The Greek holiday island of Paros, along with its much larger neighbour Naxos, forms the hub of the central group of Greek islands known as the Cyclades
They are the epitome of the Greek islands, with scenic mountains, rich fertile valleys, white sugar cube houses and long sandy beaches.
The lack of a large airport means that Paros largely caters for the more independent tourist and, with its good ferry connections, the island is a favourite of campers and backpackers.
The capital port of Parikia, lies in a huge bay with many treasures to be found around the old Venetian Kastro, several splendid churches and a signature picturesque windmill on the long waterfront.
The island has many good beaches and the clean sands are clear of the ugly flotsam that often adorns many Greek island beaches.
The much-photographed port at Naoussa is one of the most picturesque in the Cyclades with sugar cube houses dotted around harbour and several pleasant beaches lining the large bay
Paros will suit those looking for a quiet destination with a good tourist infrastructure. Its central Cycladic location and good ferry connections make this an ideal base for Greek island hopping.
Paros is a large island that combines mountains, rolling hillsides and sandy beaches. The best beaches are on the east coast; a succession of sandy strips with the famous windsurf centre at Chris Akti the midpoint. The bays of Naoussa and Parikia have their share while neighbouring Antiparos, though less well endowed with good sands, is a step back in time.
Parikia, sometimes spelt Paroikia, is the busy Paros island capital of some 2,000 people. Cafes, tavernas and shops concertina in all directions away from the central harbour windmill, a popular meeting place and the waterside focal point.
The port handles around 30 ferries a day in high summer when it can appear to be bursting at the seams.
To the east is the main coast road which bottlenecks at the small, scruffy beach of Livadia, shaded by tamarisk trees and a clutch of tavernas before fragmenting into a warren of one-way streets.
To the west, a line of restaurants stands behind a seawall that peters out at a small shingle beach and a few old windmills lost among the flourishing cafes.
The atmosphere changes away from the waterfront. Signs to the Traditional Settlement reveal a wide paved square and small triangular park fronting the remarkable cathedral of Ekatontachoni.
Behind that is the Archaeological Museum, then a labyrinth of alleys jammed with shops, galleries, cafes and houses, but strangely only a single supermarket.
At the heart of Parikia are the walls of the Venetian Kastro, marked by terraces of stone draped with foliage and flowers and a 13th century Venetian castle surrounded by picturesque churches stuffed with treasures.
Beaches are in an easy walking distance of Parikia and many have accommodation nearby. Beach lovers in Parikia should opt for the eastern side of the bay where a number of good sandy resorts can be found. A good road runs right around the bay and out to the headland at Agios Fokas.
The first beach heading east from Parikia is at Livadia, only one kilometre from the port and easily walkable. The proximity to Paroikia makes it a popular spot and it can get crowded.
Livadia has good fine sand and plenty of trees at the back of the beach to sit beneath as well as the usual sunbeds, umbrellas and watersports to be expected on a busy 'town' beach.
Games of beach volley are popular here and the sands may fill quickly at lunchtime when the locals go for a quick midday dip.
The sands naturally divide into several sections. It narrows towards Parikia and beyond a clump of trees is a small bank of sand that tends to be much quieter than the main beach.
The furthest section is also called Aktaia and has a cantina and beach bar. Even further is a tiny beach called Kalokanas down a very steep dirt track and usually only used by locals.
Krios lies about two kilometres from Paroikia and has a snack bar, taverna and an organised campsite. It's a long beach of fine white sand and clean water with views over the bay to the port.
It's a short taxis ride or visitors can catch one of the boats from Parikia that leave for Krios and neighbouring Marcellos beach every 15 minutes or so. Walkers can opt for a scenic coastal route.
The beach has sunbeds and beach volleyball courts and, although the area is packed with hotels, apartments and a campsite, Krios rarely gets crowded.
Just north of Krios, and almost part of it is one of the most popular beaches on this part of the coast. Marchello, also called Martsello, is about three kilometres from the port at Parikia.
Access is down a dirt track off the main road or on one of the regular taxi boats from the port which stop here and at neighbouring Krios.
The long, sandy beach has shallow water, ideal for families with children. The sandiest section attracts the crowds but the rocky outcrops and small, sandy coves tend to be quieter while a more isolated stretch attracts naturists.
Further around the bay from Marchello, and blending into it, is the beach of Souvlia. South facing, and well protected from the northerly winds by the hills behind, this is a very pleasant beach of good sand.
Small and not very deep it can quickly fill but there is good shade and the waters are shallow. A small taverna at the back of the beach opens in the summer and apartments dot the hillside above.
