“I know Mykonos like the back of my hand, and many other destinations in Greece well, both on the mainland and throughout the islands, but Serifos, in all her bright, stony splendor, remains for me a cipher. Both her geography—rocky, precipitous, sliced into by deep ravines, and largely un-signposted for foreign visitors—and her people, who are still, for the most part, involved in work unrelated to seasonal tourism, keep a visitor at a long arm’s length. These islanders are not unfriendly, but they are dignified and standoffish and private. Their churches are padlocked shut; their museums are rarely, if ever, open; their resorts have yet to be built; and, for the life of them, they don’t understand why you’ve come to live among them for a month.”—Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
By Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
PENDLETON South Carolina—(Hubris)—November 2023—My intention, this past September, was to make of my annual pilgrimage to Greece (my “other patritha,” or homeland), an oxymoronic “return to a place I had never been.” After six decades of living in and visiting Greece, it is difficult for me to find a destination where I have never set foot, but Serifos was just such a place. Before we disembarked this fall, I had “called in there” on the Western Cycladic ferry run from Piraeus, en route to other islands such as Kythnos, Sifnos, Milos, Kimolos, Folegandros, Sikinos, Ios, and Santorini. In fact, I had not stayed on any of the West Cyclades but Santorini, though I had observed the islands from the decks of ferries on numerous occasions, always regretting that I had no time to tarry.
After studying the map all this past summer, I narrowed my choice down to Sifnos and Serifos. I had many contacts on Sifnos—friends and friends of friends who habitually summered there. I had only one “virtual acquaintance” on Serifos, Aliki Barnstone, the poet-daughter of Willis Barnstone, a writer well known to me from my publishing days in Athens. But Aliki was most familiar with Hora, Serifos’s precipitously located capital village, and our stays on the island would not overlap. For the most part, I would be on my own, in a Greek terra incognita.
This was just what I wanted.
Serifos has no airport, though it is amply served (much more so in summer) by traditional ferries and more-or-less-high-speed craft and catamarans originating in the mainland ports of Piraeus and Lavrion. Every year, making the long, challenging, and exhausting trip from South Carolina to wherever in the Greek back of beyond I have chosen to spend a precious autumn month, I think to myself, “This year, I’m going to make this odyssey simpler and less arduous.” And, every year, new obstacles rear up, and unimagined complications arise. This year, my family added into the mix a stop in Manhattan to rehearse a big band and an unexpectedly long “layover” in a Piraeus café where we awaited the ferry out to the island.
And . . . we will, some of us, always take along too much luggage, which makes boarding any Greek ferry an ordeal. There is too, of course, these last three years, a small dog to contend with, and her specific needs and desires: we do not travel light, though, every year, we try, try, try to do better. If I have one piece of advice to give visitors to Greece, of any kind, in any season, it is this: take along only one piece of carry-on luggage, and budget to acquire anything else you may need in Greece. (I shall tattoo this admonition on my right hand prior to the autumn of 2024!)
So, we flew, the dog and her three human companions, from Greenville, South Carolina to New Jersey; and, then, from New York to Athens; where we used my friend Matt Barrett’s essential taxi service to travel from Athens’ airport to the port of Piraeus. (We would call upon George, The Famous Taxi Driver of Athens twice more in the course of our travels: to go from Piraeus to our Airbnb in Plaka, and from Plaka back to the airport.)
As Odysseus can attest, getting there, and getting away from there, are twin adventures about which I will say very little here. I will say though, that at my advanced age, I do not travel cheaply in Greece—I always book First or Business Class ferry tickets, as well as Business Class tickets with Aegean when traveling to Greek destinations with airports. I have decades of deck-class Greek travel under my belt but, at around 60, I no longer felt roughing it was a badge of honor. But even First Class passengers must stampede aboard Greek ferries and hoist luggage onto high shelves in the noisome hold: boarding is not easy for the faint of heart, the lame, or for those bringing along a soft trumpet case and a small dog in a backpack.
Nor was Serifos going to give up any of her held-close-to-the-chest secrets readily. I spent over three weeks there, and feel I just scratched a small, timid fingernail over the island’s flinty, gleaming surface. As I said to Robin this morning, the island reminds me of a Greek dowager of great age, dignity, and endless reserve; someone unwilling to divulge anything to a callow foreign stranger who unwilling to spend years in her anteroom awaiting a meaningful audience.
Serifos is a place of stunning surface beauty, and deep reserves of ancient and modern history and tradition. But it is not an easy place to know, and its people are inscrutable, even to a Greek-speaker (albeit one with the green eyes of a Northern European).
