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Paros > a hot ticket to paradise September 30, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.

This Greek island is a hot ticket to a paradise of turquoise waters, history and ouzo shooters.

Mid-June, the apex of the tourist high season, was booked. Sorry, I was told, all planes, all ferries, all hydrofoils, every way of getting to Paros in the next month was full. Short of swimming, Paros was not going to happen, which, of course, only added to the island’s allure.

Two months later, when I finally set foot on Paros, it was easy to see what all the fuss was about. The island is vast and mountainous, its periphery dotted with crisp white buildings and all of it surrounded by clear turquoise water rolling gently against its shores. And it’s packed, rock-concert packed.

The main street in Parikia, the port town, was bursting with tanned and young Europeans, American honeymooners, families with strollers, elderly Greek couples and an inordinate number of young women who looked like Kate Hudson.

I was beginning to see how Paros was supposedly usurping Mykonos as the party capital of the Cyclades. Its position, smack in the middle of the archipelago, and the first stop for nearly all ferries leaving the mainland, has always made Paros the perfect jumping-off point for island-hoppers. In the past few years, however, day-trippers have taken note of Paros’ stunning landscape and cheaper prices. In other words, the spillover from Mykonos and Santorini has turned Paros into a destination itself.

But this is Greece, which means that even here, among the bronzed beauties and beach parties, there is history that dates back a few millenniums. Paros is said to have been founded by St. Helen, Emperor Constantine’s mother, on her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Recessed two blocks from the port and lending credence to the story is the beautiful and massive Cathedral of Ekatontapiliani (“Church of 100 Doors”), which was built in A.D. 327.

“It’s actually only 99 doors, they never found the last one,” says an elderly Greek man I had stopped to ask for directions. Before long, he was regaling me with stories about his native island as he escorted me to the giant church.

This was my first lesson learned in navigating the island: Ask a local. In most neighborhoods, street numbers and names simply don’t exist. Getting somewhere often requires guidance from Paros natives along the way.

A teardrop-shaped island, Paros is rocky, arid and speckled with dry, thorny flora and roaming herds of goats, the source of the fantastic feta cheese that’s sprinkled throughout every menu. Though Paros is only 13 miles long and 10 miles wide, it is rich with ancient history, thriving towns and postcard-worthy harbors. The eastern edge boasts the island’s best beaches; to the north, the bustling town of Naoussa; in the center of the island is the ancient city of Lefkes. And the best way to see it all is by moped.

The first stop is Naoussa, the hub of the island’s nightlife. Starting about 11 p.m., Naoussa’s bars and discos spill onto the narrow streets with revelers who don’t retire until dawn and sometimes 10 a.m. By the way, all those places called Sex Club aren’t brothels, just discos.

“We call it the spandex crowd,” says Lisa Kosta, owner of the trendy Caffe Latte. “It’s mainly young Greeks who go there and stay out until the next morning. Naoussa is today what Mykonos was 10 years ago.”

But it’s not all cleavage and Jell-O shots. By day, the picturesque fishing town of Naoussa is also a great place to spend money. New shops such as Korinna, an antiques and restoration store on the town’s main road, offer a needed respite from the souvenir bodegas, overstocked with surfer shorts, beach wraps and beaded necklaces, that have popped up throughout the island.

For the opposite extreme, head to the middle of the island, to the marble quarries of Marathi, an oasis of snowy white stone that makes the whole trip worthwhile. The quarries have been excavated for centuries for their spotless and pure marble. In fact, they provided the raw material for the Parthenon and the Venus de Milo. But somehow this enormous alabaster-colored mountainside, a place where Fred Flintstone might have gone to work, has escaped the collective eye of the masses, it’s rarely crowded. Go at midday, when the light of the Mediterranean sets the mountainside aglow.

The main reason people visit Paros is the beaches. The Aegean Sea, which laps gently along the sandy shore, is aquamarine in Technicolor, warm, glittering and crystal clear right down to its rippled floor. The most popular are Golden Beach, on the eastern coast that is known for great windsurfing, and nearby Pounda Beach, nicknamed Music Beach for its DJs, dance parties and spring-break atmosphere.

Mykonos may have gorgeous beaches by day and wild parties by night, but Music Beach has both around the clock. On a recent Thursday, there was a water volleyball game under way, a wet T-shirt contest gearing up and bartenders pouring ouzo shooters everywhere, and this was 11 a.m.

I once again turned to the locals for destination advice. And once again they were more than happy to oblige. Several suggested Glyfa and Tripiti, two tiny crescents of sand and soft rock on the island’s southern tip. They are the nicest, and quietest, beaches in Paros. Dropping my towels and beach bag on the rocks, I dove into the Aegean, warmed by a season of sunshine. Two hundred feet from shore, the water was still as translucent and smooth as bath water.

But Paros is still Paros, and in the far distance, the thud-thud-thuds from a beach party bounced over the water. The stranded-on-a-deserted-island fantasy ended.

The anti-Paros is, well, Antiparos, a tiny island less than a mile off the western coast of Paros. With fewer than 900 residents, this islet’s claim to guidebook fame is Agios Ioannis cave, a stony abyss of stalactites and stalagmites where Lord Byron carved his name. There are very few mopeds and cars in the main town, the streets are as narrow as sidewalks, and covering it all is a bounty of bougainvillea.

After a glorious day of doing nothing, I joined my fellow sunburned tourists on the ferry back to Paros. With the sun setting over the Aegean, I watched as tiny rowboats disappeared behind a mammoth cruise ship pulling into port.

The next morning, it was time to leave. Just before I walked out of my hotel, the woman at the front desk asked me if I had enjoyed my stay on her island and intended to return. “If you do, plan ahead,” she said conspiratorially, apparently letting me in on a juicy secret. “We can get pretty busy here.” I smiled and nodded. You don’t say.

Getting to Paros: Paros is a three-hour ferry ride from the port of Piraeus in Athens. The most reliable ferry company is Hellenic Seaways (www.hellenicseaways.gr). Ferries run at least once a day, and one-way tickets are about 50 euros depending on the season.

Where to stay: The main town of Parikia is dotted with small hotels and rooms to rent. The Asterias Hotel is clean and spare, and the family that runs it is happy to tell you about the island. Double room, about 45 euros including breakfast (www.greekhotel.com/cyclades/paros/paroikia/asterias/home.htm). Few places have proper addresses; ask directions.

On the northern tip of Paros is one of the island’s few luxury hotels: Astir of Paros, which features a three-hole golf course, helipad and infinity pool. It’s just outside the center of Naoussa. Double room, about 225 euros including breakfast (www.astirofparos.gr).

Where to dine: Levantis (Central Market Street, Parikia) tops the proverbial food chain in Paros. Sit on the outdoor patio under the leafy canopy and order the baked lamb rolled in vine leaves, herbs and feta (about 15 euros).

The best family-run taverna, on an island full of family-run tavernas, is Katsoynas (Santa Maria, Naoussa). Feast on salted sardines, crusty bread with ricotta, capers and tomatoes, and whatever seafood the owner caught that morning. Lunch for two, about 40 euros with wine.

Getting to Antiparos: Antiparos is a 30-minute ferry ride from Parikia. The ferry leaves every two or three hours. Tickets (3 euros) are purchased on the boat.


1. paroshep - April 14, 2008

No comments on the great island of Paros! How can that be?

Its easy to get to and has something for everyone.

Read more at http://www.ParosParadise.com


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