Sailing into Naxos

Unwinding in Naxos: The Most Stunning Getaway

16 minutes

Written by Michelle/ Photos by Michelle and David

16 minutes

Naxos is the biggest island in the Cyclades and lies in the south Aegean Sea. It is also the birthplace of Zeus, the God of Sky and Thunder in Greek mythology. Like all of Greece, it is steeped in history that has influenced our lives today. This beautiful island contains charming mountain villages, ancient ruins and stretches of alluring beaches with pristine azur-coloured seas.

Naxos really has it all in terms of a getaway, whether it is unwinding or having an adventure or learning some new history. We were in Naxos for a week and experienced a good mix of relaxing beach days and exploring the island. To be honest, when we decided to go to Naxos I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, we had read some blogs and watched some YouTube videos but little did I know that it was going to exceed all expectations.

The Beautiful Old Town of Naxos – Chora (or Hora)

Naxos Old Town

Naxos Old Town

The old town in Naxos is one of the cutest old towns I’ve visited. It’s labyrinthine streets were designed to confuse pirates back in the day. It doesn’t take long wandering the alleyways and getting lost for you to see that the architects were surely successfully in their endeavours. The white washed cube shaped buildings with Aegean blue shutters and the grey stone paved pedestrian streets are absolutely charming and totally instagrammable.

Chora consists of copious amounts of restaurants, cafes and bars, some better than others so do your research or even better, get some local recommendations. We dined at Vassilis Tavern and To Elliniko on the recommendation of our airbnb host, Yiannis, and they were both outstanding options for authentic Greek food. The latter lies a short walk from Chora. I would propose that you either make a reservation in advance or eat early if you want to avoid a one-hour wait for a table. Yes, that’s how popular it is.

Naxos Old Town

While the options at the port are convenient and may lure you in with their cheap happy hour offers you will find more authentic options if you delve a little deeper into the old town. You can find great rooftop bars such as Swing Bar for some molecular mixology that is beautifully presented, and 520 bar and restaurant for stunning views over the port.

Unwinding at the Beaches

Naxos is an island so it’s no surprise that there are plentiful beach options. However, not every island has crystal clear turquoise, albeit sometimes chilly, waters and golden sands. Whether you are into comfortable sun beds and umbrellas with the latest beach chill-out music pumping from the loudspeakers, or more of a hidden gem that is a small cove where you can throw down the towel and soak up some rays, there is a beach for you in Naxos. Just be aware that the more off the beaten track the beach is, the fewer amenities available, such as toilets and food options.

We focussed on the west coast of the island and hired a car rather than catch the not-so-frequent public bus. To be honest, you could stop anywhere along the stunning coastline for a refreshing dip in the Aegean Sea. We headed down south and beach-hopped our way back up to Chora, where we were staying.

Alyko beach

Alyko Beach lies in the southern part of Naxos on a peninsula. There are small hidden coves and long stretches of sand with rolling sand dunes as the backdrop. The beaches here are more rustic and therefore it is very much about bringing your own umbrella, which might not be a bad idea given there is little shade provided, particularly on the main stretch of the beach.

Alyko beach

Alyko beach

Another bonus about visiting this headland is the abandoned hotel that sits atop the cliff. The government at the time commissioned the building to be a mega hotel. After a change of power, it was deemed illegal and the construction was stopped and the remnants left to deteriorate.

Street art at Alyko beach

Street art at Alyko Beach

Street art at Alyko beach

Street art at Alyko Beach

I’ll admit, it felt a little spooky walking around a half-finished construction sight. Over time, the deserted building has become the gallery space for a number of local and international street artists. There are of course, the tags of graffiti artists illustrated across many of the walls. Personally, I’m more interested in the works of the street artists but each to their own. It is definitely worth the time to wander amongst the ruins and admire the talent of these artists.

Street art at Alyko Beach

Street art at Alyko Beach

Street art at Alyko Beach

Street art at Alyko Beach

Mikri Vigla

The area of Mikri Vigla beach was once an observation point during the Frankish rule, designed to provide advance warnings against any invasions. A rock divides the beach in two parts, nicknamed Limanaki on the north side and Sahara on the south side. If you are into windsurfing and kite surfing, then this is definitely the beach for you. The pristine waters are dotted with the colourful kites of the kite surfers skilfully skipping across the waves.

Mikri Vigla

Mikri Vigla

Of course, the reason this beach is popular for water sports is because the sheltered bay provides the perfect wind conditions. Hence, you might want to pick your spot carefully if you don’t want to get blown away or covered in sand. In saying that, the pristine waters are as good as any other in Naxos.

