Paros is the perfect first step on a Greek island-hopping trip – if you can bear to tear yourself away from its beaches and nightlife
The first time I went island hopping, I went straight from Athens airport to the port of Piraeus and asked the man at the ticket office when the next boat was due to sail. Next boat to where, he wanted to know. Doesn’t matter, I said. Just give me a deck-class ticket on the next boat out. And that’s how Paros became my first Greek island.
It was a lucky decision, because – sitting slap in the middle of the Cyclades archipelago – Paros is the natural first stop on an island-hopper’s itinerary. It’s only four hours by ferry from Piraeus, with ferries leaving seemingly every half an hour, round the clock, for all points of the compass. Tip: don’t pick a hotel near the harbour if you want a good night's sleep – ferries announce their arrival and departure with siren songs that are far from sweet.
As on most Greek islands, you can – if you’re not too picky - turn up and find somewhere to lay your head even in high season. Touts for guesthouses, hotels and campsites meet every boat, even in the small hours, and the cheapest (though not necessarily the nicest) rooms can cost as little as €25. However, if you take pot luck you may find yourself whisked off to a guesthouse some distance from Parikia, the island capital, and its nightlife, sights, shopping and tavernas. There’s no shortage of places to stay in Parikia (including a rather scruffy campsite, about 200 yards north of the harbour). As elsewhere in Greece, you can find bargain rates in April and May and in September and October, but the cost of a room almost doubles from mid-July to the end of August.
In Parikia, one affordable spot that stands out is Blueparos Pension, a five-minute walk from the port and only 50 yards from the central square. Owned by two Greek artists, each of its rooms (which start at around €30) is decorated with their murals. Just outside Parikia (less than a mile from the centre), the High Mill Hotel is a pricier option, with simple, modern rooms (from €50-€100) in low-rise buildings surrounded by palm gardens, full hotel services and a landscaped pool. A little further from town, the Yria Hotel is an oasis of Cycladic cottages, palm trees and bougainvillea. It’s the most stylish address on the island and is priced accordingly, with doubles from €170-€310.
To explore Parikia, walk one block inland from the somewhat untidy clutter of hotels, restaurants, ticket agencies and car and scooter rental outfits along the waterfront to discover a maze of alleys and whitewashed houses made colourful by pots of scarlet geraniums, purple clumps of bougainvillea, and wooden doors and shutters painted bright blue or green. Parikia is every bit as pretty as its better-known neighbour Mykonos, and a good deal less pricily pretentious – there are some stylish and original shops selling silver jewellery, cotton and linen holiday wear, sandals and other leather goods, at prices well below what you’d pay in self-consciously trendy Mykonos.
Nightlife in Parikia is equally unpretentious and lively, with plenty of bars along the waterfront for sunset drinks and music. The focus of the late night dance scene is at the southern end of the waterfront, where – housed in a cavernous converted olive mill – you’ll find the legendary Dubliner bar and the equally legendary Down Under Pub. Other top venues include Saloon d’Or, the Salsa Lounge and Envy, one of the top Athens clubs, which moves its act down to Paros for the summer.
Getting around Paros is easy – easier than on many islands, with local KTEL buses connecting Parikia with the rest of the island. Fares range from €1.40 to €2.50, which means that if there are four of you it can be just as cheap to take a taxi, which costs about €1 per kilometre. Paros is only about 20km from north to south, so a taxi ride isn’t a big extravagence You’ll find both the taxi rank and the bus station about 150 yards south of the ferry port – just turn left and follow the waterfront.
Naoussa, on a wide bay between two headlands on the north coast, about 10km from Parikia, has upscale ambitions but hasn’t quite forgotten its fishing-village roots. Places to stay in and around Naoussa range from small family-run pensions to larger resort-style hotels. Out of town, at Kolimbithres (just about within walking distance of Naoussa), the Hotel Kouros is a quiet, low-rise complex of two-storey cottages – each with its own balcony or terrace – standing in well-kept gardens about 150 yards from the beach (there’s also a pool). Chroma Hotel, on the outskirts of the village, has around 40 pretty rooms (and some apartments) in white, cubist buildings and a pool set in palm-shaded gardens. Prices here start at around €40. Naoussa’s most chic boutique hotel is Lennart Pihi’s Heaven Naoussa, with just 9 rooms (priced at €75-€100) and suites and two apartments, all decorated in a fashion-conscious fusion of Cycladic, North African and Scandinavian styles and colours.
There are more beaches scattered down Paros’s east coast, but for empty stretches of excellent sand you need to jump on the shuttle ferry from Parikia to Paros’s tiny neighbour, Antiparos, where you’ll find plenty of space at Psaralykes beach. Antiparos has just one tiny village, where late-night excitement is limited to after-dinner brandy beside the harbour. It’s the perfect antidote to the Parikia party scene, and if staying here appeals, the Kastro Studios and Apartments has comfortable rooms and self-catering studios (with daily maid service) starting at around €45. From May 2009, it’ll also have the only pool on Antiparos.