After spending a fantastic few days in Athens, we travelled to the beautiful island of Paros. Paros is a stunning little island part of the Cyclades islands in Greece.
This island is so dreamy and the perfect antidote to the enormous, frenetic city of Athens. As soon as you arrive in Paros, a feeling of calm and serenity washes over you. There just seems to be something in the air here that inspires relaxation and forces you to slow down. I am also a huge fan of bougainvillea and was so happy to see it in all of its bright pink splendour everywhere you turned in Naoussa, standing out against the perfectly white Cycladic homes and buildings with touches of blue accents. Heavenly! I can completely understand why this island is a favourite of many people (including me as one of its newest fans) and celebs, such as Tom Hanks, Pierce Brosnan, and Madonna.
We stayed in Naoussa, which turned out to be a wonderful choice. Easily accessible by car, taxi, and bus links, Naoussa is small but chic. The main part of the town and surroundings are easily walkable, and is situated on a beautiful coast with plenty of beaches to spend time on relaxing. The shopping in Naoussa is fabulous. And the best part? No chain shops! They are mainly independent, locally owned shops and studios selling beautiful and elegant goods, particularly jewellery (I loved a shop called 'White'), and leather goods. There are also lots of delicious restaurants, gelato shops, and bars to choose from to relax away in. Naoussa is very romantic, but also an ideal place for us to visit as well as a group of three women. It had a completely different feel than Santorini - romantic but not to an exclusionary point, quiet, chic, elegant and non-touristy. There is lots to do and various different types of travellers and locals to meet and interact with. On that note, there weren't a lot of tourists here, but quite a few repeat visitors that we met, which was really nice. It may have been because it was September, but this isn't an island overrun with tourism like some of its neighbours, such as Mykonos.
The island itself is small and easy to get around to explore its various villages and small towns, and stunning coastline. We rented a car (more about that below) one day and leisurely drove around beach hunting and exploring villages. We spent a late afternoon and evening in the capital of the island, Parikia, which was bigger and busier than Naoussa. It was worth visiting, but we were happy that we had chosen Naoussa as our home base during our stay.
Lefkes was another beautiful village set inland that we visited. This sleepy little village boasts some beautiful views as it is set up in the mountains and is the highest point of Paros. It is great to walk around (including part of the Byzantine trail which starts in Lefkes) and check out some of the well-preserved Cycladic architecture, as well as tiny little independent shops to explore.
We encountered many Canadian expats in Paros and we could completely understand why. Give us a few more days on the island and we may have joined them! There was one afternoon where we swam out into the warm, sparkling, turquoise sea only to find a dilapidated building on a prime space of land that inspired us into planning how we would renovate it and start a new business and life right there and then!
Nervous about taking a ferry and getting seasick, I opted to take an Aegean Airlines flight that was a quick (30 minutes!) hop over to Paros from the main airport in Athens. My friends opted to take a ferry to the island which took about 3 - 4 hours and they enjoyed the leisurely journey to the island.
Upon arriving both at the airport and the port, there were taxis easily available (and buses at the port) to take us to Naoussa.
We went with another Airbnb property (www.airbnb.com), which we absolutely loved! Based in Naoussa, we stayed in a gorgeous little villa which was easily walkable from the centre of town, and run by the loveliest host, Natacha, and her adorable little son. Our villa also had a great outdoor living space. Draped with greenery and bougainvillea, we enjoyed a home cooked meal made right in our kitchen using fresh ingredients from the markets under candlelight and the stars (and there may have been a Mamma Mia soundtrack playing in the background).
- Before getting to any real food, we need to talk about the gelato we encountered here. Specifically, from the best gelato shop on the island: Nonna Crema. This charming little place (pictured in the photo at left with the brightly coloured cushions) has delicious flavours and is run by a friendly and helpful young couple. Definitely worth a (multiple) visit!
- During our first afternoon stroll, we came across a cafe (Cafe Karino) on the Old Port with lots of outdoor seating to enjoy some lunch looking out to sea. The most delicious sandwiches we had during our trip were found here, which we enjoyed over a lingering lunch taking in the fresh sea air, looking out at the sparkling water and passersby. We ended up coming here nearly every day for lunch!
- We went to the Taverna Glafgos one evening for dinner. This restaurant is set in a beautiful location tucked away on the beach in Naoussa. You can be enjoying a glass of wine or dinner with the sea practically lapping away at your toes. A very romantic and unique setting that we enjoyed. The food was quite good, though not the best we had. We enjoyed some local Parian wine as well. The service wasn't the best but the setting and experience is very hard to beat!
Things to Do:
- Renting a car, quad, motorcyle or scooter are big attractions on the island! We rented a jeep for the day and drove all around the island to Lefkes, down to various beaches and over to Parikia. It was wonderful to drive up into the hills to see the views over the island and sea.
- Visit Lefkes and the other lovely little villages dotted around the island.
- We did the sunset horse riding with the Kokou Horse Riding Centre (http://www.horseridingparos.com), which is run by Canadian expats. This was such a fun experience! The horses are lovely and well taken care of, which was very important to us. We rode through orchards and vineyards, up into the hills, and along the coast. The staff take great care at the start to pair you with the right horse based on your experience and personality.
- Shop! The shops and studios in Naoussa (and elsewhere, like Parikia) are elegant, creative and run by local merchants and artisans. There was one store in particular that we loved called 'White', which sells jewelry. The shops stay open very late here (to 1 and 2am!), so it's great to wander around and shop before going for cocktails.
Other Travel Tips
- When renting a vehicle on the island, make sure you do your due diligence. Make sure that there is documentation between you and the staff walking around the vehicle to make sure any scratches or damage is noted. Make sure that the insurance you are taking on is clear. I also suggest taking photographs of the vehicle before and after. We had an issue with the car rental place where we rented our jeep. We realized partway through the day that our vehicle didn't seem to be very well-maintained and we were worried while driving through the hills that it was about to break down. In addition, despite walking around the vehicle and taking insurance, we were accused of creating damage to the vehicle (there wasn't any) and the woman who had rented us the vehicle was demanding that we pay her a sum of money in order to leave and that the insurance wouldn't cover it. We stood our ground and pointed out that not only had we not created damage, but that she had no evidence to show we caused it because she hadn't documented anything. Her boss arrived and we explained the situation to him, to which he promptly let us go and had words with her. Beware as it was likely a scam on unsuspecting tourists who won't argue back to take additional money under the table.
I highly recommend this island as a stop when visiting Greece. I can't wait to return again soon! The best thing about this island (besides it being gorgeous and peaceful), is that it's one that doesn't require running around to see lots of sites, but allows you to feel right at home and feel as though you are a local.