Last year, before the world was upended by the coronavirus outbreak, I took a trip to Greece, specifically to the islands of the Cyclades. So far, Greece has escaped quite lightly from the pandemic, with just over 3,000 infections. And while Americans are currently prohibited from entering the EU, tourism brings in close to $20 billion in revenue to Greece, so the government does not lack for incentives to find a way back to normality.
Even if travel continues to be problematic this year, next spring we may be able to head back to the eastern Mediterranean. (May and June have long been my favorite months there.) For me, life offers few pleasures more intense than that of sitting beneath a Greek quayside awning, with a plate of grilled fish and a bottle of cold white wine, gazing at yachts anchored on a glassy expanse of sea, beneath a sky that is cloudless and improbably blue.
Despite being an extraordinarily beautiful and hospitable country, with no fewer than 227 inhabited islands and a cultural history that is second to none, Greece has long been a paradoxical place for affluent American travelers. Surprisingly, it can boast relatively few hotels of note, and, worse, many of the ones that do exist are located on either Santorini or Mykonos, islands that over recent years have become badly overcrowded, haunted by large cruise ships and plagued by the prevailing obsession with Instagram. Recently, however, there have been one or two signs of change.
Paros lies at the center of the Aegean Sea, 100 miles southeast of Athens. Among the islands of the Cyclades, it is increasingly the preferred second-home destination of Greek tastemakers and some of the country’s wealthiest families. “Paros is a bit like Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were in the 1970s,” a well-known Greek architect once told me at a dinner party in Athens. “So please don’t write about it, because we like it just the way it is.” Another guest added, “We had a close call with notoriety when an American writer stayed in 1958 and told all of his friends about it, but then things calmed down.” She was referring to the late Truman Capote who came to Greece to rest after he’d finished his novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Capote loved the sun, sea and simplicity of Paros and extolled the primal happiness he found on the island in letters to his friends.
“Paros is a bit like Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were in the 1970s,” a well-known Greek architect once told me. “So please don’t write about it, because we like it just the way it is.”
Sixty years later, Paros is in the spotlight again, thanks to the opening of several quietly luxurious hotels. And a new generation of designers, crafts people, chefs and entrepreneurs are also giving the island an indigenous sophistication, since they prize local traditions and regional produce in their work.
Paros is more accessible than many of the other Cycladic islands. There are regular 40-minute flights from Athens, as well as numerous ferries from Piraeus (the port of Athens), which take around four hours. On our recent visit, it was nearly noon by the time we’d collected our bags and rental car, so we headed to a favorite taverna in the town of Aliki on the southern coast for a seaside lunch. Perched on rush-bottom chairs at the water’s edge, we ate crisp Greek salads followed by deep-fried baby squid, grilled cuttlefish and red mullet, accompanied by a carafe of cold dry white Parian wine. Before long, the early wake-up call in our Athens hotel was a dim and receding memory.
From Aliki to Drios it was a pretty 15-minute drive to the 15-room adults-only Calme Boutique Hotel, which is located less than a half-mile from Chryssi Akti (Golden Beach), the most famous stretch of sand on the island and an established favorite of wind and kite surfers. On arrival, we found a contemporary hotel faced with stone, set on a ridge with a view across the sea to Drios. The staff were warm and welcoming, and we were served freshly made lemonade before being given a brief tour of the property by a charming young Greek woman who had learned her perfect English at college in Boston. She explained that the hotel had been designed by the Greek architect Iossif Alighizakis, who is considered to be a pioneer in contemporary Cycladic architecture. Alighizakis’ style privileges the use of local materials and traditional architectural idioms, while making them modern with cleaner lines and a cubist aesthetic.
All the rooms are named for herbs that grow locally, and we had been assigned to “Lavender,” a junior suite with a private plunge pool and a spacious sunny terrace. The room itself was almost entirely white and pleasantly monastic in its spareness, with an extra-large bed, an overhead ceiling fan and a small writing desk. The bath lacked a tub — Paros suffers from a shortage of water — but it was spacious and well lit.
The next two days were delightful, not least because the staff were so eager to please. Much of our time was spent beside the large outdoor swimming pool with spectacular views of the sea. Occasionally, we would take one of the hotel’s complimentary bicycles and head off to one of the beaches nearby. The contemporary Mediterranean food by chef Iosif Sikianakis at the hotel’s Seven Senses restaurant was outstanding, and we feasted on dishes like mussels cooked with ouzo and fennel, elvers in chile oil, and mixed shellfish linguine. We also very much enjoyed the local wines that the sommelier helped us choose for our meals, especially the Moraitis Malagousia, a crisp fresh Parian white that was ideal with grilled fish. Overall, this is a delightfully intimate and tranquil hotel.
Serene and private, this place is ideal for couples; the staff are delightful; the food is surprisingly good.
The molded plastic sun beds on private terraces are uncomfortable. The hotel needs more bicycles for its guest count.
If you’re planning to spend a day at Chryssi Akti beach, sun loungers and umbrellas are available for rental, but you should go early before they sell out.
After an excellent Greek breakfast of yogurt, honeycomb, flaky cheese-and-herb-filled pastries and soft-boiled eggs at Calme Boutique Hotel, we checked out and headed for Lefkes, a 20-minute drive inland and the medieval capital of Paros. Lefkes was once made prosperous by the nearby quarries, which produced the finest marble in the world. Parian marble was known to the ancient Greeks as “candlelight marble,” because light penetrates to a depth of almost an inch and a half, giving it the lustrous glow. This explains why it was used for some of the most famous statues in history, including the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace (both in the Louvre). Today, Lefkes itself is a quiet and pretty village with steep lanes shaded by mulberry trees. After a visit to the Yria ceramics atelier in nearby Kostos and having browsed the many ceramics shops in Lefkes itself, we had a succulent Greek lunch at Aranto, a restaurant with a terrace that affords views to the channel between Paros and the neighboring island of Naxos.
