Visiting Naxos was a happy travel accident
When planning our adventure in Greece, we had such difficulty finding a suitable (for us) place in Mykonos that we had all but given up on the idea. The one thing stopping us from giving up completely was our desire to visit Delos, the famed island of ruins. Late one night, we began researching nearby islands, hoping one would have a connection to Delos and offer us a second option if we could not make Mykonos work. The first island that appeared was Naxos, an island known for its beaches and ancient temples. We immediately fell in love, and though we found a perfect place to stay in Mykonos, we reduced our time on that island so that we could spend two nights exploring Naxos. And we are so grateful we did.
When our time in Mykonos ended, we arranged for a driver from our hotel, Rocabella Mykonos, to drop us off at the port. Having pre-purchased our ferry tickets online through Greeka, we simply had to pick up the physical tickets before standing among the enormous groups of people waiting to board the ferry to Naxos. It was very easy to navigate, but with so many people loitering in the small port area, inevitably, confusion would set it for some. Many arrived very close to the ticketed departure time (most ferries in Greece are notoriously late) and were not only shocked by the amount of people but frustrated that they needed to wait in long lines to get their tickets.
Naxos, temple of Apollo
The trip to Naxos
We paid a few extra dollars and opted for the Club Class ticket, which provided us with a private sitting area with quiet and comfort. With that ticket upgrade, we also got a separate luggage storage area closer to the exit and a dedicated staircase into the boat. When exiting the ferry, however, it was every woman/man for themselves. Pressed together in too-close quarters, waiting for the ferry to dock at the port and the gate to open, was uncomfortable, but the ferry operators were very efficient at moving everyone along and off the boat. Once we manoeuvred our way away from the crowd, a pickup from our Naxos hotel was waiting for us.
TIP: Not only are there different class seats and pricing on each ferry, but there are multiple ferry options for the same locations, some faster than others. If you are flexible with your departure time and date, you can research the options and select the speed and class that work best for your needs and budget.
View from Cyano Suites
There are many beautiful accommodations available on Naxos, but Cyano Suites is by far one of the best. They offer four luxurious rooms located directly on the beach, just minutes away from the port. We booked the premium suite, a grand apartment on the upper level, with an unobstructed view of the water and the magnificent temple of Apollo. Stylistically decorated in white stone with bamboo accents, the suite featured three balconies, two bathrooms, two showers, two sitting rooms and a huge indoor jacuzzi bath, plus a mini-fridge with complimentary beverages and a coffeemaker. The booking also included breakfast, served at the sister hotel, Hotel Adriani, down the street. Simple and decadent, the breakfasts were all lovingly homemade and walked across the street from (we assume) the patrons’ family home and placed in the breakfast buffet.
Most who visit Naxos with an interest in seeing more than the major city (Chora) rented a car and drove themselves around the island. The countryside is beautiful and seems very easy to navigate, but this time we wanted a guide; a private tour of the island with someone who could complement the scenery with history and fun facts. After some research, we discovered Nicholas Lagiere, a French expat living in Naxos. A lover of art, history and nature, he spoke fluent Greek and offered customisable private tours of Naxos. We normally opt for tours with locals who can offer insight into their homeland, but it was wonderful to get a different perspective on Naxos from someone who wasn’t born there but loves it just as much.
Temple of Demeter
Shortly after arriving and dropping off our bags in our suite, Nicolas met us at Hotel Adriani. Having inquired about the beautiful husky we saw on his website, and realising that we were animal lovers too, we swung by his apartment and picked up the young and excitable Moctezuma (Mocte for short) so he too could come along for the journey. There is something special about sharing experiences with an animal by your side.
The first stop was the Temple of Demeter. Located high upon a hilltop, the white marble ruins are a stark contrast to the green backdrop. It’s a marbled ceiling, the first of its time, now lies in ruins. In the late 7th or early 8th century, a small orthodox church was built inside. That small Byzantine church has since been removed and placed beside the marble ruins of the temple. Both structures sit peacefully on the hill, a beautiful addition to the spectacular view around them.
Temple of Demeter, Naxos
Following the temple, we made our way to the picturesque village of Chalkio, which was once the principal centre of Naxos. Strolling through the narrow cobbled streets, we stopped in on a few local shops. We visited the ancient Vallindras Distillery, now run by three sisters, and sampled the traditional Kitron Liqueur that they have been distilling in the same fashion since 1896. The liqueur is both bitter and sweet and unique to Naxos.
We also visited the Elaiolithos Art Shoppe and a small shop next door selling hand-sewn fabrics and textiles. There, we sampled dried and candied citron peel; the same fruit that produced the liqueur in the Vallindras Distillery. Though the fruit itself is inedible, the candied peel is delicious. The last shop, Naxia GI, specialised in honey and olive oil but offered a variety of specialised local products. We could not leave without a jar of the unique Heather Honey. Dark, the honey is heavy and thick with distinct notes of caramel.
