After coming back from Santorini, David and I were hooked on Greece. We had some more leave coming up, so I immediately started researching some more Greek islands that we could explore. I’d read great things about Milos, and did a deep dive on Airbnb, looking for an amazing villa to be our home base. Perhaps because Greece had just come out of an extended lockdown, I really struggled to find any properties on Milos that ticked all my boxes. Don’t get me wrong, there were some really nice places. But mama wanted a pool, and mama was gonna have a pool. It’s me, I’m mama. Airbnb tried to be helpful by offering up pool villas on neighbouring islands, but I wasn’t interested as I was super keen to stay on Milos. But no, Airbnb belligerently insisted that I just take a look at this one place called Asteria on Sifnos, the island next door. Fine, I said, stop hassling me already, I’ll take a look. And the rest is history because the villa was absolutely perfect, ticking all my boxes, and then some. And that’s how it was decided that we would do a double feature and get drunk in….. Milos and Sifnos!
So, you know how I just said I couldn’t find the perfect place to stay in Milos? I’mma backpedal on that, because I did find somewhere that was absolutely breathtaking. OK, so it didn’t have a pool, but when you see it, you’ll understand how truly special it was. It was a tiny house, called a syrma, dug into the rockface right on a secluded beach. Traditionally, syrmas were built to protect fishing boats from the wild Milos winter winds, and were later adapted to provide housing and shelter for the fishermen themselves; or turned into small summer houses for locals.
The syrma that we stayed in had been beautifully renovated by the most welcoming hosts we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting on Airbnb. Giannis and Anna, treated us like family right from the beginning. Giannis met us at the beach and carried my ridiculously heavy suitcase 130m across the sand from the carpark to our little house. They regularly kept us topped up with fresh water bottles and provided us with eggs and olive oil from their farm. Even though we were there for just four days, I totally fell in love with Anna, who reminded me of my beautiful aunt Toula. Her visits totally made my day, watching her wave and call out to us as she jogged across the sand with various local delicacies that she’d made for us. One day it was a delicious halva cake, another it was watermelon pie. I was avoiding carbohydrates but still tried all her offerings because it felt like they were made with love. And I would do it again. I choose to eat the way I do because it makes me feel better, and because I know it’s healthy. But food still has a special way of connecting people, and of transcending nutrition. Food is a means of communication, of showing emotion and of bridging gaps. If someone offers me something that they made for me, I will eat it. Firstly as a show of respect, but secondly because I choose to partake in the ritual which is being performed. I want to be involved, and I choose to be open to new experiences. I want to experience it all. It’s one of the reasons I love to travel so much.
Giannis and Anna’s syrma was absolutely gorgeous. It was small, but perfectly formed, and more than spacious enough for the two of us. And the best thing about it by far was that it was literally right on the beach. We slept with the doors open every night, falling asleep to the sibilant sound of the waves lapping on the shore. I feel so lucky that we had the opportunity to stay in such a beautiful place. We swam in the crystal clear waters of the private cove several times a day. We were in heaven.
Our first (and last) dinner in Milos was at a seafood restaurant called Astakas, located right on the beach. I remember the first dinner far more clearly than I remember the last, but more on that later. I might have already mentioned that when you go to a taverna in Greece, you can get some pretty good house wine, which is normally ordered by the kilo (or half kilo). I really love this concept because it totally smashes the illusion of wine snobbery. Wine ordered by weight. What’s not to love about drinking wine from a barrel. It’s what I grew up with, and (after dipping my toes into some wine snobbery myself) it’s a philosophy I’ve come to fully embrace. And when you’re in the right place, a place like Astakas, you can actually get some incredible local wine by the kilo, and that includes Assyrtiko, our favourite Greek grape. After our Santorini trip David and I learned the trick of ordering a bottle of sparkling water, two glasses of ouzo and half a kilo of white wine as soon as we sat down at any restaurant. Boom! Take note and make sure you do the same next time you happen to find yourself on a Greek island. The few times we were told (down a waiter’s nose) that wine wasn’t served by the kilo and that we had to order a bottle of wine instead, we knew we were in the wrong place. Greek food isn’t fancy, it’s not supposed to be fancy. It’s simple. It’s delicious. It’s food for the people. And the people want wine by the kilo.