Close by is a cave thought to have been the home of Archilohos, one of the most noted poets of the Archaic period. The large cave in the almost vertical rock face is where he is said to have hidden himself to seek inspiration for his poems.
More sand coves are found north from Souvlia all the way to the tiny headland chapel of Agios Fokas. Most of the coves have local names but they rarely feature on island maps.
The main stretch of sand here is called Kaminia, almost an extension of neighbouring Souvlia and a long crescent of sand and shingle cut off by a rocky outcrop, about five kilometres from Parikia.
Access is down unsignposted dirt tracks and there are no sunbeds or other facilities here, although boats from Parikia do call in on trips around the bay and taxis drop visitors off on the road behind.
Shade comes from a stand of trees in the centre of the beach but otherwise, it is very exposed. The twin-roofed chapel on the headland has impressive views over the bay.
Much of the north-west coast of Paros is inhospitable rock with no road access. It is only in the north-east where the huge bay of Naoussa sweeps inland and brings dramatic changes, with many good beaches lining the bay and Naoussa itself considered a jewel in the Cyclades' crown.
Welcome to Kodak country. Naoussa is touted as one of the prettiest fishing ports in Greece and its picturesque reputation attracts camera clickers in their droves.
The brochures say little of the forest of TV dishes and power lines or the chronic overcrowding in the high summer season.
The port is cradled in a giant crab's claw of a bay and the network of quays is usually awash with gaily painted boats.
Such a popular destination brings tourist trappings with it – hotels, studios, apartments as well as countless restaurants, tavernas, ouzeries, bars, cafes and nightclubs.
Many former fishing sheds are now trinket shops and boutiques selling everything from cheap souvenirs to designer beachwear.
Taverna tables spill out onto the harbour charging honey trap prices. On some days tourists are so thick on the ground they queue to stroll around the harbour.
The port is packed tight in August when the villagers celebrate an ancient pirate battle with a torch-lit boat procession.
The remains of a 14th-century castle lie half submerged in the sea, providing a great backdrop for holiday photos as does the dainty chapel on an islet In the middle of the bay.
Naoussa has some very good 14th and 15th-century churches – Agios Athanasios and Agios Giorgios are just two examples – and there is a good Byzantine museum.
A small beach called Piperi is a pleasant crescent of sand with rocky outcrops at each side and fine views over the bay. Buses to Naoussa and Parikia are frequent.
The large bay of Naoussa has many good beaches both east and west. Those to the west are more popular and better known but there are a couple of good beaches to the east before the road strikes north-east coast to Santa Maria. Roads are good but there is no bus service so a car or boat is needed.
The coast road west of Naoussa passes various pockets of sand before reaching Kolimvithres, or Kolimvethres, one of the best known, if hardest to pronounce, beaches in the bay.
Some three kilometres from the resort, wind and sea have sculpted rock into smooth, but bizarre shapes. Between the striking rocky outcrops lie sandy coves of shallow, lucid blue water.
The coves are tiny and the popular spots fill up quickly with every available space used to park a sunbed. Less overcrowded spots can be found for those prepared to hunt around among the rocks.
Trees are plentiful and provide good shade while the shallow water makes this an ideal spot for families. Offshore is the islet of Agia Kali, with the small chapel, which can be visited by boat.
The coast road is lined with tavernas and bars where rough tracks lead down to the beaches from impromptu car parks. Ramshackle beach bars sprout up each year only to be lost in winter storms.
Inland at Koukounaries are the ruins of a 1300BC Mycenaean acropolis enclosed by so-called 'Cyclopean' walls.
Beyond Kolimbrethes the road winds for two kilometres over the headland past a waterworld centre chock full of plastic water chutes to the small sandy bay at Monastiri.
The beach has been taken over by a huge taverna complex built on the hill behind and the sands are covered with taverna-owned sunbeds.
The water is very shallow for many metres out to sea, making Monastiri ideal for children and for the myriad watersports on offer.
A large car park is set on the approach road and the hillside taverna provides all the facilities including the occasional concert and organised beach party.
Those seeking quieter spots follow the tracks that snake up the hillside beyond where there are several small coves that are a favourite with naturists.
Several good beaches also lie to the east of Naoussa. The first, beyond the resort beach of Piperi, is Agios Anargyri, or Anargyros, only about 200 metres along the east coast road.
A fairly long stretch of good sand has plenty of trees behind with good natural shade. The proximity to Naoussa and the number of nearby apartments and small hotels make this a popular beach.
The soft sand shelves gently into the sea and facilities include tavernas and cafes while Naoussa is only a short walk away.
