Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, and Rhodes are the Greek islands most popular with tourists looking for beautiful beaches, crystal clear blue water, ancient ruins, and white stucco architecture. Last month we discovered Paxos, an off-the-beaten-track island gem that has not yet been discovered by Americans.
Small enough to avoid cruise line day trippers but big enough to offer a wide selection of hotels and villas, charming villages, quiet beaches, restaurants and cafes, Paxos has it all -- except for tons of tourists.
Another advantage Paxos has is close proximity to an airport, as it can take a full day of travel to get to many other Greek islands. We took a direct, three-hour flight from Paris to Corfu in mid-September, and a hydrofoil took one hour from Corfu to Paxos.
Arriving at Paxos, we were whisked to the four-star Paxos Club Resort, only a five-minute ride from the port by a complimentary shuttle bus. Just walking through the lush pool area and gardens on the way to the lobby, we already felt a sense of calmness and serenity.
Check-in was a breeze thanks to Anna, the welcoming day manager, who was quite accommodating when we exchanged emails before we arrived. Our one-bedroom suite was more like a spacious apartment, with a full kitchen, comfortable couches and club chairs in the living room, and queen-sized bed in the bedroom. An expansive terrace with table and chairs overlooked aromatic bougainvillea trees and fresh grown oregano plants.
The pool area had numerous types of cushy options to relax on, including padded chaises, rocking sun beds, and hammocks, and we spent the day poolside. Water is scarce on the island, so a dip in the saltwater pool was cold but revitalizing.
Paxos Club Resort has a full-floor spa in the lower level of the main building, offering massage and facial treatments, hydrotherapy, steam room, and sauna.
A breakfast buffet included in the price of the room serves Greek specialties such as cheeses, yogurt, and pastries, in addition to American-style breakfast. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner and the bar has a complete cocktail, beer, and wine menu.
In the evening we walked 10 minutes down the hill to Gaios, the main village and port of Paxos. Lively but charming, the narrow alleys and roads were filled with clothing boutiques, galleries, souvenir shops with locally made products, cafes and an excellent choice of restaurants and tavernas. Before dinner we purchased extra virgin olive oil pressed in Paxos from Babis Lekkas and also stocked up on Paxos-made olive oil soap.
We savored classic Greek dishes -- such as stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese, moussaka, tzatziki (cucumbers in Greek yogurt), grilled and fried eggplant and lamb kebabs -- at two authentic tavernas, Genesis and Taka Taka. Our favorite restaurant, where we dined twice, was Mambo. Situated outdoors on the harbor overlooking rows of yachts and sailboats, Mambo kicks Greek food up another notch, updating traditional dishes. Slow cooked lamb in garlic accompanied with tomatoes and peppers bundled in parchment paper and oven baked chicken seeped in
lemon juice and olive oil in a clay pot were fantastic standouts. Vanessa, our friendly and lively waitress, made the experience even more special, offering to special order the catch of the day in advance for us.
The hotel was inland, so the next few days we explored the beaches on Paxos. Driving through the arid, rugged hills of Paxos dotted with olive trees, we arrived at Loggos, a tiny, sleepy village. A few steps away a mini-oasis awaited us -- a pristine beach with white sand, blue-green water and boats lining the harbor.
On the cultural front, Paxos has numerous art galleries and a summer music festival. Christopher Boicos, who is half-Greek and half-French, owns a contemporary gallery in Gaios, which is open from May until September. The gallery sponsors international artists, photographers and ceramicists for summer residencies in addition to displaying their work at the gallery.
We asked Boicos what set Paxos apart from other Greek islands and why he chose it for his gallery. “Paxos is a relatively unspoiled and small Greek island which, unlike the Cyclades, is very green and covered in olive groves, cypress and pine woods," he said. "There are a great variety of landscapes and coastline on a small scale, plus particularly clear waters for swimming on Paxos and also Antipaxos. [It has] beautiful nature in spring with a variety of wildflowers and unspoiled nature walks."
Boicos also spoke about The Association of the Friends of Paxos, which collaborates with the organization of an eclectic music festival (http://paxosfestival.com/) through the summer months, combining classical, Greek, and ethnic music and jazz. The association also organizes historical walks on the island. We were lucky to join the last walk of the season, where we hiked up a hill trail while viewing a magnificent panorama of the harbor. Afterward, we visited three ancient churches, learning about their history and preservation efforts.
Our favorite experience of our visit was a day trip to the tiny island of Antipaxos. Compact, open-air ferries leave almost every 30 to 60 minutes from Gaios; it was a breezy day, and cool sprays of water splashed on us during our 15-minute ride.
Once we arrived, we felt as though we had a private island almost to ourselves, with dramatic white, craggy boulders surrounding the inlet and just enough room for a handful of people. Abundant sunshine was with us the entire week, with temperatures in mid-September in the low 80s. The warm Ionian Sea was a sublime aqua color, and we bathed for hours, until our skin was shriveled. Once we were back at our beach chairs, the aroma of fish grilling on charcoal lured us to the restaurant above the beach. The catch of the day was fresh lobster with pasta in a red sauce. After an appetizer of grilled feta cheese drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, we devoured every last edible morsel of the divine, succulent lobster. We forced ourselves to take the last boat back to Paxos at 5 p.m., as we didn’t want this perfect day to end.
One other luxury hotel option is the four-star Paxos Resort Hotel with private beach, oversized outdoor pool, tennis courts, berths for boats, full service restaurant and bar, and pool bar.
Paxos Beach Hotel
Paxos Club Resort
Chris Boicos Fine Arts gallery- Central Street, Gaïos
Tel. +30 2662 032670
Taverna Taka Taka
Epar.Od. Loutra-Lakkas 44, Gaios
Tel. +30 2662 032329