Olympic Holidays

Cathedral of Ekatontapiliani

To one side of the slabbed central square in Parikia is an imposing, if drab, wall with an unattractive gateway and steps. Beyond this monolithic marble wall however is one of the most beautiful buildings in the whole of Greece.

Dubbed the finest church in the Aegean, the Cathedral of Ekatontapiliani (the Church of One Hundred Doors) was founded in 327 AD, rebuilt in 527-565 AD, reconstructed after a 10th century earthquake and again in 1855 then finally restored between 1959 and 1966.

What you see today is considered to be essentially the church as it was, in all its 6th century glory. And what a glory it is.

The lovely courtyard is full of flowers, ancient marble slabs and the church bells hang from a majestic old cypress - the bell tower itself was destroyed in an earthquake in 1783.

The church basically consists of an atrium and baptistery outside, the porch and main church, the sanctuary and three chapels. To the right of the main door is a gallery called the yinaikonitis (women's place) where women once stood apart.

In the centre of the church is the dome supported by four large, square pillars and before you a huge, ornately carved wooden and marble screen is covered with icons and holy images. There are nowhere near 100 doors but the name has stuck anyway.

Beyond is the sanctuary; entered through two doors where once only emperors and clerics were allowed. Today you can go in, but only with the express permission of a priest or nun.

This is still an active place of worship, despite thousands of visitors trooping around each year, and daily services are still held as they have been for 1,500 years.

Matins is at 7am and vespers at around 6.30pm. If a service in progress it is considered proper to stand each time a priest enters and to bow your head as he passes by.

Butterfly Valley of Paros

Like Rhodes, Paros has its own Butterfly Valley, clearly marked off the roads on the western side of the island to Pounta and Alyki. The luxuriant, leafy valley set in the hillside at Petaloudes is temporary home to the Jersey Tiger moth Euplagia quadripunctaria in July and August.

Difficult to see except when in flight, the brown moths are well camouflaged. When airborne they display their deep red overwings, but the practice of disturbing them is firmly discouraged as it can reduce their sexual activity and result in fewer moths for future generations.

The valley is actually a private garden, but tourists are made warmly welcome by a small cafe with a fountain and well marked paths through the undergrowth. The dappled shade and running water can make for a pleasant break from the scorching summer heat.

Lefkes village Paros

High in the hills above Marmara and Prodoromos, in the centre of the island, the village of Lefkes spills down into the head of a narrow valley, about 11 kilometres southeast of Parikia.

Marble-paved streets and whitewashed houses sit both sides of a deep valley, dominated by the white marble Agia Triada built in 1830, with its impressive bell towers and its recently repaved entrance.

The steep slopes allow chimneys to appear in abundance at street level and many have carved pelicans or other sea birds etched into them. Lefkes means poplars and the village is a leafy relief from the surrounding bare hills thanks to a patchwork of pines, olives and cypress.

When Paros was regularly raided by pirates in the 15th century this was the island capital and, as a result, there are many fine houses on the steep slopes which drop into a mesmerising warren of stepped alleyways.

The central square has huge plane trees providing shadow for the cafe tables beneath. The stone paved area leading to the square is made of marble slabs surrounded by a network of narrow streets. Occasional shops offer wares a cut above the usual tourist fodder with good local handicrafts, paintings and pottery. There is also a very good folk museum in Lefkes.

What is most impressive about Lefkas is that it has managed to shrug off the annual tourist invasion and the character of a Greek village is alive and well. From Lefkes you can take to the Profitis Ilias mountain which, at 2,500 ft offers splendid views but is marred by an ugly communications tower at its summit.

Island of Antiparos

A short trip across the water from Pounta takes you to Antiparos, altogether quieter throughout its 12 kilometre length than its more popular neighbour.

Most day trippers spent a little time poking around the island's main port of Antiparos before heading off for a look at the famous caves some, distance to the south after the road turns inland at Glyfa.

Donkeys are offered at the car park at Agios Ioannis, but they only trot around the corner up a small incline so are of little use except for the photographs. The entrance to the cave forms a broad, wedge shape underneath a massive stratum of limestone.

Electric lights and cement steps snake down for 70 metres or so among some amazing stalactites and stalagmites, many marred by graffiti (some of it 200 years old) and others broken or incomplete.

Modern day graffiti is discouraged as the caves have been developed for tourism. Unfortunately the cave has been repeatedly vandalised over the years.

Officers of the Russian fleet reputedly made off with many of the 2,000-year-old stalactites in the 1770s and Nazis used guns and grenades to bring down many more, bless their cotton socks, but there is still plenty to admire even if you are not quite fit enough to reach the bottom. Photographers however will not be pleased at the truly awful yellow lighting that fills the caverns.

Elsewhere the island is a bit of a backwater with a few small, sand beaches and not much else. The main port at Antiparos is the most densely populated with around 500 permanent residents and a very pleasant harbour and main square. Most of the shops are now of the knickknack variety and sell trinkets for the tourist trade.

There is a sign to the camping beach, a pleasant spit of sand on the north of the island opposite the islet of Dipla where you can pitch a tent only a few metres from the seashore and which once was a naturist beach but today is more or less textile.

South of the port, and within walking distance, is the double stone and pebble beach of Pasaralyki. The larger beach is mostly pebble and a little sand. There are sunbeds and watersports while the smaller beach is home to a couple of music clubs and consequent noise.

A further kilometre south is a small sandy strip at Panagia with views across to Antiparos and some trees for shade, while the sandy stretch at Glyfa is a further two kilometres.

There are a few nice beaches. Near Antiparos on the western side of the island is one of the best at Sifnaikos. Also along the west coast is a narrow strip of sand at Livadi where you could well be the only one where on any particular day.

To the south is the lovely Agios Giorgios, where a spit of sand loops out into an emerald green, though rocky sea. A good taverna sits along the shoreline with octopi often hanging out to dry in the baking sun.