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And after all ... we’ll always have Paros

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November 2011

Don’t visit Paros! We want to keep it for ourselves.

But if you insist, we’ll give you the lowdown. In July, when we landed there as part of a five-week island hop, we were seduced by the relaxed pace, perfect weather—hot, dry and sunny by day, breezy by night; calm, clear waters in its bays and inlets; excellent food made with local fish, lamb, herbs, fruits; friendly and helpful people; safe and clean.

It’s the kind of place where, floating in a quiet bay on a sun-filled late afternoon, listening to the breeze, you can savour the moment, put your life in perspective, maybe even commit yourself to life-changing decisions. It is in such rare moments that you can pare down your day-to-day existence and look at what you do, or fail to do, and what is essential and meaningful while approaching the “mature” side of life.

Definitely stay at the Paros Hotel. I know what you’re thinking: It sounds so bland. But it was the best accommodation we had on these islands and perhaps off them, too. Our room faced the sea. We could walk 50 metres to a pristine and calm beach. And the owners, Tassos and Jenny, and their children, Vassili, 7, and Pellagina, 5, are the best!

But it wasn’t all that easy. First, we were accosted at the port by room hustlers, one catching us in his net and driving us up a windy dirt road farther and farther from the beach before we could extricate ourselves. Luckily, the sign on a street facing the beach was bold and clear: Paros Hotel.

I walked right in, met Jenny and knew I had found a friend! She offered the only room she had left, not facing the beach, but we were so happy tht after a couple of days we lengthened our stay to six days and she moved us, for the last four, to a beautiful room facing the beach, with balcony, air conditioning and fridge. Just thinking about it makes me want to go back.

Jenny suggested we rent a car for at least one day and drive around the entire island. Although I never rent cars abroad, I was encouraged by her handwritten map and the flexibility of a rental couple just down the road, whom she suggested. They gave us a day and a half for the price of a day: without gas it came to about $60. At 11 the next morning, an old Mercedes was delivered, the only automatic they had left—a luxury car he offered for the economy price.

Jenny marked all the best beaches and fish restaurants on the map and off we went on the one road that leads around the island. There were some tight edges to maneuver going around cliff rims, but we slowed down and honked as we turned.

This main road is two lanes at best and there are decisions to make about which turn to take at numerous points, but it was lots of fun.

We made it round the island, stopping at Aliki to swim in a beautiful bay and then on to visit a picture-perfect mountain village, Levkes, which left us hot and tired and dying to get out of there. This quaint but hot (in temperature) little tourist village, all steps and hills, was very clean but seemed closed down and unhappy. Not for our taste.

Next we stopped at Kolimvythres Beach for lunch at a home-style resto on the beach, sampling their moussaka and appetizers. Then it was back to the winding road with a few wrong turns and finally home to the Paros Hotel and our “family.”

The next morning, we drove up another steep and winding road away from the town, to Marcello Beach, another exquisitely clean, blue part of the bay, where we swam with abandon until it was time to return the Mercedes. There’s something about getting into your air-conditioned car and driving off when you feel like it that makes renting a car worth it, at least for a day or two.

We decided to take a ferry to Naxos, an island 45 minutes from Paros. Naxos seems to have all the Greek Island amenities, an Old City with shops, a kilometre or two of cafés and restaurants basically offering the same thing, and a swimming beach about 500 metres from the town, which was soothing after walking around in the heat, but really not as clean or magical as Paros beaches. So we left after six hours, happy to come “home.”

We met two Vancouverites in Naxos at the beach, retired women who spend three months a year in Naxos, their favourite island. Choosing a favourite island is a bit like choosing an ice cream flavour and for us Paros is the right combination of our favourites, cherry and vanilla.

On our last day in Paros, we took a 30-minute boat ride to Antiparos. Yes, you read right. It’s a smaller island close to Paros, and very quaint, with a lovely winding old city street and good ice cream and coffee. It was beautiful but a little too quiet for us, though close to perfection for another traveler we met.

Back in Paros, we spent lovely days swimming just across the street from the Paros Hotel, having breakfast and coffee and sometimes lunches at Jenny and Tassos’s terraced café in front of their hotel, or dinners at a wonderful fish restaurant a couple of doors down, and spending time wandering around the old town near the port with Pellagina.

At the playground, Pella told a woman in Greek that she did not speak Greek, only English. The woman confided in me that she had said this in Greek. She was playing tourist, I guess. Her mom is an Australian of Greek origin and her dad is from Chicago and also from a Greek family. One afternoon, we visited a café that serves mouth-watering Greek desserts. Pella had chocolate ice cream, chocolate milk and chocolate cake — all within two hours.

Vassili, Pella’s older brother, 7, was less ready to accompany us for an afternoon out. But when we returned, Pella’s stories of her good time made him ask us if we could take him next! The family lives in Athens during the fall and winter months and then moves to Paros for the tourist season, starting in May.

The walk from the Paros Hotel along the sea to the port takes about 20 minutes. When it came time to say goodbye, we took our final pictures of this lovely family who had become good friends and set sail for the island of Kos and the nearby Turkish port at Bodrum.



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