Greece // The Cyclades //

Parikiá and around

Bustling PARIKIÁ sets the tone architecturally for the rest of Páros, its ranks of typically Cycladic white houses punctuated by the occasional Venetian-style building and church domes. The town’s sights apart, the real attraction of Parikiá is simply to wander the town itself, especially along the meandering old market street (Agorá) and adjoining Grávari. Arcaded lanes lead past Venetian-influenced villas, traditional island dwellings, ornate wall-fountains and trendy shops. The market street culminates in a formidable kástro (1260), whose surviving east wall incorporates a fifth-century BC round tower and is constructed using masonry pillaged from a nearby temple of Athena which is still highly visible. On the seafront behind the port police are the exposed, excavated ruins of an ancient cemetery used from the eighth century BC until the third century AD.

The Ekatondapylianí

Just beyond the central clutter of the ferry port, Parikiá has the most architecturally interesting church in the Aegean – the Katopoliani (facing the town). Later Greek scholars purified the name and connected it with past glories, so they changed it to Ekatondapylianí (“The One Hundred Gated”), a nickname that baffles today’s visitors. Tradition, supported by excavations, claims that it was originally founded in 326 AD by St Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine, but what’s visible today stems from a sixth century Justinian reconstruction.

Enclosed by a great front wall, sign of an Imperial-built church, the church is in fact three interlocking buildings. The oldest, the chapel of Áyios Nikólaos to the left of the apse, is an adaptation of a pagan building dating from the early fourth century BC. On the right, there is another building attached, housing a Paleochristian baptistry, where the initiate used to dip in a cross-shaped pool. Inside the church courtyard, there is a small Byzantine museum (church hours; €2) displaying a collection of icons. Look through the iconostasis (which still retains its ancient marble frame) to observe two unique features: at the back, a set of amphitheatric steps, the synthronon, where the priests used to chant, and, at the front, the ciborium, a marble canopy over the altar.

Archeological Museum

Behind Ekatondapylianí, the archeological museum has a good collection and is definitely worth a visit. Its prize exhibits are a large Gorgon, a fifth-century winged Nike by Skopas and – hidden at the back of the main room – a piece of the Parian Chronicle, a social and cultural history of Greece up to 264 BC engraved in marble.

Áyii Anárgyiri monastery

If you’re staying in Parikiá, you’ll want to get out at some stage. The shortest excursion is the 2.5km along the road starting from the northern end of the ring-road up to the Áyii Anárgyiri monastery. Perched on the bluff above town, this makes a great picnic spot, with cypress groves, a gushing fountain and some splendid views.

Beaches near Parikiá

Less than 1km north of the harbour lies the twin crescent of Livádhia beach, with shallow waters and shaded by salt cedars; further on lies Kriós beach, much better, served by kaïki from just to the right of the ferry terminal (€4). The beaches south along the asphalt road are even better: the first unsurfaced side-track leads to the small, sheltered Dhelfíni; fifteen minutes further on is Paraspóros near the remains of an ancient temple to Asklepios, the god of healing. Continuing for 45 minutes (or a short hop by bus) brings you to arguably the best of the bunch, Ayía Iríni, a palm-fringed beach with fine sand, a taverna and a beautiful campsite.

Petaloúdhes

Not far from the turning to Ayía Iríni, is the “Valley of the Butterflies”, a walled-in private oasis where millions of Jersey tiger moths perch on the foliage in summer (May–Sept 9am–8pm; €2). The trip can be combined with a visit to the eighteenth-century nunnery of Áyios Arsenios, at the crest of a ridge 1km to the north. Only women are allowed in the sanctuary, although men can wait in the courtyard. Petaloúdhes can also be reached from Parikiá by bus during the summer months.