Naxos

Map of Naxos
Apollon's Gate on Naxos

Naxos is the largest in the Cyclades island group in the Aegean Sea and was the centre of archaic Cycladic culture. The most fertile of the Cyclades islands, Naxos earns much of its income from agriculture. The two municipalities of Naxos and Drymalia comprise the island. The largest town and capital is Chora (or Hora) or simply 'Naxos' or 'Naxos Town', with most of the shops and restaurants frequented by visitors. The island has stunning Mediterranean beaches with white granite sands. A number of beach communities extend south along the coast from Chora. Naxos also has mountains and lush green valleys, making it more varied than many of the other islands.

Understand

The port at Chora is too small for cruise ships and too close to the more famous Santorini, saving the island from hordes of tourists. The majority of non-Greek tourists stay in the few beach towns close to Chora, so it is very easy to lose them in the rural centre, or further along the coast. Many wealthy Athenians own houses in the old villages of Halki and Filoti and use the island as escape from the heat of Athenian summers.

Climate

The climate of Naxos varies depending on region. The west side is sheltered and flat, getting up to 30 degrees Celsius in the summer. Sea breezes help to prevent it feeling too stuffy directly on the coast. In the centre, the mountains and valleys keep the air temperature cooler. The mountains are high enough that it is rare to have a completely cloudless day, again helping to keep it cool. The rain caused by the mountains keeps the land green and fresh, unlike its rather brown Cycladic cousins. Rain storms are infrequent in the summer, but very heavy, turning marble paths and streets into ice rinks.

Talk

English and German are very common in Hora; French and Italian are also spoken by many. Elderly people often only speak Greek, especially in rural central areas. In the villages, expect to have to order in Greek or by pointing.

Get in

Naxos is about 5 1/2 hours by the fastest regular ferry from Piraeus, faster by catamaran, and about 2 hours by regular ferry from Santorini.

By sea

From the Greek mainland, ferries and highspeed catamaran services run daily all year from Piraeus, and in high season from Rafina and Lavrio.

Naxos is a central hub in the sea transport system, and enjoys multiple connections in all directions. Ferry boats and high speed catamaran services, respectively costing around € 29 and € 45 one-way in economy class, run daily from Piraeus during high season.

Various shipping companies sail for Naxos (via Paros) including:

NEL Lines also operates a highspeed link from Lavrio in Attica. This is a pleasant port to travel from if you have the option, as it is relatively near the airport and doesn't have the stress and chaos of Piraeus.

There is also the High Speed (Hellenic Seaways) which leaves from Rafina, closer to Athens airport than Piraeus and a pleasant place to have lunch if you have time before you board your ferry. The High Speed takes just under 4 hours and is around € 40 in high season.

In Naxos, ticket offices for ferries in all directions can be found along the quay in Hora. Ferries from Piraeus to Naxos are frequent, as many as half a dozen a day during the summer but generally two or more. The length of the trip does not require a cabin. Blue Star Lines is the most common carrier between Piraeus and Naxos. The ferry takes about 6 hours and the high-speed takes half that time and costs twice as much. Usually there are several departures at 7:30AM every day and then a high-speed and ferry at around 5PM and in the summer a ferry that leaves Piraeus at around 10PM. The Hellas Flying Dolphin High-speeds are catamarans and take about 4 hours to get to Naxos from Piraeus.

Sailing

A welcoming port together with a lack of cruise ships make Naxos a popular stopping point on an Aegean sailing cruise.

By plane

Olympic Air operates a daily service from Athens on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday (as at summer 2013). Flights take ~30 minutes, and planes are comfortable. Naxos airport is small and basic, but very friendly. If you're starting from Athens airport, it's much quicker than the ferry, due to the transfer to Piraeus.

