"Why on earth would you do that?" I was asked by friends, incredulous that my wife and I would choose a cycling holiday in these islands.
Thinking of the heat, the steep mountains, the effort involved and the strong northerly winds, I must agree they did have a point. However, compensations reward endeavour. The magnificent views, the bucolic mountain villages and deserted coves can be taken in at a very slow pace on a bicycle. The mesmeric repetition of pedalling calms my brain into a near trance like state and endorphins give me a sense of wellbeing, all with the added perk that you can eat as much as you like.
The Cyclades have always been on major trading routes throughout history due to their strategic position between Africa, Asia and Europe. So called in Greek mythology because Neptune, the sea god, transformed the nymphs Cyclades into islands when they irritated him.
I started in Mykonos because we can fly directly there, avoiding the aggravation of Athens with bicycles. Within 15 minutes our hotel’s transport delivers us to their convenient and comfortable accommodation, Makis Place. Located at the new port, it is just a stone’s throw from our ferry departure the next morning. With an island whose infrastructure has been totally outgrown by sheer tourist numbers and, only possessing twenty taxis, convenience is essential.
Makis Place, image by Makis Place
In a country not famed for its organizational skills, Greek ferries can be quite testing. Anyone who has travelled extensively in Greece knows the very fast boats often cost more than your plane ticket. The small fast boats don’t run in bad weather and at the best of times are only for those with iron constitutions. The slow boats cost one tenth of the price of the others but take eternity and a day. The bigger the boat, the more chaos on departure and arrival. People, lorries, and cars disembark and embark at the same time to a cacophony of crewmembers shouting, trying unsuccessfully to speed everything up. Cancellations are frequent and when we went to embark, we found our ferry cancelled too.
We made our way on a later ferry, then by bicycle and landing craft to the laid back but surprisingly sophisticated island of Antiparos. It is the difficulty in reaching this island that saves it from the excesses of tourism and, outside the main season, it remains relatively quiet. Having stopped for essentials in the main village, we cycle the 12km down to the lovely Dolphin St George Hotel in the quiet southwest, where there are just a few tavernas and rooms.
The hotel overlooks the uninhabited, historic island of Despotiko, with its archaic Doric temple devoted to Apollo and Artemis. With lovely isolated sandy coves for swimming, good fish tavernas and picturesque walks and cycle rides, it is a very relaxing start to our trip.
We spent our last night in Antiparos in the surprisingly lively and attractive main village, the Hora, the name given to the main town or village on every island. We leisurely walked around the old Venetian castle, which dates back to the mid-15th Century and was built for the Venetian, Lorendano when he married Maria Sommaripa of Antiparos. Many locals were taking their evening promenade, or volta as it is locally known, and we enjoyed watching them checking out who was back on the island after winter. We ate very good pasta and salad on the main pedestrian thoroughfare.
As the temperatures were becoming unseasonably high, we left very early the next morning for a lovely bucolic cycle to Drios on the East coast of Paros. After climbing a ridge with great views, we soon arrive in our destination and cool off in the welcoming sea.
A cool swim in Drios
Another early start takes us through the lovely traditional white village of Marpissa, with its bougainvillea swathed balconies. Then on to the mountain village of Lefkes, once the island capital, amphitheatrically sited in the folds of the mountain. In the most verdant part of the island, with its neoclassical buildings and interesting churches, it is the most attractive town in Paros. We recovered, under a tree, from the burning sun and extreme heat that had made the unshaded 300m climb so unpleasant.
We then passed the fabled Parian marble quarries, which were so beloved by sculptors in the classical era for its purity and whiteness. It is from this marble that the Venus de Milo was sculpted. Descending further we arrive in Parikia, the main port, with the byzantine monastery of Panagia Ekatondapiliani. According to Greek tradition the monastery has ninety-nine gates and will only have a hundred if the Agia Sophia in Istanbul becomes Orthodox again. Here we stayed in the modest but charming Diplos apartments and experienced real Greek philoxenia, the warmth of being welcomed and treated as one of the family. Philoxenia meaning literally ‘friend of a stranger’ and I find one of the most charming aspects of travelling in Greece.
Diplos Studios, Parikia