I know Mykonos like the back of my hand, and many other destinations in Greece well, both on the mainland and throughout the islands, but Serifos, in all her bright, stony splendor, remains for me a cipher. Both her geography—rocky, precipitous, sliced into by deep ravines, and largely un-signposted for foreign visitors—and her people, who are still, for the most part, involved in work unrelated to seasonal tourism, keep a visitor at a long arm’s length. These islanders are not unfriendly, but they are dignified and standoffish and private. Their churches are padlocked shut; their museums are rarely, if ever, open; their resorts have yet to be built; and, for the life of them, they don’t understand why you’ve come to live among them for a month. Nor are they curious about you. But I would bide my time . . . .
Acts of Faith: The Curches of Serifos, Ioannis Varlas, Transl. Antonios Vitalis, Kanthia Press, 1997. (ISBN: 0-473-04348-3)
Sifnos-Serifos, Havens of Authenticity in the Greek Islands, Denis Roubien, 2021 (ISBN: 979-873-002-840-1)
Serifos, Loris Triantafyllidis, Technokataskevi SA, June 2012 (ISBN: 978-618-80065-0-8)
Serifos Above, Panagiotis Filippopoulos/Windy Pixels, 2022
Seriphos: The White Tower, Ministry of Culture and Sport, General Directorate of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage, 21st Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, Athens, Greece, 2014. (ISBN: 978-960-386-123-2)
The Magic of Serifos, Robert A. McCabe, Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades/Perseus Archaeological Museum, Serifos, July 2023
Practical Information Regarding Serifos
We recommend using Airbnb to find lodging on the island. With the COVID pandemic still a reality (and Paxlovid challenging for foreign visitors who fall ill to procure, even in Athens), we still believe masking on flights and ferries advisable and booking accommodation not shared by other visitors the best option on Serifos, which has no airport. We stayed at the Serenity Beach Villa, in Tsilipaki, and cannot more highly recommend it.
We also rented a large, powerful car for the duration of our stay, and advise those whose desire is to see Serifos in its rugged entirety to book, in advance, a four-wheel-drive vehicle through Mr. Vangelis Galanos, at Coralli Car Rental (www.corallirentals.gr; E.firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel. 30.22810.51488).
Contact Ms. Maria Grigoriadou, of This Is My Crazy Dream, to rent boats/boat tours of Serifos and nearby islands (email@example.com; Tel. 30.6980.423.331).
In September, when we visited, we found the most reliable places to eat, both lunch and dinner, were the following: Takis: Authentic Greek Cuisine & Seafood, Livadi, Serifos, Tel. 30 22810.51159; Alexandros Cuisine & Coffee Bar, Alexandros Resort, Livadakia Beach, Serifos, www.AlexandrosResort. com; Tel. 6909397774; Porto Vecchio, Livadi, Serifos, Tel. 30.2281.052532; and Stamatis, Avlomonas Beach/Livadi, Serifos; Tel. 30. 2281.051309.
For shopping, we highly recommend, for local and Sifniote fine ceramics, KN Ceramics, Kato Hora, www.knceramics.gr, Tel. 30.22810.51669, firstname.lastname@example.org; for unique, finely-produced souvenirs, books, Greek clothing, and jewelry, Theta (Think of Serifos) Concept Store, Livadi/Marina, Tel. 30. 22810.51781, https://thinkofserifos.gr/en/, email@example.com; for stylish European fashions, Calle 31 (Clothing Boutique), Livadi, Tel. 30.693.859.0386; and, for unique artisanal gifts, 100% Greek: Limited Art Editions, Hora, Serifos, Tel. 30.6944.444.225. KN Ceramics is run by Ms. Natassa Kalogeropoulou and a group of highly skilled and creative ceramicists who will ship all over the world. 100% Greek is the creation of Ms. Silvia Kraemer: be sure to purchase her own frameable, annotated map of the island and see textiles and clothing she fashions using antique Greek fabrics.
The beaches of Serifos—well over 50—are too numerous even to mention by name here, but I found them (except Avlomenas, which is really an extension of the port of Livadi, and Ganema, Koutalas, and Megalo Livadi, which feature humble tavernas in high season) to be much like the beaches of Mykonos in the 1970s: difficult of access, uncluttered by beach umbrellas and bars, and uncrowded, especially in September, by which time many of the establishments catering solely to tourists have closed. Livadakia, in September, was also an exception, in that the excellent Alexandros Taverna & Coffee Bar was still open, and the little attached resort was still full of European, short-stay tourists. But even Livadakia is difficult to reach by car and has little parking. Forgive me if I do not mention my favorite Serifos beaches here: as a longtime Greek travel writer, I know what damage I and my confrères have done advertising-to-death Greece’s most pristine destinations.
To be continued in December 2023.
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