As soon as I stepped food on the port of Naxos I knew something beautiful was waiting for me here. The coastline of the city made me think of Aegina, as it is filled with tavernas with taste of venetian architecture. Although I love these coastlines where you can celebrate live with good food, drinks and a perfect view on the see, I was even more impressed by the scenery behind it. On top of the hill you see this fortified kastro dominating the city. Another trace of the Venetian history of the island.
Not only the small island city of Naxos was reason for me to love this place. Naxos is one of the greenest islands of the Cyclades, which makes the nature extremely beautiful. But I completely lost my heart to the small villages on the island, with their extremely kind people and extraordinary beauty.
Planning island hopping through the Cyclades can be quite a torture. There was no way I would be able to visit all Cycladic islands in one trip. But which island should I skip? Of course I cannot compare Naxos with one of those island I wasn’t able to visit, but I would love to write about my experience on this traditional island. To give you a good impression I am going to share my top 5 reasons to not skip Naxos;
Not mentioned yet, but probably the most iconic highlight of the island of Naxos is Portara. It is another reason that made me excited when I arrived at the port of Naxos, as it was the first thing I saw. This is the place where, according to the Greek legend, Theseus was duped by Dionysos into abandoning Ariadne on his way home from Crete. The Iconic Portara is a 2500 years old portal, the only thing remaining from a temple for Apollo, a temple that was never completed. The Portara is especially beautiful because it is located on a small peninsula next to the port of the city.
After walking upwards through the cute small and mostly white streets of the city, which is one of my favourite things to do in Greece, we walked through the north gate of the Kastro. Although this is the perfect example of an medieval fort entrance, I thought it was pretty cute. As we were visiting the island in April, flowers where everywhere and the fort for me just looked like one of those Disney princes castles I wanted to live in when I was young. In the centre of the Kastro we found the remains of a rectangular tower and in front of it the restored Catholic cathedral. I can’t help myself falling in love with these white churches in-between the palm trees over and over again.
Close to the centre of Kastro Ben and I walked into one of the most beautiful vintage stores I have ever seen, Antico Veneziano! This place is just amazing. It has vintage as well as antique stuff, fashion as well as home decoration and old camera’s. It is decorated as a small museum, which reminds me to say that not everything is for sale. Most interesting is the column in the middle of the store. The column is an original remain of the old temple, as the venetians used these columns for their Kastro. Ben and I bought two beautiful postcards, one was an old picture of a fashion show in front of the waterline.
Another surprise for me was the Archaeological museum. As most archaeological museums at the Cycladic island are pretty small, I wasn’t sure it would be interesting. However, the museum is located inside the old Kastro and that only makes it worth a visit. Especially unique are the Cycladic figurines which the historical art of the Cyclades is famous for. The museum is small, but if you are a history freak like Ben and me I would surely recommend paying a visit. However, even if you are not a history freak like us, the small entrance fee is surely worth the visit to the terrace upstairs. The first thing you see when you walk outside is a beautiful mosaic, tilts from the Kastro and an impressive view behind it! Even though there was not much more presented on the terrace, we spend at least 15 minutes up there as I liked is so much. I have to add that I have a weakness for old mosaics which made the scenery complete for me.
The kindest people
Although I have experienced that Greek people in general are very hospitable, I must say that their attitude towards tourist can be very variable. Most Greeks love to tell about their country, their tough history, their importance in history, their lovely families, their hard times during crisis and in general, their beautiful country. However, there are quiet some exceptions. You sometimes experience Greeks that just don’t show any interest in visitors from different countries and in some cases they even ignore you or blame you for their hard times.
This was surely not the case in Naxos! Not only are those people very lovely and hospitable and proud to tell about their roots. They were truly interested in where we came for and who we are. Most of them where perfectly able to express themselves in English, and for those who weren’t still found their way to tell their story.
Good food with lovely sceneries
The coastline of the city is filled with tavernas and restaurents, all of them seems to be good in their own Greek way. I was very surprised about the variety of food, as even in Athens this is difficult to find. Of course there is seafood and traditional Greek food like Gyros and Souvlaki. But also (glutenfree!) pasta, pizza and Asian food. Nevertheless the most important reason to eat at the waterfront is of course the beautiful view on sea and the people passing by. The place is crowded in a good way (this may be different during high season).
In addition to this I would like to mention, don’t make the mistake to come and sit here every day! As our Airbnb was located more land inwards in one of those cute backstreets, we found much more tavernas which we passed by while walking toward the port. Our first and main reason to eat at one of those places once, was money related. Traveling isn’t cheap and those restaurants seemed to have good food for very good prices. We couldn’t be more surprised when we found out they had much more traditional food to offer, but also the taste was much more traditional. The lovely waitress explained us that most dishes where cooked by her mom and where family recipes. I can highly recommend the moshari kokkinisto, Beef stew in tomato sauce.
