Haute Cuisine: How pretty Paros became the foodie capital of the Cyclades

09 Jul 2019 | Updated on: 27 Sep 2022 |By Richard Brown

Parian restaurants will have you re-evaluating what you fork out to eat out in London

Pear-shaped Paros was supposed to be little more than a layover. A quick, in-and-out, tick-that-box, see-that-100-window-church-we’d-read-about-on-the-internet stopover between the bright lights of Mykonos and the steep, starry-eyed sunset delight of Santorini. Alas, Zeus, King of the Gods, ruler of heaven, sender of clouds, rain, thunder and lightning had other ideas. Choose to island hop around the Cyclades towards the end of September and it’s true, you’ll miss the crowds – but it’s a reality counterbalanced by an increased risk of running into big, billowing thunderclouds, which will do far more to dampen your Aegean adventure than a gaggle of Chinese shutterbugs. Paros turned into a six-day pause in what was intended to be a tight, 10-day itinerary. Santorini would have to wait. Thank God – Hera, Hestia, Hermes, Hephaestus? – that Paros turned out to be such a tasty place to see out a thunderstorm.

The teardrop atoll is the third-largest in the Cyclades, trailing Andros to the north and neighbouring Naxos to the east. It’s twice the size of Mykonos, yet attracts a zillion fewer tourists. The entire island slopes down from a non-active cone-shaped volcano on its eastern edge and is made of marble. The white metamorphic rock made the island rich. The Venus de Milo – that armless sculpture of Aphrodite, arguably the most famous statue in the whole of Ancient Greece – was carved from Parian marble. So too was Napoleon’s tomb. In super-pretty Marathi it’s still possible to peer down into the Vantablack abyss of the quarry shafts, left open since mining stopped in 1899.

At the top of the volcano are the preserved ruins of the Castle of Kefalos. Built in the 15th century, it was the last fortress to fall to Ottoman rule when, in 1537, the red-bearded pirate-admiral Barbarossa sacked Kefalos and usurped its erstwhile Venetian establishment. Paros remained part of the Ottoman Empire until 1832. Presumably the island doesn’t hold too much of a grudge because in 1987 it named a fish restaurant after the Lesbos-born invader.

Today, Barbarossa is helmed by head chef Joseph Sykianakis, an alumnus of L’Ecole de Cuisine Alain Ducasse in Paris. Since joining in 2007 he has transformed the seafood bistro into one of the island’s star attractions. Just as impressive as the food – which is properly impressive, not just for Greece, but for anywhere – is the price: three courses each, a bottle of wine and change from two €50 notes. And therein lies the thrust of why you should visit Paros. More than for its pretty villages, raw, wild beaches and marble-paved Byzantine hiking trails, visit Paros for its food – for the value-for-money of that food. Barbarossa is one of several Parian restaurants (among them Les Amis, Markakis, BuonVento and Siparos) that will have you re-evaluating what you fork out to eat out in London. Unassuming Yemeni, our pick of the bunch, was so good we ate there three times. World-class cuisine at real world prices. The antithesis of Mykonos.

A 10-minute walk from Yemeni, on the outskirts of fishing-town-cum-tourist-trap Naoussa, is Mr & Mrs White – a freshly minted, monochrome hideaway that made it straight into the Small Luxury Hotels of the World following its opening in summer 2017. The intimate abode – 48 rooms – has a family feel, thanks largely to matriarchal manager Nafsika Kouzeli, who has instilled in her small team of staff her own couldn’t-do-more-for-you attitude. They talk to you like friends.

The property is divided into two halves. ‘Mr’ is a straight-up design-driven hotel with spacious, all-white, Cycladic-chic rooms, most of which have either a small garden or balcony terraces. The advertised ‘sea views’ is stretching it somewhat, given that sea is some distance away. The ‘Mrs’ bit is made up of larger, more luxurious residences, which are intended for families. Two freshwater swimming pools are lined by palm trees and high-rising bougainvillea. Cats nap in the shade. Guests get lost in books and sip cocktails by the pools.

During our visit all onward ferries to Santorini were cancelled due to gale-force winds. What was supposed to be a three-night stay turned into six. Each morning someone would telephone the ferry companies on our behalf. Each morning Nafsika would refuse to accept money for the additional night’s stay – telling you all you need to know about the people of Paros.

Rates at Mr & Mrs White start from €149 (approx. £132) per night including breakfast, mrandmrswhiteparos.com