Further east of Naoussa, the road forks left signposted to Santa Maria. Down a dirt track off this road is the splendid stretch of sand and dunes at Langeri, about four kilometres from Naoussa.
It's not easy to find and it's not well signposted, but those who seek it out will find dunes sweeping up to low shady trees behind a long bank of fine, golden sand that makes up the main beach.
Less visited than most and with plenty of hidden spots among the sand dunes, Langeri is a popular beach for naturists. There are very fine views over the bay of Naoussa.
The bus to Santa Maria will drop off at the start of the dirt track but it's still quite a walk to the beach. There are no tavernas or bars here so visitors will need to take provisions.
The east coast of Paros, from Santa Maria in the north to the rocky outcrop at Cape Fanos on the southernmost tip, is awash with fine beaches. This is the main beach strip of Paros with the windsurfing mecca at the beach resort of Chrisi Akti and the east coast port resort of Piso Livadi the biggest resorts.
A belt of soft sand sweeps right around the beautiful crescent bay at Santa Maria. Backed by shallow dunes and dense green scrub this is a lovely spot characterised by open skies and a wide vista.
Santa Maria lies on the east coast but the only road to it is from Naoussa. A large car park at the entrance has signs warning of sinking sand in the salt lake nearby.
Golden sand reaches out for several kilometres with sunbeds dotting the more popular spots and with thumping disco music from the beach bars. This is a popular windsurfing beach and facilities appeal to younger and noisier tastes.
The bedlam is easily avoided however with a walk along the sands to the headland and a traditional beach bar. The sand beyond becomes more skimpy and banks of dry, flyblown seaweed line the shore.
Parts of Santa Maria beach are used by the local campsite and there are diving clubs based here as well as the windsurfing centres.
An occasional bus and boats do call, although not very frequently as it is a long haul around the northern headland.
South of Santa Maria, but still within striking distance of Naoussa at five kilometres, is the charming fishing port and beach at Ampelas, often spelt Abelas.
The short, sandy beach lies protected by a small quay and line of large boulders that curve around from the north.
Found just north of Damoulis Cape, the beach is small and fairly deep but it can get crowded when the round-island caiques pull ashore with boatloads of visitors.
A couple of tavernas near the harbour are famed for their fresh fish, while a beach taverna offers luxury loungers complete with towels and iced water on the sands.
This is an ideal spot for those wishing to get away from the crowds in Naoussa but who prefer their upmarket beach facilities.
The harbour has good parking for cars and there is also a campsite nearby. The adventurous can follow the road north and south where rough tracks lead to remote coves, notably at Aspros Gremos (White Cliff) which has a small bay of pebble and sand.
South of Ampelas, the road heads inland away from the rocky cliffs of the coast until it reaches the long and narrow strip of shingle and sand at Glyfades.
Access is down a dirt track off the main road to a narrow strip of stone and shingle with just a patches of sand here and there, getting sandier beyond the headland to the south.
Glyfades beach is very exposed, with no shade and no facilities, although a beach cantina may open in the summer. It's a perfect place to escape the crowds at the more popular beaches.
More remote coves can be found to the south of the bay but they are rock and stone and little visited. The strand at Tsoulakisa is typical, not much more than a thin strip of pebble.
Another fine swathe of pebble and sand is found at the beach of Molos. Isolated and exposed, it lies south of Glyfades between the hills of Kefalos and Antikefalos and Molos is an ideal spot away from the crowds.
The long stretch of sand lines the huge bay of Kefalos. The sand banks steeply at the shoreline and the water gets deep very quickly but there are views across to the island of Naxos and a couple of tavernas that open in the summer.
The long beach never gets crowded and occasional stands of trees provide good shade. At the northern end of Molos beach is a chapel to Agios Nikolaos Ftochos ('Poor' Nikolaos).
Another chapel to the south devoted to Agios Nikolaos Plousios ('Rich' Nikolaos) near the small fishing port. A track south leads over the headland to a small strand of pebble at Kalogiras.
Inland from Kefalos Bay is the attractive hill village of Marmara. The name means marble and many houses here are built with great slabs of the stuff, giving the village a sparkling white air.
Marmara is an attractive village with several good churches (again no marble has been spared in their construction). Houses are bedecked in flowers and small gardens often edged with reeds of bamboo to protect them from the winds.
Marmara is surrounded by rich farmland with, unusually for Greece, cattle breeding and dairy production the main source of income. Ancient pottery workshops have been unearthed in excavations to the north-east of the village.
A dirt track leads out of the village to the wide, sandy bay of Ormos Kefalos and to the beaches at Molos and Glyfades.
