I arrived in sleepy Serifos in the middle of the afternoon on the slow and enormous ‘Adamantas Koriaz’ (3 hrs from Milos €8). Blinking in the bright sunlight, my fellow passengers and I surged off the air-conditioned ship into the blistering heat of a Greek afternoon. What a treat awaited us! Sleepy Serifos is my favourite island so far and reminds me of what Greek islands used to look like 30 years ago.
Livadi is a large and deep natural harbour with the shipping dock protruding into the bay on the west side leading straight into the recently enlarged yacht and fishing harbour and then the main town. Taverna tables and chairs line the waterfront, many still painted traditional blue with raffia seats and little boats bob in the clear water. The bay arcs all the way around and town turns into beach with a long and sweeping sandy bay dotted with restaurants with tables on the sand and small bars with deckchairs. The most stunning thing about Serifos though is the white ‘hora’ or old town which sits on top of the hill above Livadi straight in front of you as you get off the boat. White churches and houses tumble down the hillside in a breathtaking picture postcard view. Serifos is the kind of island you don’t want anyone else to know about!
I had booked a little apartment near the beach which Google maps told me was a 10 minutes walk away. I followed the main road around the bay and eventually found Gorgona Studios down a tiny alleyway by the side of the lovely little Stavros taverna with tables with blue and white checked tablecloths right on the beach. Martha, the lovely Serifos-born owner, gave me a very warm welcome, showed me into my tiny little apartment and – in a mixture of Greek and French – told me to go and have a swim and sort out the paperwork later. It was 4 pm and 37°! I took her advice, followed by a late lunch of beer and moussaka with a view of all of Livadi bay from my table on the sand at Stavros taverna. The atmosphere here is slow, relaxed and peaceful. It’s catching!
Serifos is in the Western Cyclades, south of Kythnos and north-west of Sifnos. Although the island covers just over 75 kms² it has a recorded population of only 1,400. Its landscape is rugged and bare and during Roman times it was used as a place of exile. More recently, and until the 1960s, Serifos was well known for the mining of iron ore. The mines are closed now and the island makes its money from tourism and low-level agriculture.
There are only 2 bus routes on Serifos. One is a regular half-hourly service up to Hora on the top of the hill, the other goes to two of the island’s beaches Psili Ammos and Agios Ioannis and, as we were still in June, had a limited service of 2 buses each way per day – miss the last one back at your peril. The bus picks up from palm tree square in town, costs €2 and drops you at the top of the steps leading down to each of the two beaches. I spent the first day on Psili Ammos which has a taverna and is quite crowded as a result. The second day I decided to try Agios Ioannis which has no facilities. I packed a picnic and picked up some cold beer and water before getting on the bus. Everyone got off the bus at the first stop and I was the last and only passenger for Agios Ioannis. Fortunately I checked the return time with the driver before getting off. It was 1st July and the timetable had changed overnight and the return bus was now an hour later than yesterday!
Ayios Ioannis is a wide sand and pebble bay accessed by a long whitewashed stairway built on to the rocks. There is nothing there but a beautiful little white chapel and a line of tamarisk trees providing shade for the sun-worshippers. On the day I was there, I counted 8 other people – enough for a tree each! There was a lovely breeze and I spent a wonderful peaceful day here sunbathing and swimming in the turquoise sea, picnicking and reading under my own private tree. Blissful!
No trip to Serifos is complete without a visit to Hora. I went twice. A fabulous old bus operates the route until high season when the numbers of people mean a bigger bus is required. I caught the old bus on its last day. The road to Hora is made up of a series of hairpin bends and switchback turns with steep drops down the mountainside. The views both up to Hora and down to Livadi from above are fantastic. The bus drops passengers at the entrance to the Lower Hora square, the only part accessible to vehicles. There are several old windmills here – some of which have been converted into tourist accommodation.
Access to Upper Hora is via a wide but winding stairway which snakes past a higgledy-piggeldy collection of tiny shops and little bars and restaurants offering breathtaking views down the mountain and the pastel-coloured doors and windows of minute whitewashed homes. Further up, the stairway opens out onto a large piazza full of colourful tables and chairs serviced by the bars and restaurants which line the walls. Lit by candles and little street lamps, the atmosphere here at sunset is magical as the sky darkens, stars appear and the wind blows through the large palm trees. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can follow the narrow path up from the piazza to the very top. This part of the path is much narrower and includes lots of steep steps as it winds its way past tiny front doors and little balconies. Bougainvillea petals gather on the steps and the houses are built directly onto the rock. It’s magical!
The path emerges from the tightly packed jumble of houses and a wide and rather grand circular staircase takes you up to a large church with staggering views down to Livadi. It was extremely windy up here and there are no rails or fences to stop you falling off the edge – not for the faint-hearted! Another flight of narrow steps takes you to the highest point and yet another to the summit and a tiny white chapel. From this high point you are rewarded with 360° views and the feeling of satisfaction for having made it to the top! A quicker, steeper route down some narrow steps took me back to the upper square and a well-deserved ouzo at one of the bars before negotiating the rest of the steps down to the bus home.
After dark, the atmosphere in Hora is like something out of a fairy tale – little lights and candles twinkling against the dark sky and reflecting off the whitewashed walls. Just lovely! I made it back to Livadi in time for a late dinner at Stavros taverna with a view of the harbour lights reflecting off the sea.
On my last day, I bought my ferry ticket and had time to check out Livadi’s fascinating little back street shops and watch the fishermen mending their nets and selling their catch on the quayside, buy my onward ticket and have a coffee before saying goodbye to the lovely Martha. I made a solemn promise to myself that I will speak better Greek by next year so I can chat to her when I come back!
Serifos is not grand or upmarket. It doesn’t have the elegant shops or boutiques of other better-known islands. It’s beaches will not win prizes. It is sleepy and slightly scruffy in a wonderful, authentic, unapologetic way. I loved it! No wonder the Greeks are keeping it to themselves. Top of my list for next year.
NEXT ISLAND: Sifnos