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172km (93 nautical miles) SE of Piraeus

Just about everyone thinks that Sifnos is the most beautiful of the western Cyclades. This island has long been a favorite of Greeks, especially Athenians; but now, in summer, it is an all-too-popular destination for European tourists. It's hectic in August, with rooms hard to find, cars impossible to rent, and the village buses sardine-can full.

The mountains that frame Sifnos's deep harbor, Kamares, are barren, but once you've left the port, you will see elegantly ornamented dovecotes above cool green hollows, old (no one really knows just how old) fortified monasteries, and watchtowers that stand astride the summits of arid hills. The beautiful slate and marble paths across the island are miracles of care, although an increasing number are now covered over with concrete and asphalt to accommodate motorcycles and cars. Nonetheless, Sifnos is a hiker's -- even a stroller's -- delight and astonishingly green, not only in spring but well into the summer. In addition, beaches along the southern coast offer long stretches of fine amber sand; several smaller rocky coves are also excellent for swimming.

Sifnos is small enough that any town can be used as a base for touring; the most beautiful are the seven settlements spread across the central hills -- notably Apollonia (sometimes called Stavri) and Artemonas -- and Kastro, a medieval fortified town atop a rocky pinnacle on the eastern shore. Buses now run from Cheronissos in the north to Vathi in the south, and the bus, combined with some walking, will take you to the island's top attractions: the acropolis at Ayios Andreas, the town of Kastro and its tiny but excellent archaeological museum, the southern beaches, the once-isolated beaches at Vathi and Cheronisso, and, for the ambitious, the walled Monastery of Profitis Elias on the summit of the island's highest mountain. Brown and gold signs in Greek and English now mark most places of archaeological and historical interest.

In Greece, Sifnos has long been famous for its ceramics, although fewer and fewer locals work as potters and fewer still use local clay. Some of the island's best potters are in Kamares and Platis Yialos. Sifnos is also famous for its olive oil and sophisticated cooking; in fact, "Tselementes," a slang term for a cookbook, is a tribute to the famous 20th-century Sifnian chef and cookbook writer, Nikos Tselementes.