PAUSING IN PAROS (A slice of Paradise)

After our sun and fun infused trip around glorious Santorini, MB (Monsieur Bleu) and I decided to take a ferry ride over to the smaller and more intimate island of Paros. Having entertained the idea (many moons ago) of purchasing a small beach house there to renovate, we had never really gotten over the fact that this far flung Greek Island Dream had not been investigated, so spending six days here was a truly exciting prospect for both of us!

Waving good bye to the volcanic cliffs as they disappeared into the distance, we settled down for our three hour ‘cruise’ on the large rolling ship, buffeted by the wind and staggering around the various decks with tiny cups of scorching hot, muddy greek coffee. Basking in the final rays of sunshine, we leant out over the railings to watch the hypnotic rise and fall of the dark green ocean as we passed the islands of Ios and Sikinos (catch you both next time) and stopped briefly at Naxos to offload some fellow island hoppers. Naxos is just next door to Paros and frequent day trips there are available, but unfortunately we did not invest in one and I’m still trying to remember why. I’ll blame the unpredictable weather for this decision.

Paros and her infant offspring island Antiparos are very family orientated and ‘feeling like a local’ is easily achieved as they are both small, cosy and easy to navigate. The two most popular towns in Paros are Naoussa and Parikia, but regular suburban greek neighbourhoods with schools and parks surround the island as do a few beautiful and ancient hilltop villages, with some 60’s style seaside resort towns thrown in for good measure!

Map of Paros and Antiparos

Docking just before sunset in the capital port town of Parikia, a lively and very pretty area centred around a huge windmill with low set white buildings lining the ring road, you couldn’t mistake it for anything other than a typical greek island! Ignoring all the hotel hawkers fighting for business upon arrival, we jumped into the first taxi we found and were briskly whisked away at the speed of sound by our uber friendly, burley hellenic driver to the chic town of Naoussa, where we had rented a quaint little blue and white townhouse to play in for a few days.

Hot water (or lack thereof) issues aside, we had chosen well with yet another private rooftop terrace at our disposal upon which to enjoy ‘happy hour’ whilst munching on fat juicy olives and watching the sun go down. Serenaded by the emotive dong dong of bells from the nearby Church of the Assumption of the Virgin and views over the sleepy little village towards the sea, it was a real estate agents dream! Location, location, location…it was a languid two minute walk downhill to the main hub (which was one of the draw cards apart from the roof terrace) making it very accessible for early morning or after dinner strolls. Combine this with endless choices of upmarket local bars and bistros that line the waterfront or local only ‘hole in the wall type’ tavernas and secret cocktail saloons tucked away down one of the many geometrically painted laneways, and you have fulfilled all the fundamental factors for a faultless, fuss-free time!

Venturing out, tired but fuelled with the hyped up anticipation and excitement of being in a new place, we were pleasantly surprised with the level of informal stylishness this supercool area offered. Think Byron Bay meets the Aegean Sea! The main tree lined square fans out towards a low, medieval stone wall which wraps around the water and the Old Port, providing a sheltered space for a mini marina boasting a colourful array of small fishing boats (caiques) all bobbing about in the gentle swell. This typical greek backdrop is highlighted by clusters of rickety tables and roughly painted chairs, spread out over well worn cobblestones, the candles illuminating the vibrant scene whilst gossipy chatter, laughter and music floated in the warm sea air.

A phenomenal late – night supper at Sigi Ikthios Taverna of warm mussel saganaki with tomato and fetta (everything’s better with fetta) and crispy flash fried whitebait with lemon (accompanied by a generous basket of homemade bread) was the best cure for our debilitating dose of First Night Lethargy! Yet another curious little black and white cat suddenly appeared and adopted us as his new found best friends for the night whilst waiting patiently for surreptitiously dropped whitebait heads! We affectionately christened him The Phantom as he looked like he was wearing a mask and had been rejected from the cast from the Phantom of the Opera! By the end of our stay we had become regulars about town, even stumbling upon first day ‘zippy taxi man’ every evening, languidly lounging in his beaten up vehicle sipping an iced frappé whilst he waited for a fare, and we frequented quite a few of the restaurants and bars which were dotted around the twinkling tiny harbour.

Navigating the nucleus of Naoussa with her labyrinth of twisting alleyways, all lined with the ever present thorny delights of multicoloured bougainvillea, was one of the best parts of staying here! Getting lost and rubbing shoulders with bohemian, swarthy locals and discovering some fantastic boutiques with original Greek designer merchandise (which are all open well into the night) after pausing at one of the hip and trendy drinking holes and sampling some of their mixologists’ recent creations, was a delightful way to while away the hours!