From Chalkio we headed up to Rotonda, a uniquely situated restaurant with a spectacular view. No words or photographs can justly describe it. It being October and nearing the end of the season; we were the only guests on the panoramic balcony (in fact; they stayed open just for us). Standing near the edge, we marvelled at what lay beyond. The deep blue sky faded into the shadowed layers of the mountains in the distance. It is one of those places that even fully aware; it doesn’t look real.
Cheese Platter from Rotonda
We ordered a cheese platter to start, not knowing it would be such a vast selection of local cheeses. Every bite was so delicious we nearly finished the entire platter, not wanting a morsel to go to waste. Next, we each ordered the wild mushroom risotto, served to us just as the sun was beginning to set. It was decadent, rich and flavourful. As we sipped our Greek coffee (there is always room for coffee), we watched the birds dance within the breathtaking panorama until it was time to go.
Stuffed and relaxed, Nicolas zipped us off to Apeiranthos; the marble village. It was located high in the mountains and true to its name, everything (literally everything) was made from white marble. The deep setting sun bounced off the stark white marble walls, streets, and alleyways. At such a high altitude, the village sees snow in wintertime and the town lays down carpet along the marble pathways and steps to help avoid slippery accidents.
We were soon on our way back to Chora and our lovely suite. Along the way, we spotted pieces of pottery lain out along a stone fence. Nicholas explained that buried across the island are historical artefacts from its rich past, but most landowners do not disclose or claim them if they are found. In fact, they are often left by the roadside, near churches (or even destroyed) so they cannot be linked back to their place of discovery. Official excavation of an archaeological site is time-consuming and very expensive, so most prefer to avoid it altogether.
The highest concentration of Byzantine and Medieval churches
Naxos has a rich past. In 600 BCE, the people of Naxos dedicated the famous lions of Delos to Apollo. From 1207 to 1564, the wealthy Venetians ruled, creating a long line of Dukes in Naxos. During this time, the grand fortress Kastro (castle) was built. Naxos has the highest concentration of Byzantine and Medieval churches than any other Greek island. Imagine the history that is buried in the hills, just waiting to be discovered.
When Nicolas dropped us off, he asked what our plans were for the next day and recommended that we climb up to the small church that was built into the mountain face. The church, he explained, was unique and the view spectacular. After breakfast the next day, we took his advice. There were few signs to direct you to the Theologaki Chapel, just one main road to climb. Though we took our time, the incline was deceivingly steep, and it became at times challenging to breathe.
Near the top, the roadway abruptly ended, and the only way to reach the steps of the church was to manoeuvre over a steep rocky hill. The climb would not have been too difficult, had it not been for the wind. Stepping onto the hill, you stepped into a wind tunnel, and we braced ourselves on the low rocks for fear of losing our balance.
Spectacular view despite seasickness
My husband steamed ahead over the hill and quickly made it up the white steps to the church entrance, while I stepped more slowly and carefully. When I reached the steps, I sat for a moment to allow some relief from the wind behind its partial wall. That’s when the dizziness set in. I called out, but could not be heard over the roar of the wind. The church entrance was only a few steps away, but I couldn’t bring myself to stand up and take them, so I sat there waiting for him to return. Rational or not, I was at that moment terrified of the wind blowing me off the side of the mountain, so I decided not to ascend further. The view was indeed spectacular, and we sat there together, catching our breath and enjoying it before we headed home.
Back on the main road, we headed straight towards the Temple of Apollo. Along the way, on the islet of Palatia, we ran into a local merchant who carved images into the beautiful Naxos marble and purchased a little souvenir.
TIP: Always support local artists. Those are the unique mementoes you will cherish.
Temple of Apollo, Naxos
Temple of Apollo
The temple of Apollo is enormous. The doorway (Portara) is virtually all that remains of the unfinished temple, each slab comprising 20 tons of marble. Like an ancient picture frame, the doorway stands alone, a symbol of a time long ago. Many gather here at sunset, hoping to capture the sun within the frame. From the temple, we walked to Naxos old town and into the Kastro. We got turned around and almost lost within the walls of the castle fortress, admiring the gorgeous ancient doors of the entrance gates.
The next morning, after another delicious breakfast, we headed to the port to catch the ferry to our next Greek Island. As expected, there was a bit of a wait for the ferry to arrive, but we passed the time in the nearby café. Our time on Naxos may have been short, but it was full and rich. The island is a true gem, one that is untarnished by cruise ships and hoards of tourists. The massive structures and impressive ruins are cloaked in a small-town feel. There are riches to be experienced in Naxos, in the history, in the hills, under the earth, in the food and in its people. Like a good meal, it should be savoured slowly and at leisure, with, of course, a strong cup of coffee to finish.
Kastro Gate, Naxos
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Author: D. Marino and J. Malley from Make Them All Trips of a Lifetime.