One of the great pleasures of the Cyclades is being able to island hop, either during the course of a multi-island itinerary or on day trips. Ferries leave regularly and while they are scarcely the last word in luxury, sitting on the top deck in the sunshine watching the Aegean slide past is invariably a delightful experience.
From Paros, it is possible to visit Siros, Ios and Sifnos, as well as popular islands like Mykonos and Delos, all of which are less than two hours away. On our recent trip, however, we opted to visit the two nearest islands: Antiparos and Naxos.
Paros’ sister island is located less than a mile off of Paros’ western coast and is reached by regular seven-minute ferries from the port of Pounta and more infrequent ones from Parikia. Seven miles long and 3 miles wide, Antiparos has a population of around 1,200 and, other than in August, it is peaceful and low key. This is doubtless the reason for its popularity with movie stars — Tom Hanks owns a house here; Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are among the A-list renters — as well as European celebrities who prefer to be out of the public eye while on vacation.
The best way to discover Antiparos is to rent a motor scooter when you arrive so you can take in the island’s pretty, hilly landscapes and easily get to one of its unspoiled beaches. Soros Beach is particularly recommended, because it’s rarely crowded and has comfortable sun beds and umbrellas for rent, along with a simple restaurant.
The main attraction of the island is a huge 230-foot-deep cavern, the Cave of Antiparos, filled with stalactites and stalagmites, which has been known since antiquity. Until it was strictly forbidden, visitors, including the poet Byron and King Otto of Greece, would carve their names on the walls.
Antiparos is known as the octopus capital of Greece and many seafood lovers come just to have lunch at Captain Pipinos, a simple taverna overlooking the sea, with a view to the neighboring island of Despotiko. Everything you eat here was in the Aegean just a few hours earlier, so the fish, shellfish and crustaceans — rock lobster is another Antiparos specialty — are incredibly fresh.
A 45-minute ferry ride from Paros, Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades — 20 miles from north to south — with a population of nearly 20,000. It is also the lushest and greenest of the islands, rising to an elevation of 3,291 feet at the summit of Mount Zeus.
Due to the island’s size, the best way to spend a day here is with a private guide and driver. Friends in Athens recommended the Naxos Discovery Private Guided Tours company, run by Nicolas Lagiere (naxosdiscovery.net/highlights), an amiable bilingual young Frenchman who lives in Naxos. Every itinerary is customized. Since we wanted a general introduction to the island and also to see some of its unspoiled interior, Lagiere drew up an itinerary that focused on archaeological sites, including temples of Demeter and Apollo, Byzantine churches — we especially liked the Panagia Protothroni, with its seventh-century frescoes — and several charming villages, notably Apeiranthos and Halki.
It was a fascinating day, from which we returned with two perfect souvenirs — a bottle of Kitron, a liqueur made from locally grown citrons by the island’s Vallindras Distillery, and a flask of the excellent extra-virgin olive oil produced by the Cycladi olive press.