Visiting Naxos was a happy travel accident.
We had such difficulty finding a suitable place in Mykonos that I had all but given up on the idea. The one thing stopping us from giving up altogether was our desire to visit Delos. Late one night, I began researching nearby islands, hoping one would have an excursion to Delos and offer us a second option. The first island that appeared in my research was Naxos, and the first attribute that peaked my interest were the number of ancient ruins located on the island. We immediately fell in love with Naxos and decided to squeeze a visit into our itinerary. We found the beautiful Rocabella Mykonos Hotel, but reduced our time on that island to 2 nights, so that we could spend 2 nights exploring Naxos. In hindsight, we are so grateful we did.
Once our time in Mykonos came to an end, we arranged for a driver from Rocabella Mykonos to drop us off at the port. We had purchased our ferry tickets through Greeka, quickly and easily but before standing with the huge groups of people waiting to board the ferry, we needed to pick up our physical tickets at the port office. It was very easy to navigate, but with so many people loitering in the port area, it was inevitable that confusion would set it for some. Many people arrived very close to the time when the boat should be have docked (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.
We paid a few extra dollars and opted for the Club Class ticket, which provided us a private sitting area with a little more quiet and comfort. With that Club Class ticket, you also get a separate area to store your luggage closer to the dock and a separate staircase into the boat. When leaving however, it’s everyone departing from the same place. Though reminiscent of cattle prodders, the ferry operators are very efficient at moving everyone along and off the boat. Once we maneuvered our way away from the crowd, a pick-up from the 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 available options and select the speed and class that works best for your needs and budget.
There are many beautiful accommodations available on Naxos, but I believe we found the best. Cyano Suites offers four luxurious rooms located directly on the beach. We booked the premium suite, which was essentially a grand apartment on the upper level, with an unobstructed view of the water and the temple of Apollo. Stylistically decorated in white stone with bamboo accents, the “room” included three separate balconies, two bathrooms, two showers, two separate sitting rooms and a huge indoor jacuzzi bath, plus a mini-fridge with beverages and coffee maker. Even with all the amenities, the booking included breakfast, served at the sister hotel Adriani, just a few minutes walk down the street. The breakfasts were simple but decadent, all lovingly homemade. As soon as it was ready, the quiche or tart or (god help us) tiropita would be walked across the street from, we assume, their family home and placed in the breakfast buffet. Cyano Suites offered us the perfect balance of luxury and small town hospitality, we would highly recommend them to anyone visiting Naxos.
Most tourists visiting Naxos with an interest in seeing more than the main city (Chora) seem to rent cars and drive themselves around the island. The countryside was beautiful and seemed very drivable, so this may be an option for us on our next visit, but this time, we wanted a guide; a private tour of the island with someone who would be able to give us history and information. After some research, we found a “local” who was actually an expat from France living in Naxos, Nicolas Lagiere. A lover of art, history and nature he speaks fluent Greek and offers customizable 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 a location from someone who wasn’t born there, but loves it just as much.
Shortly after arriving and dropping off our bags in our suite, Nicolas met us at Hotel Adriani. Soon after hopping in his little car, I inquired about his dog, the beautiful husky we saw on his website. Realizing 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 to be said for sharing experiences with an animal by your side. We are so happy that we were able to share our explorations with Mocte. 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. In the late 7th or early 8th century, a small orthodox church was built inside. That small Byzantine church has now been removed and placed beside the ruins of the temple. Both structures are beautiful in their own right, as is the spectacular view around them.
After the temple, we headed towards the picturesque village of Chalki, the once main center of Naxos. Walking 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 beautiful Elaiolithos Art Shoppe and a small shop next door selling hand-sewn fabrics and textiles. There we sampled dried and candied kitron peel; the same fruit that produced the liqueur in the Vallindras Distillery. Though the fruit itself is inedible, the candied peel is delicious. We promptly purchased two packages (one yellow, one green) but wish we had purchased more. The last shop, Naxia GI, specialized in honey and olive oil, but offered a variety of specialized local products. Along with a canister of olive oil, we purchased the unique Heather Honey. Dark in colour, the honey is heavy and thick with distinct caramel flavour notes.
