Parga, the Greek island on the mainland

For many years, a common misconception has existed on the backpacker trail. Apparently if you want to visit stunning beaches and see charming hillside villages in Greece, you need to head to the Greek Islands.

I can categorically say that this is not true. Why? One word: Parga.

parga clouds 1024x774 Parga, the Greek island on the mainland

I’ve said on this blog quite a few times that I hate the whole ‘off the beaten track’ debate among travellers. Many popular places are discovered for a reason; basically, they’re wonderful. In Greece, that was definitely the case for me when I visited Santorini.

I visited Santorini because I knew it was going to be beautiful. I’d seen dozens of photos of the island before I got there myself; so many friends and strangers had vouched for it and not knowing much about Greece, I took their advice. I wasn’t disappointed. Not in the slightest.

I didn’t visit any other Greek islands during my travels in 2007; Santorini was enough and I figured that if I visited more, I’d just be comparing them against that first island. So I headed back to the mainland, thinking that I’d definitely be back in the region one day. I’d heard enough good things about Paxos, Paros and Crete to have me wanting more.

But now it’s seven years later, and I haven’t been back to the islands. I haven’t felt the need to, because I found Parga instead.

parga restaurant 1024x764 Parga, the Greek island on the mainland

Parga is pretty much unknown by non-Greeks, except for a sprinkling of Swedes and Dutch who have been driving down to their little corner of paradise each summer for years. Some of them discovered the town after passing through on the way to somewhere else; one of the Greek islands, perhaps, particularly as Corfu is quite nearby.

I got talking to a Dutch woman on one occasion I was in town; I had a couple of hours off and was getting my hair cut (one of those annoying things you never have time for as a tour guide). About ten years ago, she had been on her way to Turkey when her car broke down near Parga. Her and her husband were taking the scenic route along the coast and had plenty of time on their hands, so they weren’t too upset about being stranded in Parga for a day or two, while their car was being fixed.

They never got to Turkey on that trip. They stayed in Parga for a month, and have returned every August since.

parga beach 764x1024 Parga, the Greek island on the mainland

Parga’s a bit of a bugger to get to. It’s right out of the way on the west coast of the mainland; a seven hour bus ride from Athens. You have to come over a whole heap of mountains before descending down, down, down to Parga as if it sits in the bottom of a bowl. But once you get there – perhaps feeling a bit sickly after all the twists and turns – you’re treated to a little town that just doesn’t look like it’s supposed to be on the mainland.

Just like what I said about Thessaloniki, it really looks as if nobody told the people of Parga about the Greek debt crisis. My hairdresser, for example, wasn’t open when I went to pay him a visit. I’d been in Parga two weeks before, and he had definitely been open when I’d walked by. I asked the gyros man opposite if he knew what time the hairdresser opened. He looked at me strangely. ‘I don’t know, maybe four or five.’

This was PM, people. (He opened that day at six thirty, looking as if he didn’t have a care in the world.)

parga facades 1024x762 Parga, the Greek island on the mainland

Parga is pretty small; all the little pensions would be no more than a five-minute walk from the beach. Basically it’s a jumble of little pedestrian-only lanes filled with tiny shops and restaurants heading down to the water, rising up, step by step, all the way up to the town’s fortress. At each step there would be a different business, whether it be a jewelry store, leather bag shop or terraced restaurant.

People would be stopping all over the place, taking pictures. But, as is often the case when you’re climbing to a viewpoint, the view gets better with every step.

parga high view 1024x764 Parga, the Greek island on the mainland

At the base of the steps which lead up to the fortress, there are three gyros shops in a formation which I termed the ‘Gyros Triangle’. That would usually be our next stop. I got to know all three of the shops over the summer – one had delicious fries, the other such soft bread, and the third had the best tzatziki I’d ever tasted. All had perfect pork and chicken, that was a given.

I’d always take my group up to the fortress come sunset time and the only thing that got me up all of those uneven steps in one go was knowing that I had thirty-odd people behind me. Once we’d get to the top and I’d catch my breath, I’d get out my ouzo, pour some into thirty-odd plastic cups and we’d toast our incredible good fortune.