Plaka beach

Plaka beach is a long stretch of sand backed by sand dunes that was a favourite of hippies in the ’60s and ’70s. The beach is lined with umbrellas and sun beds, along with cafes. It is our favourite beach on the island not just because the water was crystal clear but towards the southern end of the beach it was not overcrowded with sun beds yet still had the convenience of table service from the cafe across the road.

Plaka beach

Plaka beach

Agios Prokopias

Some people claim that Agios Prokopias beach is the best in Naxos and even in the Cyclades. The beach is lined as far as the eye can see with sun beds, cafes and tourists. However, there is a quieter, less frequented area at the western edge where a chapel stands. This beach is popular for a reason. The aquamarine water, sand dunes and golden sands are picture postcard-perfect.

Agios Georgios

When in Naxos, Agios Georgios Beach was our local. We stayed at an Airbnb near the old town, which we would highly recommend, and this beach was a few minutes walk away.

Agios Georgios Beach

Agios Georgios Beach

There is a mix of both locals and tourists who visit this beach. The transparent, shallow water is a perfect option if you don’t want to stray far from the main town. The southern end also provides plenty of water sports options.

Check out my trip to Rhodes, another beautiful Greek island.

Exploring Pretty Villages

Apeiranthos

Apeiranthos is the largest village located near the centre of the island. It is often called marble village due to the streets and buildings being made of marble, creating some adorable little squares. We stopped here for lunch and ate some scrumptious homemade local dishes.

Apeiranthos

Apeiranthos

Apeiranthos

Apeiranthos

Apeiranthos

Apeiranthos

Filoti

Filoti is a short drive away from Apeiranthos. This stunning town is built on the slopes of Zas like an amphitheatre and is surrounded by olive groves. It is actually made up of three settlements that form one village. Wander the heavily flowered streets amongst the cube-shaped flat-roofed houses. Stop at one of the taverns or cafes on Main Street which is the centre of village life. There are also a number of cute Byzantine churches to visit.

Chalkio

Chalkio was once the capital of Naxos and perhaps the prettiest village in Naxos. Wander the picturesque streets, shop in the local artisan shops, buy some local produce and then stop at one of the many cafes or restaurants. If you work up a thirst you may like to stop at Vallindras Distillery to sample the local liqueur, Kitron.

Chalkio

Chalkio

Chalkio

Chalkio

If you feel like you need to walk off some of that delicious food and alcohol, you may want to stroll through some local farms by following the signs to Agios Giorgios Diasoritis to see a cute little Byzantine church full of charm.

Hike Mount Zeus

I’ll be honest, I don’t love hiking. Before we embarked on a month-long holiday in Greece over the summer my trainer tried to convince me that I should exercise during my break. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good workout at the gym, pushing myself to the limit doing a weights session or sweating it out in a cycle class.

Hiking Mt Zeus

Hiking Mt Zeus

BUT. Holidays and exercise are not normally two things that are synonymous for me. However, since I am trying to develop better habits and my trainer annoyingly kept reminding me to go hiking or running (I like running even less than hiking) while away, I thought why not hike the highest mountain in the Cyclades.

Agia Marina

Agia Marina

Hiking Mt Zeus

Hiking Mt Zeus

I would classify it as a moderate hike. There are two possible starting points, Agia Marina or Filoti. Given that I had read that the hike was longer and tougher from Filoti we started at Agia Marina. The path starts off quite relaxed, flat and well-defined. It lures you in with a false sense of confidence that this hike is going to be fine.

Hiking Mt Zeus

Hiking Mt Zeus

How cunning. The higher you climb the rockier the dirt track becomes. The closer you get to the summit, the less defined the path becomes until the final stretch, where you basically scramble as eloquently as you can to the top.

Hiking Mt Zeus

Hiking Mt Zeus

I won’t lie, there were moments where I proclaimed to David that I wasn’t having fun as the heat of the Naxos sun beat down on us and my hamstrings recoiled in pain as the lactic acid continued to build up. Speaking of sun, the hiking trail has very little shade, so make sure you pack sunscreen, hat and sunglasses.

Hiking Mt Zeus

Hiking Mt Zeus

Perhaps I am being a tad dramatic about it all, as the views from the peak were absolutely stunning. We were lucky that it was a reasonably clear day so we could see the surrounding islands and all sides of Naxos. As with most hikes I’ve done, I don’t regret it and would definitely recommend it to anyone who has a reasonable level of fitness.

Hiking Mt Zeus

Hiking Mt Zeus

Some people choose to go up via Agia Maria and descend via Filoti so as to pass by the Cave of Zeus. According to Greek mythology, Zeus was raised here. It was here that he was given the mighty thunderbolt that made him the ruler of Olympus.

There are many possible hikes to do in Naxos. Some are flat and less strenuous than the one up Mount Zeus, with attractive scenery along the coastline. You can also hike inland from village to village amongst the dry rugged countryside. This website provides some good initial ideas.