Throwing caution to the Cycladic wind, MB and I went all out here in Paros and rented the latest version of a BMW G310S motorbike for our transport du jour! It was there, it was red and it was available and as MB never buys anything for himself during these island jaunts, it was his version of a ‘sandal shopping spree’ but with a motor and two wheels! FYI: All scooter rentals are only available from Parikia and our chosen hire place was yet again staffed by fun and cheeky locals who spoke English, Greek, French, German and Turkish! Brilliant…

Thanks to her position in the Aegean, Paros is known for being extremely windy and she definitely lived up to her reputation! Finding beaches that were not affected by the continuous onslaught of gusts was not easy, hence it is the kitesurfing island of choice by thrill seekers and the pounding waves of nearby Pounda Beach is their hair raising haven! However, the protected bay of Parasporos (follow the ocean road along from Parikia) is a great choice for calm water with a sheltered shore and we spent a few mornings and afternoons here on the really blustery days.

Parikia itself is a lovely spot to wander and stay as it has its own long stretch of golden sand and is also home to a major supermarket, an English bookstore/newsagent and a variety of little tavernas, bistros and gyros kebab/burger outlets. As it is (literally) the first port of call for all the ferries to and from the surrounding islands and Athens, many travellers tend to choose here for their holiday home stay preference as it is low key but always bustling with activity. The town centre is interesting too, offering typical island style paved alleyways to explore and many individual beachfront dining options, all nestled under a canopy of huge white umbrellas for you to enjoy some relaxed downtime whilst waiting for a ferry, observing the locals or contemplating your next adventure!

Due to the changeable weather, MB and I didn’t spend as much time as we would have liked lazing around and dozing on the sand, so we rode the heck out of the BMW instead, (MB’s ultimate idea of Heaven) circling around and around and around the island. It’s tiny so it wasn’t difficult to do a few laps of the circumference in a week! On cooler days, discovering the hilltop villages of Lefkes, Marpissa and Marmara was a great way to expand our horizons and to get a glimpse of the unchanged simplicity of the Paros life of yesteryear. They are all close to each other (on the opposite side of the island from Parikia) and a taxi is required to reach them if you don’t have your own transport. We even ran into famous taxi man a few times there as well and decided that he must be the only driver doing any business or maybe owns the company!

Lefkes Hilltop Village is the most popular and is an inland metropolis reserved for quirky local craft stores and two tabled coffee shops; crumbling ancient stone houses with ‘renovation rescue’ written all over them and rabbit hole sized alleys twisting maze like through the centre. FYI: It’s easy to get lost here so remember where you entered! There’s a lot of uphill walking required as well, so be prepared to get the heart pumping as you stumble along the rocky paths, stopping occasionally to pat one of the many Parosian cats who stare aloofly at you from the safety of window sills or dusty doorstep thrones!

Marpissa is another tiny whitewashed town with the population of about three people, five hundred cats, an empty café and a sad looking donkey standing idly under an olive tree! We took a scenic ride to the top (overtaking some weary looking trekkers who probably wished they’d rented a scooter) where the Monastery of Agios Antonios stands proudly overlooking the island. Founded in 1597, it is one of the oldest monasteries in Paros and was just ours that day with no one else around to interrupt the serene and spiritual moment. Powerful bursts of wind pushed at our backs and threatened to topple us from the edges of the cliff and a haunting, howling and eery sound seeped through gnarled and twisted gum trees. Yet again, I took some of my mother’s ashes there to be released and blown from the mountain top and after a brief ding on the chapel bell to sanction the moment, she floated away, on a kiss, towards the sea.

Acting on our original far flung notion to buy a house in ParosMB found a ramshackle place in Marmara on a greek real estate website (red flag alert) and we took off excitedly in the direction of this hilltop village not overly far from the water, encouraged by the romantic prospect of maybe finding our own slice of blue and white paradise! How quickly the dream evaporated…

Armed with a mud map and a screen shot of the ‘house’ we wandered around until we finally fell upon it by accident as it was next door to a local weaving shop…the little handmade wooden sign dangling from a rusted nail above a blue door was the clincher! As we stood there staring disappointedly at the fading idea of paying a deposit and moving in the next day, the door was flung open and a tiny greek woman appeared and started talking animatedly to us (first in German then Greek then English). She eventually beckoned us inside her house (which was attached to the one for sale) to showcase her enormous antique loom! It was obvious that she didn’t get much passing trade, as she regaled us with her story about being one of the original weaving families of Marmara, spoke German (as do many thanks to the war) and made colourful bags and rugs whilst simultaneously caring for her elderly mother who had Alzheimer’s!

Having scored with two windswept tourists upon which to flaunt her latest wares, she ran with this opportunity to explain in detail about the fading craftsmanship, skills and general difficulties for surviving as the only local weaver. Like lambs to the slaughter… there was no escape and sitting us down at her kitchen table, she drenched us in typical greek hospitality, kindly offering us spoonfuls of homemade rose jam (that was so sweet it made your teeth ache…MB loved it) washed down with iced water and tiny cups of delicious bitter coffee. We chatted about life for a while and played along all whilst trying to gauge if she knew anything about the house that was for sale (which was obviously hers as it was attached and she was using the terrace) but she was very tight lipped. She claimed she knew of nothing for sale in the village, so either she genuinely had no idea or simply hated the look of us, plus I’m sure she wasn’t ready to give up her extra outdoor garden space!

