The Cyclades are what everyone thinks of when you think of the Greek islands – beautiful beaches and whitewashed houses where the blue sky meets the even bluer sea. Make no mistake though the most popular of the Cyclades – Mykonos, Santorini and Ios – can get very crowded during the summer. If you want to avoid the crowds but still have a picture-perfect Greek island holiday, check out the Western Cyclades. These islands are easily accessible from the mainland by ferry. For example, the high-speed ferry runs regularly from Piraeus (the main port of Athens) and takes only 3 hours to Sifnos.
Sifnos is the perfect Cyclades island for luxury-loving foodies and families.
The Western Cyclades
The four islands in the Western Cyclades are Kea, Kythnos, Serifos and Sifnos. Of these islands, Sifnos is the largest and most popular. Yet, when I say popular we are not talking the Santorini levels of tourism where the island gets saturated in the summer with tourists. In fact, Sifnos doesn’t even have an airport (hence our honeymoon at an airport hotel would have never occurred!). The only way to reach this island is by ferry.
The port of Kamares in Sifnos where the ferry boats and catamarans land from Piraeus.
Why Sifnos Greece Is Perfect
Sifnos is a beautiful island with great beaches and a reputation for being a foodie paradise. The ferries from Piraeus all come into the little town of Kamares.
When you get tired of lazing in the sunshine and feel motivated to work off all that excellent food, Sifnos is known for its hiking trails. Most of the trails are classified as either easy or moderate. Many of the trails are marked as kid-friendly and less than 5 kilometres long.
A traditional Greek taverna in Sifnos Greece
For a luxury vacation in Greece, look no further than the Verina group of hotels. Small and stylish the Verina hotels has three options to pick from – the clifftop Verina Astra with 7 suites, Verina Suites which has apartments by the beach and Verina Villas perfect for groups of families and friends.
The Greek luxury villa rentals at Verina Villas is located near the picture perfect village of Vathi. The sheltered harbour means a lot of boats moor here. Vathi has a sheltered sand beach with shallow water perfect for children (and a couple of tavernas for the parents to enjoy!). Some people think that Vathi is one of the best beach villages in all of Greece! Now that is a reputation worth checking out!
Sifnos is a small, quiet island perfect for enjoying the famous Greek sunshine. If you want crowds and parties, look elsewhere. If like us, you enjoy good food and quality time spent relaxing with family, then Sifnos is the perfect Greek island for you.
The beautiful island of Sifnos is known for its great beaches, food, and hiking trails.
Not convinced yet? If you would like to read more about Sifnos, check out [easyazon_link identifier=”0994933304″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]The Sifnos Chronicles: Tales from a Greek Isle by Sharon Blomfield[/easyazon_link]. She writes lyrically of the Greek isle we dream off – the Greek isle you imagine from the movie Mama Mia that might still exist.
If you feel like checking out the other islands, there are ferry connections from Sifnos to the other islands such as Santorini. I’m betting, however, that you will fall in love with Sifnos and don’t want to leave.
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I know it’s not Instagram Thursday but humour me if you will. I found these great photos of the Greek island of Santorini on Instagram and thought I’d share them with you. Santorini is where we spent one week of our honeymoon. The views are as magical as these photos show.
The Hotel Fiasco
We wished we had such a nice view from the hotel though. Although I had booked a junior suite at one of the luxury hotels, I mixed up the dates. Both my now-husband/then-fiance were working crazy hours in finance and we didn’t double check anything. The wedding planners completely ran the wedding and the only thing left for us to plan was the honeymoon. Clearly we had no time for that either!
We only found out when the hotel called me in June and asked me if I was showing up. Our wedding was in August. Cue: panic. At that late date, we had our flights booked but no where to stay in high season in Santorini. We finally found availability at the one and only hotel that had availability: the airport hotel.
Not your typical honeymoon hotel
So we spent our honeymoon at the Santorini airport hotel. Santorini is ranked as one of the most romantic places in the world, just maybe not its airport! The airport runway ran alongside the hotel pool. We realised in later years that our plane-obsessed son would have loved this hotel! Hanging out in a pool and frequent plane sightings would be his idea of heaven.
Luckily, Santorini has a small airport and the flights are not that frequent. The room was perfectly adequate. The hotel insisted on family-style meals though which we absolutely refused. We bailed on their meals because we did not want to spend our honeymoon having to make small talk with strangers. On the plus side, we spent a lot of time exploring the island of Santorini in our beat-up old jeep rental because there didn’t seem to be any point in hanging out at the hotel.
