Some months ago, our Dutch friends came to dinner and brought us a jar of capers from the Greek island of Sifnos. I had never heard of this island, but those capers, wow. They were the plumpest, funkiest, lemoniest, absolute best capers I’d ever had. So I don’t want to say we went to Sifnos just to stock up on the world’s best capers, but it’s not far from the truth. Lucky for us (well, for Adam, who doesn’t even like capers), Sifnos offered a lot more than salty little flower buds.
After a series of really nice and easy ferry rides between Crete and Santorini, and then Santorini and Naxos, I was not prepared for how unpleasant the ferry ride from Naxos to Sifnos was. This time we were on a small ferry whose diminutive size failed to shield its passengers from the roiling Ionian Sea. Even the ferry staff were flying from port to starboard as they passed out barf bags to all the passengers. Tip: Book passage on a very large ferry whenever possible.
A van from the hotel we’d booked the day before picked us up and brought us to Hotel Petali Village, which is nice and clean, offers a great breakfast, and has a pool overlooking the whitewashed village of Apollonia, the capital of the island of Sifnos.
We walked down the white-edged cobblestone steps and path into Apollonia for dinner and were surprised to find a bustling village with dozens of people waiting for a table at the same restaurant we had come to, Drakakis. It was worth the wait, and anyways we waited with cocktails at a bar across the street.
We spent the following day poking into shops, (Sifnos has some really great shops, especially for unique jewelry) and then purchasing all of the island’s capers. I actually showed a picture of the special capers to the manager at our hotel and asked “Where can we find these capers?” He looked confused and was like “Um, everywhere? I mean, not at a gas station, but pretty much everywhere else.” Ha, indeed they were everywhere on the island, those plump, salt-crusted Sifnian capers packaged in plastic water bottles and assorted repurposed condiment jars. We loaded up. My favorite snack in the month we’ve been back is a mixture of peanuts, Sinfos capers, and golden raisins. We should be stocked in capers through 2021, at which point will have to return to this magical island to get more, and that is fine by me. Actually, that might be too long to wait for a return.
We had a wonderful lunch at Apokofto Tavern, a popular spot on the Apokofto Beach whose harried waiters didn’t match the vibe of the chic French extended families leisurely eating giant shrimps and phyllo-wrapped feta cheese drizzled in honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds. This place was very good and we came back again a few days later.
On August 4, our eight-year wedding anniversary, we set out for a hike, figuring what better way to celebrate than doing one of our favorite things: Taking a nice hike followed by ice cold beers and salty meal. What could possibly go wrong? Readers of this blog or knowers of us IRL will respond: “Lots!” Well, mostly we could get woefully lost and not bring enough water, which is exactly what happened.
But it all started off lovely enough as we set off to walk a few hours from the village of Apollonia to a bay called Vathi Beach.
For all the signage that the island of Sifnos has about its impressive system of walking trails, those trails were not easy to find and all the locals whom we asked for directions wondered why in the world we’d walk all that way because “it’s very far.” But then all these signs told us it was a nice walk, so we believed the signs. We started off in a farmlandy area, lots of donkeys, and then climbed some rocky hills and continued on that type of terrain for about two hours until a bay came into sight. Despite what follows, when I think back on this day, those first two hours of hiking were indeed quite nice.
Someone (I won’t name names) was VERY certain that the bay before us was not the bay to which we were walking because a dot on all the all-mighty Google Maps wasn’t quite in the right place. So after a little open air argument, we walked past that bay (that was clearly Vathi Beach) and, after about an hour, began our descent to a different bay. Turns out getting to that bay was nearly impossible. Trails disappeared beneath our feet. We ran out of drinking water. It was very hot and sunny. We hardly spoke. At one point we shimmied down prickly bushes like they were a fireman’s pole. There was a devastating time we walked 45 minutes straight down a road that abruptly ended and then we turned around and walked one hour up that same road. Someone finally admitted that perhaps that first bay was indeed where we should have gone and we turned to walk back from whence we came. It was at this point where we toyed with the idea of hitch hiking but then we both totally wimped out when the cars came by and unsurprisingly, no one stopped for our haggard faces and limp-wristed hitching hands. We walked and walked and I seethed and seethed at someone’s unearned directional confidence. Why did I listen when obviously that first bay presented all the evidence of being the bay for which we were looking: It was in the right spot, it was a turquoise water beach, it had restaurants and things. I silently vowed to not trust Adam anymore. Happy anniversary!
We did finally make it Vathi Beach. Instead of a two-and-a-half hour hike, it was at least double that and we clocked in 10.5 miles of walking. We approached a beach-side taverna in Vathi and rasped at the waitress to bring us lots of water and then two ice cold beers and then two more ice cold beers. We recovered and more or less made up.
We had made an anniversary dinner reservation on the island’s hottest restaurant, Omega 3, but they could only seat us early, like at 5:30pm. After the hiking mishap, we no longer had time to get back to our hotel and get pretty before dinner. We asked the taverna to call us a cab, and after a little swim, we were off, sticky with salt and me with no makeup and tangled hair for our anniversary dinner. Lucky we didn’t hold a grudge – I mean, how mad could we be at each other on a gorgeous vacation even if this was the second near-death hike of the trip? Our disheveled appearance didn’t matter because Omega 3 is a casual (yet gourmet) beach restaurant on a very chill island. We ordered a bottle of wine (perhaps the only truly good Greek wine we had on the entire trip) and proceeded to have the best meal of the entire trip. Smoky fava beans with crispy almonds; salad with shaved truffles and figs; crispy tiny shrimp on tacos (this was a revelation for me – turns out you don’t need to peel shrimp?!); and octopus for Adam.
The rest of our time on Sifnos was magic. The island charmed us at every turn, from cute shops, really good food, adorable white houses with painted shutters, stunning views, white painted cobblestone walkways, clear blue water, and soft pink sunsets. It was everything I wanted from a Greek island and more. Perhaps we came for the capers, but it was the vibe of the place – sophisticated and serene and casual and fun – that will, I suspect, bring us back again and again.