Greece may be hogging the headlines for the fissures it’s created in the European financial landscape, but for those enthralled with its simple charms, the country remains the land of goat’s milk and honey. The lack of infrastructure, minimal building development and technologically challenged lifestyle may not be signs of a thriving 21st-century nation, but they certainly contribute to a perfect holiday. I fell for the country when I first visited in the late 1980s, and even now as I step off the plane in the summer to the unmistakable aroma of pine needles and jet fuel, my heart beats a little faster. For much of my twenties, I was a regular on the island pair of Poros, off the Peloponnesian peninsula, perfecting my water-sport skills by day and dancing the night away with the dashing instructors at an open-air nightclub.
Twenty years have passed and still my thoughts stray to the clear waters and unchanging culture of the Greek islands. Nowadays it’s an affection shared with my husband and two children. Oligarchs and party animals may favor Mykonos, and political highfliers cluster in northern Corfu, but heaven for us lies about ten miles south, on Paxos, about as far as one can travel from the plate-smashing crowd. This narrow island boasts only three small towns: bustling Gaios and sleepy Loggos and Lakka. Far enough off the beaten track to appeal more to aesthetes than sunseekers, Paxos is appreciated by those looking for peace, privacy and great food.
The absence of an airport only adds to Paxos’s allure. My introduction, arriving by night on a water taxi and gliding into Loggos—bathed in a golden glow from the bars lining the seafront—was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. The island has a magnetic pull for a discerning crowd for whom barefoot is synonymous with luxury and low-key living is worth paying a high price. We rent a small motorboat instead of a car and spend our days anchoring in tiny coves and bays, swimming and snorkeling.
The island’s rustic charm extends to lodgings; private homes rented from specialists like Scott Williams (scottwilliams.co.uk) are the favored form of accommodation. Despite attracting the likes of the Agnellis and Rothschilds, most villas are basic, with sea views rather than pools as the most coveted feature. Our choice, Spiantzi House (rentals, from $4,660 a week), is a typical example, perched on an elevated point just steps from a tiny beach and a ten-minute stroll from Loggos. In the early mornings, I like to sit on the terrace sipping strong Greek coffee, watching the sun rise and the dolphins frolic in the bay below.
Despite its engaging authenticity, Paxos feels remarkably cosmopolitan, no doubt the result of a long history of occupation in the region, from the Romans to the British. It’s most noticeable in the food, with traditional Greek staples given exotic twists: lamb with pomegranate jus, hummus with caramelized onions. Taverna Vasilis (Loggos; 30-2662/031-587), on the Loggos seafront, is a must, with marble-topped wooden tables mere feet from the water. Taverna Bouloukos ($ Loggos; 30-2662/031-336), on nearby Levrechio beach, is particularly good for lunch, serving the best fresh taramosalata (cod roe) I’ve ever had. A perfect evening involves a stroll into Loggos, dinner at Taverna Vasilis and then on to Taxidi Bar ($ Loggos; 30-2662/031-326), where adults sip ouzo and children enjoy fresh fruit ice cream, all to the melodic strains of owner Spiro and his friends on accordion, bouzouki and violin. If you prefer a faster beat, there’s the Phoenix Disco Club ($ Gaios; 30-2662/032-210). I’m ashamed to admit that despite our best intentions, such is the relaxed pace of our holiday idyll that we’ve yet to stay up late enough to make it there.
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