Cycladic isle’s timeless appeal to every category of traveler is anything but accidental
By Haris Argyropoulos
A typical Cycladic island, Paros has many die-hard fans of all kinds, attracted chiefly by its friendly ambience and hospitable terrain. It can in fact be called “everyone’s island” — a location for the rich and the backpackers, the conservationists and the ravers, the culturally aware and the surfers, Greeks and foreigners — all can be found here in the summer.
Paros is “the real thing” in the sense of the typical Greek island stereotype: From traditional island life and farming communities to Internet cafes, Paros has it all — beautiful beaches of varying shapes and sizes, hotels of every category, quaint villages, great restaurants and plenty of souvlaki outlets, great nightlife as well as quiet spots off the beaten track.
Historically, Paros was best known for its translucent white marble, known as Parian, used in
antiquity for the construction of temples and the making of statues, such as the renowned Venus de Milo — now in the Louvre in Paris.
It is also home to one of Greece’s earliest Christian monuments, the impressive church complex of Panaghia Ekatontapiliani (“church of 100 gates”), which was founded during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine I in the 4th century and is also known as Katapoliani, located in the port town of Parikia. The complex’s oldest features predate the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire (AD 391), but its exterior was modified considerably during restoration work in the early 1960s.
The fete of the Dormition of the Virgin — to whom the church is dedicated — on August 15, is one of the country’s best-known religious events, accompanied by folk dancing, fireworks and other celebrations.
The houses in Parikia are built and decorated in the traditional Cycladic style, with flat roofs, whitewashed walls and blue doors and windows, and are shaded by vines and surrounded by gardens of orange and pomegranate trees. On a rocky promontory beside the sea stands what is left of a medieval Venetian castle, built using the marble remains of an ancient temple.
At 196 square kilometers, Paros is a midsized Greek island with a relatively good road network, which makes most of its parts easily accessible. Five kilometers south of Parikia is what is known as the Valley of the Butterflies, where the Jersey tiger moth comes to breed in the summer. On a certain September night, the females leave to find a shrubby area where they lay their eggs and then die.
Further south, past the airport, are two fine beaches, Alyki and Faragas, well worth a stop for a swim and lunch. Half the way around the island, a short distance from the coast, is the traditional village of Marpissa, where you will see the fort from where the pirate Barbarossa is said to have abducted the Venetian Princess Cecilia Venieri in the 16th century.
Further along is the village of Prodromos, from where you follow a Byzantine path to walk to Lefkes, the island’s only mountainous and perhaps best-preserved traditional village. Visitors are impressed by the whitewashed houses, the lush gardens, several interesting public buildings, the narrow alleyways and the ruined windmills. Lefkes also features the Church of Aghia Triada, one of the biggest on the island, with two stunning bell towers made of marble, as well as ceramic and folk art workshops.
In a northeasterly direction, the road leads to Naousa, one of the most picturesque little ports in the Aegean. This is Paros’s most cosmopolitan part, but behind the summertime tourist bustle it remains a quaint fishing village. Its sights include a 15th-century Venetian castle.
No visit to Paros can be considered complete without a swim at Kolymbithres, a beach of unique natural beauty west of Naousa, with huge rocks in unusual shapes.
An alternative route east of Parikia leads to the center of the island, to the village of Marathi, where the famous marble quarries have existed since antiquity on the slopes of Mt Profitis Ilias.
How to get there
Paros, 94 nautical miles from Piraeus, is a major hub for Aegean island ferries, with several routes each day to and from Piraeus, Rafina, Crete and other islands such as Naxos, Ios, Santorini and Myconos. Conventional ferries take about five hours and high-speed vessels a little over three hours. Buses go to Rafina from the Pedion tou Areos park in Athens (210.880.8080). Another option is by plane, which takes about 45 minutes (Olympic Airlines, 210.966.6666). The local bus network is satisfactory. Area phone code: 22840.
Where to stay
In Parikia: Aria, luxury hotel (tel 24154). Rates rooms: Angie’s Studios (23909), Aegean Village Hotel (23187), Onar Studios (24989), Sofia’s Rooms (22085), Kyriazanos Apartments (24758). In Naousa: Dimitris Studios (on the beach, good view, excellent service, 51944, 6945.782.387), Scorpio (51723), Yades (51072). In Parasporos: Minois Village (five-star, 22435). Campsites: Koula (22081), Aliki (91303).
What to see & activities
See the iconographic collection of the Ekatontapiliani Ecclesiastical Museum; the Archaeological Museum’s exhibits range from the Prehistoric to the Roman period, including the 3rd-century Marmor Parium, a marble slab chronicling the events over the course of 13 centuries. In Alyki, see the Folk Museum of Scorpios. Exhibitions including painting, sculpture and jewelry as well as cultural events are held in the summer. Chryssi Akti beach is a water sports haven, particularly for surfing. For the best bars, go to Naousa.