Parga never felt over-crowded. There was always space on the sandy beach, there was never any need to book in at a waterfront restaurant and there was always plenty of time to chat with waiters and shopkeepers. You could even swim-slash-wade out in the warm water to the little island in the middle of the bay, topped with a cute church. From there you could sit and look back to Parga, again with only a couple of others nearby doing the same.

As I said earlier, I hate whinging about places that have been discovered, as if it’s my right over others to travel places I’ve read about in the Lonely Planet or seen a photo of on Instagram. It’s just not helpful. What I like instead is really appreciating the places that due to one reason or another – in Parga’s case, it’s its location – haven’t drawn the huge crowds. When you find them, and get them, it’s like you’ve joined some secret club.

parga island 1024x768 Parga, the Greek island on the mainland

When the Dutch lady smiled at me knowingly that day in that lazy hairdresser’s salon, I knew she was inviting me to the Parga Club. I’d already been a passionate member of the Santorini Club for years, like many who have come before and after me. But you know what? There’s plenty of room for both types of membership cards in my travel wallet. I don’t need to choose one over the other.

This week I’m connecting with some other travel blogs through Travel Photo Mondays and #SundayTraveler. Click the below link for some other great stories through chasingthedonkey.com.

sunday traveler small white Parga, the Greek island on the mainland

28 Responses to Parga, the Greek island on the mainland

  1. Adelina @ PackMeTo February 23, 2014 at 2:51 PM #

    Wow this is beautiful! I’ve never heard of Parga, but it’s definitely on my radar now. I’m not sure I could survive that long bus ride though! Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler :D
    Adelina @ PackMeTo recently posted..The Szimpla Kert Farmer’s Market in BudapestMy Profile

    • Caitlyn February 23, 2014 at 8:45 PM #

      It is a long bus ride… especially when the air conditioning feels pretty much non-existent!

  2. SJ “Mrs Chasing the Donkey” Begonja February 23, 2014 at 4:04 PM #

    Thanks so much linking up with us to #SundayTraveler again, BUT with posts like these you’ll soon be banned. I mean all that sunshine, and gloriousness should be illegal. I was in Greece for 2 weeks and struggled with which islands to see, there are just THAT many and all so divine. I heart Greece.
    SJ “Mrs Chasing the Donkey” Begonja recently posted..Island of Pag: Hotel Boškinac #SundayTravelerMy Profile

    • Caitlyn February 23, 2014 at 8:46 PM #

      Oh you made me laugh! I know, it’s pretty depressing remembering these places in wintry February :) I heart Greece too!

  3. Bex February 23, 2014 at 6:24 PM #

    As a person having lived in Greece for 6 years, I can honestly say I’ve never heard of it – but shall certainly make the effort to go! Just look at those beautiful coloured houses!
    Bex recently posted..Corfe Castle – Dorset – EnglandMy Profile

    • Caitlyn February 23, 2014 at 8:47 PM #

      Definitely go! There’s a few buses that leave from Athens there each day, and the long drive is definitely worth it!

  4. frankaboutcroatia February 23, 2014 at 7:27 PM #

    Lol, I agree with you, that although you can find pretty amazing things off the-beaten path, that path is usually beaten for the reason. So take it! Parga looks beautiful, and I must admit that I’ve never heard of it before. How happen that you work there as a guide (and bring groups), since it’s not so popular among tourists? ‘Cause it’s popular among Dutch or? Love the attitude of the hairdresser!
    frankaboutcroatia recently posted..Konoba Batelina: absolutely delightful experienceMy Profile

    • Caitlyn February 23, 2014 at 8:48 PM #

      My tour used to go to Corfu, but it was a bit out of the way and there was a lot of driving time, so a bit of research was done and that’s how Parga was found :) I have no idea why it’s such a secret!

  5. noelmorata February 23, 2014 at 8:31 PM #

    What an excellent discovery, I’ve never heard of this place, stunning! I hope you can share this post and also link up with us for Travel Photo Mondays, the link is live for the whole week.
    noelmorata recently posted..Venice – the small details, Travel Photo Mondays #33My Profile

    • Caitlyn February 23, 2014 at 8:49 PM #

      Thanks Noel! And cheers for the invitation!