About a kilometre south of Marmara is another pretty inland village at Marpissa. About 18km from Parikia, tourists often take in both Marpissa and Marmara when touring the area.
Marpissa is a charming traditional Cycladic village of whitewashed 16th and 17th-century houses, standing in narrow paved alleys. Built on a hill overlooking Kefalos Bay, the Cathedral of Metamorfosi dominates the white cube houses.
The small village square has a folklore museum and four old windmills. It is from here that a path leads up the hill to the monastery of Agios Antonios which has extensive views and the ancient ruins of a 15th-century fort nearby.
Back on the coast, and approached through pines and eucalyptus, Piso Livadi is a pretty seaside resort, about 19 kilometres from Parikia, that has grown around an attractive fishing harbour.
The beach runs south of the resort, as long swathe of soft sand that's ideal for families – there is even a children's play area and some tamarisk trees behind to provide plenty of natural shade.
Tavernas and cafes overlook the harbour and the bay, with the resort of neighbouring Logaras a short distance away with villas along the coast almost uniting the two resorts.
Tavernas dot the quayside at the pretty port to welcome boats that arrive from Naxos, Mykonos, Ios, Santorini and Amorgos. There are also buses to Parikia, Naoussa and Alyki.
Dirt tracks north lead to the small beach of Kalogiras where Imposing rock outcrop overlooks a shingle and sand beach.
There are no facilities at Kalogiras, although a beach cantina may open up in the high summer. The mineral-rich cliff clay here is said to be very good for the skin.
The beach resort at Logaras, just south of Piso Livadi, is much the quieter of the two seaside villages. A long, pine-fringed beach of sharp, gritty sand is the main attraction of the holiday resort.
Apartments and villas have mushroomed and with them have grown tavernas, beach cars, car rentals and other tourist paraphernalia.
But the scale is still small and apartments remain so well hidden behind the trees that Logaras retains the air of a sedate and pleasant seaside resort.
Like on Alyki beach, litter bins abound and a small car park overlooks the beach from the headland where fishing boats are anchored to the rocks.
As well as being a short and easy walk from Piso Livadi there are also regular buses to Logaras from Parikia, Naoussa and Alyki.
Not to be confused with the ferry port on the west coast the beach resort of Pounda, or Pounta, is basically one huge holiday club to which the sandy, crescent beach, 26km from Parikia, very much takes second place.
Pounda is beach disco land where the boys parade pectorals and girls wiggle and giggle – a place for windsurfers to play after a hard day on the boards.
The sandy beach resort caters almost exclusively to youngsters who want to dance, drink and have fun in the sun. A huge large complex, built quasi-Mexican style, has pools, bars, cafes and shops.
The surrounding area offers a wide range of hotels, rooms for rent, apartments and studios. There are regular buses from other resorts but they drop passengers at the bottom of a very steep hill.
Just south of Pounda is a small sandy cove at Mesada, sometimes called Mesara, that is much favoured by naturists.
Described in brochures as one of as Paros' premier beaches, and one of its most famous, Chrysi Akti (Golden Beach) is a flat sandy beach, about 22km from Parikia, that's a magnet for windsurfers.
The main beach has a good 700 metres of soft sand backed by a string of tavernas, small hotels and studios. Both long and wide, the beach is big enough to swallow up any number of visitors.
The wide-open sands, shallow water and brisk breezes attract surfers by the hundred to test their skills offshore. A wide variety of windsurfing, watersport facilities is available including surfing schools, scuba diving, water skiing, wind and kite surfing and catamaran hire.
The long, flat sands and shallow water make for ideal surfing conditions, although beginners are advised to practice on calm days as the swell and currents can get very strong when the wind blows.
During the summer the thermal winds kick in around noon just about every day. The water is crystal clear and surfers can test themselves on waves up to four metres when the winds are right.
The beach has plenty of parking and there are showers and toilets as well as tavernas and cafes. A surf shop opens in the summer and there is a fully manned rescue centre nearby.
A smaller beach to the north at Tsardakia has been dubbed Nea Chrysi Akti (New Golden Beach) to cash in on its better-known neighbour. The Paros Surf club is based there and it hosts the Professional Windsurfers' World Cup every August.
The small crescent of sand at Glyfa sits below the northern hook of Cape Pyrgos which shelters it from the northerly winds.
The name means 'brackish', a reference to the sheltered water which stays calm even when other beaches are affected by choppy waves.
Access is down a wide dirt track signposted off the main coastal road about 18km from Paroikia. This is a relatively remote beach and, although a cantina may open in summer, there are no other facilities.
Glyfa beach is sand and pebble with good natural shade provided by a long line of tamarisk trees at the back of the beach.