After about an hour, we eventually parted ways, armed with some woven makeup bags (she wasn’t going to let us leave without a sale), a bunch of parsley (from our terrace garden) and a crash course in loom building! BUT… no more informed re the house. Brandishing our goods in the air as we bid farewell to Maaria the Weaver Woman, we toddled off down the street towards the bike, an army of cats following us along the way like the Pied Pipers of Paros and sulkily decided that it wasn’t our style anyway! Maybe living in a village in the middle of nowhere (but it did have a glimpse of the ocean) and sharing an outdoor space with the local weaver mama wouldn’t really be the picture perfect lifestyle we had envisioned. Next…!

Exploring the seaside towns of Paros became our next obsession as the hunt for run down beach houses (that we could afford) slowly became a distant memory! Never to be disheartened, MB and I found solace in Piso Livadi, a neat and clean little place all painted cream and white with two beaches and a multitude of quiet bistros lining the seafront road or built over the water. We dined here twice because it was so good (complimentary almond, lemon and honey cake helped) and had some interesting conversations with happy young waitstaff and a few of the older Livadi locals. The small beach next door, Logaras, was busy for one of the afternoons that the sun decided to shine upon us, warming the dull effects of the whipping, icy wind! We didn’t waste an opportunity either to bask in the welcome rays for a few hours after another famously filling greek lunch and put some well needed colour back onto our fading and pasty goose pimpled skin!

The other little seafront town of Aliki is a trifle less modern and a bit more run down, but still cute in a Faulty Towers kind of way! It is in the south of Paros, but the day we went to explore was very overcast and (shock) windy and many businesses had already closed for the season. There were still some die hard tourists (in denial of the weather) lying on the beach all wrapped up in towels for protection from the elements looking like meaty greek kebabs, or milling about with an air of sad disillusionment. It was all a bit depressing, so we rode around and had a quick stroll before the rain swept in, but in all fairness, I’m certain that this town would be a lovely spot to reside for a relaxing holiday in the height of summer.

The popular beaches of Pouada, Golden, New Golden and Drios all had potential as well, but (again) only in the summer or high season as they were all deserted when we visited due to the never- ending squall, but that was the problem of going in mid October. Nevertheless, we had other greek fish to fry and a dose of Celebrity House Stalking in Antiparos was on the cards for our next exciting instalment of entertainment!

Two words – one nameTom Hanks. This famous and talented actor and director and his equally revered half greek wife Rita Wilson, just happen to own a house right here in Antiparos! They are both well known and highly respected in the local community, so MB and I decided to take a day trip to this island retreat and attempt to locate their semi private mansion by the sea! Knowing they were actually in Australia filming Mr Hanks’ latest blockbuster, we were safe in the knowledge that accidentally ‘running into them’ was not going to be an issue, so blatantly sleuthing out the joint and stalking the front fence did not end in handcuffs or an embarrassing arrest!

Antiparos was a bit of an Anticlimax. It is the secluded mini island of Paros, accessible by a short 2€ ferry ride from Pounda Beach and is home to mega mansions and hideaways built into the rugged landscape for the rich and famous and also a major housing development aimed at the wealthy amongst us searching for that slice of peace and quiet paradise! In honesty, it was pretty but too sedate and secluded for our liking and all a bit safe, dull and boring!

We rode the bike around the island about a million times before finally locating Tom and Rita’s crib in the area of Glifa (not too far from the helidrome which was funded by Tom himself), but you couldn’t see much from the road….damn those high walls! Anyway, we rode to the top of the highest mountain to take in the view and had a tasty bite at quaint little taverna by the sea not far from the ferry terminal. We ended the day with a swim and a nap on Apantima Beach, sheltered by clumps of pine and gum trees and then made our way back to the mainland in time for a last spin around Paros before sunset and a final wave to our cheery token taxi man!

We might not have found our dream holiday house, but we actually really enjoyed our time in Paros! Her changeable and unforeseeable weather made the trip challenging in a fun way; the playful wind put a spring in our step and gave us a nudge to do other things rather than just flop and drop on the sand! It is a real ‘homely island’ not at all pretentious (even Antiparos) and is bursting with lively characters and gorgeous landscapes. There are plenty of things to do and many places to explore at leisure and when the weather is right, some charming beaches on which to spend a full day. If you are a sun worshipper like me, I would suggest you go in late August or September, but if it’s peace and quiet you are searching, then anytime is perfect for Paros. And hey…if it’s good enough for the likes of Tom Hanks, Mathew McConaughey and Eva Longoria then it’s sure as hell good enough for YOU!

…”It takes a lifetime for someone to discover Greece, but it only takes an instant to fall in love with her.”… Henry Miller

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