Get around

Walking

In Hora, many areas are pedestrianised, making it easy to amble from beach to cafe to shop. Outside Hora, there are many footpaths (the best map is Anavasi ), but they are not always easy to follow. Footpaths up Zas are easy and clearly marked. Walking on the roads is fine, with caution, as cars are infrequent, but drivers tend to go fast. In rural areas, locals will almost always offer a lift, especially if you can speak a little Greek.

Cycling

Naxos has started to develop a cycling culture, with more cycling-minded people visiting. Cycle hire is possible. Simpler mountain bikes can be rented from many "rent a car" or "rent a motorbike" shops. Fancier mountain bikes and especially road bikes can be rented from two specialty shops in Hora. If you bring your own bicycle and need repairs/parts/accessories, there is a bike repair shop near the harbour (Giannis bike shop, in the "grota" area; they also rent road bikes). If you plan on doing serious cycling with a rental bike, consider bringing at least your own shoes with cleats. If you plan on bringing your own bike, know that Blue Star ferries transports your bike as luggage without extra charge.

Bike theft is not as prevalent as in big cities, but it is now recommended that you look after your bike or use at least a simple lock in town—though you may still see unlocked older bikes.

Drivers are getting more used to cyclists, but they generally still speed and drive recklessly, so beware. Mountain roads in summer offer a great ride, but stay hydrated and know your limits. In July and August, take advantage of early morning / early evening hours. Some of the best known road cycling routes are the climb to Apeirantho and the "circle of the island" passing by Apollona. Easier and flatter cycling routes are around Hora towards Agia Anna, Plaka, Mikri Vigla, Alyko.

Bus

Every village has a bus service, but there may only be 3 buses a day. Find information at the bus kiosk, or ask at the bus office at the north end of the seafront in Hora (near the ferry building). Tickets can be bought from the machine outside the bus offices, or from a kiosk in the villages. They cost ~2 euros, depending on destination. You must have a ticket before you board. Expect the morning bus to be standing-room only, full of little old ladies going shopping.

Cars, scooter and quad bikes

The roads are very well maintained, with extensive repairs and upgrades carried out within the last 10 years.

The mountain roads are windy, with steep drops, and frequent shrines, normally above a burnt out car that hasn't been recovered. Tourists are a pain on the roads, because they are not used to Greek-style driving and don't give way, causing long tail backs. Expect to meet a truck hurtling around a blind bend. They take no prisoners!

A better option is a quad bike. They are more stable and safer than scooters, are narrow enough that even if you meet a truck, you don't get run off, and have the advantage of being able to see the amazing scenery as you drive through. They're also much easier to park in busy villages with narrow streets.

Every village has a petrol station. The owner normally puts the petrol in for you. Petrol stations are a social gathering point in more remote areas, so don't expect to get away without stopping to chat. When going to the eastern side of the island (Moutsouna, Panermos), take care to note that the last petrol station is near Filoti, in the center of the island, quite a distance off.

See

The most recognizable landmark of Naxos is the Portara, an iconic 6th century BC marble gate on the islet of Palatia in Naxos harbor. It is the only remnant of a temple dedicated to Apollo.

The Castro (old, walled city) section, on elevated ground overlooking the harbour, provides some of the quietest and most photogenic alleyways in town. It survives from the days when Naxos was an outpost of the Venetian empire. The area was fortified against attack by locals and pirates. The archaeology museum is well worth a visit, with a good collection of the Bronze Age Cycladean artifacts—a good place to get out of the sun.

Archaeological highlights include the Kouros of Melanes and Apollonas, Dimitra's Temple at Sangri and the Cheimarros Tower.

Naxos is well known for its wonderful beaches, some with advantageous winds for prime windsurfing and kitesurfing. Most of the island's west coast is one long sandy beach with crystal clear azure water, the most popular areas of which are Prokopios, Agia Anna, Plaka, and Mikri Vigla. It also has a mountainous interior with a great variety of valleys and villages, easily reachable by a well-maintained road system.

