Feature / Europe / Greece / Antiparos
Postcard from Antiparos / Kate Monro
‘There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you have altered’. Nelson Mandela.
I used this quote to begin a chapter of my book, a collection of real life virginity loss stories. The oldest person I interviewed was 101 years old, the youngest just 17. I took Nelson’s words and used them to describe the experience of reflecting upon our teenage selves. We can’t change the facts about our lives, but we change as people.
It’s timely then, that I get to use this phrase again. This time for a slightly different reason. I am returning to Antiparos, an island on which I spent many heady, happy summers between the ages of 18 and 23. I’m a writer now, something, along with the concept of ‘the internet’ that I could not have conceived of in the 1980’s. My horizons didn’t extend much beyond the next party, the next boy and the next day back then. The centrepiece of that bacchanalia was Antiparos, a Greek island that knew how to enjoy itself.
One of the funniest things I have heard since my ‘return’ was Jasper of Denmark’s comment. His mother wheeled him out to meet me after a random conversation over rings and friendship bracelets in Antiparos’s main street. ‘You might know my son’ she said, ‘he was here in the late 80’s too’. I didn’t - but he did make me laugh. ‘What year did you first come here?’ ‘1986’, I answered. ‘Oh ‘86 was a great year’ he snapped back, almost as if it had been a fabulous wine. ‘Everyone was making love’, he continued.
That says so much about the Antiparos that I remember. I often felt that I had been transported back to the 1960’s. It wasn’t just the fact that I spent every night in ‘The Doors Bar’, a tiny, frenetic time capsule of a place, owned by a man called Thanassis, who, when the music really took him, would leap onto the bar and start swinging his collection of dried gourds with the possession of a mad Greek music monkey. Whatever a mad Greek music monkey is but you get the picture.
It was the nudist beach; it was the bamboo hut that we lived in next to the sea. It was the tolerance and often the kindness of the people who ran Camping Antiparos that I really fell in love with. I knew I had found my spiritual ‘home’ when I left my shoes in a ditch on the first day of my holiday and didn’t come back to retrieve them until the last. We spent the hours after midnight in ‘La Luna’ and when that closed, we sat on the beach until the sun came up. It was everything I had ever dreamt a holiday could be. And it was so much more than that. So why come back now? And would it be the same?
I guess the answer to the question is...would I want it to be? No, in a word. Which is why I have come in September. The party has gone back to school and I am here to write, relax and remind myself of what a real summer looks like. But will that be enough? And more to the point, will Antiparos, one of the big loves of my life, have moved on and changed? After all, I abandoned it for nigh on 20 years.....
It looks smaller. That’s to be expected. My 18-year-old world was a lot narrower than it is now. When I took my first walk back up the main artery of the town, I tripped over The Square, scene of aforementioned bacchanalia, way before I expected to. There is more building along the front too. In fact, the entire village has moved outwards in every direction. I can see streets that I am sure were nothing more than dirt tracks in the mid 1980’s. But it’s all in keeping with the local Cycladic architecture. If you’d never been here before, you wouldn’t notice the difference. And that’s the point because Antiparos has changed only in so much as all the Greek Islands have changed. One trips across ‘lifestyle’ shops now. Places full of the sort of items usually only seen gracing the pages of Elle Decoration. What would I want with an admittedly very pretty ceramic doorknob on a Greek island? There is one of those faux Ibizian style bars too. You know, long, low, white couches where you are supposed to sit and sip cocktails whilst imagining that you might be in the Cafe Del Mar.
Who needs the Cafe Del Mar when you have Greece? I have spent many years travelling the Greek islands but I had forgotten just how beautiful this one is. It’s not just the clichéd mounds of bougainvillea that tumble over tiny balconies and frame windows painted classic Cycladic blue and white; it’s the discovery of a 15th century castle, right next to the bar where I was absorbed with matters far too pressing to realise that I was seated next to a 500-year-old wall.
Surrounding this castle is a collection of dolls house style dwellings that make you want to leave your London life on a permanent basis and set up home on a tiny Greek island. Eight kilometres from the main town is a cave that plunges hundreds of metres into the heart of the island. When you emerge from its dark cool respite the view is staggering. On the last day of my holiday, I made the perpendicular ride up to these caves on a bike. Afterwards, we rode down to the blissful beach of Apadima, or ‘Still Waters’ for a swim and later, onto St Georgios where we ate a late lunch with four more Cycladic islands laid out like dinner guests on the horizon.
When I wasn’t sunning myself in the shallow waters of Psaraliki beach, just 5 minutes from my town house, I was sitting in cafe Margarita with Spiros, his lovely staff and a collection of sleeping cats, writing, being entertained by the locals and more often than not, just sitting and staring into the distance. Antiparos was my spiritual home in the 1980’s and it appears to fulfil the exactly the same function today. Except that now we have history together.