After a blissful night’s sleep, we awoke to the sound of the waves at our front door. Serenely beholding the beach that we had all to ourselves, we waded into the sea for a swim. And it was glorious. The syrma was truly one of the best places we’ve ever stayed. It was simple, but still so special. Honestly, money can’t buy that kind of exclusivity. We spent the morning on our deck, overlooking the water, soaking it all in and taking it easy. For lunch we headed to Medusa taverna, a short, ten minute drive away, where we were treated to a fantastic meal overlooking some of the clearest and bluest waters I’ve ever seen in my life. Once again the taverna was a simple, family run affair but they served what I think is the best food on the island. We indulged in fava, a Santorini classic dish of mashed yellow split peas, drizzled with a phenomenal olive oil and served with onion slices, fried local goat’s cheese smothered in the lightest honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds, freshly caught mackerel cooked on a charcoal grill and drenched in lemon juice and spectacular grilled eel and octopus. We ate to bursting, kicking back and enjoying the vibe of sitting at a beach taverna with nowhere to be and nothing to do. And then, when we asked for the bill, they brought us a generous serving of loukoumades, a Greek dessert which is basically deep fried dough soaked in honey syrup. Can you believe I managed to refrain from eating these tasty treats the first two times we came to this fabulous restaurant, allowing David to demolish them all himself. I am happy to admit that I did try them on our third visit, and OH MY FUCKING GOD!!! They were scrumptious.
After lunch at Medusa, we walked down a dirt track to what I think is perhaps one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen in my life, Tourkothalassa beach (which translates to Turkish beach). There was hardly anyone there, so we stripped off (as we are wont to do) and waded into the spectacularly clear water. I remember treading water and looking around me and thinking that I was in the most beautiful place on earth. And I became emotional. About being in Greece, and loving it as hard as I did. About finally connecting with my heritage in a way that I’d never been able to do while my parents were still alive. About losing both of my parents. I ached for them to see me there, to know how much I loved their birthplace. I ached for them to be there with me, floating in paradise.
One of the most famous of Milos’ beaches is Sarakiniko, a whitewashed rocky beach resembling a desolate lunar landscape that was formed by strong winds and waves sculpting Milos’ unique white volcanic rock. We swam in the deep, frigidly cold channel but didn’t stick around for too long. Being such a stunning spot, the beach was overrun with couples and groups taking videos and photos of themselves, and each other, to post on social media. It lent the place a kind of circusy vibe which was at odds with how beautiful it was. Don’t get me wrong, we took plenty of photos of ourselves. To be honest, I probably would have stuck around if there had been a tavern at the beach, but since there wasn’t and since I was getting hungry (and thirsty) we decided to take off and head back to our fave taverna, Medusa for some more delicious food and wine.
Since we were in Milos for only four days we didn’t really get to explore the whole island, especially as we spent so much time at our syrma, chilling on our own beach. I’d definitely love to go back to the island sometime and get to know it better. I’m almost ashamed to admit that we only went to one bar on Milos, and that bar was Yankos. Oh my god, Yankos was nearly the end of me. It’s not a fancy cocktail bar at all, more like an all day dining joint that has a very dangerously strong cocktail happy hour. At €6 a pop, we sat down for drinks one afternoon, and when I got up several margaritas later I could barely walk. I don’t remember much of what happened after that but I do know that we walked up the road to one of the best seafood tavernas in town for dinner, Mikros Apoplous. I’m not super proud of what happened next, but in the interests of transparency I’ll recount it as best I can. We sat down and ordered a few small dishes and a whole grilled fish. I was pretty drunk, but I’ve been drunk before and I know how to comport myself when I’m in that state. Usually. This time, however, I was not able to comport myself, and the world just kept on spinning, very dangerously. I guess I decided that the best course of action for me to take was to leave, because I just got up and took off down the road, shouting something about having to go home. I have no idea where I was going, I just knew that I had to go, selfishly leaving David to deal with the aftermath. He graciously explained to the concerned waiter that I wasn’t feeling well and that of course we would pay for the meal but we had to go. They told him that the fish was nearly ready to serve and would we like to take it home with us. And so we ended up back in our syrma, me feeling much better, standing over the kitchen bench and absolutely devouring the magnificent grilled fish with our hands. Not a bad end to the night, all things considered.
The next day I woke up, appropriately feeling like arse. There’s always a price to pay. I know that, I’m not an amateur. I sucked it up as we packed up, checked out and headed into town to pick up our ferry tickets to Sifnos, the next destination on our adventure. When we arrived at the ticket office we were told that the only ferry of the day to Sifnos had been cancelled. WHAT??? Ferry schedules are notoriously unreliable in the Greek islands, and we’d known that when we booked. But Sifnos doesn’t have an airport, so ferry was the only way of getting there. Feeling pretty dejected we sat under a tree in the town square trying to figure out the best course of action. We needed to find another place to stay for the night in Milos as the syrma wasn’t available. And we’d have to ask the car rental company to extend our rental by another day. I also had to contact Philippos, the host of the gorgeous villa in Sifnos, to let him know that we wouldn’t be there until the next day. It was all a little stressful. I am not the most spontaneous traveller in the world. I schedule a lot of time for spontaneity, but the framework of my holidays need to be in place well in advance. I’m talking about tickets, and I’m talking about accommodation. Of course I can handle a minor glitch like a cancelled ferry, but it does stress me out.
