It was 6:00 am and I was bleary-eyed as I boarded a Turkish Airlines flight in Delhi. In a few hours, I’d be in Greece. Through the sleep, I could feel my adrenaline rising. I couldn't quite believe I was finally on my way to one of my dream destinations — Paros!
"Come while we're still here," said my friend, who is lucky enough to live there. The island is either a 4-hour ferry ride or a 25-minute flight from Athens. After two years of planning this trip, I didn’t want to delay my arrival any more than was necessary and chose the latter option.
Paros Island’s airport is literally just two rooms. One functions as the departure area, while the other serves arrivals with one conveyor belt. A few minutes after arrival, I was in a car with my friend and her husband, headed for Parikia, the capital of Paros.
On the drive in, everywhere I looked I saw packed cafes, or vacationers sunbathing in the Mediterranean, or zipping past on scooters. However, from a distance, Paros is a postcard: white houses with shutters and doors painted that typically Grecian blue, dot gentle hills that roll into azure waters.
As our car pulled in to their driveway, I caught a spell-binding view of Parikia Bay. It certainly helped that Soumya’s home had a balcony that overlooked the area.
The next morning, I woke up after a blissful sleep, and ran to the balcony. The air was delicious. Roosters crowed from farms in the distance, while the sea slowly changed colour from silver to blue as the sun rose higher.
The only downside of living by the sea was that my hair now looked like I'd stuck my finger in an electric socket! A hat took care of that situation for the rest of the day. There was an add-on benefit — the Mediterranean sun is harsh, so stay hydrated, pack a good pair of sunglasses and don’t skimp on the sunscreen.
My first full day on Paros began with the Church of a Hundred Doors, a Byzantine complex built by Emperor Constantine. Ironically, no one knows just how it got its name, because tourism-hungry locals have embellished, shall we say, the number of portals it actually has. The church is believed to have been built in the 6th century CE, over an ancient temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Demeter. The atmosphere inside was quite somber.
From the church I headed downtown, rubbing shoulders with fellow tourists in the narrow alleys. Evil eye bracelets and necklaces are best sellers: you’ll find dozens of jewellery stores selling them. Souvenirs and curios handmade by local artists are easily available in the market. My friend pointed me to a store called Aromatopolion that sells perfumes, lotions, soaps and bubble baths at very affordable prices. Here they recreate scents by all the major brands worldwide using essential oils and essences; and they're constantly renewing their offerings. Customers simply have to choose their scent and they'll make it in front of you. I went berserk and picked up 6 bottles of perfume as gifts for my family.
After all that shopping, a hand-made ice cream at the local creamery seemed like a good idea. Resuscitated by a deliciously dark scoop of chocolate ice cream, we then headed back. On our way, we stopped to pick up two huge fish filets that had been sprinkled with local herbs and salt, and then left to dry in the sun. The fishmonger told us to grill the pieces for a few minutes and then add a few drops of lemon juice. After a day spent walking around, the meal was as good as any I’ve ever tasted.
Parikia's hills call out to be explored. They’re at their greenest in winter, when the island receives a heavy dose of rainfall. I set out one evening, a little before sunset, eager to see more of the island. If you've studied English literature in university, novels such as Jane Eyre will immediately spring to mind. Many areas here are still sparsely populated and houses sit silent, surrounded by empty acres, without another building in sight. I was rewarded with a gorgeous sunset that evening; the flaming ball seemed almost eager to indulge me for a few minutes, as I captured portrait after portrait.
The bustling port of Naoussa also has a warren of alleyways with jewellery and shoe shops, clothing boutiques, shops selling hats of all varieties and numerous restaurants and cafes. It also boasts of a couple of nightclubs.
I was very amused to spot pet dogs with wet coats walking around quite unconcernedly. I later heard that the dogs often head down to the beach by themselves, take a dip in the sea and head back home. They definitely have life figured out! Cat lovers won’t be disappointed either. Felines are popular all over the region, prized for their ability to deal with pests. Here, even the strays seem friendly and well-fed. Call out to them and they’ll saunter by with a quiet meow, arching their backs for a rub.