‘How long?’ Choked Ioannis, the campsite owner, his face softening as he realised that it had been twenty years since my last visit. It means something to people that I came back. I always knew I would, I just wanted to wait until I was sure I wasn’t going to try and re-live my youth. Old habits die hard though. ‘Come to the camping for coffee at 11am tomorrow morning’ Ioannis commanded. Coffee, it turned out, is served with a five star Metaxa. Even my 18-year-old self would have baulked at the idea of drinks before 5pm. But still, it tastes a heck of a lot better than the 3 star variety that we threw back in ‘86.
The practical details
Antiparos, like many of the smaller islands is a challenge to get to. Once you have travelled from Pireus down to Paros, (a journey that can also be made by plane), you need to take a smaller boat over to Antiparos (around 35 minutes) or taxi/bus/drive the 15 minutes to Pounda and take the faster car ferry.
Where to eat
There aren’t many restaurants I would rather spend an afternoon or long hot Mediterranean evening in than Taverna Klimataria, located just off the main street towards Psaraliki Beach. Sit beneath its flower-covered pergolas and enjoy plates of fresh calamari, vlita with oil and lemon and garlicky Tzatsiki.
Turn left at the 5F Gyros towards the sea to ‘Kyclades’ for the best grilled meats on the island. You cannot beat the simplicity of a plate of marinated grilled chicken served with real chips and a cold Mythos.
If like me, you like to snack in between meals, the Plaza Gyros, next to the square is your friend. The Plaza served the best souvlaki pitta 20 years ago and it still does today. Try the feta cheese version if you want something different. This place is choc full of Greek families eating their evening meal, playing cards and watching the world go by every night for a reason.
My favourite spot for watching the world go by, writing and stroking one of Spiros’s overworked cats? Margarita cafe. For juices, coffee and breakfast or perhaps drinks before dinner, Margarita has a lovely laid-back atmosphere at any time of the day.
Lots of islanders travel down to St Georgios for a special lunch or evening meal. If you go in the day, you can combine it with a swim at one of its beautiful sandy coves. Either way, Pipinos Fish Tavern will fit the bill.
Where to stay
In my opinion, Greece has a luxury all of its own before you’ve even begun. Every single place I have ever stayed, without exception, has clean white sheets starched to within an inch of their lives. Throw in a balcony with a view and you are living like a king. If you would like to rent a villa, have a look at Five Star Greece’s selection. I stayed at the delightful Hippocampus Studios, looked after by Athina and her husband Michalis. Lilley’s Island also comes very highly recommended by its guests.
The town is serviced by the delightful Psaraliki beach. Go beyond the first bay to the area by Fanari Beach Cafe for the best swimming. This beach has sun loungers, a restaurant and ‘facilities’ as my mother would call them.
The campsite beach – 15 minutes walk out of town - hosts the only official nudist beach in Greece. Walk 2 minutes further around the headland and you arrive at the kind of beach usually only seen on a Caribbean island. Perfect for children, you have to wade for a good 25 metres before the water gets deep and if you keep wading, you will arrive on a tiny island occupied only by goats and rabbits.
Hire a bike or take the bus down to St.Georgios for its series of lovely sandy coves. Soros Beach, also reached by bus, is worth a day trip.
With thanks to Five Star Greece for their views as set out below:
Everything that makes the Cyclades famous, but in a small, relaxed and easy form - yet with Paros nearby for transport possibilities and other activities. Sandy beaches, friendly locals, good fish tavernas, windmills, cute whitewashed town, toothless, smiley old men on donkeys, the tiny roll-on-roll-off ferry that takes 6 minutes to cross the shallow channel from Paros, and leaves every half hour. Accommodation is mainly in villas, so a house-party atmosphere prevails with a chic, international "in-crowd" and the exclusivity that comes from there not being quite enough villas to go around!
Lack of excitement (though there was a murder here a few years ago - a crime passionelle...) not the most interesting island scenically, a lack of hotels, smart night-life and boutiques. Last minute travel and accommodation in August is almost impossible. The beaches on the North coast are sand-blasted by the wind all summer, this is after all a Cycladic island, and the sheltered ones do get crowded in summer!
Families, young teenagers who need a safe and easy environment to be let loose in, those wanting to just pack a couple of bikinis and flip flops, though you can also dress up to match the chic international crowd. Tom Hanks so loved his first visit that he bought a house here for his young family to enjoy Greece in a quiet and natural way. Those wanting to chill and enjoy an laid-back summer life in a small, relatively exclusive atmosphere, and still rub shoulders with Beautiful People.
Would not suit
Those wanting stylish hotels, fine restaurants and clubs, or serviced beaches, and a party atmosphere. Those wanting a varied and exciting island that they can spend days exploring.
The First Time: True Tales of Virginity Lost & Found (Including My Own) was published by Icon Books on 5th May, 2011