Other Highlights

Do

Beaches

For tourists, daytime activities centre on the beaches (especially those to the south of town), Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna and Plaka being the most famous ones. These have beach cafes, wind surfing etc.

Other beaches

Naxos beaches, like those on many Greek islands, offer clothing options. Generally, nude sunbathing is more frequently encountered in southern beach communities that have sand dunes blocking the view from the access road, such as in Plaka. At the end of Plaka beach nearest to Ag. Anna there is a group of rocks and small coves, and this area is excellent for naturists. It is hidden from the road by trees, yet is an easy (300m) walk along a flat beach from the bus stop at Paradiso taverna.

To avoid the crowds, head further south to the crystal clear waters of Mikri Vigla. The locals swim on either side of the causeway to the Portara. The west side is a sheltered shallow bay, with steps and seating built into the causeway. The east side is much deeper, and if the sea is calm you can hold your breath and dive down to ancient columns that have fallen in from the temple. Beware of sea urchins!

The tiny harbours of Lionas and Moutsouna on the east coast are very picturesque and quiet even in the summer months. Both have tavernas and a beach. A newly asphalted road from Moutsouna down to Panermos is also well worth exploring, as it passes by several secluded bays.

For those who love adventure, the island offers many opportunities for active sports. Bluefindivers Naxos Diving Center, located at Agios Prokopios beach, offers beautiful and safe diving/snorkelling trips around the island. Excellent conditions are formed among meadows of seaweed (Posidonia Oceanica), sand banks, reefs and vertical cuts along with shipwrecks, not only for marine life but also for the divers/snorkellers who explore them. Naxos Surf Club do great value taster sessions for sailing-cats, wind surf and kite surfing, in English, Greek and German.

Archaeology

Ancient ruins include the Portara gateway, visible from the harbour, and two rather modest half-finished Kouros statues uncovered in a quarry near Melanes (Kouronohori) as well as a larger version near Apollonas on the northern coast. Special attention has been given in recent years to the sites of Dimitra's Temple at Sangri, and Dionysus' temple below Glinado village, where the Ministry of Culture organizes full moon concerts in July and August.

The villages in the centre of the island are older than those around the coast, with Bronze Age origins. They are perched high in the mountainous regions with steep narrow streets to make them defensible against pirates. Halki village is a good example of Greek neo-classical architecture, with its cluster of red roofs. The ancient fishing village of Moutsana was the port from which emery and marble were shipped from the islands.

Landscape

Head 10 km inland and the island changes from the flat brown swampy landscape of Hora to lush green mountain valleys. Ancient olive and lemon groves surround the small villages, with narrow gorges with terrapin-inhabited streams. The area is still agricultural, with this being the main source of income to the island. Above the groves rise two chains of mountains. The central chain is a moonscape of exposed and weather gneiss, with the village Ano Potamia perched in the middle. Descending from these hills brings you into the secluded valley of Halki, Damarionas and Filoti. Above Filoti rises Mt. Zas (Mt Zeus)—at 1004m, it is the highest mountain in the Cyclades. Its marble slopes rise steeply to an impressive point. The ascent from the north, via Aghios Marina (a rest point with a beautiful view) is easier, with frequent fountains. The ascent from the north is much steeper and more rocky. From the top, it is possible to see Turkey on a very clear day.

Activities

Buy

Every village has at least a small supermarket, so self-catering is easy. Hora, Halki and Glinado have decent sized supermarkets.

Only fish and chicken (both frozen) are easily available ready packaged. For red meat, a trip to a butchers is necessary, and an interesting experience for sheltered Northern Europeans. This can be quite entertaining—expect a baby goat tied up outside as advertisement, and to have to point out which bit of cow you'd like to be chopped off (unless you're lucky enough to know the Greek for 'half a kilo of sirloin please'!).

For really fresh eggs and chicken, try hailing the chicken truck. It drives around the island full of crates of live chickens, announcing its presence with loud speakers—it is quite a sight!