Rocky outcrops at either end add interest and the shoreline water is quite shallow. Little advertised and not easy to reach, it remains quiet even at the height of the season.
The fishing village, about 23 kilometres from Parikia, is very pretty with an attractive duck pond and several good tavernas and bars which benefit from large shady trees and other greenery.
The beach is a long, steeply banked strip of sharp sand and stone, lined with shady trees along the whole shoreline. Watersports are popular here and, In the high season, Drios can get rather crowded.
A row of excellent fish tavernas overlooks the attractive harbour and there are plenty of beach bars and restaurants. There are regular buses to Parikia and Naoussa.
Drios was a major port in ancient times as the local rock formations provided natural protection for ships. At the end of the beach are rock fissures that were once used as mooring piers. Offshore is the small, uninhabited islet of Drionissi.
The west coast of Paros is littered with uninhabited islets and the island of Antiparos further offshore. There are fewer beaches along the east coast with Alyki, in the south, the only major resort. Nevertheless, gems can be found along a coastal path that makes for some very fine walking.
The once lazy fishing village of Alyki, about 15 kilometres from Parikia, has undergone a building boom in recent years but still manages a charming Greek village air with its freshly painted walls of stone, neat streets and tasteful tavernas.
The village overlooks some of the best sands on Paros with clean beaches and shallow waters with tamarisk trees behind for plenty of natural shade. A walk around the headland leads to a car park and another beach, although it is more stone than sand here.
As well as the beach and tavernas there are lots of village facilities including a children's playground, a football pitch, a basketball court and tennis courts
Several coves lie nearby with the best of them down a dirt track signposted Farangas which leads to a quiet, sandy beach and beach bar. Little known despite a beautiful setting it rarely gets crowded.
North out of Alyki, near the village of Voutakos and what used to be the island airport until it was moved to Pounda is the Museum Scorpios which has animated handmade miniature figures depicting past life on the island.
To the south, through Akrotiri, is the nondescript hamlet of Trypiti where a small arc of sand has an electricity substation to spoil both the beach and the view.
The population thins out dramatically north of Alyki. The area around the little fishing port of Voutakos has been given over to quiet, relatively isolated holiday homes and apartments.
There are spectacular views to Antiparos and to other offshore islets. It is said that ten 10 islets are visible from these hills.
The south side of the port rocky but the north has a good sandy beach well sheltered from the winds. Access is not easy, down an unsignposted dirt track from the main road.
There are more coves down dirt tracks from the main road, which turns inland here to Alyki, but none have any facilities.
There is also a good coastal track that runs many kilometres from Pounta to Tripiti and passes through many of these coves.
The island airport is inland from here, with regular flights to and from Athens and buses to link the airport with Parikia.
Pounta serves as the main ferry port to Antiparos and it's a drab little place about 9km from Parikia, consisting mainly of a huge concrete car park, concrete jetty and dirt.
The closest point to Antiparos, it has few permanent residents but many hotels and rooms to rent and shouldn't be mistaken for the east coast clubbing resort of the same name.
Most visitors are taking the ferry to Antiparos or heading to the beach a bit further south. Noted for its kitesurfing, several beach surfing centres are thrown up each year on the long, flat sands.
The channel between Paros and Antiparos funnels good winds and the shallow shoreline helps make Pounta almost as popular as Chrysi Akti for serious windsurfers.
On the headland north of Pounta, opposite the islets to the north of Antiparos, is the tiny resort of Agia Irini.
A very pretty, sandy beach lies at the end of a well-sheltered bay that is noted for the many palm trees that give the sands an exotic air.
Access is from a back road from Parasporos or down a rough track marked off the main road. Two sandy coves are split by marble slabs, palm trees and a waterside church.
The palms descend right down to the sea and there are rock pools to add interest although bathers must beware the many underwater rocks and stones. A good taverna next to a farm and a shady olive grove has a wide menu.
Parasporos is the first substantial beach south of Parikia. A track drops down from the main road then rises sharply to a rough car park on the exposed headland.
An extensive wooden-built beach bar overlooks the best of Parasporos sands which turn to stones as it sweeps around the bay although a pleasant grove of trees gives shade.
Swimming is very pleasant in the shallow bay, but only after a large bank of underwater stones has been negotiated.
Parasporos has become very popular with youngsters and disco music is never far away. A campsite at the southern end runs its own bus service while public buses stop on the main road nearby.
A coastal path leads to a small bay to the north called Souvlia. Somewhat confusing as a long, sand beach on the other side of the bay appears to have the same name.
This one is only a small scrap of sand with a few trees for shade and surrounded by recently built villas and apartments.