Naxos is the largest and most fertile island in the Cyclades group, robed with pristine beaches on its coastline, and surrounded by blue Mediterranean beauty. Inland there are ancient ruins, and traditional villages amphitheatrically cascading down the slopes of the mountains they nestle against. According to Greek Mythology, the young Zeus was raised in a cave on Mt Zas ( ‘Zas’ meaning ‘Zeus’) in the centre of Naxos island, on the tallest peak in the Cyclades. Naxos also happens to be conveniently located close to other Greek Islands and is a fantastic base to do some Greek Island hopping!
A little bit of history
The island of Naxos has been quarrying marble since ancient times, and continues to this day, for use in sculptures and other decorations. The ancient Naxians presented a solid marble sphinx, over 2 meters tall, in dedication to the Oracle of Delphi. While the remains of the original sphinx are in the museum at the archaeological site of Delphi, a smaller replica of the Sphinx sits in front of the council buildings looking out over the harbour of Naxos. Another gift of ancient Naxian marble was given in the shape of several marble lions that were given to the people of Delos as a gift to the god Apollo. The lions were placed as guardians to watch over the sacred lake. The remains of the lions are on display in the Archaeological Museum on the island of Delos. Ancient quarries can be found at various locations on the island, and some unfinished pieces like the Kouros of Appollanas can be found in these quarries.
We took one of the Greek Island Ferries from Santorini to Naxos. These ferries are large, almost like a small cruise ship, and are a very comfortable way to travel around on your Greek Islands holiday. One of the first things you see as you arrive into Naxos Port on the ferry is the massive marble Portara – a doorway to an unfinished, ancient temple. Located on a small island at the entrance to Naxos harbour, you can reach the site by crossing over a long connecting causeway.
Standing next to the Portara and looking back at the old town of Naxos provides a stunning view of the terraced whitewashed buildings that make up the chaotic labyrinth of streets known as the Chora. Navigating the streets may require the skills of an orienteer, but getting lost can be just as much fun. Small alleys with twisting stone pathways skirt the base of the castle, taking you up and down past restaurants, cafés, bakeries, hundreds of cats, jewellery stores, and all manner of shops aimed at the tourist trade.
Where to stay on Naxos
We stayed at the Doron Hotel Delfini, where we were welcomed like relatives with fresh fruit and tea and coffee when we checked in. Each morning a buffet breakfast of fresh fruits, cereal, yoghurt and honey was prepared for us, along with tea and coffee. The hotel is an easy walking distance from the port, Agios Georgios beach, and restaurants, supermarkets and shops.
Life on this island flows by at a relaxed pace, which is wonderfully restorative. Meandering down to the Agios Georgios beach we occupied some deck chairs under a beach umbrella in front of a beachside café. Ordering drinks and snacks to consume at our leisure, we felt a bit like royalty as we alternated between swimming in the sea with the inquisitive fish, and just lying in the sun relaxing to the sound of the waves washing up against the sand.
Heading out in the evening we wandered along the edge of the port down towards the Portara. We stopped at the “Relax” café to enjoy happy hour and some €5 cocktails, in the shade of an old tree, while we watched the sun set over the harbour.
Later we walked back through the labyrinth and admired all the stores displaying their wares in the fairy-light streets.
There were so many eating options in Naxos. From fine dining, to family run businesses selling traditional Greek food, to cafés and take away food stores – including bakeries and ice cream shops. Needless to say that our full bellies required a lot of night time strolling around. (I will write a bit more about the restaurants we visited in a separate post)
Although there are many bus tours that you can take around the island, we chose to hire a car and drive around at our own pace to see the villages, visit the ruins and appreciate the scenery in general. After a leisurely start to the day we set off at around 10 am and took the road up into the mountains in the direction of the Temple of Demeter, Chalki and Filoti. We stopped for a late lunch at Apeiranthos, with afternoon coffee in Apollonas, then we found the Apollonas Kouros. Finally winding our way back along the coast road, we returned to the main town of Naxos.
One thing that I found interesting in Naxos, as well as other places in Greece, is that the place names often have two or three different spellings that all refer to the same place. For example “Chalki”, is also “Chalkio” and “Halki”. It’s a little bit tricky in the beginning, because the visitor map will use one spelling, and the road signs may use a different one, and odds are that google maps will have it different again! After a while you learn to associate the different spelling variations, but at first I didn’t know where we were going to end up!
The roads were mostly in good condition, just somewhat narrower than ones we are used to in Australia. The clutch in our manual hire car was on its way out, and we had an incredibly scary incident leaving Apollonas with a very steep bit of road that the car just did not want to climb!! It may have added a few grey hairs to my collection – so word of advice to you is if you are thinking about hiring a car on Naxos, test the clutch out before you go too far away from the rental depot!
We visited Naxos in the first week of October, and while there were few tourists, the sea was becoming almost too cold to enjoy swimming at the beaches. Most of the Greek Island tours to neighbouring islands were also finished! After searching through nearly every tour office on Naxos, I did manage to book a couple of the last tours for the season! I enjoyed an island tour around the Naxos coastline and over to the small island of Koufanisi on a sailing boat called the “Penelope”. Then on the very last day of the season, I took another day trip to Delos and Mykonos on a Greek Island Ferry. That was cutting it pretty fine. I almost didn’t get to do the Greek Island Hopping that I had been dreaming about for months! To be on the safe side, it would be better to plan your visit a couple of weeks earlier.
Amazing food, beautiful beaches, scenic mountains, traditional villages, ancient ruins, and at a relaxed pace to enjoy it all in. If you haven’t been to Naxos, you should definitely plan a visit on your next trip to the Greek Islands.