Travel: Malibu Meets the Mediterranean in Sifnos & Mykonos

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Elies Resort and Vathi Beach in Sifnos

At first I thought it was a star dropping strangely low but no, it was something just slightly less celestial. The lone twinkling light, ink black all above, black velvet below, belonged to a monastery clinging to a mountaintop that soars like a skyscraper over Kamares, the small port of the Greek island of Sifnos. This was the sight that greeted me as I arrived at nightfall at the charming Hotel Nymfes (nymfes.gr), named for the long-haired nymphs that by legend once frolicked along with Artemis in Sifnian fairy-caves and island springs.

Scarlett Johansson has frolicked here too, and Tom Hanks—both of whom have found culinary succor in this gastronome’s paradise. One highlight among the many casual chic spots is seaside Omega3, where wine doesn’t have to come with your boat-fresh fish, but should. Sifnos is synonymous with sophistication, and manages to combine rustic charm with Cycladic beauty to singularly enjoyable effect. In ancient times it was a wealthy island, thanks to its gold and silver mines (particularly between the eighth and fifth centuries B.C.) while today it’s a magnet for a well-heeled Athenian and international crowd—although you needn’t spend a fortune to savor the best of what this Aegean island has to offer. And that includes, but is not limited to “the emotive combination of the wild rocks, the blue color of the sea, the snow-white houses with the traditional earthen chimneys, the stone walls, the blue vaults of the churches, the hilltop monasteries, the 100 kilometers of nature paths and the wonderful beaches.” So says the Sifnos municipality (visit sifnos.gr) and the interesting thing is, they’re right. This one little island packs in a whole lot of quintessential Mediterranean landscapes and experiences. 

The Sifnian reputation for high caliber cuisine is well-deserved. Wild capers grow in abundance and find their way into delicious caper salads. Chickpea croquettes and hearty chickpea soup are mainstays, as are the traditional manoura and sour skim milk cheeses and thyme honey. Cooking meats in clay pots made by Sifnos ceramicists is also a tradition, and you can expect to taste the results of centuries-old culinary customs everywhere from the simplest taverna to the splashiest restaurant. 

One such table is actually a spectacular al fresco compound called Rabagas, in the chic hilltop town of Apollonia, which happens to be the island’s capital. The breadth of the menu, which is presented as a “food catalogue” in the form of a stylized vintage Greek newspaper, is stunning: Consider these offerings: tomato fritters with yogurt and mint sauce, Sifnos chick peas cooked in a clay pot with smoked herring, char-grilled octopus with fava from Santorini, caramelized onions, capers and cherry tomatoes—and those are just some of the starters.

Beaches: Sifnos has plenty of them, and I recommend renting a car to be able to find them and come and go as you please. You can pick up a great automatic car by the port at El Mar Sifnos MotoCar, offering friendly staff and good rates (elmar-sifnos.gr). Another good hotel option in Kamares port is Sifnos House (sifnoshouse.com), with breezy rooms and a spa for which you needn’t be a hotel guest to book a massage or beauty treatment. The Omega3 fish and wine is at the beach of Platis Gialos, on the island’s southern shore; go for the food and the atmosphere. But if you want to see a seriously spectacular beach and you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, drive to the north in the direction of Heronissos, making a detour at a spot called Vroulidia. The road to get to the pebble beach is intermittently terrifying and mostly unpaved but, oh boy, once you arrive, the cliffs plunging into the turquoise waters will take your breath away. After a swim, eat at Katerina’s Taverna, right by the water. Most ingredients come from the family farm, and you will eat inexpensively and very, very well. 

Sifnos is the kind of place where you go to enjoy a slower pace. If you do want to kick things up a notch, there’s Mykonos, an island that more than ever lives up to its hype and has replaced Ibiza as the place to flaunt it come summertime in Europe. Whatever mood you’re in, and whichever modern tribe you like to call your own, there’s room for you at the 24-hour party that is Mykonos. While the island is not the best place to be bashful or to get in touch with your inner self, it can be nice to have a hideaway retreat from the buzzy scene. Among private villa options, my recommendation is Mykonian Spirit, a trio of villas that are at once super chic and secluded but close to all the action, too. Add promo code MYKOBU when booking directly at mykonianspirit.com to receive a 10 percent discount on best available rates.

Now, if you’re Tom Hanks you might have a yacht to island hop, but I doubt any star’s catered muffins are as fresh and tasty as the ones served at the Flocafe on board Seajets. Sifnos is only two-and-a-half hours from Athens (port of Piraeus) on one of the modern, speedy Seajets vessels. Book a seat in Club Class to be on the upper deck (it’s enclosed) for better views and a bit more room to roam, plus top drawer coffees and an impressive range of fresh baked goods, including toothsome chocolate chip cookies, to make your Aegean journey an even sweeter treat. Visit seajets.gr.