Greek Isles, Big Smiles: Paros Travel Guide

PARDON, PAROS?

Paros is one of the islands in the Cyclades.  Many people have heard of the nearby islands of Santorini (purty!), Mykonos (party!) and Naxos (big!) but fewer have heard of Paros.  One of the reasons for its lack of star recognition is that there isn’t a large airport in Paros.  There are however plans to build up the airport to receive international flights in about five years, so go before then!  Today, Paros must be reached by ferry meaning the island is equipped for tourists but not teeming with them.  Thanks to a recent Italian film set in Paros, we were told that most tourists are from Italy, France, Norway and Australia.  Further down the list are the (pastier) Americans and Brits.

Most people island hop every three to four days.  We choose instead to “settle in” on Paros and didn’t run out of things to do with nine days.  If you like the idea of “settling in” but still have an itch to see some of the other islands, there are tons of guided or unguided day trips by boat/ferry to the nearby islands. 

WHEN TO GO:

June and September are the absolute best months to go.  The water is warm and the pace more relaxed.  The height of busy season is July 10 – August 25 where the average age of the island drops to 18-25 years old and the temperature increases a few degrees with hottest temps in July.   Thankfully, Paros generally enjoys a light breeze (though it was unseasonably windy a few days we were there) to keep you cooler on the hotter days.  For families especially, you should try to grab one of tail ends of the season which gets you all the benefits (including lower rates) without the crowds.

LODGING:

The Paliomylos Hotel in Naoussa, a complex of 25 studios and suites with a hearty breakfast for an extra charge is a gem of a place.  The rooms are simple but well equipped and clean, and the staff especially owner Chrys is attentive and friendly.  The other owner Kostas focuses less on guest services but is always working to keep the hotel facilities in top shape.  While we were there they were in the process of opening up a small spa.  The hotel is 50 meters from Piperi Beach and a 7 minute walk into the seaside town of Naoussa – the “destination town” of the island.   Paliomylos is opened from April – October and books out the entire summer well in advance.  They have a lot of repeat business.  Only downside is that the pool is small (though of less consequence given the island’s great beaches) and the rooms adjacent to the pool don’t have a terrace or balcony.  If you book, just be clear on whether sea view is important to you.   We typically gravitate towards apartment rentals as a family of five, but when the food is so good and cheap in Greece you don’t need to save a buck by cooking in making a hotel studio option ideal.  We only used the frig to store cold drinks.

I don’t insist that you stay at Paliomylos but I do insist that you stay somewhere close to Naoussa.   Located on the northern shore of Paros, Naoussa village has countless options for dining, more outdoor cafes that you’d have time to linger in, and lovely boutiques.  We referred to it as “Sun Valley Light” – charming but without the out-of-reach wealth.   The absolute highlight of our stay was being able to walk into Naoussa in the early morning for coffee and every evening for dinner.  It’s the kind of safe that makes you comfortable to have you kids walk around on their own. 

TRANSPORTATION:

If you stay close to Naoussa, a rental car isn’t entirely necessary.  We opted to rent a car as needed which ended up being 3 of the 9 days we were there.  Each time the rental car (with varying levels of gas in the tank) was delivered to the hotel for us and the cost was around 55 euros for the day.  We left the keys at the hotel front desk for the car to be picked up the next morning with “approximately” the same amount of gas.  A few days we took a taxi to and from a destination beach which was fun as we got to know a couple of local taxi drivers.  If you don’t have young kids, most people rent scooters or quads to get around the island. The narrow streets and the one main road that rings the island are all shared by cars, scooters, bikes and pedestrians – so beware and go      s l o w.

BEACHES

You don’t go to Greece to surf, but if beautiful sandy beaches are what you are looking for Paros has them in spades.  And, they have a good mix of “organized” beaches and small private-like beaches.   Here are our top beach picks:

1) Kolimbithres Beach. A protected beach 4 km from Naoussa which is especially good for families and windy days.   It can be accessed by car/scooter or more fun, by fishing boat from Naoussa Village.  The boat leaves twice an hour and gives you awesome views of Naoussa.  There are two tavernas behind the beach for lunch.   Another boat also leaves for nearby Monastiri Beach, though this beach is even smaller and more protected and best for families with very small children.  “Laid back beach close to town with boat ride.” – Quinn “Small, nice beach.  Stays shallow for a long time with lots of rocks.” – Lawton “Least favorite of three.  Quite small, umbrellas too close to water.” - Colin

 Kolimbithres Beach

Kolimbithres Beach

2) Santa Maria Beach.  An “organized” long beach 5km from Naoussa on Northeast tip of the island looking out on Naxos.  It can be accessed by car/scooter or for a fast ride -  by taxi for 12 euros.  Santa Maria has services (umbrellas and chairs to rent), a beach bar, beach toys to rent, dance club music and lots of beautiful people.  “Big popular beach but really nice.” – Quinn “Nice big beach.  You should swim out to see coral reef.  Lemonade is amazing.” – Lawton “My favorite beach because you can go out so far and still stand.”  -  Colin

