LIFE

Serifos: Silence is golden

Endowed with outstanding scenery, this Cycladic island has shunned glam By Haris Argyropoulos

"Facing the massif of Serifos/as the sun rises/the guns of the eminent ideologies/go dead"

Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseas Elytis may not have realized that even before the battle of the ideologies formally reached Greek shores in the early 20th century, actual guns that augured their coming had already taken their toll on Serifos – one of the western Cyclades, 73 nautical miles from Piraeus.

Serifos is a rare example of a Greek island without a noteworthy maritime tradition; it prospered thanks to its iron ore mining industry for a long period after 1870. A collapse in metal prices in 1915, however, led to labor unrest, motivated by demands for an eight-hour workday. It resulted in a violent confrontation the following year, which left several workers and police officers dead.

The event is commemorated annually on August 21.

The rusting remains of the mining facilities, now long closed, create an eerie feeling in the southeastern bay of Megalo Livadi, one of the island’s many enchanting locations. Along with the ruined workers’ houses and the neoclassical building that housed the offices of the mining company, they contrast with the few palm trees and the area’s fine beaches. In fact, the “Metalleia” mines are one special reason for fans of exploration and photography to visit -- but then again, this holds true for the entire island.

At first sight, Serifos’s landscape is one of the most beautiful in the Cyclades, and this is probably what Elytis had in mind: the daunting massif with its steep slope dotted with whitewashed houses above the picturesque tree-lined bay at the port.

In contrast to most other Cycladic islands, where jacuzzis mark hotel verandas and 4x4s plow even the outlying roads, Serifos has curiously managed to retain its authentic charm, low-key profile and laid-back ambience. You will not find hip bars, fusion cuisines, jetskis and fancy sunbeds here. The food in the little tavernas has a homemade quality and the golden sand or colorful pebbles on most of the 72 beaches of all sizes bear few, if any, footprints -- just as in the old days.

Avlomonas, near the port of Livadi, is the only beach with sunbeds. Livadakia, Ganema, Psili Ammos (highly rated by The Sunday Times), Aghios Sostis and Sykamia are also excellent, well shaded and popular.

But as Serifos is sparsely populated (1,400), the infrastructure is not well developed and getting to most other beaches requires foot power. In fact, this is half the beauty of a trip to Serifos -- discovering its beaches reached via footpaths. But take note: Signposting is poor and directions by locals tend to be oversimplified; get yourself a good map and be sure to take plenty of water with you.

Hora, the village perched above Livadi, is an enchanting medieval fortified settlement, with entry via two archways -- one still bearing a Venetian coat of arms. It is reached from Livadi either by road or an arduous but rewarding ascent on foot -- preferably during the late afternoon.

Arched alleyways adorned with bougainvillea lead to the top of the hill where the ruins of the Venetian fort, built in 1434, stand. The view is breathtaking. There are also folk and archaeological museums as well as two restored windmills.

Drive the route from Hora to Pyrgos -- the oldest settlement, now abandoned -- and then to Galani, a pretty Cycladic hamlet with superb views. Here a footpath begins that will take you to beautiful Sykamia, in the north.

Also visit the 1572 Monastery of Taxiarches, on the road connecting Hora with Platys Gialos. It is actually a fort with a high wall and bastions, built to repel pirates. Two kilometers down the road, stop at the village of Kalitsos, built amid lush greenery above a steep gorge that ends in a cove.

How to get there

Serifos is connected with Piraeus by high-speed and conventional ferry boats serving the Milos line. High-speed vessels take about two-and-a-half hours and conventional ones a little over four hours. For more details, visit www.aegeanspeedlines.gr, call 210.965.0950 or contact Hellenic Seaways at 210.419.9000. Local buses will take you at least some of the way toward outlying beaches.

Where to stay

Area phone code: 22810. Most options are in or near Livadi: Areti (tel 51479), comfortable, clean rooms with excellent veranda over the port; Rizes (tel 52222), on a hilltop with pool, friendly hosts; Pergola (tel 52065), 20 meters from the sea, lovely, fully equipped rooms; Maistrali (tel 51220), comfortable rooms with balconies, a/c and free Wi-Fi, pets allowed; Niovi Studios (tel 52564), perhaps the most romantic option, with iron beds, fully equipped, balconies with a view; Coralli (tel 51500), excellent campsite which also has bungalows, by the beach.

Where & what to eat

Being disappointed by the local cuisine and wine is out of the question. Chickpea soup (“revythada”) with rosemary is the local speciality but also look for seafood and sausages. Aloni, on the road to Hora, has sea views; Kali, in Livadi, has excellent seafood, especially lobster spaghetti; Manolis, in Psili Ammos, is the best option for revythada and has fine traditional Greek dishes; Karavomylos and Petros, in Hora, likewise; Plakes, in Hora, fine grill with views; Ganema, on the homonymous beach, offers great value for money; Yacht Club for drinks.

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