Greek Island tourists are perhaps traditionally attracted to the volcanic vistas of Santorini, party-infused hedonism of Ios, and the ancient feel and uninhibited style of Mykonos. No doubt about it, these places afford a great time, but in the pace and action of the glossy draw cards, it’s not a bad idea to save some time for two of the larger and lesser frequented of the Cyclades islands. Paros and Naxos are relaxed, rewarding nooks that bear as much beauty and attraction as the prominent tourism beacons.
It can be said, without question, that Paros and Naxos provide the perfect destinations for freewheeling, off the beaten track visitors. Quadbikes, ATV’s, mopeds and two wheelers are the way to go on these compact, convenient and highly accessible isles. And for those after a little windsurfing, Paros provides some of the smoothest southwesterlys in the region for long, lazy rides across the Aegean waters.
We arrived to Naxos after the bustling activity of Thira and Patra in the days prior. On a whim, it proved a fantastic last minute choice. Shrub-speckled granite hills across hazy valleys appeared to us wild and arm-pinchingly surreal, with the impression that that we’d spun back into the first century, steeped in a land of mythology and burgeoning Hellenic civilization.
We hired quad bikes in Naxos Town and zipped around for the better part of the day across winding, hilly trails linked by cute Naxosian towns, all permeated with white villas, tiny orthodox temples, and trademark royal blue domes. Stopping at a roadside turnoff halfway up the great mountain of Zeus, past donkeys and solitary mountain goats, we stumbled upon a tucked away cove called Lionas Bay, and a quaint restaurant run by an elderly Greek couple who dined with us at the next table. With no English spoken, we were a little irked by the choice of meal we’d ordered to share. It was a plate of deep fried whole fish with heads, eyes, and fins in all in tact, staring at us grimly from the large plate. Starving, I ate too many, which led to a very queasy ride back into town.
Paros was another great last minute choice—equally idyllic, yet a little cozier, and subsequently even less interrupted by non-peak tourism than Naxos. Greeted by a swarm of hustling hotel owners with signboards and accommodation pamphlets, we deflected the sales pitches and settled on a place called ‘Hotel Argo’, whose front door was parked at the foot the main beach in town.
Impressed at the number of vehicle hire spots, we set out to hiring scooters. But after admitting that none of us had actually ridden one before, the staff inspired us to opt again for quadbikes. This, after their recounting the story of a cocky Englishman whose first experience on a scooter involved setting off from the hire store in a haze of smoke, before pranging into spectacularly into a utility truck not 10 meters from the shop door.
It was a day of unwavering Greek gloriousness. Our buggies hummed furiously as we convoyed about town, looking terribly un-tough in our dorky helmets. But we were a lot safer than the majority of scooter-riders whose heads rode freely and unsafely in the wind. Aside from instilling fear into the hearts of local Parosians as we commandeered the roads on bright red buggies at a top speed of 50 km/h, we’d been reliably informed that the consistent winds on the southeast coast of Paros provided the perfect spot for windsurfing, so we ventured down to check it out.
On windy, cliff-lined vistas, we ogled the beauty of Paros’s endless stretch of hidden coastline and sands. We continued through bustling summer party hubs, before parking nearby at ‘Golden Beach’ where umbrellas and banana lounges strafed the sand along crystal blue waters while tanned dancers shook in the searing heat to thumping music on an outdoor parquetry dance floor.
At a lone beach shack we met a very laid back fella named Vangeli, who agreed to give us some windsurfing lessons with equipment included. Difficult to begin with, competence was reached in no time as we flew across the water like seasoned surfers, getting the hang of the awesome sport and loving every moment. True to its name, sun bore down over glorious Golden Beach as the wind propelled us around the bay and epic 1970’s funk tunes provided the perfect soundtrack booming out to sea from massive speakers ashore.
With excellent Gyros served at a little place called ‘Zorbas’ that night, we ate by a portside ledge next to small fishing boats while swilling beer and taking in the sunset over the dock. The first sliver of a new moon showed up in the sky as fog horning ferries rolled into town, depositing fresh loads of tourists and backpackers onto the calm shores of Paros. Slow and steady, rich and ancient, we dined like kings as we reminisced about our myriad Greek island moments, highlighting the importance of leaping off the beaten track on a whim, and discovering all the understated gems.
Written by and photos by Cam Hassard for EuropeUpClose.com