Parga: Lost in the Alleys of the Ionian Sea’s Diamond

Cover Photo Credit: wolfgang.mller54 (all rights reserved)

There is one feeling I will always associate Parga with in my head: lost. Not in the sophisticated, metaphorical meaning of travel books and journals but in the most literal meaning of the word.

The first time I passed through the town was under some pretty unusual circumstances. My parents and I were on a roadtrip through north-western Greece and decided to make a quick stop for a stroll, in order to take in the pleasant sea view. Little did we know that we would spend the next three hours desperately searching for our parked car. Parga enjoys a premium location overlooking the Ionian sea but also one of the most complex city plannings I’ve seen throughout my travels, both domestically and abroad. The town is built on a hill with little alleys and pathways that seem to be sprouting out of nowhere. Many of them connect randomly in a loop, while others lead to unexpected dead ends. Long story short, it can be very tricky to navigate around, especially under a scorching 40°C sun.

After that summer adventure I always had the desire to return to this little jewel of a coastal town. I did not want to associate it for the rest of my life with one unfortunate event. After a couple of efforts I managed to collect my best friends and organize a nice week’s visit to the area. Our plan was to explore not only Parga itself, but the wider area of south-western Epirus. And it was one hell of a memorable trip!

Mythology

The area around Parga has been widely connected with ancient Greek myths. Just a few kilometres away lies the emptying point of the Acheron river into the Ionian Sea. The Ancient Greeks believed the Acheron to be the path to the Underworld and its waters were believed to have magical attributes. As the river was too deep to navigate and dark to explore, many souls were losing their way. It was the job of Hermes – one of the Olympian gods – to navigate the souls to their final resting place.

Another popular myth associated with the area is that of Achilles, the mythical Iliad hero. According to one version of the myth, his mother dipped baby Achilles in the river’s waters. The goal was to make him invincible to physical damage, however she had to dip him holding him from the heel, thus his only weakness.

As the river is connected to Hades and the Underworld, the river is also associated with Hades’ bride. Persephone was the beloved daughter of Demeter, goddess of harvest and nature. Her abduction to the Underworld brought deep despair to her mother. As she was withering from sadness, so did the weather, killing all crops and causing famine among humans. The Olympians asked Hades to allow the two women to reunite and negotiated a compromise. The girl would spend half of the year among the Gods and the other half in the Underworld. While mother and daughter are reunited spring and summer comes, whereas autumn and winter follow while she is away.

History

Parga got its current location in the 14th century, as local inhabitants settled the area to avoid enemy attacks. With aid from the Normans they built fortification, much of it can be seen even today. Contrary to most other Greek mainland cities, Parga enjoyed a special administrative status thanks to the role of the Venetians. While the rest of Epirus was already under Ottoman rule, Parga was under a much less rigid Venetian rule for more than 400 years, alongside Corfu and the rest of the Ionian islands. However, after an unsuccessful French rule, the town was handed to the Ottomans in 1817. The city, which had seen its population rise quickly throughout Venetian rule, lost most of its inhabitants. The vast majority escaped to Corfu and other islands, where they felt more welcome.

Today Parga belongs to the Preveza municipal unit; however, many of the locals feel that they culturally and historically belong more to the neighboring Thesprotia municipality. The town has a permanent population of 4,000, although this number peaks to about 40,000 in the summer months. It is a major resort since the late 80s – by far the biggest one in the Epirus region of Greece. It is known by many nicknames, among which Princess, Diamond, Emerald or Nymph of the Ionian Sea.

Transport

The easiest and fastest way to access Parga from abroad is through Aktion Airport (70km away). In the summer months the airport welcomes flights from most major European hubs. From there Parga can be accessed either by rental car or by taxi. The taxi fare is usually around 85€ and the trips takes one hour. It is possible to reach the town by bus as well, but expect a much longer drive and a change in Preveza.

For travellers coming from Athens, Thessaloniki or Ioannina, a car or bus is your best bet. The drive is about 5:30hrs from Athens, 3:30hrs from Thessaloniki and 1:30hr from Ioannina by car. Buses tend to take significantly longer as they are often not direct and stop in many villages upon request on the way.

A return bus ticket from Athens to Parga costs a bit under 90€ and can be purchased at the ticket office. Reservations are recommended on holidays, Fridays and weekends.

The town itself is pretty small and compact so you can go anywhere within its limits by foot. Parking is a painful topic for locals and tourists alike and traffic jams tend to be chaotic in the peak summer season.

Things to do

Swimming / Sunbathing

Parga is a renowned resort thanks to its proximity to many sandy beaches. Krioneri is the main beach, which is hard to miss as it’s adjascent to the town’s popular promenade. Although its small and constantly crowded, its waters are clean and the views it offers to the Venetian fortress are unique.

