Picture-Perfect Paros: Greek Island Adventures
With a location in the very heart of the Aegean Sea, an earthy, off-the-beaten-track feel, traditional whitewashed villages, fish-sizzling tavernas, and some of the emptiest, most beautiful bays we've ever seen in the Med, Paros is an easy addition to our LBW YachtLife Greece. Days spent here are about soaking up the sun. They are about tasting local cuisine. They are about hiking sun-scorched ridges to find the secluded coves where no one else goes. They are about wallowing in the chilled vibes of the Greek life. Check it out…
The sun percolates through the palm trees and narrow alleys of Paros Town as we drift rhythmically into the harbor. We aren’t the first to arrive this morning. But then we had a hazy hangover, Ios-induced and ouzo-fueled, to contend with before setting sail and brushing across the Aegean to Paros. The salt breezes have blown the cobwebs away now though. Just a couple of moments up on deck, chatting stories, watching the waves bob along; it does it every time.
It means I can survey the cascading rows of brilliant-white cottages and cubist Greek homes that mark out the main town from the sunburned crisp of scrub and rocky hill that is the rest of Paros Island. It means I can smile as we drift past the cafes on the seafront. Some are filled with leather-faced islanders swilling the last gritty beans in their traditional Greek coffees. Others are empty, waiting for the day-tripper boats to arrive from Ios and Mykonos across the water.
Moored and alighted, we make the long stroll along the promenade from the bustling jetties of Paros port – it's actually one of the busiest in the Aegean; a hive of activity; a hubbub of travelers waiting to board boats to other sun-kissed spots in the region, from volcano-carved Santorini to unknown Serifos where the Chora (main town) has been left unchanged for centuries. Leaving all that behind, I'm dodging car rentals and cafes, passing the occasional palm tree and then walking beside a small stretch of beige-hued sand.
It all adds up to a main island hub that hardly seems like a main island hub at all. Paros town – called Parikia by the locals – is chilled and easy going. It's much like the rest of Paros Island, I'm told: sleepy, relaxed; Greek through and through. I'm looking forward to exploring it even more.
Crossing the island
One of the real joys of Paros according to virtually all the write-ups and travel guides I consumed before arriving is the architecture. It's hardly a wonder – Parian marble has given the world majestic works of art like the Venus de Milo and the roof of the great Parthenon in Rome. The reason? Like Paros itself, it glints with flecks of surreptitious gold when the sun shines. And the sun is almost always shining in this corner of the Aegean.
The material was the choice of Roman emperors. It was the choice of Medici dukes. The result is a Paros that shimmers like crumpled aluminum foil as we rumble out of boat-bobbing Parikia on an ATV rental and into the marble-muscled hills behind. As if the land was itself an ancient Greek statue, the place has sinews and valleys cleft through it. The roads wiggle up and around, back and forth, through pockets of scrub and scree, all the while showcasing the half-illuminated artistry of the hills in the bright morning light.
Our destination? That would be little Naoussa just across the ridges from the main port town. Nestled between two beige-colored headlands that visibly spread into the Aegean like the claws of a crab, the place isn't hard to get to. But it could be, judging by the few people who wander the streets this early on.
It seems like something out of a Clint Eastwood flick as we hop from street to street. There are low-rise, cubist homes, stucco peeling there, adobe garden rings here, all lined up like a regiment of Spartan warriors along a dimpled shoreline of taverna-topped coves.
A small harbor is the anchor that holds it all together. We doff our caps to the resident water ducks as we stroll the arched stone bridges and cobbled streets, all the while smelling wafts of sizzling saganaki cheese and broiling Greek coffee issuing from the small tavernas, smiling as locals wander by to survey the splashing seawaters and drying octopi (a speciality), and enjoying broadside views out over the speckling of small islets that fill the bay.
From Naoussa to Lefkes
It hardly sounds like a chore when it's time to leave Naoussa. Not that I don't want to leave. Who would? Naoussa is the image of laid-back Greek life. You know: The lapping Aegean Sea on one side, lonely beaches of rough sand and pebbles topped by cliffs nearby, tanned islanders weaving through empty lanes where the smells of pine cones twist and turn in the salty breezes. It only doesn't sound like a chore because Lefkes is next on the itinerary.
