Paros is a Greek Island (64 sq mi) in the Cyclades, about 100 miles south east of the mainland (south of Mikonos, close to Naxos). You can fly there in under an hour from Athens, or float over the Med in 3-4 hours by ferry. We travelled over at the end of May and were greeted by my ideal temperature; about 25°c (77°f) and sunny. In the high summer, you can expect temperatures to start from 25°c, heading closer to 35°c on a hot day.
It’s a trip we’ve been on before. Two years ago seven of us headed to Alea Apartments and had a fantastic time (read all about it). This time we were just four, which very much changed the dynamic, but for me the holiday was every bit as enjoyable – just different.
While the first visit was an adventure, this time it was much more about familiarity; but I think we all appreciated it as a chance to recharge the batteries. In the past when I’ve talked about Paros I’ve concentrated a little too much on the board games, which in hindsight is misleading and could potentially put people off. So in an attempt to redress the balance, and in a truer reflection of how we spent this holiday, I’d like to break down five very distinct reasons why everyone (not just gamers) should consider a holiday to this fabulous island, and in particular to Alea.
1) The trip
There’s no getting around it; England to a Greek Island is a day out of your life. However, travelling doesn’t have to be a chore and the best journeys become part of the experience, rather than simply going from A to B.
Flying from Heathrow with BA is about as easy as things get within Europe, while the metro from the airport to the port was nicer than the London Underground equivalent (I know, not saying much!). The best thing is that the the train drops you directly opposite the right berth for the Paros ferry, leaving a hassle free stroll to the last leg of the journey.
Travelling off-season left us one ferry option, but I wouldn’t take a different one anyway. The massive Blue Star ferry takes four hours; but when that’s on a carpet-like Mediterranean in balmy sunshine while the sun goes down, I have absolutely no complaints. And there’s a bar…
2) The town of Naoussa
The ferry drops you in Paros’ main port, Parikia. It’s a nice seaside town but for me it doesn’t have the personality of Naoussa (pictured), a sleepy fishing village just 15 minutes away by road. Hiring scooters seems to be de rigueur, but I’ll stick to the bus or a taxi thanks!
Naoussa is one of those great little places that, while being unabashedly touristy in places, gives off a sense of community rather than tackiness. It’s the kind of place that feels as if it’s open all year round, rather than closing when the Brits bugger off in September.
You only have to round a couple of lesser lit corners to arrive in pretty yet urban back streets, or before popping out into farmland and countryside. It’s also very friendly, with pretty much everyone having enough English for you to get by. Lazy? Sure, but I already know two languages (English and online game nerd) and I can’t remember another one.
Better still the shops, as well as having a bit of tourist tat, tend to offer some very high quality clothes, ornaments and jewellery. Naoussa attracts an interesting mix of people, but the relaxed, traditional feel of the place seems to help the the posh yacht sect mix easily with island hopping young ‘uns.
3) 10 minutes from the apartments
You’re also about a five-minute walk from two beaches (one tiny and secluded; one lovely, pictured) and about the same distance from a decent supermarket (and some other shops, including the island’s best cake bakery).
The apartments themselves are average sized and pretty basic; but this is reflected in some very reasonable prices. There’s a basic cooker and a fridge, so you can be self-catering, plus air-con. There are 14 apartments, ranging from two to four person, with at least five having a sea view.
This certainly isn’t luxury living; there’s no pool and generally nowt fancy. There is a secluded private courtyard with tables, sun umbrellas and the odd deck chair which is nice for an afternoon chill – or an evening of board games, of course.
But this isn’t a place to come if you’re looking for a fancy resort; but the beach has a bar/restaurant and everything is within walking distance, which is good enough for us.
4) The Varrias Family
People so often make the difference to a holiday and you simply can’t fault the Varrias family as hosts. On both of our trips they’ve picked us up from the port and this time also drove us back. They were a constant font of knowledge when we needed it, offering us all kinds of trips around the island and tips for food, drinks etc. The main point of contact are the two sons, Dimitris and Simos. They’re friendly and intelligent people (a teacher and a doctor) who have been brought up on the island, but have good experience away from it as well. They’ve always been around for us as much as they can, joining us for drinks, games and even meals – actually becoming part of the group (although I’m sure this isn’t compulsory!). Mum Maria provided regular home cooked treats and coffee in the mornings, and while she only has a few words of English she exudes such personality that it’s always great to see her at the start of your day. Dad Aristides is a renowned Parian marble sculptor and while not involved in the day-to-day of the apartments, he gave us a fantastic tour of the old marble mines and a local church on our previous visit.
5) Playing Cyclades in the Cyclades
Any taste is catered for here and the guys are often around to teach games when they can. They love to play, so if you’re into games it’s a bonus.
I’m a self-confessed board game addict but on this trip, I barely played two games a day.
Our days soon became very uniform; stagger out of bed at 10ish, go to the beach for a swim, get some lunch then chill out in the afternoon, go out for a meal in the evening then head back for some more wine and some games.
The fact is that the games aren’t really notable in the price; it’s just an added extra you can take advantage of if and when you like. You can comfortably bring people along who simply aren’t into games – it’s just a nice place to be.
And if you just so happen to play board games 14 hours each day while they top up their tan, so be it…