The rocky island of Serifos is wild and raw, with steep mountains plunging into broad ultramarine bays. Yet outside the quaint hilltop capital of Chora and dusty, Wild West-feeling port of Megalo Livadi, it’s mostly deserted.
Authenticity reigns supreme on the island, with superb food based on century-old recipes and fresh local produce. Don’t miss trying marathotiganites (deep-fried fennel pies) and revithada, a chickpea stew.
When the throne of Polyphemus, the giant Cyclops, is visited you’ll see why Serifos is often referred to as “the island of mythology.” It’s a big rock construction that sits above the village of Megalo Livadi and enjoys great views. It’s also believed to be the location of the cave that the legendary cyclops lived in and the site of his final battle with Perseus and Medusa.
If you’re lucky enough to be on the island during a celebration, you may catch a glimpse of locals dancing in a hora. This is a circle dance that takes place in a line or a series of concentric circles and is accompanied by a variety of musical instruments, usually a cymbalum, an accordion, a clarinet and a double bass. It is often danced to klezmer or Israeli folk songs such as Hava Nagila, though other tunes are used, too.
It’s not a surprise that the hora is often performed at weddings and bar mitzvahs in Israel. It evolved from a natural selection process among other imported Eastern European folk dances like the krakowiak, sher, cherkessia and polka that were popular in Palestine-turned-Israel during the second Alyah (the period of Jewish immigration that started in 1904). It became particularly successful in Kibbutzim and small communities where it served as a symbol of a strong and close-knit nation.
The Cave of Cyclops
One of the most famous Greek islands, Serifos is not on the usual tourist trail but offers a calm, peaceful escape. This is due to its untamed beauty, great beaches and traditional architecture.
The island has a number of ancient sites and churches and is also home to the Cave of Cyclops, known as Psaropyrgos, or the Cyclops’ Throne. This structure is located in Megalo Chorio and can be accessed via a fairly passable small road which starts below the Agia Triada church and in front of the Evangelistria Akroteriani Monastery.
This is where Odysseus and his crew first encountered the giant man-eating Cyclops Polyphemus, as described in The Odyssey. He imprisoned them in a cave and then without hesitation gorged down two of the men.
But Odysseus hatched a cunning plan to escape the beast. Having noticed that the cave was stocked with sharp pieces of flint, the hero ordered his men to collect some and use them to sharpen the end of a stick. They used this to create a cruel point which they inserted into the eye of the Cyclops.
In the Greek mythology, Polyphemus was a one-eyed giant son of Poseidon and the sea nymph Thoosa. He was the lover of Galatea, a Sicilian Nereid. According to Homer, Polyphemus was a terrifying monster but was nevertheless devoted to Galatea, despite the fact that she did not love him back. Virgil, however, describes a more successful outcome for the tale, with Polyphemus accepting his love for Galatea.
The frogs of Serifos might not be able to talk (they’re amphibians after all) but they do have one thing that makes them unique in the Greek archipelago: their ability to jump from cliff to cliff. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting the island on a clear day, you’ll be rewarded with a sunset view that’s as magical as it is surreal.
First performed at a winter festival in honor of Dionysus in 405 BC, the year before democratic Athens’ ultimate collapse and defeat in the Peloponnesian War, The Frogs is perhaps Aristophanes’ most astonishing work, a dazzlingly innovative blending of ancient wit, Pythonesque animation, Renaissance artwork, public domain classical music, and a mind way too influenced by Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde.
Shevelove’s adaptation was first staged by students at Yale University in 1974, but the play ran only eight performances and the acoustics of the swimming pool made the experience “like putting on a show in a men’s urinal.” It wasn’t until 2000 that Lane convinced MasterVoices’ director-choreographer Susan Stroman to adapt the play into a full-length musical—which, with its Broadway premiere and two separate cast albums, remains a rarely performed Sondheim curiosity even today.
When you’re on Serifos, make sure to visit the Taxiarches Monastery, a medieval complex that was once used as a prison. Now it’s a museum with rooms that showcase the monastery’s rich history along with the island’s first winery. You can also stay at the nearby Nostos Hotel, which boasts an amazing rooftop terrace where you can enjoy a glass of local white while watching the sun go down over the sea.
The Festival of Serifos
As craggy and rugged as it is beautiful, Serifos has largely avoided the crowds that flock to its better-known Cycladic cousins like Santorini and Mykonos. Yet, this island of iron and granite has a life force all its own. It is a destination of contrasts that fascinates and beguiles, with stark barren mountains and broad ultramarine bays.
The main village, Chora, is a stunning vision of whitewashed cubist buildings that cling to a hillside centered behind the scenic port town of Livadi and the church of Agios Athanasios. The upper town, Kato Hora, is a maze of alleys and small courtyards shaded by cascading bougainvillea, offering a startling contrast to the bare mountain landscape that frames it.
In keeping with the traditions of their ancestors, the people of Serifos hold a number of well-organized festivals. In summer, the three-day festival of Xylopanagia in August at the chapel of Panagia Skopiani is a climax that should not be missed.
The island is also known for its lively panigyri (folk festivities). On the island, men would battle it out armed with laurel branches on the steps of the churches in Chora during the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin on August 15 and celebrate by dancing in the streets to traditional Greek music. The island’s restaurants and tavernas serve up plates of slow-cooked goat with potatoes and homemade rakomelo (cinnamon and honey infused spirit). It is a way to remember the past and keep the culture of Serifos alive.