Rupert Parker visits Paros, one of the Cyclades group of islands in the Aegean Sea.
Paros still retains its island character with no big hotels and meandering narrow roads. Planning regulations limit the height of buildings and specify white for the walls, with a choice of only four colours for the woodwork, blue being the most prominent. The countryside is peppered with snow-white villages and blue-domed churches and the population is around 15,000.
After a five-hour ferry journey from Athens, I arrive in the port of Parikia and am immediately drawn to the strip of bars and restaurants lining the harbour. Although it’s getting near 11 pm most are still open and I settle for a pork souvlaki. I was last here nearly 40 years ago so this is an exercise in nostalgia and it doesn’t disappoint. Diced pieces of meat with salad plus a few fries topped with yoghurt in pitta bread, washed down with a carafe of local wine, does the job.
Next morning I get to explore the town behind the busy harbour. It’s a labyrinth of narrow lanes, too small for cars, with artisan boutiques surrounding the ruins of the Kastro, a small ruined tower built by the Venetian Duke Marco Sanudo of Naxos in AD 1260.
The Panagia Ekatontapyliani, dating from AD 326, is actually three distinct churches, surrounded by a great wall to protect its holy icons from pirates. The chapel of Áyios Nikólaos is an adaptation of a pagan building dating from the early fourth century BC while the rest was built in the sixth century and altered after an earthquake in the eighth century. The Byzantine buildings are in the shape of a Greek cross and there are apparently one hundred doors.
Half an hour to the North East is Naoussa, a stylish resort with an attractive marina. It was once a sleepy fishing resort but now its shores are lined with excellent restaurants and an ever-expanding number of chic beachside hotels, cafes and bars. As usual, the old town is a maze of narrow, whitewashed streets but it’s worth climbing up to the church for a view over the large Plastira Bay. There are good beaches nearby.
I climb up to Lefkes in the centre of the island, the capital of Paros during the Middle Ages, when piracy was rife. It sits in a natural amphitheatre surrounded by ruined windmills on the skyline, its white houses tumbling down the hillside. Nowadays it’s a sleepy little place with narrow alleys home to numerous cats.
Paros is known for the purity and transparency of its marble and in classical times supplied around 70% of Greek sculpture. The ancient marble mines lie just outside Lefkes at Marathi and the last slabs were quarried in the nineteenth century for Napoleon’s tomb. This was the end of a tradition that began in 3200 BC and the stone was extracted from deep galleries by the light of oil lamps. Marked paths lead to two huge entrances which you can explore with a torch and strong shoes.
On my last day, I explore the island’s many sandy beaches and I’m really spoilt for choice. South of Parikia, on the west coast, is Pounta, a hub for water sports, with shallow water making it ideal for all levels of windsurfing or kiteboarding.
Following the coast round to the other side is Hrysi Akti (Golden Beach), with good swimming, windsurfing and diving operations. Further north is the attractive village of Pisso Livadi with a small harbour and attractive restaurants. Nearby is Kalogeros, a hidden cove near Molos which contains deposits of Azul, a blue rock which you pound with water and paint on your body. Locals say that when you wash it off, it makes your skin smooth like a fish.
Paros is a ferry hub so ideal for island hopping and its smaller twin, Antiparos, makes a pleasant day trip. Although there are limited bus services on the islands, a hire car is useful but you can also hire a bike. A Byzantine footpath links both coasts, passing through Lefkes, a great walk if you have the time.
For now, though, it’s on to Naxos.
Tell Me More About Paros
Wizzair has cheap flights from London Luton to Athens.
Thameslink is the quickest way to Luton from central London.
Imagine Paros has information about the island and the tourist office is in the windmill by the port.
Visit Greece has information about the country.
Hotel Anthippi has a handful of simple rooms above the town.
Taverna Paros, in the centre of Parikia, serves good value traditional dishes.
Piatsa, in Naoussa, serves excellent fish.