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Paros

The warm feeling of coming home

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Photos: Stephen Fleming

05 October 2016

Paros is a right of passage for most Greeks. It's usually one of the first places we go on holiday after school when you can finally hit the beach without various family members and Tupperware boxes full of keftedes. Parian bars, cute seaside towns and its famous beaches are intrinsically linked to so many of our fondest summer memories.

Disembarking in the port of Parikia a few decades later, I was wondering whether anything could stack up against those tales of youth gone by. I was to discover that Paros still provides that big warm hug when you arrive, and that feeling stays with you long after you've returned home.

Our favourite part of the island has always been the picture-perfect seaside town of Naousa. Despite the island being a fully developed tourist destination, Naousa combines a warm welcome with great eating and drinking options, as many boutiques as you can take in and more photo moments than you can shake a selfie stick at.

We didn't exhaust everything on our to-eat list but we would definitely recommend booking a table in 'seafood restaurant corner', as it just feels like you're part of one big celebration. We chose Mario, who won top marks both for the quality of its dishes and its impeccable service. Another favourite, a little further into the lanes, was Yemeni. The quantities were massive but you still felt guilty for not scooping up every last morsel on the plate. The staff were incredibly welcoming here as well and the drinks selection a real standout. So was the soundtrack, as instead of the usual 'best of Greek music' you tend to find in island restaurants, we enjoyed Allah-Las all the way from their '60s psychedelia. A very welcome break it was too! Don't take our word for it though, just save enough time to walk through the lanes and take it all in for yourself.

Naousa does get busy though, so call ahead, even a few days ahead, to make sure you get the reservation you want. Be prepared to give that plastic a workout too; the shops here are rather lovely.

As far as where you lay your hat, Paros has a huge array of accommodation options, depending on your budget and the kind of holiday you're after. There are some of the best villas and boutique hotels you're likely to find anywhere in the Cycladic islands, established yoga retreats and picturesque villages both on the sea and further inland, where you can get a true snapshot of island life.

Lefkes is one of those inland villages and it's absolutely beautiful. Leave your car at the entrance to the settlement and take a leisurely walk through it.

You'll come across cafes, tavernas, stores and squares that are a walking advertisement for village life. We visited as the sun was going down and it was one of those summer evenings that will stay in your mind for the rest of the year. The highlight of our visit, though, was the scene in the main square, which was hosting a thoroughly serious negotiation between local kids aged 6 to 14 about how you can and cannot address your peers and the rules of proper social interaction. Socrates would have been so proud.

For the beach-lovers among you, Paros won't let you down. There are plenty of sandy beaches to keep you happy, from the organised variety with bars and sun-loungers to more family-friendly options, secluded spots for nudists or full-on 'open to the elements' options for those who feel happiest windsurfing. It's worth doing your research or simply driving about if you can, unless of course your hours at the gym demand you show off those muscles to the crowds at Santa Maria or Chrissi Akti. Kolybithres is one of the most photographed beaches in Greece, with a moon-like setting, a multitude of little coves and shallow waters, so well worth a stop and a snap or two. We found one of our favourite beaches in the whole of the Aegean in the north of the island but no names will be revealed − we've been sworn to secrecy!

If you're the more active type and want something more than just a sun-lounger, a pool and a bar, Paros won't disappoint either. A few minutes away by ferry and you could be on Antiparos, or a little longer and you could be in Naxos, another fine Cycladic gem. If you're in the mood for a little local wine, Moraitis winery is the only vineyard with visitors' quarters. You can walk around their facilities and cellars and taste the 11 labels they produce for only €10. Nimfeon cave is the site of the ancient underground marble quarries that produced some of antiquity's finest sculptures, including Venus di Milo and Hermes of Praxiteles.

One of the best things you can do when you're there, though, is to walk along the Byzantine path. It's in a good condition, signposted, and with Lefkes as the starting point it takes you through olive groves, vineyards and mountains ending up in Prodromos. The whole walk lasts about an hour and if you choose to do it in the early evening, the golden-hour colours will make it all the more beautiful. Just the thought of it is making our fingers type 'flights to Paros'. See you there, right?

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