 Santa Maria Beach

Santa Maria Beach

3) Faragas Beach.  An “organized” beach (spelled at least four different ways) 25 km from Naoussa on the Southern tip of the island with two private beaches adjacent to it.  It must be accessed by car/scooter or a family willing to run a hot almost marathon together.  Where Santa Maria is club music, Faragas is classical music by morning and soft rock by afternoon with an excellent bar and toilets that were being cleaned 3 out of 4 times we used them.  But it’s the private beaches just over the rocks from the clean toilets and the Frappa Coffee that make this beach our #1.  It also helped that on our second visit to this beach we met some new (much younger) Greek friends who played hours of football and paddleball with us.   “Fancy beach.  Not as convenient, nicest bar. Fun place to go exploring.” – Quinn “My favorite beach because of three different parts.  Water was the warmest.  Lots of space to play soccer.” – Lawton “Best water, most comfortable to be in, best bathrooms.  Lemonade also really good.”  - Colin

 Faragas Beach

Faragas Beach

EATING:

You do go to Greece to eat, and Paros has lots of excellent restaurants to choose from.  With a cumulative of 20 days in Paros over the last two summers, we have been to a number of restaurants.  Most of them are really, really good.  Fresh fish is hard to beat.  Here are our top eating out picks:

1.  Taverna Glafkos - special food in very special setting.  Book in advance.  (Because we weren't in peak season we were able to call day of for every restaurant with the exception of Sosa which we unfortunately missed on this trip.)

 Taverna Glafkos

Taverna Glafkos

2.  Siparos - not in Naoussa but on way to Santa Maria Beach.  Great pastas and great setting.  Book in advance.

 Siparos

Siparos

3.  Yemeni - interior restaurant in village.  More interesting preparations of Greek fare.  Book in advance.

 Not Yemeni, but this happened a lot in the evenings.  This was at Karina's All Day Tavern - a place with good food but slow service.

Not Yemeni, but this happened a lot in the evenings.  This was at Karina's All Day Tavern - a place with good food but slow service.

4.  Cafe Karinos - cafe in main square.  Lots of restaurants start with "K" so make sure it's this one.  Best coffee on island.  We went every morning for coffee and got to know the family who runs it.  In the evenings they bring out two big TVs to show the World Cup, Wimbledon and the Tour de France.  We went every night there was a football match.  Great spot to relax with a cold beverage and also above average food (breakfast food in particular.)  No need to book.

 Cafe Karinos

Cafe Karinos

5.  S.Cream - tasty Italian gelato served by our friend Koco.  Tell him the Ballbachs say hello!  No need to deprive yourself.  We tried to go daily.

 S. Cream

S. Cream

 GETTING THERE:

Getting to Paros is not easy.  It’s pretty much a 24 hour proposition even from Central Europe.  The first time we went it also made our head hurt trying to figure it out, so hopefully these tips will save you a few steps. The complicating factor is that you need to catch one of the two daily Blue Star Ferries (which must be booked in advance) out of Piraeus; one that leaves at 7:25am and the second that leaves at 5:30pm and it’s an good 45 minute to 1 hour commute cross town from the Athens airport.  Given that, it’s advisable to overnight in Athens (or Piraeus) on your inbound and outbound legs.  You’ll likely want to see Athens anyway on one end of your trip.  We did our 36 hours in Athens on the return leg on our first trip to Paros. 

We flew Lufthansa from Lux > Munich > Athens.  On the way back, we flew SwissAir from Athens > Zurich > Lux.  Both times we had 45 minute layovers that were no problem for us or our luggage.  Booking well in advance, we got airfare for 260 euros per person.   The 4 hour ferry ride (Paros is the first stop followed by Naxos and then Santorini) on Blue Star Ferries is 70 euros per person (round trip) with assigned seats.  Highly recommend you pay for assigned rather than open seating on the ferry if traveling with kids.  (We left our kids in our assigned seats and went on to the deck to mingle with the fresh air and not-so-fresh cigarette smoke.) There is also a High Speed Ferry that cuts the time by at least half, but the prices are closer to airfare pricing.  

Another more expensive option is to fly into Santorini and then ferry 45 minutes to Paros. 

 Arriving Paros

Arriving Paros

GETTING THERE CONTINUED:

On our first trip, we mistakenly bused (not busted) it across town from the Athens airport (after driving to and flying out of Brussels Charleroi instead of Luxembourg) to make the evening ferry.  This is not a grand idea.  For one, the buses from the airport are all commuter buses so incredibly slow, jam packed and not conducive for riders with luggage and cranky mothers worried about missing the ferry.  For two, the ferry ride should be a highlight of the travel not something to endure after a long day.   This time we cabbed it across town (in two cabs) to a hotel near the ferry for a flat rate of 46 euros per cab.  An uber good idea.  (With some additional planning, you can arrange for a van and save a few euros for gyros which we did on our airport return.) 

We overnighted on both legs in a quadruple room at the budget but very clean Phidias Piraeus Hotel for 69 euros.  Our room included the best wifi of the trip and a free shuttle to the ferry the next morning.  The hard-working Piraeus port isn’t a place known for great anything, but Brett found an awesome neighborhood restaurant he’d read about on a local food blog (a mystery location to our cab driver both times we went) that was worth the 5 euro cab fare.  Also worth walking around the nearby marina to see the incredible yachts which on our visit included a spotting of the 5th most expensive yacht in the world owned by the former Qatar Prime Minister.

 The reward for getting there is to be SUN KISSED.

The reward for getting there is to be SUN KISSED.