  6. Nancie Lee February 24, 2014 at 2:12 AM #

    Parga sounds like a must see! Love your photos and the great colors. I think that is one of the things that draws me to Greece, such wonderful colors. I definitely will keep this in mind when I plan my trip. Thanks for sharing!!
    Nancie Lee recently posted..Windsor Ruins – A Resolute Memory of EleganceMy Profile

    • Caitlyn February 24, 2014 at 10:48 PM #

      It definitely is so colourful – each building looked as if it was painted only yesterday!

  7. budget jan February 24, 2014 at 4:46 AM #

    Parga is officially added to my list and this blog post has been bookmarked. Thanks for sharing :)
    budget jan recently posted..Siena is the perfect Tuscan day tripMy Profile

    • Caitlyn February 24, 2014 at 10:49 PM #

      You’re welcome! It’s a lovely place :)

  8. Mary {The World Is A Book} February 24, 2014 at 7:33 AM #

    What a beautiful gem! I love places like these – uncrowded and pedestrian friendly are two of the biggest draws. I haven’t been to the Greece yet but this looks worth enduring a seven hour bus ride. Although, I may not want to leave. Beautiful scenery and pictures.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..5 Free Things To Do in London With KidsMy Profile

    • Caitlyn February 24, 2014 at 11:02 PM #

      Totally uncrowded – it was as if there was something wrong with the place that I never found out about! It didn’t even feel full in August!

  9. Phoebe @Lou Messugo February 24, 2014 at 10:17 AM #

    I so agree with you that there’s a reason the well-trodden places are well-trodden; we can’t all have been there “before” they were “ruined” blah blah blah…We explore where we can, when we can and IF we find a hidden gem, then all the better! Looks like Parga is one of those and that you’re the lucky one! The problem with this amazing planet of ours is that there are just soooo many gorgeous places, hidden and found, so we just have to keep on travelling!!!
    Phoebe @Lou Messugo recently posted..Silent Sunday – 23 February 2014My Profile

    • Caitlyn February 24, 2014 at 11:03 PM #

      Haha very well put Phoebe! Just count yourself lucky if you find a hidden gem, don’t judge yourself by it!

  10. Sammi February 24, 2014 at 10:45 AM #

    Beautiful :)

    Makes me remember there is sunshine after all the greyness we’ve had lately!
    Sammi recently posted..Hasta luego SevilleMy Profile

    • Caitlyn February 24, 2014 at 11:03 PM #

      It sure is timely!

  11. Jessica of HolaYessica February 25, 2014 at 12:44 AM #

    Wow, that looks like such an amazing and different place to go to! Greece is so high on my travel list.

    And I’m so with you on the ‘tourist vs. traveler’ silly debate. The tourist stuff is often so visited because it’s great! I just spent a weekend in Prague, which was full of tourists…because it truly is such a pretty place to visit.
    Jessica of HolaYessica recently posted..Why Football Really is a Religious Experience in BarcelonaMy Profile

    • Caitlyn February 25, 2014 at 11:15 PM #

      Absolutely! Glad to hear you enjoyed Prague, it’s one of my favourites :)

  12. Michele {Malaysian Meanders} February 25, 2014 at 2:59 AM #

    Parga looks like a fantastic find, and I like that it’s not on the tourist radar, yet. I haven’t been to any Greek isles, so maybe I should just start and stay with Parga. I especially like the photo of the white house with all the flowerpots on the steps.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Up on Penang HillMy Profile

    • Caitlyn February 25, 2014 at 11:16 PM #

      It’s a perfect place to start, you just may never leave though ;)

  13. Farrah February 25, 2014 at 7:18 AM #

    I have never heard of Parga before- but oh my word. It looks gorgeous!
    Farrah recently posted..Gefeliciteerd! Brody’s 5 Jaar!My Profile

    • Caitlyn February 25, 2014 at 11:16 PM #

      I know! I can’t believe it’s almost completely unknown.

  14. Samantha @mytanfeet February 25, 2014 at 11:22 PM #

    Whenever I think of the Greek islands I think Santorini as well since that’s what I usually see pictures of along with Mykonos. But wow Parga is beautiful! I love finding places like this that aren’t always on tourists radar. Getting there is just part of the adventure! Gorgeous pics :)
    Samantha @mytanfeet recently posted..Villa Nasua a spacious place to stay inn downtown JacoMy Profile

    • Caitlyn February 27, 2014 at 9:45 PM #

      Yep – I always think of Santorini too – the blue and white buildings and the donkeys. But Parga looks like one too :)

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