With Greek island escapists and hedonists alike in search of something altogether different from the notorious (and increasingly overpriced) OutThere playgrounds in the Cyclades, the laid-back island of Paros raises the stakes with its equally relaxed village-within-a-village luxury resort, Avant Mar.
As Matsuhisa Athens, the Vouliagmeni outpost of the global Peruvian-Japanese restaurant chain has been thrilling international jet-setters for well over a decade, it was high time that they opened a branch in the Greek islands.
But as its more celebrated older sister Nobu claimed Santorini as her own, with the opening of the eponymous Nobu Hotel Santorini, Matsuhisa had to find a different island that fit the brand’s more laid-back personality. Where did they land? Paros.
Paros – since the Cyclades and its windy, white-washed Aegean Ocean vibe rose in infamy among OutThere travellers – has always been in the shadows of Mykonos and Santorini, although we’d say contently so. More rustic and relaxed, it relinquished the glossy beach clubs and chi-chi way of life of its neighbours, attracting instead generations of carefree flashpackers and holidaymakers that came in search of a real slice of Greek Island ‘parea’ – good friends, good times, sunshine and great food – what Grecophiles (or philhellenes, the official term for those, like us, who adore Greece) have long referred to as the #TavernaLife.
But it seems that’s all about to change, with the arrival of Avant Mar, a resort that looks to bring a touch of glamour to Paros, yet preserve its easy-going atmosphere. And when Matsuhisa announced that Avant Mar was to be its home base, you can only imagine that it set tongues wagging.
Avant Mar occupies a seafront piece of land, right on a crescent of sand called Piperi Beach. It’s the local swimming beach of Nauossa, a quaint Cycladic fishing village that tops the must-list (and certainly the guidebook) for visitors to Paros. It comes complete with quintessential windmills, white, cuboid houses with colourful balconies, churches with blue domed roofs, a fort, wave-lapping stone docks lined with old fishing boats, linen-ware stores, and tavernas… lots of them. Albeit not the most polished as Greek seaside villages go, it radiates in agrestic charm, built layer upon layer over the decades.
Avant Mar is quite the opposite: sleek, designer and contemporary. The resort boasts eye-catching architecture, beautiful landscaping, and minimalist interior design, all coming together to showcase an aesthetic we’ve termed ‘Cycladic Modernism’. The property plays on the traditional, minimalist, cuboid structures of the archipelago and Greek artisanship, with a touch of Californian mid-century modern as well: think Malibu with a heavy Greek accent.
Our Executive Suite, built up into a small hill, was an understated – simple, yet effective – retreat in white concrete walls and cool floor tiles. Accenting it all were splashes of earthy blues, greens, natural stone and light wood, as well as textures and grains. A generous living and sleeping area rose into a well-appointed marble bathroom (with Aesop amenities), which in turn rose into a small, quiet courtyard garden. Some fab amenities were implemented in the room, like yoga mats and a workout kit. The property itself lacks a gym.
Right on time
While you’re Out There
The village of Naoussa is just a 5-minute (uphill) walk from Avant Mar – so leave the kitten heels at home. Taverna dining with a contemporary twist is ubiquitous here, but our favourite place for food, complete with an upbeat atmosphere was the dockside Barbarossa. Queer OutThere travellers may also be surprised to learn that LGBTQ+ nightlife is not confined to Mykonos. Here in minuscule Naoussa, there are not one but two bars – JORDI the bar and Persona – for the community. Check out their Instagram pages for the latest goings-on.
There were some little things that showed that operations at Avant Mar are still somewhat fledgling, something that we know/hope with some finessing, will improve over time. Our bathroom lacked a vanity/shaving mirror for example, and the narrow steps up to it were a trip hazard. The suite also did not have any form of modern hospitality technology. Its electrical fittings, albeit basic, could also have been better labelled; we accidentally opened the automatic curtains several times, mistaking them for the light switch after falling down the stairs from the bathroom while naked. Turn-down service could be better refined and considering the warm climate, more drinking water should be made available. We were given a refillable water bottle, which was great for the hotel’s sustainability creds, but whenever we asked for it to be refilled, they did so from single-use plastic bottles.
Our suite came with a plunge pool and sundeck out front. Others have terraces, some with pomegranate trees. Do note that in both cases, we avoided using the word ‘private’, as sadly neither is private at all, which we felt was a little bit of a design oversight. Oversight, is the operative word here, as the hotel’s central pathway runs past the front of all buildings and it was hard to avert the gaze and a friendly “Kalispera” from curious fellow guests, or eager members of staff. Ours was also in full view of the hotel’s reception, coffee shop and jewellery shop. We’re not huge exhibitionists, so next time, we’d be booking into a suite closer to the ocean. Also, each terrace was only separated by a thin partition, so it was inevitable that we eavesdropped on our neighbour’s conversation and vice versa. But even if we had opted for the resort’s top-most suite, its own pool is also overlooked, albeit we’d have a larger and more luxurious space.
The property has a rather impressive main pool and a separate hydrotherapy pool, so whether or not the price premium to have a plunge pool in-suite is worth the upgrade is up to you. Accordingly, rates differ depending on the position of each accommodation, with the more secluded suites coming at a higher price.
All this said, where we felt the property truly excelled was in its F&B and its staff. Matshuhisa naturally gives Avant Mar an edge, but its poolside Thymes restaurant is also excellent, serving up Mediterranean and local flavours. The Avant Mar’s friendly staff deserve huge credit. They were ever so friendly and helpful, bending over backwards to ensure that we had a stunning stay. Hats off to them, considering that when we visited, they’d only been operating for a few weeks. Yet, the place ran like clockwork and a well-oiled one at that.
Teething issues aside, we felt that greater privacy is something that the property fundamentally needs to work on. We fully understand that the quirk of the hotel’s layout may not be conducive to discretion and exclusivity. Additionally, it is possible that Avant Mar is trying to build an atmosphere of greater conviviality. After all, so many resorts these days are deprived of a communal vibe because people stay hidden away in their suites. This certainly wasn’t the case at Avant Mar.
The other piece that it needs to solve is what surrounds it, physically. Because Avant Mar is first in its class, the buildings and infrastructure around the resort are still rather rudimentary. Consequently, the views at the time we stayed were not ‘picture postcard’ and there were problems with ambient noise. This makes it hard for them to build an impression of a secluded hideaway, to appeal to OutThere escapists.
But in the way that Paros isn’t a glitzy island, perhaps Avant Mar isn’t striving to be a super luxury resort. There’s no doubt that its village-within-a-village atmosphere is profoundly charming and we couldn’t help but feel a sense of Greek-island-holiday nostalgia. If you come here looking for a mega-polished, five-star, big-brand resort experience, you might be disappointed. But should you come looking for an elevated slice of laid-back island life, Avant Mar will enthrall you.
Avant Mar can be booked through Elegant Resorts for a Paros-only stay or in combination with another Cycladic Island entry point (with an international airport) like Mykonos or Santorini. Alternatively, Elegant Resorts offers a ten-day/nine-night, escapist island hopping itinerary, which includes the islands of Paros, Antiparos and Sifnos, including a number of hand-selected hotels including Avant Mar. The itinerary features a private yacht cruise around the smaller islands close to Paros, Tigani, Panteronisi, Glaropounta, Antiparos, Despotiko, and Antiparos’ sea caves. On Antiparos and Sifnos, private guides will get you closer to the island’s history and traditions.