From Lefkes, we headed back to the east coast and the seaside village of Piso Livadi. There, the Summer Senses resort opened in May 2019. At first glance, the property seemed rather austere, but this will doubtless change as the bougainvillea and orange trees become more established. The young staff were welcoming, if unpolished, but this will surely change with time, too; it was likely a challenge to staff a 100-room property on a Cycladic island with a seasonal tourist trade.
We had reserved a Junior Suite With Seaview, which turned out to have an attractive scheme of cream, dove gray and cerulean blue. The spacious room had a queen bed, cool tile floors, a rag rug, a sofa bed and a blond wood writing desk, while the stylish bath came with a shower and a single large sink on a stone counter. French doors led to a private balcony with cream canvas loungers and a stunning view of the Aegean and Naxos.
The property has two excellent restaurants: Gaia Main Restaurant serves an all-day menu that runs to dishes such as tuna tartare with ginger and sesame oil, lobster linguine with tomato and basil, and grilled cuttlefish with chive oil and lime zest; while the gastronomically ambitious Galazia Hytra, which is the Paros sibling of the Michelin-starred Hytra restaurant in Athens, offers delicious dishes like grilled bonito with green beans, roe salad, sea fennel and cherry tomatoes; sea bream with rock samphire, tomato, olives and basil; and grouper fricassee with wild greens, celeriac, chervil, dill, egg and lemon sauce.
Summer Senses has two huge outdoor pools and an Anassa spa that offers a full range of treatments by well-trained multilingual therapists. Several good beaches are within walking distance. Overall, this peaceful hotel is primarily for those content to swim, snooze, sunbathe and eat extremely well. As yet, however, the service has not reached the required standard.
Spacious, comfortable rooms; two beautiful pools; very good food.
Hidden speakers playing bird and wave sounds near the pool; the service does not meet a luxury standard.
The lively bars and nightlife of Pounda Beach are nearby for those who feel inclined.
The final stop on our Paros trip was the glamorous and cosmopolitan village of Naoussa, a Cycladic St. Tropez, with fine restaurants, stylish boutiques and a spectacular Venetian castle, located 8 miles from Piso Livadi, on the northern coast of the island.
More than any other new resort on Paros, it is the 33-suite Parīlio Hotel, which opened in July 2019, that has set tongues wagging. The hotel was created from an existing set of white sugar-cube buildings situated a five minutes’ drive to the west of Naoussa. The Parīlio is the work of husband-and-wife team Kalia Konstantinidou and Antonis Eliopoulos, who are well known for their properties on Santorini (including the lovely Istoria hotel).
The couple commissioned Athens-based Interior Design Laboratorium to create a visual signature for the Parīlio. Working in a soothing palette of white, gray, ochre and sienna, the firm has successfully combined sophistication and simplicity. Most of the wooden furniture was made to order in local workshops, but accessories like bedside tables from 101 Copenhagen, bespoke embroidered wall hangings by the Marrakech brand LRNCE and outdoor furniture from Vincent Van Duysen all help to create a thoroughly international atmosphere.
On arrival, the hotel makes a dramatic first impression — a reflection of the fact that it is part of the Design Hotels group, a pioneer of the boutique-hotel concept when it was founded in Sausalito in 1993 — with its huge cross-shaped pool and sensuously cool interior. All guest rooms have private terraces, but our 430-square-foot Uranus Suite also came with a Jacuzzi (Sun Suites offer private plunge pools). The suite’s beige porcelain floor tiles had a pleasantly powdery texture underfoot, and the French doors leading to the terrace and windows were fitted with wooden shutters that closed easily. The separate sitting room was furnished with an overstuffed cinnamon-colored sofa and a plump armchair. The bath came with two square white basins mounted on a counter, a rainfall shower and locally made organic toiletries.
We loved our stay would gladly return to spend a week there, refining the art of complete idleness and remaining resolutely incommunicado.
Aside from a fitness center, equipped with elliptical machines, stationary bikes, treadmills and rowing machines (yoga classes can be arranged at the front desk), there is a small but attractive Asian spa using products by the British organic brand Ila. Otherwise, the most notable amenities of this property are its lively pool bar, which serves excellent Aegean cocktails, and Mr. E, the excellent restaurant helmed by well-known chef Alexandros Tsiotinis, the owner of the CTC restaurant in Athens, who has worked with luminaries such as Alain Passard, Hélène Darroze, Eric Frechon and Pascal Barbot. His market-driven “New Greek” menu uses the freshest local produce and seafood. Highlights of one notably delicious dinner included a salad of grilled peaches and creamy goat cheese, grilled octopus with chickpea purée, and freshly made orzo pasta with pork and prunes.
We loved our stay at Parīlio and would gladly return to spend a week there, refining the art of complete idleness and remaining resolutely incommunicado. The Greek poet Giorgos Seferis, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1963, described Paros as “the loveliest of all the Greek Islands,” and we have often been inclined to agree. And at least for now, Paros has been largely spared the cruise ship hordes who invade islands such as Mykonos and Santorini.
Stylishly decorated and very comfortable rooms; the dramatic main swimming pool; the prompt and efficient room service — rare at many hotels in the Greek islands.
The terrace around the pool is too small; the staff are cordial but not always warm.
Lunch is served at the hotel, but it’s a lot more fun to make the 20-minute walk to beautiful Kolymbithres Beach for a barefoot meal at Taverna Anemos or Taverna Kolymbithres, both of which serve excellent salads and grilled fish.