The ship docked off the small village of Kamares. Kamares has many tavernas, cafes, shops and a couple of pubs as well as many traditional ceramic workshops. Apollonia is the island’s capital, an unspoiled town, renowned for its magnificent architecture. Staying here puts one in the heart of Sifnian life. Most of the town is situated off small old footpaths, minimizing traffic disturbance and creating a timeless feel to the town. It’s a very happy and friendly environment and has been awarded in 2002 with a blue flag for its cleanliness. A highlight of the island is Chrysopigi (which means golden fountain). It has taken its name from the famous local monastery. The monastery itself is an imposing site as it is built on a rock islet and cut off from the main island by a narrow strip of sea. There are two great tavernas with traditional island cuisine and turquoise pebble beaches and its flat seaside slabs of stone surrounding the monastery. Sifnos, although small, has a lot to offer and you’re sure to soak up the charm here.
9 Sep: Today’s port of call was at Kamares, Sifnos. We had read a lot of literature about Sifnos and its many churches and monasteries, and were quite excited to visit. Our plan was to rent a car and drive out to see Kastro (a cluster of white washed houses perched dramatically on a mountain with a sweeping panorama of the steep drop to the sea below), navigate our way to find Panagia Poulati (a gorgeous church perched atop turquoise seas…this visit was inspired by Easy Cruise director, Dario’s photo), check out Panagia Chryssopigi (a 17th Century monastery that has become a symbol of Sifnos), and lastly, relax at Vathi Bay (a sandy bay on the west coast).
We were able to find a compact rental for 30 Euros for the day at Auto Moto Apollo, and high on our immediate agenda was to stop at a supermarket in Apollonia to stock up on lunch supplies for our afternoon picnic later in the day.
Once we hit Apollonia’s narrow streets, an old man riding his donkey appeared on the road, and we laughed at how natural this appeared even in this day and age. He thought nothing of weaving in and out of traffic, and eventually steered his donkey off the road and onto a pebbled side street. Too bad our vehicular traffic couldn’t navigate Apollonia’s streets as easily! Unfortunately, an elderly woman several vehicles ahead of us had side swiped a parked car, and this created a massive backlog as no one could pass around her. A large traffic jam ensued (large for Sifnos as there were at least 30 cars stuck behind us), and to make matters worse, a large public bus was caught in the middle of the mix. With some patience, time and effort, we finally extricated ourselves out of the jam, and found a place to park off the side of the road. Lunch supplies in hand, we zoomed off to find our first stop of the day, the elusive Panagia Poulati.
Dario’s photo of Panagia Poulati was absolutely stunning, and we tried our best to heed his directions. The part of “keep going even though the road gets a bit dicey” led us eventually to this remote church, but the million dollar view was well worth the effort. What a vista! We all had shit eating grins on our faces at being able to persevere even though the gremlins of doubt had been chugging away, screeching “you’re going the wrong way! There’ll never be a church here”…and a double reward was the fantastic view of beautiful Kastro in the distance. Kastro’s tiny Epta Martires (Seven Martyrs) Church lured us to explore this village on foot, but first we decided a lunch break by Kastro’s sea port of Saralia was in order.
Our picnic consisted of red wine, Sifnian cheese, fresh bread, sausage links, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, and it just hit the spot. Afterwards, we could tell that Bob would have liked nothing more than to take a siesta in the shade, but we were keener on exploring Kastro. So we compromised and left him at a local bar to enjoy a beer or two, while we wandered around Kastro’s quiet little village. After walking the town’s periphery walkway, we noticed a footpath towards the Seven Martyrs’ Church, and we could tell this was a popular spot for cliff diving. After linking back up with Bob, we decided his driving privileges had been revoked (too much wine and beer!), and Robby lumbered behind the driver’s seat, taking us south towards Platis Yialos’s Panagia Chrysopigi Monastery.
Chrysopigi is easily the most recognizable church on Sifnos. We read that it sits upon a peninsula that actually split apart from the mainland, a supposed miracle that occurred when the Sifniot women sought refuge there from several marauding pirates. It makes for a scenic backdrop, and after checking it out, our bellies rumbled and we decided to head out towards Vathi Bay for Manolis Restaurant.
One of our Greek guidebooks had this to say about Manolis, “The best clay oven food on the island. If you are lucky he may be roasting a lamb. Manolis has been the heart and soul of Vathi for decades. Though his son Stelios has taken over the running of the restaurant, Manolis is always there acting as host and ambassador of kefi. A truly wonderful restaurant that should not be missed, particularly for a late and lingering lunch. Excellent wine from the barrel, baked foods from the oven, fried calamari, whatever fish has been brought in, and the best Greek salads in all the Cyclades topped with arugula and mizithra, a Sifniot cheese less sharp than feta and the consistency of cottage cheese.” We found our way to the sandy bay of Vathi with ease, and Manolis was right on the waterfront. Unluckily for us, the grill wasn’t fired up today, but we did have the option of clay pot lamb and chicken, which we opted for, as well as the house salad, boiled octopus, red wine, tsatsiki sauce, and eggplant sauce which was quite tasty. The clay pot lamb was so tender it fell apart, and we left Vathi Bay feeling mightily stuffed.
Overall, our day flew by, and we sure did find that Sifnos’s charm was quite alluring. We would have loved to spend more time exploring Apollonia, but that will have to be a trip for another day.