Bakeries can be found in most villages, and always worth stopping for, although they often shut at lunch time. Savoury cheese and spinach, spanokopita, baklava, loukoumi (Greek Turkish delight) and amazing sticky syrupy chocolate cake are all worth trying.

Eat

Due to its fertile valleys, Naxos has the richest variety of produce of the Cyclades islands (Naxos is famous in Greece for its potatoes), as well as cattle and poultry. Most restaurants serve fresh and wholesome food, but only a few stand out for excellent dishes, especially in local cuisine.

Greek specialties like moussaka, souvlaki and a wonderfully mild feta are available in restaurants. The local olive oils are superior to the 'light virgin' oil commonly available elsewhere, in that the local process leaves much more olive flavor.

Many meals start with meze in the early evening, with main courses not arriving until much later. Meze is similar to Spanish tapas, with lots of small dishes including hummus, tatziki, olives and small fish.

There are also supermarkets on the outskirts of Hora which offer food and drink at everyday prices. As many rooms come complete with cooking facilities, this offers an excellent way to keep expenses down.

Hora

Melanes


Apiranthos


Ano Potamia

Drink

Naxos is famous for producing its own liquor called kitron, made from an exotic fruit which can be compared perhaps to lemons, though kitron's taste is pleasantly sweet and citric. Its production process can be viewed at the old Valindras distillery in the village of Halki, where different varieties can also be tasted. Kitron is also produced by Promponas.

More common with the locals is a drink called raki which in winter is served hot with honey (Rakomelo). Raki is a brandy made from pomace (the pieces of grapes (including the stems and seeds) that were pressed for wine making and is similar to Italian grappa. One of the places that continuously serves Rakomelo is Cafe Naxos, located in the narrow alleys in the port's old town. Enjoy it with your "parea" (company of friends) by the cosy fireplace or outside in summer.

On the Rocks Bar is located in the heart of Chora between the seafront (paralia), and the really old town. Have a seat in the early evening for an aperitif or a before-dinner-cocktail and watch people passing by while the sun fades away. Enjoy the atmosphere and get yourself a perfect drink, perhaps accompanied by a Havana cigar or shisha (waterpipe) .

Sleep

As on most islands, a phalanx of touts greets each arriving ferry waving placards advertising rooms for rent and (usually) offering free transport. In the months of July and August you should book in advance; but otherwise, these immediately available rooms are often the best value. Bargaining is usually possible. Be sure and establish the location of the accommodations first—as distance can add to expense.

Stay safe

Naxos is generally a safe island.

Be aware of rental scams, especially with agencies working only with motorbikes and ATVs. Using these types of vehicles is very common on Naxos and there are a lot of rental agencies. Some of them are ready to cheat. They will offer faulty motorbikes or ATVs for a lower price, but in case of accident they will demand that the customer pay for the whole cost of damage. They are offering only basic insurance but will present it like full insurance. Also, there is a big possibility of serious injuries.

It is possible to recognize these rental agencies by observing them aggressively attracting tourists and offering lower prices than others. Employees in front of these type of agencies will be loud and ready to promise everything until the contract is signed. It is necessary to check the vehicle before making any decision. Their vehicles are in most of the cases dusty, dirty and look old.

Go next

Ferries are available to Aegiali (Amorgos), Anafi, Astypalea, Donoussa, Folegandros, Heraklion, Ios, Iraklia, Katapola (Amorgos), Kea, Kimolos, Koufonissi, Kythnos, Lavrio, Milos, Mykonos, Paros, Piraeus, Rafina, Schinoussa, Sifnos, Sikinos, Syros, Thira (Santorini), Thirasia, and Tinos.

Word of advice: It is not an uncommon story on Naxos that someone who initially planned to stay for only a few days missed their original ferry out, and liked the island so much that they ended up staying there forever. They are living proof of Ariadne's legend, who was left behind here by Theseus after they escaped from Crete, and remained to become the wife of Dionysus.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, August 11, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.