A set of starry suites on an eastern cliff edge of Sifnos in the Cyclades, Verina Astra takes the island’s natural bounty as its building blocks, literally if you count the stone walls. The gold (and silver) rush may be over, but there’s plenty of treasure to dig for: locally sourced food that makes even the mega-yachts drop anchor, pottery perfection and whitewashed hilltop villages that are Disneyland in Cycladic-architecture form. Hike the mountain paths that weave past white and blue churches, ancient temples and monasteries – or stake out your shaded terrace for endless Aegean views, homegrown-herb cocktails and, of course, delicious local produce.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £134.42 (€155), including tax at 13 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional government tax of €0.50 per room per night on check-in.
Rates usually include breakfast.
The bar may be staffed by expert drink mixers, but if you can’t make it that far, there are ready-made cocktails helpfully stashed in the minibar.
The hotel shutters up for winter from the middle of October until May.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, gardens, rocky beach. In rooms: Bluetooth speakers, smart TV, Nespresso coffee machine and kettle, air-conditioning and Meraki bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Each room is different, but every last one has uplifting Aegean views from its shaded terrace. If you like your Greek architecture cave-like and classic, request one of the original seven rooms, which have small pastel-coloured windows and shutters for Hellenic heaven. For a bathroom you could spend all day in, go for Monoceros and its skylight-enhanced, Sifnian stone number. And if a private pool’s a dealbreaker, book Norma or Indus.
The sea-edge saltwater infinity pool was Pantone-matched to just the right shade of Aegean blue. There are rattan parasols, giant cushions and sunloungers and chairs in tasteful tones of charcoal, grey and taupe. Swimming hours are 8am to 9pm.
An Elemis spa will open in time for the 2022 season.
Breezy does it: the laid-back approach to luxury here means anything goes – just make sure you pack swimwear that will withstand the rocky coves.
The cliff-top location is not easily accessible for wheelchair users.
The hotel welcomes children aged 8 and up (€40 a child a night). Most of the rooms have a sofa-bed and there are family-friendly suites that sleep four. The sloping setting is on the hazardous side and so children will need to be supervised.
The hotel harnesses rainwater in tanks, since water shortage is a huge problem in the Cyclades. All bath products are in refillable bottles, and reusable glass is used for the water bottles. The island’s many natural resources were used in the hotel’s construction (including the sleek stone in some of the bathrooms and, of course, the traditional stone walls). At the kitchen, seasonality is insisted upon: all of the vegetables come either from the grounds or small local producers, all fish is caught by the island’s fishermen and all meat is sourced from surrounding farms.
The front row, obviously – which in this case means the five tables right along the edge. If it’s windy, you may want to retreat slightly.
Things get a little breezy up here – if you’re fond of your floppy sunhat, make sure you hold on.
The island sets the gastronomy bar high and the hotel’s restaurant doesn’t disappoint, mostly due to its bountiful vegetable garden and the rest of its farm-to-table fare, sourced from the island and its waters. Guests will see the chef foraging for herbs throughout the day – and new dishes appear instantly on the menu if he finds something special at the market. Breakfast dishes include omelettes with more of those garden vegetables, poached eggs with brioche, and pancakes with walnuts and thyme honey or strawberry syrup. In time for summer 2022, the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant Bostani will open to give Sifnos yet another place to shout about.
There’s no separate bar, but the restaurant has lots of wine and masterful muddles to choose from. However, the soon-to-be-opening Bostani bar will put all the wild thyme and oregano growing on the property to its rightful use (into cocktails).
Breakfast is available from 8.30am until 11am, lunch is between noon and 3pm, and dinner service is from 7pm until 11pm – with lighter snacks served all day from noon until 11pm.
A simple all-day menu of salads, sandwiches and pastas can be ordered in between 11am and 11pm.
The hotel is on the east coast of the Cycladic isle of Sifnos, adrift in the Aegean near Milos, Antiparos and Serifos.
There’s (thankfully) no airport on the island, so either land at Athens and make your way to the port of Piraeus to board a ferry – or set sail from Santorini and several other islands, including Milos and Serifos.
The island has a reliable bus service linking up its many coves and corners, or hire a car to tour them on your own terms – there’s free parking at the hotel.
Alternative modes of transport range from helicopter transfers to the standard-issue Greek-island quad bike or scooter.
Worth getting out of bed for
Pottery and food are to Sifnos what sunsets are to Santorini and parties are to Mykonos. The hotel’s ceramics that you’ve been admiring can be purchased with a trip to its supplier, and staff will be able to arrange a pottery class, too (no Patrick Swayze included, sadly). The island has (almost) a church for every day of the year – attempt to tick off all 235 by making a start with Poulati, the whitewashed one with the blue dome completing your Greek architectural fantasy directly beneath the hotel. Take some Sifnian recipes home with you by signing up for a cookery class at a nearby farm – the team can also help to organise horse-riding and scuba diving. They’ll direct you to the island’s many rocky beaches and the hiking trails that link up its outdoor-museum archaeological sites and monasteries. Apollonia is the island capital, but the village of Artemonas wins the prize for being the most picturesque (it’s great for photogenic meze tours), closely followed by mediaeval stronghold Kastro.