David had the wonderful idea of going to Medusa taverna for lunch, making it our third visit! And it was perfect. We ordered our favourite dishes and plenty of wine and, feeling more relaxed, I set about trying to find a solution to our problem. It was actually Philippos who offered to get in touch with a friend of his who owned a speedboat to come and pick us up from Milos and take us to Sifnos later that day. The cost of this private charter was an extortionate €300. David and I debated it for about two minutes and quickly decided, fuck it, let’s do it. I mean yeah, we could have saved some dough and caught the ferry the next day, but that option felt lame. Catching a ridiculously expensive speedboat was way more badass and when faced with the option of doing something the lame way or the badass way, you can bet I’mma pick the badass way.
So, we arrived in Sifnos, rented a four wheel drive and made our way to our very secluded villa, in the middle of nowhere. Oh my god guys, this place was just astounding. We were staying in a five star property in one of the most barren, wild, isolated places I’ve ever been to. I’m not sure if it was because of covid, or because it was the end of the tourist season. Or maybe it was just Sifnos. But I think that for the entire ten days we were there we spoke to only a dozen people. It was serene, it was peaceful, it was quiet (oh, so quiet). It was magnificent. And I wish we were still there now. David loved it so much that he seriously contemplated buying the adjacent villa that was for sale next door. Sadly we didn’t have a spare €700,000 lying around. Oh well, it’s nice to have dreams.
Because of all the reasons I already mentioned, we didn’t go out to eat that much. Most restaurants had either not opened at all, because of covid, or had already closed for winter. So we ate at home a lot. We picked up some portable, single-use BBQs at the general store and we’d grill some local pork, eating it with some homemade tzatziki and locally grown tomatoes. I was in my culinary element. And we drank our body weight in mastiha, a specialty Greek liqueur seasoned with mastic resin, giving it a unique flavour. Mastiha, glorious mastiha. So much mastiha. Mastiha for breakfast, mastiha for lunch and mastiha for dinner. That’s how we do!
We made the trek to our local beach a few times during our stay. Unlike Milos, where we could step onto the beach directly from our accommodation, the beach in Sifnos was a 20 minute steep walk from our villa. Totally worth the sweat. Normally there are two tavernas that operate on the beach, but they were both closed for the season so most of the time we had the entire place to ourselves, which allowed us to indulge in some skinny dipping (coz you know how much I love to take my kit off!!). There’s truly nothing like feeling that somewhere as special as Vroulidia Beach is exclusively yours. And it’s completely free. A billionaire might spend a shitload of money trying to achieve the same level of privacy and exclusiveness and never find anywhere near as exceptional or unique. We were living large.
There was a small fishing village about a ten minute drive from the villa that had two seafood tavernas still operating late into the season, and we tried them both during our stay. Both sourced their seafood from the daily catch brought in by the local fishermen. On our first night in Sifnos we tried H Ammoudia, and had a fantastic meal, complemented by super friendly service. We ate at Cheronissos Fish Tavern a few days later, trying the home made fish soup (just like my Mum used to make!!!). It was divine. So comforting and delicious. It made me so happy to be sitting on the shore’s edge, eating food from my childhood. Sadly, at each restaurant we were the only customers on the night, and I felt so sorry for the owners who must have really suffered during the covid lockdowns. I know that a lot of places never re-opened. It felt good to know that we were doing our part to help the economy by eating and drinking and being merry in Greece. We were always welcomed with open arms and treated to the warm and generous Greek hospitality that I grew up with and which David has come to love and embrace.
Every morning at around 8am, David and I would be woken up by the sound of bells ringing near our bedroom window. It was the local goatherd, a wizened old man in his eighties, leaning on his crook and guiding his beautiful goats up the mountain for them to graze. It was a beautiful way to wake up and start the day. A couple of times we caught him on his way back in the afternoon, and we would have stilted conversations about the old days and how much things have changed in his lifetime. It was wonderful to be able to interact with him, despite not having possession of all the words that I wished I could use. That was the beginning of my desire to better learn my mother-tongue. What cemented that desire was our wonderful housekeeper Sofia, who was tasked with coming to the villa three times a week to clean up after us and to keep the place tidy. I don’t know why, but Sofia appeared to fall in love with me instantly. Perhaps it was because I was Greek-Australian. Perhaps it was because I could speak a few words of Greek to her. Perhaps it was because I am pretty loveable. I don’t know. But she really took to me and I really took to her, and we got into the habit of sitting down for a coffee and a chat for half an hour before she did her chores. I say a chat because, even though we were communicating, I found it really difficult. I KNEW the words I wanted to say, but oftentimes I just couldn’t find them. Sofia didn’t know any English, but between the two of us we still managed to understand each other, with her offering suggestions when I would get stuck halfway through a sentence. I resolved then to re-learn Greek so that I would never again feel so helpless when trying to speak my first language. I’m grateful to Sofia for being so friendly and loving, so generous with her time (and with her freshly laid eggs, honey and home made yoghurt). I feel so lucky that my heritage offers me the opportunity to experience things in a way that other tourists in Greece never can. I’m seriously #fuckingblessed, and I know it.