To get to that hidden village in the heart of Paros, we find ourselves wiggling up narrow tarmac lanes as they delve between mud hills on the eastern coast. Now and then, gasp-inducing vistas of the beaches and the sea unfold. Suddenly I can see Naxos lurching out of the horizon across the straits. There are yachts, like specks of sugar, dusting the harborside there. There are mountains that seem to magnetize the fluffy clouds as if to consciously keep them from covering the little coves and beaches where I know tanning bodies lay prostrate below.
One swerve, two swerves and we're then in an arena of white marble peaks. We've unearthed the heart of the island. It's heralded by a spattering of creaking old-world windmills on a hill. Their timber twirlers whirl in the breezes that forever brush over the tops of Paros and back down again to meet the sailboats on the far side.
Rough-hewn walls start to fringe the roadside, soon turning into small pockets of manicured gardens with olives and palm trees and cypresses. Then we see Lefkes unfold. It spills like a wild dash of a Van Goch paintbrush. Whitewash is the hue, cubism is the direction. Terraced lawns are tended by double-bent women wearing Greek black. A duo of elaborately carved towers that look more Andalusian Spanish than islander stands above it all.
Soon I'm standing below the intricate façade of the local church. An enthusiastic man is gesturing at the inlays and the alcoves, the statues and the arcades. "Byzantine" he declares. It's just another reminder of the long and confusing past of this ancient land; ruled by east and west alike; contested by ancients and empires.
To the beaches of Paros
Three hours of riding the dust-blown tracks of backcountry Paros is sure to stir up a pining for a swim – I have been gazing down longingly at that sky-blue Aegean Sea since I first stepped off the boat, after all. That's not a problem on pinpoint Paros though, because the best beaches are always within reach.
We consult some local folk and decide that Chryssi Akti (that's Golden Beach in translation) is the place to be. A glance at the map confirms it's just a 20-minute drive down the snaking slopes of southern Paros to the coast. We hit the road and kick up the dust once again, leaving a flying montage of blurred olive farms and cypress forests and alabaster-white cottages whizzing in our wake.
We soon emerge from the mountains to the sea. It's a geographical gift that Paros does well, forging a truly wonderful landscape where its marble-ribbed peaks finally drop down into the Mediterranean waters on its south-eastern side. Dust plumes hide the bald ridges of scrub as we roll down the last lane to the water. Then sea grasses pop up, swaying like a Sophoclean chorus welcoming us to the coast.
Then there's Golden Beach. It lives up to its moniker. Stretching out in a big scythe-shaped arc between clusters of grass-patched dunes, it’s a quintessentially Aegean affair: yellow sand flecked with metallic sparks; aquamarine waters that lap, see-through and serene, against the soft pitch of the beachfront. Some palm-leaf umbrellas shake like bouquets of salty hair in the light wind. Some tavernas top the hills; plates clinking, tzatziki stirring, fresh fish sizzling.
It doesn't take long before I'm off the ATV and splashing in the water. It's like a half-warm bath – without the bubbles and left to cool to the perfect temperature. The salt moves into my pores and cleanses my skin of the dust of the road. The sun shines through and as I dive under I can spy out zebra-like fish and curious seashells bobbing in the currents.
The rest of the day is given over to long sessions of sunbathing and swimming; heating and cooling successively in that way only the Greek climate will really let you. I laze on the sand and let the crumbled shells scratch my back. I soak up the rays and go brown like a grilled haloumi slice. I pop back and forth between the dunes and the tavernas and the sea, stretching and submerging myself in the healing salt waters of beautiful Paros.
Back to the boat
When the evening comes and the sun dips low to glow magnesium-white above the hills behind me, I know it's time to return to the boat. I leave Golden Beach with a heavy heart and take the wide coast road past the luxury villas and palm clusters back to Parikia where my ride lies.
I'm smiling as the sultry twilight airs ruffle my hair and wobble my cheeks. I'm smiling because I know there's plenty more to come on my Greek odyssey. Plenty more in the way of Paros and Ios and Mykonos. Plenty more gold-nicknamed beaches and turquoise seas. Plenty more mountain towns doused in olive oil. Plenty more mysterious churches – you get the idea…