From Chalki we headed up to Rotonda, a phenomenal restaurant with a spectacular view. Words do not do it justice. It being October and nearing the end of the season, we were the only guests on the panoramic balcony. While we waited for our food to arrive, we stood near the edge and marveled at what lay beyond. Like a painting, the blue sky faded into the shadowed layers of the mountains in the distance, It is one of those place that even standing there, it doesn’t look real.
We ordered a cheese platter to start, not knowing it would be a huge selection of local cheeses, plus fruit and nuts and bread. Every bite was delicious, so much so we nearly finished the entire platter, not wanted a morsel to go to waste. Next, we both ordered a wild mushroom risotto. The sun was just beginning to set and warm comforting risotto complimented the atmosphere. It was decadent, rich and so flavourful. It was easily the best risotto we’ve ever had in a restaurant, hands down. Had we been smart, we would have only ordered one to share, but luckily we were able to take what we couldn’t finish to go. We sipped our Greek coffee (there is always room for coffee) and watched the birds dance within the breathtaking panorama until it was time to go.
Stuffed and relaxed, Nicolas zipped us off further up the mountain to Apeiranthos; the marble village. It was located high up in the mountains and true to its name, everything was made of marble. Luckily we made it just as the sun was setting and were able to appreciate the beauty of the sun bouncing off the stark white marble walls, streets and alleyways. Being high up in the mountains, Nicolas explained, the village does see snow in wintertime and the town lays down carpet along the marble pathways and steps to help avoid slippery accidents. We admired the view as we walked along the main street, but were aware the day was drawing to a close. Soon, we were headed back to Chora and to our beautiful suite. Nicolas was a wonderful host, with plenty of inside information, historical facts and knowledge of the many hidden gems Naxos hides within her hills. That night, after we watched the sun finally set behind the Temple of Apollo, we soaked in the jacuzzi tub and reminisced on the days activities.
When Nicolas had 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 decided to take his advice. There were few signs to direct you to the Theologaki Chapel, but one main road to climb. Though it was just us and we were taking our time, the incline of the road was deceivingly steep at points and you could feel it become challenging to breathe. Near the top, the roadway seemed to end. The only way to the steps of the church appeared to be over a steep rocky hill. The climb would not have been difficult, had it not been for the wind. Stepping onto the hill, you stepped into a wind tunnel. We braced ourselves onto the low rocks for fear of losing our balance.
My partner in crime steamed ahead over the hill and made it up the steps to the church entrance, while I stepped more slowly and carefully. When I reached the steps, I decided to sit for a moment to allow some relief from the wind behind the partial wall. That’s where I began to feel dizzy. I called out but could not be heard over the sound 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. A few moments later, he did and confirmed it was open and beautiful, albeit very small. Rational or not, I was in that moment very afraid of the wind blowing me off the side, so I decided not to ascend. The view was indeed spectacular and we sat there catching our breath and enjoying it before we headed home. Once back on the roadway, even though it was high and windy, I felt safe again. Regardless of the challenges, it was a worthwhile adventure. Thank-you Nicolas for suggesting it. We hope one day to return and do it all over again.
Once we returned back to the main street, we headed past Hotel Adriani and straight towards the Temple of Apollo. Along the way, on the islet of Palatia, we ran into a local merchant who carvel images into the beautiful Naxos marble and purchased a little souvenir. Always happy to support local artists. The temple, or what is left of it, is enormous. The doorway (Portara) is virtually all that remains of the unfinished temple, each slab comprised of 20 tons of marble. Like and ancient picture frame, the doorway stands alone, a symbol of a time long ago. 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 ancients doors of the entrance gates. Soon, exhaustion and hunger set in, so we headed back towards our suite for a late lunch. In our pre-trip research we had discovered a small family run taverna just a stones throw away from our suite called Plinthos. We stuffed ourselves with Greek Salad with blocks of feta cheese, tzatziki, pita and spanakopita before heading back to the Temple of Apollo in time to watch the sun set within the doorway.
The next morning, after another delicious breakfast, we headed to the port to catch the ferry to our next destination. 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 its 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.