An island-hopping adventure in Greece began in Athens (check out my list of top things to do in Athens) and then moved onto the islands beginning with the Cyclades island group. We had already visited Andros (see this post) and Mykonos (blog post here) and were now moving on to Paros for a few days. It is a quieter and less windy island than Mykonos and has much of the charm of Andros. As a ferry hub, Paros was also a stop before visiting the neighbouring island of Naxos (check it out).
Paros is best known for its beaches and traditional villages. Paros has 40 beaches, with 3 in the capital of Parikia, where we stayed. Parikia, also called Paros Town or Hora, was built on the same site as the ancient city and capital.
The town is built up around the port and contains typical Cycladic architecture: whitewashed square, flat-roofed buildings with brightly coloured doors, windows, and balconies. At the entrance to the port, a windmill welcomes visitors. A bus and taxi station is nearby.
Parikia and the other main village, Naoussa, have many food choices including traditional taverns, chic restaurants and bars. In the evenings, the streets fill with crowds enjoying the nightlife offered.
Our guesthouse, Marisa Rooms, was about 4 blocks from the beach which was far enough away from the action that we weren't disturbed at all.
Close to the port and just down the block from our guesthouse is an ancient cemetery with relics from 5 BC. The Ancient Cemetery of Parikia is one of the most important ancient cemeteries in the region. Archeologists have determined that it was in use from the 8th Century BC until the 3rd Century AD.
Throughout Greece, but especially on Paros, are many teeny tiny churches. These itty bitty little churches are everywhere. Many of them only have seating for 6 people! The tradition on Paros is that every family builds and maintains a small church dedicated to a specific Saint — or to one of the many names of Madonna and Christ — on their property. Most are private but some will leave the doors open during the day. Look for a donation box, if you enter.
A favourite activity should always be wandering around the streets of an old town. The Old Town of Parikia is the historical centre of the island. Most of the buildings and streets look similar to the originals. It is a pedestrian-only area but for those travelling by car, there are a couple of parking lots on the outskirts.
The Old Тown includes charming shops, cafés and restaurants. The streets are white cobblestones arranged in a maze. It is easy to spend many hours, perhaps a whole day, just wandering around and getting temporarily lost.
We found the Frankish Castle of Paros, located in the middle of the Old Town. Unfortunately, there isn't much left except for a tower but the neighbourhood surrounding it is very picturesque and is a great place to catch a sunset view.
The Castle was built in the 13th century by the Venetians. It is believed that the castle was built from the remains of several ancient sanctuaries that were scattered around the island, which explains the inconsistent size and shape of many of the stones. If you look closely, you'll be able to see a stone kitty in the walls.
The Panagia Ekatontapiliani, or Church of 100 doors, is a short walk from the Castle, tucked away from the bustle of the port. Outside the church of pots of basil, which is planted in memory of a 9th-century nun who lived alone on the island for 35 years after escaping from pirates, surviving on wild basil and holy water.
This 4th-century church has beautiful arches, a tall dome and many windows (and less than 100 doors) On either side of the Madonna's shrine, below a glass floor, visitors can look down on marble pillars from a previous Grecian temple to Aphrodite. Every August, villagers carry icons of Mary down to the sea, with fireworks and partying -- likely an amalgamation of rituals from both the Catholic church and the festivals of Aphrodite where clay figures of the goddess were thrown into the sea.
A fun excursion is a donkey ride through the mountains to the Butterfly Valley, known as Petaloudes amongst the locals. We met our guide, Yiannos, at his family farm.
This was my donkey... Lathros, a gentle fellow who was obviously well-loved by the large family living on the farm.
When we started out, we were tethered in a row but once we got past the farm, we were set free to follow Yiannos along the trail, passing several little villages along the way.
We were climbing up into the mountains and enjoyed some incredible views. Some of the mountain trail is rough and steep but the donkeys have no problem. We passed several locals travelling between the villages on their donkeys.
In the summer, the valley is filled with Jersey Tiger Moths. The valley is an important area for these moths which can only be found on Paros and Rhodes in Greece.
We found it challenging to spot the moths during the heat of the day. They tend to stick to the shaded areas and camouflage themselves well amongst the leaves.
The Valley was full of fruit trees but these butterflies don't eat. They live for a short time based upon the nutrition they absorb during the pupae stage.
To be honest, the Butterfly Valley was underwhelming but the donkey ride with the incredible views was a real highlight of our visit.
Sandy beaches surround the island. Santa Maria, Golden Beach, and Kolymbithres are amongst the most famous but there are also many secluded beaches if you are looking for a bit more privacy.
The main Parikia beach is Livadia Beach. It is a long sandy beach. There are some sunbeds and umbrellas available for rental from one of the taverns or restaurants along the beach. Hotels along the beach have various water inflatables for their guests. There is also a volleyball court and a water sports centre. We were visiting during the summer season so the beach was full during the day. We found we enjoyed it most at sunset when the crowds were gone, the day was cooler, and the sunbeds were free.
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