TRAVEL

Where luxe-lov­ing Athe­ni­ans head, the savvy trav­eller should fol­low - such as to this re­mote is­land, ac­ces­si­ble by ferry

Friday - - Contents -

Live a luxe life on the re­mote is­land of Ser­i­fos in Greece.

HHow do you choose which Greek is­land to visit? There are thou­sands, and of course the most fa­mous can­not be the best. For un­spoilt beauty, you need a tip-off, and for one that has a lit­tle more life, you fol­low those in the know: the Athe­ni­ans, and those smart ho­tel groups who seek out rar­efied and spec­tac­u­lar desti­na­tions to woo their clien­tele.

That the small and supremely chilled bou­tique ho­tel Coco-Mat has cho­sen Ser­i­fos in the western Cy­clades is an in­di­ca­tor that this is­land has some­thing spe­cial go­ing on. The epony­mous Greek in­te­ri­ors brand be­hind it makes in­dul­gent but sus­tain­able bed­ding and fur­nish­ings in Xan­thi, north-east Greece, from wool, wood and sea­weed, and its foray into ho­tels has a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally up­mar­ket but rus­tic ethos.

The hote­liers may in­sist it was the sound of the waves through the open win­dows of the old min­ers’ cot­tages here that per­suaded them this was the spot, but not with­out in­flu­ence is the in­flux of arty Athe­ni­ans who have been short-break­ing on Ser­i­fos, buy­ing sim­ple vil­lage homes and ru­ral vil­las to cre­ate stylish hol­i­day hide­aways and bring­ing this craggy barren out­post a bit of edge.

Where the cognoscenti trickle, the busi­nesses that cater to them – the cof­fee shops, the cock­tail lounges, shops sell­ing ex­pen­sive kaf­tans rather than retsina – will spring up. You can find a smat­ter­ing here, but what makes Ser­i­fos ir­re­sistible, even to those who hate that kind of thing, is that it is in­cred­i­bly low-key, con­fined re­ally to the main town, Chora, whereas the rest of the is­land is as wild and raw as any tiny speck on the map you could hope to un­earth.

The best-known Cy­clades – Mykonos and San­torini, 50 and 75 miles away – are drown­ing in chichi nightlife, lux­ury ho­tels and fine din­ing, and the tourist num­bers to match. But charm­ing, sleepy Ser­i­fos, with its un­usu­ally dra­matic peaked land­scape, out­shines both, while its lack of an air­port de­ters the crowds.

A 15-minute drive west around the south­ern coast from the ferry port of Li­vadi (into which high-speed and more com­fort­able slow fer­ries ar­rive from Pi­raeus), brought us to Koutala Bay, where the stylishly ren­o­vated min­ers’ cot­tages, built in 1908, face the wide, white stretch of near-de­serted

Va­gia beach. Our end cot­tage was on two lev­els, with ex­posed beams and bam­boo ceil­ings, lots of nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als and the odd in­dus­trial touch, ev­ery­thing white­washed or pale blue. We un­furled in the cool, then dragged our­selves from the plump ter­race day bed to more dot­ted along the sand, shaded by camo nets.

In the early evening at the ho­tel’s restau­rant, wait­ers perched ca­su­ally on the edges of a ta­ble wait­ing for guests to charm. We watched the pur­ple glow on the sea as we ate an art­ful din­ner of char­grilled oc­to­pus with rose­mary; hum­mus and mar­i­nated baby onions fol­lowed; then tomato pa­pardelle, cala­mari with fish roe salad.

At Kalo Am­peli beach, two tav­er­nas have ta­bles right on the sand, Ma­paitsa and Cy­clops. Such sim­ple, af­ford­able places in the old-fash­ioned style, a cap­ti­vat­ing rocky land­scape that was the back­drop for an­cient myths ... th­ese are the charms of laid-back, so­porific Ser­i­fos.

If you don’t stay at Coco-Mat, which is worth a visit for din­ner and drinks at least, then tuck­ing your­self away in an iso­lated villa is the way to go. Where ex­actly seemed less im­por­tant the more of the is­land we saw, fol­low­ing the coastal and moun­tain roads.

Li­vadi is the Greece of ’80s brochure tourism, a cheer­ful, tav­erna-lined sun­trap for lol­lies and beach balls, gro­cery stores and yachties (of the Sun­sail, not oli­garch va­ri­ety).

For at­mo­sphere Chora town, which tum­bles from a south­ern hill­top like a lava flow of white­wash, is the place. Hand-painted ar­rows led us to the at­trac­tive square, paved in mar­ble and packed with turquoise ta­bles and chairs. At Pano Pi­azza we had orange cake and wa­ter­melon juice, while my two-year-old daugh­ter chased stray cats. How­ever hip th­ese vil­lages be­come, there will al­ways be the stray cats.

At the end of our week we moved in­land and way up­hill to Aria Vil­las, a few smart stone dwellings with jaw-drop­ping views.

We had by then seen the whole is­land, so just sat out on the ter­race with the tele­scope and sur­veyed it all from above – Li­vadi, Chora, the is­land of Sifnos and oth­ers be­yond in the Aegean – and watched the fer­ries go back and forth, and the moon rise. For ferry times from Athenes Pi­raeus to Ser­i­fos, see greece­fer­ries.com

Charm­ing wind­mills add to Ser­i­fos’ main town Chora’s laid­back vibe

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