Visit Ancient Ruins

Temple of Apollo

Temple of Apollo

Portara

The Temple of Apollo, Portara, is probably the most famous landmark in Naxos. It is located on the islet of Palatia, just follow the path from the port. The unfinished marble gate that is dedicated to the God Apollo is popular with both locals and tourists and dates back to 530BC. It is a particularly scenic and romantic spot to watch the magical sunset over the Aegean.

Area of the Venetian Castle

Area of the Venetian Castle

Kastra

While you are meandering around the streets of the Old Town, make your way up to the Venetian Castle of Naxos (Kastra). Built on a hill overlooking the town of Naxos in 1207 when Frankish rule began in Naxos. Unfortunately, only one of the Medieval towers is preserved. You will also find the Archaeological Museum housed here.

Area of the Venetian Castle

Area of the Venetian Castle

The elegant mansions around the castle are inhabited by descendants of the Venetians. Each house has its own historical tale to tell and one is open as a museum. The castle is also a great spot to watch the sunset behind the Portara.

Sunset in Naxos

Sunset in Naxos

Temple of Demeter

The Temple of Demeter is an ancient temple dating back to the 6th century dedicated to the Goddess of grain. It is located near the village of Sangri, east of Plaka Beach. The temple is made of Naxos’ finest marble. Admire the views of the surrounding landscape consisting of endless fields and valleys.

Statues of Kouros

The statues of Kouros were found near the village of Melanes. They are 6 metres long and it is believed they once held up the roof of a temple. The statues date back to the 7th century and lie in the exact positions where they were initially discovered.

Take a Relaxing Catamaran Trip Around the Surrounding Islands

Going on any sort of boat trip is always a good way to see an island from a different perspective. Plus it is a super chilled way to spend the day enjoying the sun and dipping in and out of the pristine aquamarine waters. I decided to book a catamaran tour with Naxos Yachting to celebrate our wedding anniversary and we were not disappointed. Our wonderful hosts Kostas and Thomas were entertaining, knowledgeable about sailing and the areas which we visited and generally really nice guys.

Our catamaran for the day

Our catamaran for the day

We had two stops around Paros, the closest island to Naxos, and one on the west coast of Naxos. Be aware that routes change according to the weather conditions. There is no other feeling like having the wind gently blowing through your hair, the sun shining from above and being surrounded by beautiful scenery.

Our initial destination was Kalogeros Beach, a small bay off Paros. The warm blue waters were a welcome reprieve from the sun beating down on our skin.

Kalogeros beach

Kalogeros beach

We swam to shore, where one of our hosts directed us to splash water onto the clay cliffs and create a grey mud mask in which to cover our bodies. We obediently did so without questioning him despite looking like grey zombies.

Mud masks in Paros

Mud masks in Paros

After a short walk along the beach to let the mud dry we gladly threw ourselves into the water to wash it off, only to find that we hadn’t been duped and our skin actually felt softer and smoother than ever before.

Views of Paros

Views of Paros

Delicious snacks of tzatziki (a yoghurt and cucumber dip) on bread and juicy dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with rice covered in a lemony olive oil dressing) were waiting for us when we boarded the catamaran. Some of the more fearless members on our trip entertained us by jumping and diving off the top boat. I myself was not one of them.

The next point of call was to another part of Paros where we had lunch. A feast of salad and moussaka (kind of like the Greek version of lasagne) was prepared for us. I was incredibly grateful when our hosts went out of their way to make a vegetarian option for me. As with all stops, there was the obligatory swimming and cooling off in the ridiculously clear waters.

Finally, we stopped off the west coast of Naxos at Calypso Bay where there are remnants of a shipwreck which is the namesake of the bay. The waters were much deeper here which allowed those brave enough to perform even more deaf-defying acrobatics off the top of the boat.

At Calypso Bay

At Calypso Bay

I myself finally plucked up the courage to jump off the front of the boat of which I was quite proud. I should mention it took a while of me standing on the very tip of the bow before I was brave enough to take the plunge. After all that excitement and enjoying the coolness of the water, I’d worked up an appetite. Luckily a second snack of fresh fruit had been prepared for us to satisfy our hunger.

As we made our way back to port we were lucky enough to enjoy the musical talents of one of our hosts as well as some of our fellow passengers. It seemed a fitting way to end a day of fun in the sun with some new friends. I would gladly recommend a trip with Naxos Yachting as the crew had that lovely balance of being professional and friendly.

Music included

Music included

As you can see, Naxos has a great deal to offer for your getaway. This was my one of five Greek islands I have visited, all of which I have loved, but I think Naxos is my favourite.

Let us know in the comments what you loved about Naxos or which island is your favourite Greek island. 

Disclaimer: We were not paid for any of these reviews, all opinions are our own as always.

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