Glass goes Island-Hopping in the Cyclades

GREECE HAS more islands than it can count and there are around 30 in the Cyclades alone, so a shortlist is necessary if visiting some is to be practical. Mykonos and Santorini are the best known destinations but this Glass trip is to four islands in the Western Cyclades– Kythnos, Serifos, Milos and Sifnos. They are not so famous but are warmly inviting, with compellingly Instagrammable accommodation and food to delight the senses.

Of the four, Kythnos is the closest to Athens and the place to stay has to be Kythnos Bay Hotel, on the waterfront in the west of the island. There is a nautical theme to the hotel’s décor that elegantly avoids being hokey and the rooms facing the sea are a pleasure to wake up in each morning.

Next door is the deservedly acclaimed Sofrano restaurant, with tables on the sand where seafood and the island’s cheese, sfougato, will never taste as good as they do here. Kythnos Bay Hotel has its own car-hire service and a local bus serves the small town of Hora. It is fun to get lost down Hora’s winding streets but you always end up along a 200-m strip where shops like Irene, selling űber-pretty painted hats, are concentrated. Margiora, a late 19th-century family house on this strip comes into its own as a restaurant and bar as the sun sets, casting a dreamy light around the candle-lit tables scattered outside.

An invitation to take a dip at Nival Boutique Hotel on Sifnos

A room at Kythnos Bay Hotel

From the deck of your ferry on a short hop from Kythnos, the island of Serifos comes into view looking remarkably rocky and barren. It looks the kind of place Napoleon might have been exiled to if St Helena wasn’t available – but if so he would have been surprised by the lovely food grown and produced on the island. You get a taste of this at Kalami Suites when breakfast is brought to your room’s terrace at a time of your choosing: honey, yogurt, peaches, apricots, melons, sweet grapes and delicious vegetables. 

The architectural simplicity that characterises Serifos is embodied in the pure white cuboid blocks of Kalami Suites, almost abstract in  design, with its Mediterranean garden and views looking up to the hilltop ‘capital’,  another Hora. Here, a small cluster of bars and eateries like Barbarossa and Stou Stratou fill the small square in front of the town hall.

From the best table at Stou Stratou, in a corner under a hibiscus tree, you can enjoy raki with honey, mezes and tasty Cretan pies while watching life unfold in the square. The Cyclades has some of the smallest wineries imaginable and a new one on Serifos, producing an organic white by the name of Xirohorio (‘dry village’), can be sipped enjoyably at Barbarossa.

Artfully decorated rooms at Artemis Seaside Resort on Milos

Elegant simplicity at Kalami Suites on Serifos

The enduring appeal of Serifos lies with its tamarisk-shaded, sunbed-free beaches and shimmering vistas of the Aegean, azure or turquoise as the light changes, but it takes a mere 20 minutes to skip across to Sifnos on a passenger-only ferry – a journey worth taking to experience what became my favourite of the four islands.

Greener than the others, it is eminently walkable and, if convincing is needed, take a look at  Sifnos Hiking   for Anna Graikou’s range of  walks that open up the island’s rich botanical and human culture.  Dry stone walls line the trails alongside fig, eucalyptus and pomegranate trees, and Anna is a knowledgeable guide to the plants that burst into flower each spring. 

On Sifnos, jewellery workshops line the main street of Appolonia, the centre of an  amalgam of pretty villages, and here too is Cayenne restaurant and art gallery. Nikolaos Neroutsos, painter and chef, has created a relaxing spot for a leisurely lunch or dinner; head for the table under a large fig tree.

Myzithra, one of two notable Sifnian cheeses, is presented here in the form of doughnuts, alongside traditional Greek dishes. The island’s other, harder cheese, manoura (matured in the dregs of wine at the barrel’s bottom), is worth seeking out in a food shop. 

For a quieter location than the main street, a short walk brings you to rooftop dining at Flaros, a restaurant with exceptionally good food: roasted beetroot salad with figs and goat cheese; saffron-flavoured prawns with ouzo (and orzo); and the island’s signature lamb dish, mastelo, traditionally cooked very slowly in a clay pot. Consider timing a visit to enjoy one of the house cocktails – a gorgeous, rum-based concoction called ‘fig tree’ is unique – and lazily watch the sun set. 

Street vibes when dining at Proveleggios in Athens

Taking it easy at Artemis Seaside Resort on Milos

When the time comes for a break from Greek cuisine, Sifnos has Don Carlo, a new and very authentic Italian restaurant  (no website as yet). A dozen or so tables on a terrace look down on the twinkling lights of Appolonia, a cosy setting for classic, flawless dishes like tartare di Gamberi, carbonara and caponata. Don Carlo is minutes away from the also new Nival Boutique Hotel. The rooms are spacious and there is a neat little pool and sunbeds for languid mornings or afternoons.

The last of the four islands, Milos, is the largest and it too has no shortage of uncrowded, pristine beaches, one of the loveliest being at Paliochori which is also home to  Artemis Seaside Resort. A contender for the classiest place to stay on Milos, it is situated as close to the beach as possible and is ideal for lounging away a couple of days: late breakfast; sunbed by the pool; a massage; lunchtime snacks at the beach bar; a snooze and a swim.

At the hotel’s restaurant, Root, reserve one of the tables closest to the lapping waves and bobbing boats for maximum maritime vibes; the food is as superb as the all-Greek wine list.

The bar at Lighthouse Hotel in Athens

Before leaving Milos, time should be spared to savour a final Greek-island food experience at Mikros Apoplous in the port town of Adhamas. The restaurant’s name translates as ‘small journey’ and it does offer a little odyssey into the enjoyment of organic vegetables grown on the island and fresh seafood which is nearly all caught locally.

Mezes compete for your culinary attention with ceviche dishes, either complemented with a Milos wine from the citrus-accented Asyrtiko grape, indigenous to Santorini, or the medium-bodied Monemvassia variety now associated with the island of Paros.

Whether flying or ferrying away from Milos for your journey home, a stopover in Athens is very likely. Staying a night at Lighthouse  is very convenient for metro connections to the port of Piraeus and the airport. A hotel you will either love or hate, Lighthouse shuns light – ironic in view of its name – and darkness rules OK until you visit the rooftop in daytime for the small pool and views of the Acropolis in the distance.

There is also a restaurant, plus a spa and gym, but for an Athenian night out head for Proveleggios. Wittily announcing itself on Facebook as not a restaurant but ‘a playground for cooks where guests are welcome’, the food at Proveleggios is the creation of famed chef Sotiris Kontizas.

Of Japanese and Greek origin, Kontizas has crafted a multi-faceted menu that is readily accommodated to suit vegetarians and vegans; if there is a new Greek cuisine, Kontizas is one of its bandleaders. Part of the fun of a meal at Proveleggios is its setting on a pedestrianized street in a building of architectural renown and with tables spilling out onto the pavement.

The lively atmosphere at night comes from tables of satisfied diners. 

by Sean Sheehan

Information on the four islands is available at Discover Greece. For flights from London, see Aegean Air; for the ferry companies serving the islands, see Seajets and Zante Ferries.

A car on the islands is very useful and most car hire firms are a short walk from the ferry port: on Kythnos see Kythnos Bay Rent a Car; on Serifos, Coralli Rentals; on Sifnos, Elmar Sifnos; on Milos, see Tourlakis Car Rentals.