I chanced upon a tiny art gallery in one of Naoussa’s alleys. It had the most exquisite little paintings — local landscapes painted on pieces of driftwood. The artist sat in one corner, working on a new piece. I bought one of his paintings, which he proceeded to slip into a large envelope on which he'd sketched a seaside scenery.
No visit to Paros is complete without a trip to the ancient village of Lefkes. About a 20-minute drive from Parikia, this village on a hill, has existed for centuries, and was once the capital itself. Situated on higher ground, Lefkes offers unbeatable views of the sea and the nearby island of Naxos.
Here you'll walk past old houses, some sadly uninhabited, their walls crumbling. Others retain their brightly painted doors and shutters. I spotted a ceramics workshop — the facade was decorated with colourful plates and bowls — and entered to find its owner missing. For a moment I wasn't sure whether to leave. As I walked around to admire his work, I was surprised to see an old dog sitting quietly under a desk. The artist showed up a few minutes later, and was very happy to chat with us. The dog, he said, was 14 years old and had kept him company in the shop ever since he'd got her.
The locals are remarkably trusting of outsiders to leave their shops unattended. This is especially surprising since the number of complaints of insensitive tourists rise exponentially each summer.
On my last night on Paros, I was rewarded with a beautiful fireworks display over Parikia Bay in celebration of the ascension of St. Mary. The ferries anchored in the bay also joined in by sounding their foghorns. The manmade display was mirrored by the heavens that night, as I spotted more stars than I'd ever seen. Down below the town's lights twinkled like a necklace hugging the coast.
The next morning I awoke while the sky was still dark, and settled down on the balcony. My patience was rewarded. The roosters crowed once again, as the sky changed hues from black to purple, then a deep orange, signaling the dawn of a new day.
As my ferry pulled away from Paros later that morning, I said a sad goodbye to that little slice of heaven out on the Aegean.
Turkish Airlines flies from New Delhi to Athens with a brief layover in Istanbul and will cost around Rs.40,000 for a round trip. From Athens you can either take a Blue Star ferry from Piraeus Port to Paros, which will get you to the island in 4 hours; or a 25-minute plane ride on Olympic Air. A ferry costs around Rs.2,500 while the latter costs Rs.4,120, but bear in mind July and August are peak season and seats are limited. So book well in advance.
Where to Stay:
The island has multiple accommodation options from backpacker hostels to boutique hotels. A good mid-range option is Apollon Boutique Hotel (+30 22840 223 64; hotelapollon.gr), a stone's throw away from Livadia beach and the central market. If peace and quiet is what you're after, then Archipelagos Studios (archipelagosparos.com) is your best bet. It offers 8 studios and apartments with brilliant views of the bay. For a luxury experience, opt for Paros Agnanti Hotel (parosagnanti.gr/) or Akrotiri Hotel (akrotirihotel.gr). Travellers on a budget can choose Marisa Rooms (parosmarisarooms.gr) or Jimmy's Hostel (jimmyshostel.com).
What to See and Do:
Paros has plenty of interesting places to visit, so planning ahead is a good idea. A guided tour will help you cover the most important sights. Aegean Thesaurus Travel (thesaurus.gr) offers a bus tour around the island. Besides the Church of a Hundred Doors where you can see several Byzantine artefacts, the Archaeological Museum houses exhibits from the island's monuments. The 17th-century Monastery of Ayios Antonios is located on the top of Kefalos hill, which is a dormant volcano. There are numerous restaurants, cafes and bakeries on Paros: Little Green Rocket by Parikia's harbour offers a variety of food from sushi to burritos; for superb traditional fare Kous Kous Restaurant in Naoussa is one of the best; Ragousis is a bakery with outlets all over the island. Their sesame bagels and croissant sandwiches are filling and tasty.