By Juli Zäll
With reports of yoghurt being hurled at authorities on the streets, Greece was on my radar but certainly not in my travel calendar.
However, when a Greek-Canadian friend proposed a fortnight around several lesser-known islands in the Aegean Sea, she painted a more serene picture awash in white and blue. Nicky told me about her Athenian friend, Adonis, who had built a house on a hill in Paros with a handsome garden of grape vines, fig trees and a million-dollar view. We were welcome to stay.
It was exactly as I imagined, only better.
Before embarking on the route less travelled, I insisted on a weekend in postcard Mykonos.
With its suicidal scooter drivers, mouthy drunk divas and dinnertime power outages, the cosmopolitan island lived up to its reputation and I left ready to find peace. To be completely fair, there are some spectacular beaches around Mykonos and certainly a few quiet spots, but none worth four times the price.
Adonis met us at the port in Parikia on Paros and we drove directly to Lefkes, a small village in the hills with the charm of a simpler world, where we would pick up fresh bread from the bakery and take in a long, lazy lunch.
Driving along the winding roads, we pass ancient marble quarries and centuries-old olive groves that have seen Paros through prosperous and troubled times. As we descend downhill towards Piso Livadi, the views over the island to the sea and beyond shimmer like an impressionist’s palette. This is where time stopped.
We spent the late afternoon parked comfortably in coarse grey sand: watching the comedy of goats grazing on a rocky cliff behind us; listening to children’s laughter as they chased their grandfather in and out of the sea; and marveling at the ever-changing colour of the water.
Throughout the two weeks I spent on the islands, the sea never dawned the same colour twice: one morning a rich sapphire blue, another afternoon a gleaming emerald green, and yet another, an iridescent turquoise.
The sunsets were most memorable in Naousa, a well-behaved version of Mykonos, north of Parikia, marked by a fresh-water stream resembling a small Venetian canal that runs from the hills into the sea. At the foot of this late-Mediaeval town, glittering with fashionable cafés and souvenir shops selling everything from handicrafts to fine jewelry, is a picturesque harbour lined with colourful vessels and endless rows of restaurant tables to take in the views.
The next day, we headed to neighbouring Antiparos by ferry — a small, freshly painted wooden boat, probably used for fishing in another life. We were the only passengers, practically deck hands, and Nicky’s knowledge of Greek gained us a few insights on ideal patches of sandy real estate on one of the smallest islands in the Cyclades.
In Antiparos, we spent blissful mornings shading our faces with a book on one or another secluded beach, perfect afternoons strolling the cobblestone alleyways of the town, decorated in magenta bougainvillea and orange hibiscus, and laid-back evenings feasting on the day’s catch. Grilled octopus became my default choice. (And no we didn’t catch it ourselves.)
After a few days, a longer but worthwhile journey from Paros brought us to an even smaller sundrenched rock in the sea, Folegandros. And a rock it is. At 32 square kilometers, a population of barely 600, two villages perched above the sea, and a marvelous church at its peak, this may be the most unlikely place on Earth. This may be heaven.
I woke up to a breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt with honey, and sage tea, the perfect antidote to my morning sloppiness. The previous night, we walked two paces into the main village to find ourselves in the middle of a celebration: a local’s birthday. Everyone was welcome.
For the rest of the day, all that was left to do was hop on and off the boat, which would take us around to the hidden coves and pebbled beaches not accessible by road. Most of them as sparsely populated as the island itself, unless you count the sea urchins lurking by the shores.
Every time I dove into a new azure pool, I would resurface to float like a beach ball in the saturated surface waters. Swimming around Livadaki beach, while my bathing suit dried on its giant flat ivory rocks, may have been the most delightful siesta of the trip.
Back in Hora, in the square that also serves as the town’s only bus stop, I stood at the edge of the cliff overlooking the splendour in comfortable silence before descending to take the ferry back to land. The scent of the salty air, the delicate breeze brushing against my skin, the infinite blues of the sea were the day’s gifts from the gods on Mount Olympus.
Juli Zall is a freelance photographer and writer based in Toronto, follow her on Twitter @viedelaphoto.
JUST THE FACTS
PAYING Room prices reflect off-peak season rates. At time of writing €1 = $1.30.
ARRIVING Air Canada flies direct to Athens, June to October, or with connections the rest of the year, from $1,200. Air Transat offers direct seasonal service, April to October, from $800. A slew of ferry companies, each servicing specific routes, dock at Piraeus, the main port of Athens. Travel to Paros is between 3 and 5 hours, depending on the ferry, from €30 one-way. Take the high-speed SeaJet catamaran to Folegandros in 3.5 hours, from €55 one way. Hopping between islands is a matter of navigating the schedule. Paros to Folegandros can take as long as 5 hours, from €10. Paros to Antiparos, local services from Parikiá, 20 minutes or from Pounda, less than 10 minutes, €5.
SLEEPING Paros: In the port of Parikiá, the family-run Eleni Rooms offers clean, basic beds and a nice garden. Doubles from €40. www.eleni-rooms.gr. A five-minute walk to the centre of Náousa, the elegant Stelia Mare Boutique Hotel serves breakfast poolside. Doubles from €100. steliamare.com. Antiparos: The bright, 10-room Sunset Deseo is a private paradise just steps from the sea. Doubles from €35, on-site restaurant. sunsetdeseo.com. Respecting its surroundings and Cycladic traditions the Oliaros Seaside Lodge offers tastefully decorated studios with sea views. The lodge can arrange kayaking, cycling and yoga. Doubles from €70. oliaros.gr. Folegandros: Steps from Hóra, the Hotel Polikandia offers simple rooms facing a luxe courtyard pool. Doubles from €55. polikandia-folegandros.gr. The cliff-side views from whitewashed terraces at Anemomilos Apartments are bewildering. Doubles from €110. anemomilosapartments.com.
DINING Paros: Mayaga’s laid back beach-front dining, make it a favourite among locals and visitors alike. Mains from €12, Souvlia Beach, Parikiá. Náousa, has plenty of gourmet dining and fashionable nightspots from the Old Town to the Venetian Port. Fresh-as-it-gets seafood paired with crisp local wine and endless sunsets at Mediterraneo Taverna Ouzerie. Mains from €16, along the Náousa harbour. Antiparos: Captain Pipinos seaside taverna serves seafood caught daily in the surrounding waters. Mains from €10. captainpipinos.com. Folegandros: Generous portions of traditional Greek dishes, keep the tables full at To Spitiko. Mains from €8. irene-folegandros.gr. Enjoy the late night kitchen, raki and music in a back-yard atmosphere at Zefiros Anemos. Mains from $12. zefiros-anemos.gr.
WEB SURFING The scoop on Paros events, activities and culture listings, as well as accommodation and dining directories, are at parosweb.com. There are similar directory sites for Antiparos at antiparos-isl.com, and Folegandros at folegandros.gr.
Source: The Toronto Star