When we decided to visit some of the Greek islands last year we had to make some tough decisions. There are just too many of them, so which ones to visit? Paros isn’t one of the most famous of the Cyclades, but many guidebooks have mentioned it as a quieter version of what Mykonos or Santorini used to be with authentic island life and few crowds. So with that in mind I added it to our itinerary.
Our journey began in Rafina, the port east of Athens. We had arrived the night before directly from Althens airport and stayed overnight at a simple airbnb near the docks. Early the next morning we made our way to the ferry. We paid for a shared cabin for the 6 hour journey in case we wanted to rest, and were fortunate not to have to share it during the voyage.
Something that took getting used to was the way the ferries would disgorge their travellers who weren’t leaving in cars. People would gather around the ramps at the front of the ship and quickly disembark in a touristic version of storming the beaches at Normandy. The photo below was Paros, but popular Santorini was much worse!
Although it is a small island, there are a few options when staying in Paros. Many people stay in the main town of Parikia on the west side where the ferries arrive. Others stay near the town of Naousa in the north where there are some nice beaches. We rented a place on the opposite side of the island in the quiet fishing village of Piso Livadi located along the eastern coast. It was still easy to get around by car and had some nice beaches and seafood restaurants close by.
After getting our rental car we explored the immediate area. Some of the best views of this part of the island were from nearby St Antonios Monastery, so we drove up to have a look. We went up Kefalos Hill, a non-active volcano with the monastery located where the crater should be. The entire hill has an interesting history, as it was originally a Venetian castle until the 16th century and was the last Venetian stronghold in the region. This castle was held for years while the rest of the island was under Ottoman occupation, finally falling in 1537 after an attack by the Turkish pirate Barbarossa. Although nothing remains of the castle, the rocks used to construct the walls are still visible on the slopes of the hill.
For us, we needed to conquer the hill by getting our subcompact rental car up the steep winding way to the parking area. We only made it half way before stopping because the engine was labouring under the steep grade.
From the top of the extinct volcano we could see where we were staying, local farmland, the Aegean and the neighbouring island of Naxos, where we would be staying a few days later.
Paros is a compact island to drive around and is quiet compared with some of the other Greek islands, but there is much to see. Traditionally Paros was one of the key sources of marble for Europe, much of it from the Marathi marble quarries located near the centre of the island.
It is said that this marble was used throughout history. It was used to construct such things as the Venus de Milo in ancient times all the way to Napoleon’s Tomb in more recent times. Although not much remains of the original quarries, we stopped off and had a look.
Although mostly above ground, there was a tunnel system leading into the side of the mountain where workers used to go to find the marble deeper underground. Because we didn’t have a flashlight with us we couldn’t go far, and between the visible beehives and possible snakes we turned around before it got too dark inside!
Finally, Paros has some beautiful beaches. It rained the first day we were there and the water was rough around the beaches in Piso Livadi so we walked around but had to wait to get into the water.
Eventually things cleared up and we tried out some of the beaches on the north side of the island near Naousa. The best of the bunch was Kolymbithres, a beautiful spot with interesting rock formations and clear water. You could rent a parasol nearby but we just picked a spot on the rocks and enjoyed the view from there.
The water was calm and refreshing after a long day of making our way around the island. When we were done we grabbed a gyro from a nearby restaurant before driving back to our rental on the other side of the island.
Paros was the quietest destination of the four Greek islands we did. It was not huge like Crete, busy like Naxos or touristy like Santorini. It had a slow, island-life feel to it that suited us for the brief time we spent there. It also has a sister island called Antiparos which is well worth visiting, but I’ll post about that one in the future.