The aptly named Omega3 (+30 22840 72014) fish bar is precisely where to stock up on your weekly portions in style – or try the former-scientist chef’s sister property on Sifnos, Cantina (+30 22840 35395), which changes its menu daily in its quest to be zero-waste. There are lots of traditional tavernas where you can try Sifnian specialities such as the famous goat’s cheese, chickpea fritters and slow-roasted lamb, along with more super-fresh seafood, including Limanaki (+30 22840 71425) and Fyssas (+30 22840 33119).
To enjoy a plate or two (or 10) of mezedes (the Greek take on tapas), try Mosaico (+30 22840 22562) in Artemonas or Drakakis (+30 22840 31233) in Apollonia.
The harder somewhere is to reach, the harder it is to leave. Not always true of course, as anyone who’s ever done battle with the Ikea one-way system will testify, but certainly something I felt rattling down the dusty track to Verina Astra, 22 hours after leaving home.
It’s not a particularly arduous journey; in fact, there’s something quite exciting, adventurous even, about arriving in Athens in the dark, then winding your way through the narrow streets of Piraeas towards the morning ferry, warm pastries and thick, sweet coffee in hand, but Sifnos’ lack of airport does encourage a certain languor from the moment you step on to the quay.
Happily, you’re (finally) in the right place – because once you behold the vast azure horizon, you’re unlikely to want to do much but stare at it for a while.
Cleverly set into the hillside, Verina Astra manages to make a relatively small footprint seem spacious by dint of the fact that almost everything, sleeping aside, is done in the open air, and everywhere has the same breathtaking view: big blue sky, big blue sea.
The boat has deposited us here so early our room isn’t quite ready, but sitting with a punchy cafe freddo (and one of the pleasingly sandy local biscuits that sit in jars in the restaurant for guests to help themselves to at any time of the day or night, a nice touch guaranteed to win my greedy heart), it’s impossible to feel impatient.
Time seems to have already slowed down. We should go and explore, go and look at that church, that village, that beach that the charming girl on reception pointed out to us… And yet perhaps we’ll just linger here a little longer, watching the seabirds whirl and dart, and the yachts hundreds of metres below.
On day two, lying on one of the cushioned beds by the pool after breakfast, with nothing between us and the Aegean but air, Mr Smith downloads an app so we can identify these boats and where they’re registered. Having been on sailing holidays in the past, it’s delicious to think of them all faffing around with lines and jibes while I lie happily on dry land, too content to even pick up my book.
The Orion suite (Astra, I dimly recall from my schooldays, means of the stars, and all of the Verina’s suites are named after constellations, presumably because of the stupendous night skies on offer out here) is similarly set up for complete and utter indolence. It’s an unassuming whitewashed bungalow, with two simply-furnished, stone-floored rooms that come alive when I fling open the soft blue shutters to reveal that same, mesmerising view, also on offer from the private terrace, which puzzlingly boasts enough seating for quite a party – or two very lazy people who like to lie down a lot. Breakfast can be delivered on request, ‘and room service’, Mr Smith observes. ‘We basically need never leave.’
I’m not too proud to admit I like to listen to other people’s conversations at meal times though, so we actually end up leaving the room quite a bit – first to watch our fellow guests tackling the extremely generous breakfasts (I’d recommend the kagianas: richly yellow eggs scrambled with tomatoes and topped with feta), and then, eventually, to venture beyond the hotel boundary.
A 10-minute trot down the hillside and we’re at the blue-domed chapel we can see from our room, following the path onwards past an olive grove brings us to a rocky beach, which proves the perfect place to plunge into the turquoise water, guided by a kindly naked Athenian, who doesn’t seem at all perturbed by our arrival.
15 minutes along the cliffs and we’re in Kastro, a picture postcard village mentioned by Herodotus that’s home to the striking Church of the Seven Martyrs, the ruins of a 2,600 year old acropolis and approximately 7,000 cats – as well as a couple of decent tavernas serving ice cold beer.
One lunchtime, with the wind blowing directly on to the terrace (the price you pay for sea views this good), we even rouse ourselves sufficiently to take a taxi to the more sheltered beach at Vathi (which, we discover, we could have walked to had we not slept so late), for a feast of local specialities, crispy chickpea fritters and herbaceous slow-braised lamb.
Marinos, the chef and owner of the Symposio at the far end of the village, tells us he was in London in the 1970s… In fact, he seems to have worked almost everywhere, but he says gesturing at the view, he’s happy to be back home on sleepy Sifnos. ‘This is my corner. I need nothing more than here.’ After just three days on the island, I can’t disagree.