We ate some tasty food in Sifnos, but if you were to ask any local what dish the island is famous for, they wouldn’t hesitate to say that it’s the revithada. It’s a really simple chickpea dish that requires the investment of quality ingredients, time and love. Traditionally it was made by the women of the island who would fill clay pots with chickpeas, olive oil, onions, garlic and lemon, allowing it to slow cook overnight in a wood oven so that the dish would be ready to eat on Sunday after church. I know you’ve had chickpeas. Everyone has, right? But you have NO FUCKING IDEA how good revithada is. Stop arguing. You don’t. Not until you go to Margarita restaurant in Artemonas and try their revithada. The end. No more discussion. Oh, and don’t forget to have a cheeky ouzaki before you order the main course. It helps to whet the appetite.
I want to make a special mention of a very idiosyncratic bar on Sifnos. A place that I would say is my favourite bar in the entire world. I’m talking about Bar Kavos Sunrise. One evening we headed to Kastro, where the Church of the Seven Martyrs is located, hoping to find a restaurant open for dinner. We were disappointed. Everything was closed and the town was deserted. But I’d read about a bar in the area and thought it would be worth a shot to see if it might be open. We walked up many stairs, dodging multiple cats trying to trip us up, and eventually we came upon a tiny terrace overlooking the sea with a spectacular view of the lightning and thunderstorm brewing offshore. We shooed some cats off a table and sat down figuring that since the lights were out, we must be out of luck. But astonishingly, after a few minutes a 200 year old man wearing tiny jean cutoffs and exuding a helluva cool vibe sauntered out and asked us if we wanted drinks. Did we ever!!! He told us we could order mojitos or mojitos. So we ordered mojitos. He went back inside, turned on some lights, and five minutes later we were presented with the strongest mojitos we’ve ever had. Plus an extra 60ml each of rum in large shot glasses. I’m not a huge mojito fan, but these were the strongest, tastiest mojitos I’ve ever been served. I instantly fell in love with this bar, but going to the toilet was what clinched the deal for me. There were seven or eight cats roaming around in the loo. There was no lock on the door and there was no toilet paper. I had to stretch my legs over two or three kitty litter boxes full of shit, and the toilet itself was nestled between four or five cat boxes (some of them occupied). It was horrendous. But SO GODDAMN CHARMING!!! I am so here for places that do their own thing, and do it well. Our Cubaphile owner/bartender doesn’t give a shit about anything except serving good, strong cocktails. He doesn’t give a flying fuck what anyone thinks, and in the process he’s created exactly the kind of place that stands out in a world full of cookie cutter blandness. When we paid the bill we tried to give him a tip, but he vehemently rejected the extra money, murmuring “Capitalista” under his breath. He did, however, accept our offer of buying a round of rum for him and his friend, who’d turned up with some food for the old man. The four or us did shots together, clapped each other on the back and vowed to meet again. I intend to keep that promise. I just need the old dude to stay alive.
Most of the people we saw in Sifnos were at the harbour, at the restaurants and bars we frequented there. We went to Meropi right on the water, a couple of times, and had some good food, good wine and good vibes. We also went next door to O Simos for a frappé fix and a chance to catch up on our epic, trans-continental backgammon competition, the winner of which is known as Master Of The Universe (I’m winning).
We also dropped in at Old Captain bar a few times, where the hospitality and the liquor were both free flowing. One of the owners, Yiannis, took a liking to us, free pouring us drinks and insisting that we try his White Russians, which we initially declined, not being great fans of the drink, but then eventually agreed to. Which is fantastic, because I have never had a White Russian so tasty. It pays to be open to everything. Good times were had at this bar, but because we usually had to drive home we could never really let loose. That is, until the last day when we dropped the car rental off around the corner, plonked ourselves, and our suitcases, under a beach umbrella and told Yiannis to keep the White Russians coming until our ferry showed up. It’s no stretch to say that we were completely fucked up on that ferry ride back to Milos.
Which brings me back to Astakas restaurant, and the final dinner of our island holiday. I remember none of it. All I remember is the tiny little kitten that attached itself to me. I don’t normally fuck around with stray cats but this little guy was so cute, and so small I couldn’t resist. He literally fit into the palm of my hand, and I spent most of dinner cooing and playing with him while he sat in my lap. David was not impressed. And I was not impressed with the nasty case of ringworm that the little fucker gave me. Lesson learned. Another lesson learned? Don’t take your shoes off and wade into the water outside your accommodation when you’re off your face. Coz bitch, you’re gonna fall in and get wet. Good times, drunk in!