We turned to Greece’s ‘lover’s island’ to cure our lack of romance (2024)

When strangers ask me how I met my boyfriend, I am always struck by how old-fashioned the story seems for my generation. We met 10 years ago on the first day of university – his room was down the hall, and in a moment of brazen confidence, I knocked and introduced myself. When I tell this story to fellow millennials, they marvel and swoon at the quaint idea of meeting “offline”, while Gen Zers eye us suspiciously, as if beneath our (relatively) fresh skin lurks a secret ancient person. But, they all agreed, our “origin story”, as a worldly teenager once described it, is rather romantic.

Yet textbook romance has never come particularly easily to us as a couple. He, shy and private as a hermit crab, took almost two months to hold my hand in public, while his partiality to logic and efficiency clashed with my dreamier impulses.

Our most bathetic tale of botched romance occurred during our fifth anniversary trip to Mexico. After dinner, our heaving bodies were led away from our table by a conspiratorial waiter to find a trail of petals leading up to our cabana, where the staff had kindly staged a surprise, rom-com worthy tableau. Chris Isaac’s Wicked Game was playing softly on the speaker, an enormous perfumed bath, strewn with more flowers, had been run, candles glowed in every corner while a bottle of champagne sat on ice. But before I had so much as put down my handbag, my boyfriend had collapsed fully dressed onto his side of the bed, and was immediately, deeply, asleep. “Nobody loves no one…” Isaac sang, tauntingly.

And so I decided that, for our 10th anniversary – a notable milestone that could not be ignored – we would find that elusive spark of romance once and for all. Extensive Googling revealed the Grecian island of Paros to be one of the world’s most quietly romantic destinations, so, charmed by the idea of translucent sea and tiny white-stoned fishing villages, off we went.

We got off to an auspicious start. Having come down with a bad cold the day before our flight, my boyfriend sat buried in a handkerchief during the three-hour ferry from Athens, and arrived in the port of Parikia swaying like a sailor, exhausted from the motion of perpetual sneezing. “You know,” I whispered to him as we were ushered into the newly renovated hotel Minois overlooking Parsporas beach, “this doesn’t get you off the hook, romance wise.” He crumpled into a swinging wicker chair by the pool with a welcome co*cktail, which is where he remained for several hours, intermittently peered at by concerned staff dressed in white tunics so immaculate they could have manned the gates of heaven.

But after a day of seaside convalescence – including more restorative fruit potions from Minois’s excellent bar and morsels of Greek syrup-soaked orange cake – the handkerchief was packed away, and things started to look up. The next morning, we scampered down a sand dune to Parasporos beach to watch the sunrise, the Aegean sea already warm by seven o’clock. Then we strolled through the slippery, winding streets of the capital, Parikia, sipping the Greeks’ beloved freddo espresso as we visited Panagia Ekatontapiliani, a superb 1,700-year-old Byzantine church, as well as the 800-year-old Frankish castle which looks out to sea. Come dusk, we sat at Minois’s impressive restaurant Olvo, eating slivers of tuna and beetroot, the orange sky liquifying across the water – pure romance, we agreed, with a sigh of relief. But in a matter of hours, the cosmos would turn against us.

The next morning, we awoke to the sight of our wet swimsuits (laid on our balcony to dry the night before) doing somersaults across the hotel foliage – one pair of pants never to be seen again. The Cyclades are known for their powerful winds, and for the rest of the trip it felt as if Zeus were furiously blowing on a stubborn candle. “I’ve never seen waves like this,” declared a waiter, grimly observing the usually peaceful rocky lagoon. “You have brought the weather from London!” We looked at the rain clouds gathering overhead. “Perhaps,” noted my boyfriend solemnly as we gripped our palomas against what now felt like gale-force winds, “this romance business just isn’t for us.”

But as the hours wore on, something shifted. We began the day tucked up in bed, watching in sleepy, silent awe as the sun came up over the vast expanse of ocean, the island of Naxos looming through the mist; then spent the afternoon hiding from the rain in the subterranean spa of Parocks, a luxury hotel on a near-desolate stretch of Paros’s north-eastern coastline. Rather than flashy romantic gestures of petal trails and champagne, it was in these moments of quiet togetherness that, actually, we felt happiest. Even a disastrous yacht trip, during which pummeling waves and thunderous rain sent plastic wine glasses flying across the deck and turned us a queasy shade of green, wasn’t enough to shake our newfound serenity.

The next day, the weather calmed, and, feeling hopeful, we went exploring in the charming northern port of Naoussa, where gleaming little fishing boats sat by powder-blue restaurant tables and shocks of pink bougainvillea sprouting from blinding white boutiques. Drunk on hot sea air and good Greek wine, we tumbled out of the restaurant and sat by the water listening to the fishing boats clinking in the dark.

We then checked into the majestic new hotel Cosme, and spent a day roaming Paros’s beautiful inland hamlets. In the quiet, hilly village of Márpissa, we were invited into the home of a woman weaving on her grandmother’s loom. After offering us spoonfuls of jam – a ritual of traditional Greek hospitality – she told us her story: married by 16 after an enraged father caught her kissing a Greek boy next door, pregnant by 17, a widow by 40. Now in her seventies, she had a wonderful new boyfriend. “Finally, now, I choose,” she beamed, relaxed and happy, no longer conforming to any standard but her own.

On our final evening, we walked up to Cosme’s star-gazing point, where the sky was a thick, twinkling black. Lying side by side on cushions amid humming crickets in a thick heat, I remembered what a tour guide had told us the day before, when explaining how to extract Parian marble. “You have to extract the marble whole, in the shape you want,” he’d said. “You can’t add or remove parts later.” I squeezed my boyfriend’s hand. “Perhaps we don’t need to add anything to us either,” I said. “We’re exactly as we should be.” But, glancing over, I found him happily, deeply, asleep.


Eleanor Halls was a guest of Cosme Hotel Paros (00 30 2284 440000; cosmehotelparos.com), which has doubles from £1,198 per night, and of PAROCKS Luxury Hotel & Spa (00 30 2284 440500; parockshotel.com), which has doubles from £600 per night.

Various airlines fly direct from regional UK airports to Athens, with returns from £34. Direct ferries from Piraeus (Athens) to Parikia (Paros) depart several times a day (from £110 return; go-ferry.com).

We turned to Greece’s ‘lover’s island’ to cure our lack of romance (2024)
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