Discover the extraordinary Greek island of Sifnos and immerse yourself in its ancient past by exploring its 3,000-year-old hiking trails.
Known as the Sifnos Trails, these 19 routes have a rich history dating back to 3000 B.C. After years of neglect, a community-led initiative partnered with the trail-building cooperative Paths of Greece to restore them in 2015. Today, travelers can follow in the footsteps of ancient farmers, miners, and soldiers, who established one of the world’s oldest trail networks.
Signposts and trail markers now guide visitors to fascinating sites such as silver mines, blooming wildflower meadows, and picturesque fishing villages. Unlike the bustling tourist spots of Santorini and Mykonos, Sifnos offers a more secluded and lesser-known experience in the Mediterranean. Here’s how you can explore this hidden gem.
Journey through time
Situated in the Cyclades archipelago, Sifnos is one of the 200 islands found south of the Greek mainland. In antiquity, Sifnos thrived due to its wealth derived from ceramics and silver and gold mining, making it the center of Cycladic civilization.
The Sifnos Trails provide a gateway to this remarkable history, with archaeological sites scattered along various routes. You can embark on leisurely walks through forested foothills or tackle more challenging paths that offer breathtaking views of the sea. The Sifnos Insiders trail is one of the more remote and demanding routes. It starts in the port town of Kamares with a steep ascent and leads to the town of Apollonia. Named after the sun god revered in ancient times, Apollonia has served as Sifnos’ capital since 1836.
As you traverse the trails, you’ll encounter a picturesque coastal landscape adorned with pine and juniper trees, as well as farmlands dotted with delicate white flowers. The gentle bleating of goats and the soothing sound of their chiming bells create a harmonious ambiance. The hillsides bear remnants of rural life, including small farm buildings called themonies and nearly 70 towers that once protected Sifnos’ abundant resources.
Tulsi Parikh, an archaeologist at the British School at Athens, remarks that it’s difficult to determine the exact age of these paths without considering the artifacts found alongside them. Sifnos’ great wealth necessitated a network of watchtowers, which were equipped with torches to alert the islanders of approaching ships.
Other trails lead to ancient settlements, such as the Mycenaean acropolis of Agios Andreas and the Venetian citadel of Kastro. Along the narrow streets of Kastro, framed by Roman sarcophagi and Archaic stonework, you’ll be captivated by the mesmerizing view of the Aegean Sea.
At the remote northern tip of the island, a rocky trail flanked by low-lying shrubs descends from a point called Kabanario down to Cheronissos. Generations of Sifnos’ fishermen have lived and worked in this small harbor, and visitors can savor the catch of the day, fried and drizzled with refreshing lemon juice.
The historical sites along the trails are undoubtedly captivating, but the trails themselves are also invaluable artifacts. For example, the out-and-back, four-mile Route of the Mines begins near the village of Artemonas and follows a cliffside path enclosed by a drystone wall. The route culminates at Agios Sostis, where a striking white church stands above one of the world’s oldest gold and silver mines, which operated from the Bronze Age until the 20th century. By walking these paths, you’re retracing the steps of the miners who once traversed them.
A sustainable future for tourism
The trails of Sifnos not only offer a glimpse into the island’s history but also contribute to its sustainable tourism future. In 1997, a section of land on Sifnos’ west coast became part of the European Commission’s Natura 2000 network, a conservation initiative aimed at protecting Europe’s most valuable and endangered species and habitats. Tulsi Parikh emphasizes that exploring the trails is an excellent way for people to appreciate and conserve the island.
The newly established Botanical Trail winds through this protected reserve, safeguarding ten threatened habitats, including juniper forests and river ecosystems. Informative signs along the route describe the delicate endemic plants and flowers that line the path, such as white morning glory and pink catchfly. Keep an eye out for the Milos vipers, one of the two endangered snake species found in the area.
The goal is to promote year-round tourism, avoiding the busy summer months. Fivos Tsaravopoulos, the founder of Paths of Greece, believes that the trails not only educate visitors about the island’s past but also foster a stronger connection with a more sustainable future.
To make the most of your Sifnos adventure, consider the following:
Tour: U.K.-based TravelLocal collaborates with local island experts to provide tailor-made, off-the-beaten-path itineraries, including the Alternative Greek Island Hopping Tour, which includes Sifnos. Anna Graikou’s Sifnos Hiking offers informative and interpretive walks. Paths of Greece provides trail maps (also available online), making it easy to navigate the network independently.
Accommodation: Set in Kamares, Sifnaika Konakia is a traditional B&B surrounded by lush palm trees, offering an idyllic base for your stay on Sifnos. For unparalleled views of the Aegean Sea and the ancient citadel of Kastro, consider the upscale boutique hotel Verina Astra, perched on a cliff on the island’s eastern edge.
Dining: Amidst the white-washed buildings of Apollonia, you’ll find Drakakis, a restaurant serving modern Greek cuisine. In Artemonas, indulge in aromatic eggplant saganaki on the patio of Mosaico Cafe, and in Cheronissos, savor fresh seafood at Cheronissos Fish Tavern by the sea.
Chloe Berge is a travel, environment, and adventure writer based in Vancouver. You can follow her on Instagram.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Greek island hiking trails
What is the history of the hiking trails on Sifnos Island?
The hiking trails on Sifnos Island have a history dating back 3,000 years, with some routes originating from 3000 B.C. They were used by farmers, miners, and soldiers and are now restored for modern travelers to explore.
What can I expect to see along the Sifnos Trails?
Along the Sifnos Trails, you can expect to see archaeological sites, such as ancient silver mines, Mycenaean acropolis, and Venetian citadel. You’ll also encounter charming fishing villages, picturesque landscapes, and panoramic coastal views.
Are the Sifnos Trails suitable for all fitness levels?
The Sifnos Trails offer a range of routes, from leisurely strolls through forested foothills to more challenging climbs. Some paths can be strenuous, so it’s recommended to choose trails that suit your fitness level and abilities.
The Sifnos Trails are well-marked with new signposts and trail markers. You can navigate them easily on your own using trail maps provided by Paths of Greece. Alternatively, local tour operators like Anna Graikou’s Sifnos Hiking offer informative guided walks.
Is there a particular time to visit Sifnos Island and its trails?
Sifnos Island can be visited year-round, but it’s recommended to avoid the busy summer months for a more peaceful experience. Spring and autumn offer pleasant weather for hiking and exploring the trails.
How can I contribute to the conservation efforts on Sifnos Island?
By visiting the Sifnos Trails and learning about the island’s history and natural habitats, you are already contributing to its conservation efforts. Additionally, the inclusion of Sifnos Island in the Natura 2000 network aims to protect the valuable species and habitats, supporting the island’s sustainability.