Mention the Greek Islands – as you do – and, inadvertently, images of Santorini’s whitewashed walls and blue domes or the windmills of Mykonos are likely conjured up.
But for groups of friends looking for a holiday a little removed from the crowds and cliches, Paros, nicknamed the ‘quiet heart of the Cyclades’, might be an even better bet. A large island with plenty to offer, the capital Parikia serves as the hub for the Cyclades ferry system, meaning Paros can be enjoyed both as a destination in and of itself, and as the anchor from which to explore Greece’s most iconic set of islands.
Famed for its fine white marble, used to build perhaps the most famous Ancient Greek sculpture of all, the Venus de Milos, currently standing in Le Louvre, and even whiter sands, Paros is a visually striking place.
It’s also a place that’s incredibly accommodating to group holidays, owing to its relatively affordable price tag (it’s sometimes dubbed the ‘poor man’s Mykonos’) and spaciousness. Should you be heading here with a throng of friends, then here are some of the best activities for groups in Paros, Greece.
The Valley Of The Butterflies
If members of your gang are fans of all things that flutter, then Paros’ Valley of the Butterflies, ‘Petaloudes’ in Greek, represents a wonderful group outing. Just a ten minute drive (or hour’s walk) south from Parikia, the butterfly reserve is a small pocket of paradise, with an ecosystem unique only to Paros and the island of Rhodes.
This is one to visit in the summer months, when the gardens come alive with Jersey Tiger Moths who occupy every nook, cranny and corner of the Valley. Interestingly, many choose to visit the reserve by riding a donkey from the capital, making the excursion an even more unique one. A convoy of your friends, all on donkey-back? Sounds like a memorable day to us!
It should be noted that The Valley of the Butterflies is closed for the off-season, but opens between June and September, from 9am to 8pm daily.
A Trip To Naoussa Fishing Village To Enjoy Some Spectacular Seafood
Being an island, Paros has several fishing villages to visit, all with great options for dining on the sea’s bounty. That said, the clear standout is Naoussa, one of the most implausibly, incredibly beautiful places in Greece, with striking, sheerfaced whitewashed buildings lapped by azure waters all year round.
Located on a huge bay on the northeastern corner of the island, there are several beaches closeby for a sunbathe and a dip, if any of the group fancy a timeout. There’s also plenty of larger villas to rent around Naoussa, if you’re keen to base yourselves here.
But we’re here first and foremost for the seafood and the views, of which both are abundant along Naoussa’s harbour.
Restaurants Mediterraneo and Sigi Ihthios are both particularly good, keeping things simple and letting the freshly caught fish do the talking. They both have expansive, al fresco dining spaces which could comfortably accommodate a larger group, too.
Or, a little set back from the water, check out Le Sud, which is an elegant, romantic place to spend an evening. Alternatively, simply follow your nose – there’s always a grill burning and a barbequed bream turning! For a drink, head to Trickster bar which offers the perfect spot for a post-dinner cocktail.
For a more mellow fishing village, the gang might enjoy the small fishing port of Piso Livadi.
Visit The Moraitis Winery
A comfortable walking distance east of Naoussa is the Moraitis Winery. Overlooking the beach of Aghioi Anargyroi (try saying that after a tasting tour), this is one of the most picturesque wineries we’ve ever visited, with a prestigious product a worthy match for the location.
The island as a whole is famed for using a unique, low intervention wine growing technique known as ‘aplotaria’. This method lets the vine spread on the ground, affording the grape protection from the sun and strong winds, of which Paros boasts both. The unique climate, combined with Paros’ sandy soil high in clay, leads to truly gorgeous wines which carry Greek Protected Designation of Origin status.
The Moraitis Winery is open from Monday to Saturday between 12pm and 8pm, and takes reservations for group tours.
Visit The Island Of Antiparos & Its Beaches
We couldn’t visit Paros without a brief dalliance with its sleepy sister island, Antiparos. Accessible via the small port town of Pounta on Paros’ west coast, ferries run daily, every half hour or so, during peak season, and return to the island regularly, too, taking just ten minutes.
Whilst the old town of Chora is well worth checking out, the real appeal of Antiparos is the mellow, untroubled beaches. 3km south of Chora, you’ll find Panagia, perhaps the most picturesque on the island, and sprawling enough never to suffer from overcrowding.
Vathis Volos is another great option if you’re looking for a peaceful spot to sunbathe, though you’ll need to take a taxi or drive there, as it’s a good 12km southwest of the old town.
Alternatively, the small beach Agios Spyridonas is just a short stroll from Chora, and the closest stretch of sand to the port.
Hike To Lefkes
The village of Lefkes, 11km south east of Parikia and standing at an altitude of 300 metres above sea level, is one of Greece’s prettiest settlements, defined by windmills, Venetian architecture, 15th century churches, and traditional dovecotes.
But the charm of Lefkes is only half the reason to visit; the hike to and from the village is stunning, too. And you know what they say about the journey and the destination, that the former is the latter? It’s certainly true here, so get your hiking boots on and explore!
The ascent from Parikia to Lefkes should take you around 2 and a half hours, and is signposted. If you’re keen to head into the countryside after checking out the village, then Lefkes marks the start of the popular Byzantine Road trail, which takes in the oldest road in Paros, dating back to 1000 AD, and plenty of panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and sea.
Take A Boat Tour Of The Small Cyclades
If you’re truly looking to escape the infamous Cyclades crowds, then consider taking a private group boat trip to the ‘Small Cyclades’, a chain of secluded islands, many of which aren’t inhabited at all. Check out Koufonisia, in particular.
Oh, and check out these 5 tips for a sailing holiday in Greece for more on those island hopping adventures!