You go to Santorini for glamour, Mykonos to dance on tables and Ios to party even more. If you want authenticity and much less tourists, then head to the heart of the Cyclades – the island of Paros.
Here you can lounge by the waterside, swim at sandy beaches, visit small local villages and take in local history.
The beauty of Paros, aside from the obvious, is its lack of mass tourism. You won’t be the only out-of-towner on the island, but you won’t be part of the mass, as you generally are on Santorini, Mykonos and Ios.
Arrival is usually Parikia, the island’s port town; also the hub to get to other islands like Mykonos, Santorini, Ios and Crete.
Whilst many head straight to the village of Naoussa, we chose to stay in Parikia as the accommodation is cheaper than the more popular Naoussa.
The town is a tangle of flagstone streets and passages, and in typical Greek and Cycladic fashion, all buildings are painted in white with blue trim. The old town extends from the remains of a Venetian fortress, and it’s here that you can see the Frankish Castle.
What’s left of this 1260 AD structure has an unusual appearance due to the mix of building materials used – taken from ancient buildings that existed on the hill and lower city.
Ragoussis Bakery – check map for location
The labyrinth of streets and passages – designed in such a way to confuse raiding pirates back in the day – have something to see and taste at every turn.
It was the glorious sweet aromas wafting from Ragoussis Bakery that drew us through the doors, dazzled by shelves and cabinets overflowing with goodies. All your traditional cakes and breads can be found here, delicious sourdough sandwiches ready to take away along with ice cream and coffee.
I couldn’t help myself with those star-shaped kalitsounia (καλιτσούνια) – divine little sweet pies made with honey and soft cheese from the village. They’re strikingly similar to presnac, a Croatian treat from the island of Krk.
Away from the main part of the village is another bakery that’s geared more for the locals, somewhere I spotted from the local bus heading to Naoussa.
Tserki has a limited, yet very decent range of cakes, pastries, breads, pies and confectionaries – and good espresso. Providing you have a chance to finish your coffee before it gets blown off the table by those notorious gusts of Cycladic wind, as mine did.
Tserki Bakery – Kentriki Diastavrwsh, Paroikias
Marina Café – check map for location
Spotting a menu that does English-style breakfasts immediately got our attention, as it didn’t take long before we grew tired of koulouri and coffee for breakfast. Decent scrambled eggs with bacon, bread & coffee (7), even scotch eggs, if you want them. Marina Café is run by Brit expats, yet despite its not-so-Greek menu, you’ll still see local dudes spending their mornings sipping on a coffee and puffing on cancer sticks. They even do Croque Monsieur and an Aussie burger, plus sandwiches using ciabatta from Ragoussis Bakery.
It pays to visit To Souvlaki tou Pepe – a breezy gyros and souvlaki joint – at least once when you’re in town. In fact, we went three times as it’s cheap, reliable and delicious. Try the patatou (6.8), a ramekin of baked gouda, bacon, feta, cream and potatoes. Or if you like your offal, the kokoretsi is pretty good here, too. That’d be rolled meat & offal wrapped in intestines, baked over coals.
To Souvlaki tou Pepe – Periferiaki Odos Parikias
Taverna Hellas – Port Parikia
Tucked across the road from the main ferry terminal and windmill is Taverna Hellas, another joint where the well-priced souvlaki and gyros game is strong. Find a host of other Greek faves as you sit in the evening and watch the sun set. With a little house vino, of course.
Off the tourist strip in the residential backstreets of Parikia is this very friendly taverna that covers many local staples, plus a good selection of seafood. Family Tavern has some lovely seating beneath an arbor of grape vines, a gorgeous spot to enjoy their delicious meatballs (7) and rabbit stifado (9), both served with golden hand-cut fries.
Taverna Paros – Epar.Od Parikias-Pountas 62b
Right by the sea wall and the shimmering bay of Parikia is a strip of eateries that come to life as the sun sets. It’s the most prefect spot to sit and relax after a day’s exploring.
Our pick was Taverna Mouragio, a restaurant that’s been serving up seasonal and locally sourced food since 1976. I couldn’t go past the incredible sun-dried mackerel (8); deliciously rich and finished on the char-grill. Perfect with one of those ubiquitous Greek salads (5.5). The moussaka is good here, too, but that mackerel stole my heart.
Taverna Mouragio – Seafront Road
There’s no shortage of beaches on the island for those that like to get their feet wet or bake in the sun – or even strip off completely and go au naturel. From the very popular Kolymbithres beach to windsurfer and diver-friendly Santa Maria beach; there’s something for all tastes.
Closest to Parikia is Livadia Beach, a relatively quiet strip of sand that’s close to hotels and restaurants. The water is nice and shallow, which makes it popular with families with children.
The island’s gay and straight-friendly nudist beach is Lageri (or Langeri) – found on the north-east corner of the Bay of Lageri. This windswept strip may not be the prettiest spot, but it is relatively secluded with rocky outcrops and small coves. There’s no road that goes directly to Lageri, so drivers do need to park their cars and walk 10 minutes, or so, to get there.
A bus to Lageri Beach runs from Naoussa for €1.30 per person and drops you at a turn-off where you must walk for 20-30 minutes to get to the beach. Just let the driver know you’re getting off at Lageri and he’ll stop accordingly. Check the map for bus stop and beach locations.
The most well-known village, and possibly the most picturesque, is Naoussa, just 15 minutes from Parikia by local bus. During the day the village seems deserted, as the majority is generally indoors sheltering from the midday heat or getting wet at one of the island’s beaches.
Come the evening, though, and all of those outdoor tables and maze of passages bustle with people lapping up the energy. Plenty of boutiques, eateries and places to grab a cocktail.
We never quite made it to late-night cocktail hour, but we did find some excellent espresso at Sousouro, a fab little café where you can sit beneath flowering bougainvillea and also enjoy a sandwich or morning granola.
You can easily escape for the day to the island of Antiparos, or as many do, stay there. This much smaller island is barely 10 minutes away by ferry. It’s sparsely populated and is peppered with whitewashed homes and villas, and it’s main village and port is a hive of boutique shopping and eating activity.
On the west side of the village is the old Kastro, or castle, built in 1440 by the Venetians. There may not be a great deal to see around the circular structure, but it’s nice just walking and exploring. Past the Gothic style gate you’ll also find three Venetian-style chapels and a couple dozen residential homes.
Food and drink options are plenty, especially in the evenings when all the bars open. Our pick for lunch, for our little day trip, was the tiny Elia Kafenes Café near the start of the pedestrian strip. Great salads, a variety of carpaccio, pasta and breakfast dishes.
There is a small boat that runs to Antiparos direct from Parikia (opposite the windmill), but it doesn’t run when it’s too windy. Alternatively get the local bus to Pounta and get the ferry to Antiparos (€1.30). The trip takes 10 minutes.
Elia Kafenes Café
Blue Star Ferries has a daily ferry from Piraeus to Naxos, which departs around 7.30am and arrives around 11.45pm. Check the updated timetable for more information here.
We got the Blue Star Ferry to Paros from Naxos. It leaves around 9am and arrives in Naxos around 10.15am. Check their website for updated timetables and fares.