With a gentle and undramatic landscape arranged around the central peak of Profítis Ilías, PÁROS has a little of everything one expects from a Greek island: old villages, monasteries, fishing harbours, nice beaches and varied nightlife. However, Parikiá, the capital, can be touristy and expensive, and it is very difficult finding rooms and beach space here in August, when the other settlements, the port of Náoussa and the satellite island of Andíparos, handle most of the overflow. Drinking and carousing is many people’s idea of a holiday on Páros, so it’s not surprising that both Parikiá and Náoussa have a wealth of pubs, bars and discos, offering staggered happy hours.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most people bypass Páros interior, but on a cooler day try walking the medieval flagstoned path that once linked both sides of the island. Start from the main square of the village of Mármara and go west. First up is Pródhromos, an old fortified farming settlement with defensive walls girding its nearby monastery. Léfkes itself, 5km from Pródhromos, is perhaps the most unspoilt settlement on Páros. The town flourished from the seventeenth century on, its population swollen by refugees fleeing from coastal piracy; indeed it was the island’s capital during most of the Ottoman period. Léfkes’s marbled alleyways and amphitheatrical setting are unparalleled – and undisturbed by motor vehicles, which are forbidden in the middle of town. Another 5km towards Parikiá and you hit Maráthi, from where Parian marble was supplied to much of Europe. Considered second only to Carrara marble, the last slabs were mined here by the French in 1844 for Napoleon’s tomb in Les Invalides. Just east of the village, marked paths lead to two huge entrances of ancient marble mines which can be visited with an organized tour only. From Maráthi, it’s easy enough to pick up the bus on to Parikiá.