Author of Alex Rider, Foyle's War, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, TV and film writer, occasional journalist.


Anthony Horowitz: modern-day island-hopping in Greece

Originally published in The Telegraph
Anthony Horowitz: modern-day island-hopping in Greece

It may be a bit perverse to be writing about Greece while the country is having such a tough time financially. But sitting at a crowded kafeneo with the sun shining, not a cloud in the sky and the Aegean Sea so dazzling blue it puts the Mediterranean to shame, it’s always hard to be gloomy. Anyway, if everything does finally fall apart, the Greeks will need tourism more than ever – and I’m happy to do a little bit to help.

I’ve been island-hopping for the first time in 30 years: from Crete to Paros, Antiparos, Mykonos and Delos. The experience is still very much as I remember it, with huge ferries charging into tiny harbours, performing their manoeuvres with incredible speed and deftness, white water boiling around them as they turn, unload and set off again. There’s the usual cluster of bars, kiosks, car rental offices and cheap hotels all looking washed-out in the sun. Young Greek men hold up signs advertising rooms. There are, however, far fewer backpacks. They’ve been supplanted by wheelies that rattle along the cobblestones pulled behind the same travellers that I remember, all in bright colours: straw hats, straps, bumbags and sunglasses. For a few minutes the quayside is chaotic. Then the ferry pulls out and everything goes back to sleep.

Anthony Horowitz: 'This sort of tourism is the joy of Greece’The Parikia port of Paros, Greece Photo: Fotolia/AP

Every island is different and has its own special flavour. I fell in love with Paros, in the Cyclades, before I’d even stepped ashore. After the roughness of Crete and the vertiginous rock faces of Santorini, it has a gentle, laid-back charm, the grass-covered hills rolling down to the sea. The intense heat has washed out a lot of the colour, and on first sight the island has the look of one of those antique, faded photographs, helped by the lack of industry, the lack of anything really that isn’t related to the enjoyment of life. Paros is wonderfully underdeveloped. There’s plenty of space between the houses, almost no graffiti and far fewer of those half-built constructions that disfigure so much of Greece.

It took just five minutes and €30 (£22) to rent a slightly clapped-out car at the quayside. It makes me wonder why it’s often such a performance to rent vehicles in this modern age. I’d booked a room at the Yria Resort, a 10-minute drive from the main town of Parikia, and this turned out to be a welcoming and quite lovely hotel with a huge swimming pool and a collection of bright white suites. The ensemble folded into a really beautiful garden made up of lawns and courtyards half concealed by great clumps of bright red bougainvillea and pale blue valerian. And it cost just €130 a night: fairly expensive for Greece, but still good value.

Anthony Horowitz: 'This sort of tourism is the joy of Greece’Antiparos, Greece Photo: Fotolia/AP

Parikia itself was delightful. From the outside, it may not be much to look at, but once you’ve crossed the surprisingly spacious main square – where children kick footballs and practise wheelies on their bikes – and follow the twisting main street, you’ll be surprised how charming it all is. Quite by surprise, I came upon the stub of a Frankish castle, built in the 13th century from leftover bits and pieces whose shapes reminded me of oversized liquorice allsorts. I climbed up through quiet backstreets with washing hanging out on lines, cats stretched out in the evening heat, snatches of Greek conversation coming from behind half-closed shutters, and here and there a sudden glimpse of the sea at the end of a perfectly white alley.

I found a little bar, the Kastro Bistro, tucked away on a slope above a vast seascape and ordered Mythos beer and dakos – barley bread with tomato, feta and olives; a Greek staple. From here, I watched one of those sunsets that make you understand why the Greeks created their gods. There was a scattering of rocks and tiny islands that seemed to become darker as the colour of the sun deepened. A few seagulls wheeled overhead.

This is the sort of tourism I most enjoy: free and easy, simply strolling and enjoying life with no tickets to buy for monuments or museums I don’t really want to visit, and no real plan at all. For me, it’s the real joy of Greece.

Anthony Horowitz: 'This sort of tourism is the joy of Greece’ Photo: Fotolia/AP

The next day, I visited Antiparos, a quite separate and distinctive island just five minutes away, reached by a slightly antiquated ferry. The main attraction here is a wonderful cave that has a huge stalagmite at the entrance, said to be 45 million years old. Get there early enough (it opens at 10am) and you’ll have the place to yourself, an awesome experience as you follow a modern staircase ever further into the bowels of the earth. Nearby, the Soros Beach is quiet and unspoilt if you fancy a swim. There’s a decent tavern there, too.

Two other places are worth mentioning. Paros is quite different when you move away from the sea. Baking hot and almost deserted when I visited, the inland town of Lefkes has winding streets and alleyways that are simply and effortlessly beautiful, dominated by a cathedral whose two bell towers could have come out of a spaghetti western. Here the locals outnumber the tourists and there’s barely a bumbag in sight. There’s an attractive boutique hotel, the Lefkes Village Hotel, in the middle – and I’m sure it would make an amazing place to stay.

Anthony Horowitz: 'This sort of tourism is the joy of Greece’The town of Naousa, Greece Photo: Fotolia/AP

Of course, one of the things about all these little towns and villages is that they have banned cars, and it’s amazing what a difference that makes to life. I’m sure we’d all be a lot happier if we did the same in London.

And inevitably, I found my way to Naousa, which has become the most popular town on the island. It’s easy to see why. Picture-postcard perfect, it has half a dozen restaurants – all white tables and chairs – jumbled together around a tiny harbour and surrounded by multicoloured fishing boats, great piles of crates and nets, octopuses left hanging out to dry in the sun and even a ruined fort. I had really good fresh fish at Barbarossa but, in truth, it’s hard to get a bad meal here. Naousa is lively, noisy and fun with some surprisingly good shops in the interlocking backstreets.

I spent three days on the island and left feeling I’d been there for at least a week. It’s that sort of place.