As the sun inches closer to the horizon, each of the LEGO-shaped homes running down the mountainside on the northern part of Paros start flicking on their lights, one by one, like a Domino effect. The white-washed, concrete buildings take on a moonlike glow as the sky shifts from shades of lilac to fiery peach. In a time where space—and distance—are so heavily cherished, I couldn’t imagine a better—or more barren—place to watch the sunset than the rooftop of my suite at Parīlio (around £570 per night for the Sun Suite, which has its own pool, in Spring).
Until the new airport opened a few years ago, the Greek island of Paros was reached by propeller plane or on a four-hour ferry ride from Athens. Mega-ships that visit Santorini and Mykonos veer away from Paros’s small harbour, and while the fishing village of Naousa gets plenty of foot traffic during the summer season, its narrow, stone-paved streets aren’t nearly as congested as some of the more tourist-heavy Greek islands. This is why you won’t find resort complexes or sprawling all-inclusive hotels.
On my first visit a few years ago, I stayed like most of the seasonal regulars: in a private villa along the secluded southern shore of the island. A handful of higher end hotels have slowly started sprouting up since, but it wasn’t until last year that the first member of Design Hotels, 33-suite Parīlio, opened between Kolympithres beach and Naousa. The architecturenods to the white-washed, all-block buildings synonymous with the Cyclades: exposed concrete, terra-cotta flooring and local marble.
Paros was once one of the wealthiest islands in the Cyclades thanks to its white, semi-translucent marble, which was sourced for statues like the Venus de Milo and building material for Greece’s ancient cities. Parīlio models its architecture (concrete columns, arches framing the surrounding mountains) after some of Greece’s cherished sanctuaries, and its décor—a mix of contemporary and vintage furnishings, handmade tapestries from Marrakesh-based lifestyle brand LRNCE—are suspended between past and present, a blend of modern and ancient Greece. This year, the same owners opened Acron Villas (around £630 per night for a five bedroom villa, in Spring), which is made up of 24 two-to-five-bedroom villas with private pools (and optional private chefs and butlers) overlooking Naousa Bay and the Aegean Sea.
The population of Paros is about 12,000 people, mostly local with a sprinkling of cosmopolitan expats who “decided to leave Paris, New York, Tel Aviv and other major cities for a country island life,” explained my Greek-American friend Andria Mitsakos, who fits the latter description. Andria is the founder and creative director of Anthologist, a concept creator for hotels and hospitality venues, and she’s been coming to Paros for six years. Last year, she started renovating 11-room Kallisti Paros (around £250 per night for a top category with standing bathtub, in Spring), which opened this summer near the shops and taverns lining Naousa. Rooms are swathed with hand-picked lace from the owner’s collection; four-poster beds framed by Greek textiles; brass accents Andria crafted in her foundry; design accents sourced from antique markets in Athens; and wooden side chairs from the island of Skyros.
Golden beaches flank the fishing village of Naousa, but the heart of the amphitheatre-shaped town unfolds around a tiny, rectangular port sardined with traditional wooden fishing boats called caïques. Tables spill down to the water’s edge from the surrounding taverns and ouzeries, and tourists and locals alike gather for sunset at the handful of restaurants. There are nearly 40 beaches on the island, as well as fantastic windsurfing and kitesurfing. But each time I’ve visited, I’ve spent more time eating by the water than actually being in it. Instead of choosing off a menu, I let the chefs surprise me with their recent catches, and I wash it all down with a bottle of Provençal-style rosé from the island’s fourth-generation Moraitis Winery. At Statheros, in Naousa (run by Greek celeb chef Argiro Barbarigou’s daughter, Konstanina), I linger over traditional Parian dishes like cabbage dolmas and gemista, rice- and herb-stuffed vegetables, that her grandmother, Flora, helps prepare with produce from their nearby farm. On the opposite side of the island at Thalassamou, on Aliki Beach, I post up for hours at a wooden table on pebbles under pine trees as the husband-wife team serve a selection of spruced-up local favorites: Parian salad with fresh, local goat cheese and rusk croutons; fava purée with smoked olive oil and caramelized onions; and local mussels drenched in white wine sauce. Andria described summer in Paros perfectly: the days are long, and you lunch until the moon rises.
One evening, on my trip last October, I went up to the tiny balcony of café-bar Sommaripa Consolato, which hangs over the harbour, to meet a former restaurant owner and avid fisherman, Petros Tsounakis. Petros had just come from a friend’s distillery, where they were making souma, similar to Italian grappa, that is traditionally served after a meal. It’s the start of distilling season, which coincides with the end of tourist season.
While restaurants are shuttering for winter, souma simmers in the distilleries. Petros spent the day grilling squid and sautéing vegetables over a coal flame while the souma was distilling. He was planning to go back later that evening for more feasting and drinking. At this point, no one could have predicted that the winter season would last longer this year, or that the pandemic would shift the island’s seasonal tourism pattern.
I asked Petros how he planned to spend his time off. “I’m buying a boat and want to go fishing and diving,” he said. “You’ll have to come back next year and we can go out on the water.” I nodded as I sipped my ouzo. Yes, in 2021, when flights resume and borders reopen, I’ll be back to see the boat.