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Head for Greece in spring

Athens - Been to Mykonos. Been to Santorini. Been to Naxos. Been to Paros, and simply love it.

And especially in the spring, when the Greek Cyclades are still relatively green, when the weather is mild, prices are reasonable and the tourists have not yet arrived in their thousands.

Initially, we settled on Paros because we had good memories of an earlier visit. It is also a ferry hub, making it easy to access other islands for one- or two-day trips.

But it turned out to have much wider appeal, with the port of Parikia providing the perfect blend of laid-back village life; a mix of classic white and Venetian buildings; friendly locals (not yet jaded by the high-season influx); vibey little shops in the twisting streets of the old town; a long Blue Flag beach; rambling walks across the headlands to the bay of Krios; and some exceptionally good food.

And, apart from the ferries – which go to islands such as Naxos, Iraklia, Koufonissi, Ios, Mykonos, Delos, Amorgos, more distant Santorini and even Crete – there are the local buses.

Paros offers relaxed day trips to easily accessible towns like the trendy fishing harbour of Naoussa, the unspoilt, traffic-free mountain village of Lefkes, the pretty resort town of Alyki and the laid-back Piso Livadi.

Only 30 minutes from Parikia by a lazy little ferry which skirts close to the shore is the adjacent island of Antiparos, which has its own charm.

Sitting on the top deck of the ferry, basking in the mild sun, is a pleasurable experience on its own.

Both historical Delos – a Unesco heritage site – and Mykonos can be reached on a single-day excursion.

You get to spend about three hours in each, and the contrast couldn’t be more marked.

Delos is the reputed birthplaceof the gods Artemis and Apollo, and is regarded by many Greeks as a place of spirituality. Nobody is allowed to stay on the island, and apart from the museum, there is little or no shade. Cover up well before you roam from the Sacred Harbour, through the marketplace and Theatre Quarter to the sanctuary of Zeus and Athena, which has sweeping views over the islands.

Mykonos is the antithesis of this protected place, a paean to the gods of material wealth and pleasure. Its narrow, winding streets are fun to meander through, though, and Nikos Taverna on Ayias Monas square provided a great meal of mussels with tomato and feta, and baked lamb kleftiko.

Another memorable meal came in another busy, touristy hub, Naxos, the largest and most fertile of the Cyclades islands.

Aside from climbing the hill in the port town, to wander around the fortified Venetian castle, museum and mansions, and rabbit warren of shops, visit Scirocco on Plata Evripeous for the best courgette balls in the islands and the tastiest rabbit stifado (stew with baby onions) I’ve had anywhere.

Back on Paros, you have to try local octopus dishes, a favourite being octopus with orzo (rice) pasta. Calamari is also plentiful, as are fresh mussels, and deep-fried baby fish or anchovies make an essential part of a meal of mezze. But beware that fresh fish like cod is usually expensive and the local delicacy of sun-dried mackerel (gouna) is not to everyone’s taste.

Hearty comfort food like moussaka, beef stifado, kleftiko, meatballs in tomato sauce, pastitsio (mince with macaroni) and spicy sausages are available on every corner, but our favourite venue, Aroma, on the Parikia waterfront, seemed to do everything just that bit better, with a smile.

And more Greek hospitality came from the Alifieri family at the Hotel Irene, who left in our room not only slabs of home-made cake, but bottles of their own wine. The cake was great, the wine… well, different.

I’m at a bit of a loss to understand Lonely Planet’s description of Parikia as touristy and expensive. Maybe in summer, when the all-too-brief window is open for locals to make money.

But in May and early June, Paros is yours to enjoy.

of the gods Artemis and Apollo, and is regarded by many Greeks as a place of spirituality. Nobody is allowed to stay on the island, and apart from the museum, there is little or no shade. Cover up well before you roam from the Sacred Harbour, through the marketplace and Theatre Quarter to the sanctuary of Zeus and Athena, which has sweeping views over the islands.

Anne Stevens, Sunday Tribune

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