A slight, tanned boy is gracefully scampering over the rocks at the far end of the beach to a natural jumping-off point at the top. He’s one of a procession of swimmers lining up to skip off the cliff edge into the cooling, clear waters below.
It’s swelteringly hot and everything is incredibly, almost painfully, bright. It takes me a few seconds to realise the boy is actually my son. His father is pursuing steadily behind, with more than a hint of a cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof about him, picking his way up towards the precipice. Hang on, I think, how deep is that water? They’re awfully near the edge. But before I can react, they’ve jumped off and my son is back, clambering over the rocks again to rejoin the procession of jumpers.
It’d taken us a car and boat taxi to reach Vrika Beach, on Anti Paxos, but the pay-off was turquoise-blue waters, a mega ice cream fix, grilled fresh seafood at the taverna for lunch and a jumping-off point for the kids into the Ionian Sea. The beach is shallow for up to 20 metres out and beautifully sandy: as close to idyllic as beaches get.
“I’d give anything to go back to Anti Paxos,” my daughter said on the home leg of our day trip. We’d arrived on nearby Paxos, one of Greece’s Ionian Islands, after an hour-odd, eight-mile ferry ride from Corfu a few days earlier. Known for its abundant olive groves, gentle eastern coastline and west coast of caves, arches and cliffs, it packs a lot in considering it’s only six miles long and three miles wide. The capital is Gaios, a picturesque village built around the port; the north has the village of Lakka and on the east side is another charming village, Loggos.
Life here follows its own beat. Is your desired seafood not on the menu today? Don’t worry, try again tomorrow. Unlike on larger islands, you get the feeling ‘fish of the day’ may mean exactly that — a cheery admission that the bigger shoals had eluded the local fishermen’s nets that morning.
The island may be small and lacking a huge amount to see and do in terms of child-friendly commercial attractions, but it’s just so enticing, with many of the visitors we spoke to saying they return again and again. The way to tackle a stay on Paxos is to literally go with the flow and enjoy whatever you find along the way — long lunches and early-morning walks, sunset drinks, maybe a sightseeing excursion or two. Given its size, there’s a surprising amount of history and culture on show, from the Venetian Fortress of Agios Nikolaos to the English Governor’s House and Paxi Museum, not to mention the usual rash of chapels and churches you find everywhere you go in Greece.
Alternatively, you could do what we did and find a spot on one of the 30-odd beaches and stay until sunset. It doesn’t take long to settle into a routine. Ours consisted of the pool, the sea, the wine (neighbouring Anti Paxos is known for its vineyards), the beach, sipping on frappé (iced coffee) in Lakka by the waterside watching the kayakers — mostly children — try their hand at the sport.
At Manadendri Beach, we make use of the Basta Taverna’s saltwater pool, hammocks and paddleboards, and gawp at octopuses spreadeagled on a washing line, drying in the sun, ready to be served for lunch or dinner. In all of this, we let the children find their own pace — it was simply too hot to do otherwise. Mostly, this meant water play: jumping over the waves in the sea, making waves in the pool, shooting spray guns, diving for pennies, balancing on paddleboards in the sea, jumping in, more jumping in, jumping out. Hot, cold, wet, dry. Repeat.
Legend has it Paxos would be the southernmost tip of Corfu if the sea god Poseidon hadn’t broken it off with his trident to create a peaceful home for him and his wife, Amphitrite. You can see why he’d choose to stay here, I think, as I half walk, half stumble over the jagged rock path up to the jumping-off point on Vrika Beach, trailing after my son. If you can’t beat them…
Where to stay: Avlaki Bay House, Paxos
With sea views over its namesake Avlaki Bay surrounded by four acres of pine and cypress, our four double-bedroomed house for the week was located in the hamlet of Vlachopoulatica, on the west coast of Paxos. We were five minutes by car from the main town Gaios and — better still — just a 15-minute stroll from not just one but a cluster of three tavernas.
The traditional Greek decor included lots of chintz touches and bowls and ornaments, offset by modern, neutral, brown furnishings — the overall effect of which was surprisingly homely.
Being a group of eight meant the compact kitchen felt a little too cosy at times, although there was ample space everywhere else in the villa for two families to live ‘separately’ together in comfort. As an added bonus: the wi-fi was excellent.
The children’s highlight was the 9m by 5m infinity pool, which tended to bring out their mischievous sides whenever a grown-up strayed too close. The adults’ standout? Being able to sit by the pool and drink it all in — when not being dragged in against their will by said children.
How to do it: Simpson Travel offers seven nights at Avlaki Bay House, on a self-catering basis and departing 1 May 2016, from £608 per person, based on eight sharing.
Who: Maria travelled with her partner, daughter Rae (9) and son Luca (7).
Best for: Tots to teens. Ideal sunny, chill-out trip.
Highs: The constant heat, the water, the water, the water. And the food. All fresh, all good.
Lows: The lack of restaurant choices. Tavernas or tavernas. Thai? Indian? Chinese? Nope.
Need to know: There were no issues with cash machines or money, despite the media at the time suggesting otherwise. Most tavernas also offer free sunbeds if you stay for a drink or lunch.
Alternative: How about Crete for its combination of great beaches and city life.
Published in the Winter 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller Family (UK).