The Crazy Donkey
When I read recently that a cruise passenger had been killed by a donkey on the trail ride up the hill from the port at Thira, I was not surprised. I had a completely crazy donkey. Or, maybe just stupid. Someone had told this donkey that he had to hug the cliff on his way up the hill. He would push the other donkeys and jockey his way to the right side which was nearest the wall. Unfortunately for me, my leg was between his side and the wall. I was wearing shorts and so had a painful scraped leg by the time I reached the top of the hill.
Sunset Skirmish at Oia
We’d heard about the sunsets at Oia and so we moseyed along to see one. Clearly we should have been prepared for the crowds but we weren’t thinking (obviously as per the hotel mishap). We wound up returning another day so that we could camp out early and get a primo spot for the sunset. It was indeed beautiful and worth the high praise it received. We had no problem getting a nice dinner spot after the sunset. It seems the crowds gather specifically for the sunset but then start their evening meals later.
Why I’d Return to Santorini
Despite these mishaps, I’d return to Santorini in a heartbeat. It is stunningly beautiful. We explored lots of different beaches including black and red beaches. I’ve since seen black beaches in Tenerife and Iceland but never have I ever seen a red beach again. It’s a perfect late summer/autumn destination. We went to Santorini on our honeymoon in September. This island is also one of the best places to visit in Greece in October for a last gasp of Mediterranean sunshine as I found out in my city break to Athens.
The food was also amazing. We found this seaside shack that served up fresh fish perfectly grilled. We also worked our way through some of the higher-end restaurants as well, including one in the hotel where we were supposed to have stayed.
Needless to say, everyone at our wedding heard about the honeymoon hotel fiasco and we were given a lot of grief for it. On the other hand, I’m glad we decided to sick with Santorini even after the mix-up. It provided for a funny story and some great memories. Do you have any funny hotel stories? I’d love to hear them.
Picture Perfect Santorini
This post is linked up with Travel Tales this week.
Although my children were on a school holiday during the time, I did not take them with me to Athens (much to their disappointment) for a travel conference. Instead, the children got sent off to their grandparents for a long weekend.
My husband and I decided the political situation in Athens was tenuous and we did not want our children anywhere near any rioting. I remember the news coverage of the Greek man who set himself on fire in the middle of a square because his financial situation was so dire. It was an impossible scenario to forget.
In retrospect, I wish I had taken my children because they would have really enjoyed a weekend city break to Athens. Here’s why:
Children love to clamber over rocks. At the Acropolis, there are plenty of rocks to climb and a giant hill to boot. My children love to read the traditional Greek myths and the Percy Jackson books are also a firm favourite. Visiting the Acropolis would make it all very real for them.
2. Easy Transportation
There are these cute toy trains going around the centre of Athens. How could any child not want to ride on this train?
The actually city transportation is really easy, fast and cheap as well. You can also take public transportation to the nearby beaches. As shown by our trip to Venice, any city with public transportation and a beach is bound to be a hit with my children.
3. Great Food
Greek food is very family-friendly in my opinion. Even my fussy eater would be happy with simple yet delicious grilled meat and vegetables.
4. Great Museums
Athens has a lot of interesting museums. My absolute favourite was the Acropolis Museum. Not only are the works of art beautiful but also the museum itself. On the ground floor of the museum, there are clear floor panels which lets you see through to the archeological digs. There is also a children’s activity trail to keep the young ones occupied.
Another museum I enjoyed was the Folk Art Museum. It is small and so good for limited attention spans! On display are examples of Greek folk costumes, masks, shadow puppets and traditional toys.
5. Syntagma Square and the National Gardens
Syntagma Square in front of the Houses of Parliament is great for people watching. Between the buskers and the skateboarders, there is plenty to keep young ones occupied. Nearby Syntagma Square, there are the National Gardens. Along with the shaded paths and random ancient ruins, you have lots of ducks, cats and turtles. The gardens are huge and perfect for a good run-around.
The Greek Parliament
Did I see any anti-austerity protests? Yes, I did. This group was protesting in front of the Greek Parliament. The protesters were a relatively calm bunch. Moreover, there was at least 3 riot police for every protestor. Frankly, I’ve felt more threatened on a Friday night in Islington.
The Mayor of Athens has spoken about how difficult the drop in tourism has been for his city. Many financially strapped Greeks rely on tourist money into the country, such as the taxi drivers and the hoteliers. This money trickles down into other parts of the population – the suppliers of food or hotel linen for example. The Mayor wanted to emphasise that his city and his country was safe, hospitable and friendly. From my experience, I would agree with him.