Cyclades Islands: the ideal Greek hideaway
Looking for a taste of the Greek islands but don’t want to bust the budget? The lesser known Cyclades Islands, Folegandros and Sifnos, offer the ideal Greek hideaway.
Where to stay in Folegandros
Situated in the Southern Cyclades, between Sikinos and Milos, the remote and rocky island is only 13km long and 4km wide. With no airport, no package tours and no chain hotels, the island is worlds away from busy Santorini.
If you’re looking for breath-taking clifftop views of the Aegean, Anemomilos Boutique Hotel is the place to book – we could have spent days soaking up the views from our private balcony. With 16 open-plan studios, each with a bedroom, living room, a big kitchen and sea views, the rooms are light, spacious and Greek-chic. The owner, Cornelia, and her fabulous team were extremely welcoming and we loved the way the hotel feels like an extension of the picturesque village of Hora, whose tavernas are on your doorstep.
For those that suffer from a fear of heights, we’d recommend the gorgeous beachside residence Blue Sand Boutique Hotel & Suites. Tucked into a steep valley overlooking Agali Beach, this relaxed 15-room boutique hotel offers direct access to the island’s turquoise blue Aegean waters, accompanied by a hip beach bar with comfy bean bags to lounge on and a laid-back restaurant with all-day dining.
Where to eat in Folegandros
The capital of this enchanting Greek hideaway is Chora, perched on the edge of a cliff 200m above sea level. With its unique centre, made of three charming connected squares, Chora is a hub of lively tavernas, bars and shops.
Overlooking the island’s famous Church of Panagia in Chora, Blue Cuisine is a must visit. The menu consists of delicious dishes like cod croquettes, goat souvlaki, fish carpaccio calamari and the Folegandros catch of the day, fresh off the boats that morning. For hand-made pottery to take home, head to Pounta. The Danish owner makes (and sells) the quirky plates and bowls the food is served in and we were guilty of leaving with two beautiful hand-turned bowls to take pride of place in the kitchen at home in Scotland.
The seaside restaurant, Kalymnios in portside Karavostasis serves the freshest of seafood dishes, straight off the boat. Dishes include stuffed squid, sardines and gilt-head bream, served with white beans the size of scallops.
Those looking for a nightcap should head to Astarti, located in Chora’s central square. It is the perfect spot to unwind and soak up the island’s atmosphere with the locals. If you’re going to try the local drink rakomelo—a hot raki drink sweetened with honey and spiced with a pinch of cinnamon—do it here.
Where to go in Folegandros
The island’s best beaches, which can be reached by car, local bus or by foot, include Angali, Livadi - which is ideal for water sports - and Agios Georgios. It is also possible to tour the island by boat from the port, swimming at five beaches in one day with the chance to view the Chrysospilia (Golden Cave), albeit from afar, as it is closed to visitors.
The island’s only real landmark is The Church of Panagia, accessible from Chora, with zigzagging steps leading up to it. Dating back to 1687, from the outside, it looks like many other churches in the Cyclades – all white with domes that gleam against the rocky landscape, however, the inside of Panagia is rich with beautiful frescoes that are a wonder to see. We enjoyed a sunset trek up the mountain to the church, with unforgettable views of the island.
Where to stay in Sifnos
Hidden in an olive grove, overlooking the pretty village of Artemonas, Kamaroti is an effortless crowd-pleaser that ticks all the boxes and more. The entire hotel has been designed around the landscape, with not one single tree cut down during construction. Connected by slate paths set among gardens of lavender and rosemary, the rooms are modern and unfussy, with the sea-view suites adorned with large terraces and mint green armchairs, perfect for sunbathing or stargazing.
We were given the warmest of welcomes by Victor who co-owns the boutique hotel, alongside his brothers, Anulfo and David. After showing us our room, David whisked us off for a refreshing cocktail by the hotel’s glittering emerald pool, which is a 25-metre pool, perfect for laps and a more chilled out circular pool for gazing at the botanical vistas.
Breakfasts consist of freshly squeezed orange juice, home-made pastries, cereals, Sifnian almond cookies, and yogurt with honey and fruit, all of which we enjoyed on our private terrace each morning.
This gem of a boutique hotel was everything we were looking for and more. The beautifully cared for property exudes a cool, laid-back atmosphere that’s hard to tear yourself away from when home time looms.
Where to eat in Sifnos
Heralded as the foodie capital of the Cyclades, Sifnos is a food lover’s heaven. The island owes its gastronomic reputation to its most famous descendant, Nikos Tselementes who wrote the first Greek cookbook in 1910.
Lunches should be spent at Maiolica Restaurant on the beach of Platys Gialos. A sizzling fusion of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, we enjoyed a mouth-watering seafood platter of shrimp burgers, cured sea bream, squid ravioli and chickpea gnocchi.
For a more glam lunch affair, head to the effortlessly sexy boutique hotel, Verina Astra, where local dishes are served on the restaurant terrace or around the chic infinity pool, with fabulous panoramic seas views of the Aegean. We spent a dreamy lunch guzzling grilled sardines, baked chickpeas and Greek salads, washed down with a chilled glass of crisp Assyrtiko wine.
Okyalos, in the island’s capital Apollonia, serves Sifnian delicacies such as Mastelo, a slow-roasted lamb dish, and Chloromanoura of Sifnos - tomato, olive and capers and baked egglant with Sifnian mizithra, a type of fresh Greek cheese.
Where to go in Sifnos
Home to 366 churches (more than one for each day of the year) Sifnos is an island respectful of tradition. The blue domes and whitewashed walls can be found dotted all around the island.
One not to be missed is The Church of the Seven Martyrs outside Kastro. Positioned on the top of a rocky islet that emerges from the Aegean Sea, many visitors to the island make the pilgrimage to this religious site which oozes Mama Mia vibes and has to be the most Instagrammable spot on Sifnos.