I know I have mentioned Portara before as is a very valuable piece of history, but this article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning how beautiful the sunset at Portara is. I am a huge lover of the golden hour as it makes the whole world even more beautiful than it is by day. We visited Portara during sunset and saw the golden sunrays falling over the city of Naxos and the nearby islands. When we walked towards the peninsula we saw the impressive fireball shining its last few moments through the old Portara. We were definitely not the only ones who wanted to see this incredible place at the last hours of the day, however as we didn’t visit the island during high season it was not over crowded yet. After a while we sat down at the edge and saw the sun disappearing behind Mykonos. A perfect way to end the day.
Villages as you can only find them in Greece
There is so much more to do on this island then you think in the first place. Ben and I decided we wanted to do a villages tour. However, we found out that these tour was only offered during high season and were two weeks to early. Kind as these people from Naxos are, they immediately explained us how we could visit these cute villages by ourselves (with the island bus).
The first stop was Chalki, once the capital of the island, now a place where it feels like you have travelled with a time machine instead of the island bus. The place is adorable, it still has many churches comparing to the small area and amount of people living here. We found many craft shops in Chalki, especially for textiles. Of course this made me, regarding to my textile background, fall in love with this place even more. I lost my heart at Penelopes workshop, in the center of Chalki. This woman learned to work with a loom from her mother. And although most workshops sell traditional Greek textiles an patterns, Penelope is using her creativity to make here work a bit more special. She is using the most beautiful yarns, like silver yarns and bright colour yarns. She uses traditional Greek Patterns with unique colors for creating sunglass protectors, moneybags and other objects you may use every day.
When we walked a bit further outside of Chalki, you we found more byzantine churches and monasteries like the church of Taxiarches at Monoitsia and the Church of Panagia. It’s a short walk through fuse nature and high grass. Ben and I discovered a lot of salamanders in different sizes. I cannot say this didn’t freak me out at all, as I was walking on my slippers that day. Luckily, Ben who was mostly focussed on getting a good shot of one these huge salamanders, helped me through it. Both churches are surely worth the visit. The Church of Panagia is the oldes on the island (9th century).
As we missed our bus we had to walk from Chalki to Filoti. Luckely it was only a 30 minutes’ walk through a beautiful nature and scenery. However as it was quit hot and the village was located much higher, I was happy when we arrived at Filoti. Like Chalki, Filoti is also adorable, cute, old and picturesque, but on the same time it is completely different from Chalki.
Filoti is more a traditional Cycladic village located on the slopes of mount Zas. Although it is recommended to enjoy one of the traditional tavernas for typical Greek food with products from the island I would suggest not forget to pay a visit to one of the beautiful churches in the villages. Ben and I started walking more upwards through the small alleys. Here we found one of these beautiful white Cycladic churches. Ben walked inside, but as I feel I wasn’t dressed properly and I want to tread the locals and their values with respect, I waited outside. However, hospitable as these lovely people on Naxos are, an older lady from the church came outside looking for me and took me inside to see the beauty of the church.
I am happy to say that we didn’t miss our bus to Apeiranthos, our last stop for that day. Located high in the hills of Mount Fanari it offers incredible views over the island. This is where Ben and I, after a bit of climbing through the village, decided to sit down for some food and a very cold drink. Meanwhile we could enjoy the amazing scenery and lovable traditional feeling of the village.
Arrive with boat: Of course you may not always have this option because of practical reasons, but from the moment I saw the island of Naxos coming closer, I felt I was going to see something amazing. As the port is located at the city centre, you immediately see the beauty of it. The coastline filled with good tavernas, the Portara showing the historical value of the place and the old fort dominating in venetian style
Walk through old town during sunset or sunrise: I know I have said this many times before, but I just adore the beauty of these golden hours. Another plus side of this tip is that during these hours it’s a bit cooler.
Visit in mid-season; the weather is already good but the island is not crowded with people. Also during the summer months it can become very hot on the Cycladic island. I would recommend going in April, May or September. Keep in mind that during winter months a lot of tavernas will be closed.
Ask about the textile: and not only the textile. When you walk inside of one of these workshop the people will offer you to try anything and they love to explain how it is made. Also most shops have a very interesting history.
Go Snorkelling: Near by the city of Naxos there is a lost pre-historical city to discover underneath the water. Unfortunately Ben and I didn’t had enough time to discover it ourselves, but it is surely recommended.
How to get around: There are city busses and tour busses to get around the island. Just walk inside one of these tourist information and they will offer you all information you need. Close to the port is the office for the islands public busses where you can get information and flyers of the bus lines on the island. However, if you are planning to stay longer than two or three day, I would recommend hiring a car as it gives you more freedom. Also the island busses don’t go very often, if you miss one you just have to walk.
Prices for food: Restaurants will cost about €20,- (without alcoholic drinks), A cheap meal will cost about €10,- and a Gyros lunch will cost about €3,-. Keep in mind that restaurants more land inwards of Naxos are a bit cheaper and very traditional!
Getting there: You may arrive at Naxos by boat or Airplane. Ben and I booked our tickets with Direct Ferries.
How much time you need: To get a good impression of the island two or three days is enough. However, the island has enough to offer to spend there one week, especially if you would like to relax on the beach a bit.