewn with sights such as bougainvillea, wind-bent pines, dovecotes, windmills, little chapels, and ancient towers.
Kamares the main port
is Sifnos' main port and you can easily use it as base to explore the
rest of Sifnos. It has a great, calm, longish, sandy beach, and just
the right number of intimate bars and tavernas right on the water. This beach is safe for children.
The tall barren cliffs surrounding the Kamares harbor don't give an accurate preview of the verdant green you'll find inland.
In ancient times Sifnos was famous
for its gold mines which are now sadly depleted and sunken underwater.
Today Sifnos is famous throughout Greece for its clay and has been
heavily involved in ceramics since ancient times. Now there are only
two or so pottery shops in Kamares. However, pottery is still the most
common locally produced type of gift item available from Sifnos. The two shops in Kamares specialize in glazed chimney pots.
There were some 90 pottery workshops on the island at one time. Many of the potters moved to other spots in Greece to ply their trade in spots with less competition from other potters. Someone once discovered that every Greek potter has a Sifniot in the family tree.
Apollonia, the capital
From Kamares, a bus takes the steep, dramatic climb to Apollonia. Terraces cascade down the mountain. Apollonia is named
for the 7th Century BC Temple to Apollo at the village's highest point. The Greek Orthodox Church didn't approve
of a pagan temple in their midst, and back in the1700's built the church Panagia Ouranofora on top of it. (Remnants of the Temple may still be
seen.) In spite of the Orthodox's churches best efforts, however, even today rituals traced to pagan worship are still performed
on Sifnos such as the Lolopangyrio (crazy festival)
This typical white-washed Cycladic Hora with its bougainvillea clad two-story houses is brilliantly juxtaposed
against the barren, dun colored hills. Visit the church Ag. Athanasios to see the frescoes and a carved, wooden iconostasis. Apollonia's Bus Stop Square is where
you'll find the Museum of Popular Arts and Folklore. Its
hours are irregular, but it houses a representative collection of local
pottery, embroideries and costumes.
Artemonas is named for Artemis, Apollo's twin sister, and is a mere kilometer from Apollonia. Apollonia and Artemonas are twin cities, theoretically. Artemonas is
the second largest island village on Sifnos. Its windmills and several churches make it a charming spot to visit.
There are many neoclassical homes in Artemonas. Look for the distinctive chimneys. The village has cobblestone streets and windmills. The site of the former Temple of Artemis is now the church Kochi
, with a cluster of domes. Other noteworthy churches here are Ag. Georgios Tou Afendi,
and Panagia ta Gournia
(near the bridge).
Down on the coast
is the lovely church of Panagia Poulati with a nice beach below it.
Kastro and the east coast
Kastro, the midieval capital, is on the east coast and 3 km from Artemonas. You can reach it by road or by walking the scenic coastal path.
Kastro is the ancient
and medieval capital of Sifnos. Ruins of its castle and classical period
acropolis remain. There are several churches of note, among them Panagia Eleoussa, Ag. Ekaterini, and Panagia Koimmissi.
The Byzantine defensive
walls are part-and-parcel of the walls of houses within the keep's outer
perimeter. Many have wooden balconies with Venetian coat-of-arms. Today
only about 35 families live in Kastro.
old Venetian Church of St. Anthony of Padula is home of the Archeological Museum (Tu-Sun, 9-2). The site of the School of
the Holy Tomb, a clandestine learning institution run by Greek Orthodox
Monks during the Turkish occupation, has now been turned into the graveyard.
While there is no beach at Kastro, you can dive into the sea from the rocks. If you're seeking something safer than diving from rocks, there is a beach
near by. Walk down the hill by foot path to Seralia, Kastro's medieval port.
road continues south and transits Exambela village centered in
one of the most productive agrarian areas of Sifnos with springs and
orchards. This flower-filled village is famous for its songs.
The Monastery of Vrisi (1612) is still operational
and contains old manuscripts and icons. It is surrounded by springs.
The Plati Yialos road
passes the ancient religious citadel of Aghios Andreas with ruins
of its double walls. A bit further north, at Katavati, a foot path leads up to Sifnos' highest peak, Mt. Profitis Ilias (681m). It's a two to three hour hike up. On
its summit is the 8th Century monastery Profitis Ilias with a small network of catacombs, cells
and thick stone walls. The views are rather good.
The South Coast
The road continues south
on to Faros (lighthouse), a welcoming fishing village turned
resort with rooms to let and a sandy beach. You can take the
footpath up to Sifnos' famous Monastery of Panagia Chrissopigi (1650) built on the cliffs facing the sea.
According to legend the cape here was split in two in response to the prayers of two virgins fleeing from pirates. Therefore, you can enjoy not one but two sandy beaches with tavernas near by. Apokofto, by the bridge, has golden sands. Fasolou has become popular with nudists.
Plati Yialos Beach resort
Plati Yialos (alternate spelling: Platys Gialos) is a nice little resort
area. Its broad, sandy beach is said to the be longest beach in the Cyclades.
In August, it gets very full of tourists. You can escape some of bustle in the cliff-top Panagio tou Vounou, with a good view of the bay below. Plati Yialos has an active pottery, founded in 1936. You can reach the area by boat or by bus from Kamaries.
Vathi (alternate spelling: Vathy),
which means 'deep' in Greek, is a quiet little out-of-the-way
fishing and pottery village on Sifnos' SE coast. The waters are clean
and the seafood excellent. The shallow water would be good for children. You can reach Vathi by water-taxi from Kamares
or by bus. There are a few rooms to let but don't expect much nightlife.
On the island's windy northern tip you'll find another pottery center, featuring the work of Kostas Depastas. This spot is best reached by water taxi. There aren't many amenities here, but you will find a taverna.
Drinking and Dining
In Kamares, there are
several good restaurants using locally grown produce: Artyris right on the harbor, Boulis restaurant (not the hotel), Kambourakis
Meropi, Simos. Kapetan Andreas, with its own fishing
boat, is a good bet for the freshest fish. There are good Italian restaurants
in Kamares, too, as several Italian natives made Sifnos home. Claudio's is recommended. There are quite
a few fun night spots in Kamares with the centrally located Old
Captain Bar being the traditional watering hole and pleasant
sunset vantage point. Other bars come and go with dismaying frequency. The Old Captain remains the best!
There are good eateries in most villages. A famous chef, Nikolas Tselemntes, was from Sifnos. He wrote the first modern Greek cookbook, and to this day any Greek cookbook is called a tselemntes. The island is proud of its cooks.
There are several nice hotels and pensions
on Sifnos. In season, things get a bit tight on
Sifnos, so book early.
The oldest discovered gold mines in Europe were in Sifnos, dating back to the 3rd Century BC. Interestingly, when the early miners exhausted the ore in the mines, they refilled the wounds in the earth.
Gold was abundant here for for centuries. However, the islanders apparently got greedy with it, because legend has it that they sent Apollo a lead egg, merely guilded with gold. Apollo discovered this betrayal and cursed the island, which explains why the mines gave out and sank into the ocean.
After that the island was overtaken by various rulers who attempted to exploit the local iron and lead deposits.
In the late 1600s the School of the Holy Tomb was established of Sifnos. It was an attempt to keep ancient Greece and the classics alive, with students coming from all over Greece. A few modern Greek heroes came from this school.