Valtos is the other one of Parga’s beaches, a long strip of clean sand just outside of the town limits. It offers sunbeds and parasols for a fee, however it also has plenty of free space to set up your own beach equipment. The beach is very well organized with showers, cafes and restaurants. You can also enjoy different organized watersports with a local instructor.

Apart from those nearby beaches, there is a plethora of other choices, as long as you find a way to get there. Sarakiniko, Lichnos and Sivota are the most popular choices. The first two can be easily accessed on a daily basis by boat from Parga’s harbor; just make sure to book your tickets from the night before! We tried Sarakiniko and it was well worth the visit, the boat ticket being somewhere around 10€ return for the 15-minute boat ride.

Daytrips

Except from the aforementioned beach-hopping trips available at the town’s port, there are plenty other options for all budgets and types of travellers.

One of the most popular day-trips that all local tour operators offer on a daily basis in the peak season is the cruise to Paxi island. Paxi is a small Ionian island with crystal clear waters, a small cute main settlement and nice seafood, which is usually overshadowed by the much larger and more popular Corfu just north of it. As it is considered an expensive destination due to its shortage of accommodation options, visiting it by cruise from Parga is a great, affordable way to see it. It is recommended to book your ticket in advance, as they tend to sell out very fast.

For those of you who enjoy the path less travelled, many local tour operators offer daytrips to Southern Albania. The package usually includes a visit to the port town of Sarande, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Butrint. Please ensure that you have a valid passport with you before you sign up for this trip.

Another daytrip option is the nearby city of Ioannina with its historical lake, well-renowned syrup pastries and handmade gold jewelry studios.

Acheron River

Already mentioned as a major background of many Greek myths, Acheron river is definitely worth a visit.

You can explore the river in many different ways. The most popular (and lazy one) is to take a boat from Ammoudia village for a fee and get guided through the last few kilometres before the river meets the sea. The area is rich in vegetation and has a very “Everglades marshy” feel to it. The boat will also show you the opening of a few sea caves and the guides are happy to share local stories and myths with you.

The most active way to explore Acheron is by signing up for one of the many activities, like canyoning and rafting. The village of Glyki serves as the hub for many of these activities with stands and people passing leaflets around. The price is usually fixed but if you are a big group you might be able to negotiate the price.

For those who really love their exploration as close to the nature as possible, walking against the river flow is a very popular activity. As the biggest part of the river is relatively shallow, no significant swimming skills are necessary. Please be aware that the waters are very cold and, thus, not recommended for the faint-hearted. Also come wearing and carrying only the essentials, since the water might reach up to your neck in some parts. Wear comfortable beach shoes or sneakers to protect your feet from cuts and just enjoy the walk!

Parga Fortress

Though not the best-preserved monument in Greece, the Venetian Castle is well-worth a visit. It is a popular coffee or dining spot, with a gorgeous view of the port and the Ionian Sea. As it is located at the top of the city, it is recommended to visit either early in the morning or after nightfall, as the heat can make the ascend quite a challenge.

Food & Drink

The only problem you might have in Parga is that you won’t know which locale to choose for your lunch or dinner!

There are many decently-priced restaurants with local, Italian and Balkan dishes, mainly lined up along the seafront promenade or in the vicinity of the Venetian castle. We personally really enjoyed Taverna Sakis close to the fortress, with it’s polite service and large selection. It was also recommended to us by many of the locals. Specifically for seafood, Taverna Stefanos is one of the most renowned eateries in town. With a gorgeous view to the Ionian Sea, the restaurant offers freshly-caught fish, chosen by you from their display. A place with a more elegant feel was Hellenikon restaurant; I particularly enjoyed their mixed salad, served in a massive wooden bowl!

For drinks our place of choice would definitely be the recently opened Avocado Bar. Friendly service, nice view to the port and, most importantly, great coctails and music choices!

Accommodation

Parga’s economy is mostly based on tourism; as a result, expect to find a wide range of accommodation options. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that Parga is one of the few tourism destinations in Greece without major hotel complexes. This gives the city a much more authentic feel. Most of the options are bungalows or rooms to rent, with the occassional B&B and family-run hotel.

For camping lovers, Valtos and Lichnos beach camping grounds are the closest options. According to our latest information, they offer car parking, shower & WC amenities but they both lack proper kitchen grounds.

Please be aware that Parga is a hotspot between mid July – end of August. Make sure to book your accommodation well in advance, especially if you are self-organized. Avoid accommodation very close to the promenade, as it tends to get very loud until 1AM every day.

Other Information

Last visited: August 2017

Local name: Πάργα

Currency: Euro

Calling Code: +30

Timezone: EET (+2)

Emergency Numbers: 100 – Police, 166 – Medical Emergency, 199 – Fire Brigade, 171 – Tourist Police, 191 – Forest Service

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