The empty Greek island you should visit right now

Paxos isn’t exactly nightlife central
Paxos isn’t exactly nightlife central Credit: getty

One by one, the number of Greek islands on the dreaded quarantine red list grew – Zakynthos, Mykonos, Crete... Please don’t add Paxos, I prayed. Or Corfu, the closest airport to this tiny, tranquil Ionian island. Luckily, the gods were listening – helped by the fact that Paxos isn’t exactly nightlife central. In fact, it hasn’t even got a proper nightclub, and all its bars and restaurants now have to close by midnight. 

There’s been only a handful of coronavirus cases on the island throughout the whole pandemic, and it would have been unfair to tar Paxos with the same brush as its busier and rowdier neighbours. In contrast to the blanket bans issued by the Foreign Office earlier this summer, this island-by-island approach was eminently more sensible.

In spite of this, the shadow of quarantine and general uncertainty has been hovering over the island, where the tourist numbers are down on what you would usually see in gloriously hot September. Restaurant owners aren’t entirely sure how they’ll survive the autumn and winter. They shrug and smile, not wanting to complain, but when one told me that his family’s restaurant received just €800 worth of support from the Greek government, you have to wonder how on earth they will manage. As the majority of visitors were British, fingers were kept firmly crossed that what was left of the season wouldn’t come to an abrupt end.

Greeks who rely on tourism face a tough future Credit: getty

In this dreamy place, it was easy to pretend that summer wasn’t in any hurry to give way to autumn. In fact, it’s hard to hurry at all on this laid-back, languid island that measures only seven miles by three. I was based in the second largest of the three villages, Lakka, whose deep horseshoe-shaped harbour is a magnet for sailboats of all shapes and sizes. Watching launches pull up to the quayside, their occupants trying to get out gracefully and often failing, became an entertaining sunset ritual at Fanis Bar right by the water’s edge. As the sky began to glow in various shades of pink, I nursed my ice-cold glass of my favourite Greek liqueur, tsipouro, and found myself sinking into a mellowness that had more to do with the atmosphere than the alcohol.

They say you cannot leave without watching the sunset from the western side of Paxos, whose wild coastline is indented with remote beaches mostly accessed by boat. I had done all that the first time round, five years ago, when I scootered up to the lighthouse by Plani beach near Lakka to watch the dramatic spectacle. Same with the incomparably beautiful Erimitis cliffs further to the south. This time, though, I was content to slow down and savour everything thoroughly, more appreciative of what I was seeing and tasting, knowing how quickly it could all change.

The Erimitis cliffs Credit: getty

Not that I was completely indolent. Although Lakka has a lovely beach, Harami, whose pebbly shore soon turns into a sandy bottom, I preferred something quieter. Orkos beach is a 20-minute hike from the centre of Lakka, first up winding steep lanes with a gradient approaching one in three, then through olive groves before a rocky descent through pine trees. What awaited was a sizeable pebbly cove of impossibly clear water, surrounded by olive trees that provided much-needed shade on these 32C days. Hours passed in a pleasant haze of swimming, snorkelling, reading, lunching on cheese and spinach filo pies and snacking on fresh figs. Heaven.

Renting a scooter again, I chanced upon tiny Lakkos beach, not discovering until afterwards that it was the actress Susannah York’s favourite beach and the spot where some of her ashes were scattered. I had spotted a blue plaque with her name on it on one of the village houses, and did some Googling. I could see why she was taken with this peaceful little cove.

Less peaceful but just as relaxed was the next beach along the eastern coast, Manadendri, whose taverna offered sunloungers, octopus salad and some really very good wood-fired pizzas. I popped into the immensely pretty village of Loggos before finding a shady spot on Marmari beach. I know everyone raves about the sandy beaches on Paxos’ little sister island of Antipaxos, but I’m a bigger fan of pebbly beaches, whose waters have such a mesmerising clarity.

Lakka Credit: getty

Gaios, the island’s capital and largest village, is where you get a strong sense of Paxos’ Venetian heritage. Normally, it’s also where you can hop on excursion boats that circle the island and head over to Antipaxos. But in this year of Covid, that’s been severely reduced, although it was still possible to rent boats, with or without a skipper. And even though you couldn’t escape the signs of Covid – face masks worn by almost everyone (apart from some stubborn Greek grannies, who didn’t think much of social distancing), spaced-out taverna tables, hand gel everywhere and fewer tourists – it was a pretty much perfect escape from reality.

Gaios Credit: getty

Sunvil (sunvil.co.uk) has a week’s self-catering at Livadi Studios in Lakka from £549pp, departing 21 September, including flights and transfers.