Freshly white-washed cubes, shuttered in aquatic blue, and chunky churches topped with azure domes are synonymous with Cycladic architecture. Scattered like snowflakes across the hills of Serifos and Sifnos and wedged into the caldera at Oia, Santorini, they symbolise the postcard perfection of a region that’s one of Greece’s, and arguably the world’s, great beauty spots.
Mykonos and Santorini have become emblematic of the Greek Cyclades islands but for those looking for a path less well-travelled, Serifos brings a more convivial, less congested experience to the table. Just a short ferry ride from the Athenian departure port of Piraeus, the tourism here operates on a local rather than a global scale.
An island of simple unspoiled beauty, throw open the windows of an old miner’s cottage or lounge on the balcony of your seafront hotel along with Livadi’s tiny port and you feel as though you’ve stepped into a 1980s tourism brochure. This sun-trap of tavernas, grocery shops, fishermen and a handful of boutiques oozes a quiet charm and authenticity that’s been airbrushed at many island flesh spots.
The island’s entry port of Livadi boasts a generous sandy crescent lined with restaurants. modest hotels and laid-back beachside cafes there for locals rather than the familiar tourist traps. Along the beach, the sun squints through fishing nets strung above comfy daybeds or just find a spot, hook your towel over an obliging tree and head out for a swim. Blessed with sandy beaches and quiet coves, at Kalo Ampeli beach, simple old-school tavernas serve classic dishes right on the sand. A 15-minute drive west of Livadi, Koutala Bay boasts chicly renovated miners’ and fishermen’s cottages that have been repurposed into stylish holiday hideaways opposite Vagia beach, a deserted swathe of vanilla sand.
Hiring a car or bike is a good way to explore this tiny island paradise or there’s the local bus that will transport you on the 10-minute, nail-biting ride to Chora/Hora, a white village clustered around a wildly rugged mountain top. Here, tourism is a modest affair. Local craftspeople sit in shopfronts and late on this Saturday afternoon in early June, there’s barely a soul around. Following hand-painted arrows, we ascend to the colourful town square where sunshine yellow and turquoise chairs cluster in readiness for the aperitivo hour.
Pausing at ‘Barbarossa’ in the square for a coffee and chat, we’re told that cafes here are open between March and October and that during high summer, the little town is buzzing. But we’re not done yet. Our goal is the church, its chalk-white cross looming above. Clambering up dozens of stone steps, we pass solid white houses burnished by the sun and shuttered in Aegean blues and greens.
At the pinnacle, the view is stupendous with the port of Livardi a glittering crescent below and Sifnos, our next destination, floating in a shimmering sea.
With no wild nightlife, coffee shops rather than cocktail bars, excellent waterfront restaurants serving great local dishes and wines at reasonable prices and a sprinkling of local craft boutiques, sleepy Serifos is a Greek island dream come true.