Naxos, Greece

I am on a island hopping adventure through the Cyclades. I started in Mykonos, the second stop was Paros and now I am off to Naxos. Click here if you want to start reading at the beginning of Cycladic adventure.

Day 8 of 15: from Paros to Naxos

Today I leave the enchanting island of Paros. I absolutely loved being here and wish I had more time because there is much more I wanted to see. But I also look forward to my next destination: Naxos. So I pack my suitcase and a little transfer bus comes to pick me and other travellers up to take us back to the harbour of Parikia. There is time for a drink before departure, but I do not have to wait that long for the ferry boat to arrive. Naxos is close to Paros, so it is a quick cross over.

Naxos is the largest island of the Cyclades. Strangely enough many foreign visitors have not heard of Naxos, most of them will choose Mykonos or Santorini for their holiday. But Naxos is more than worth it and I heard so much about it from friends that I made sure this island is part of my 2 week Cyclades adventure.

I arrive in Naxos town or Chora/Hora as the locals call their capital town and this is where I will be staying. The town has smuch to offer, there is plenty to see and staying closeby makes it possible for me to go by foot. The transfer bus is waiting at the harbour to take me and other (lucky) travellers to our accommodations. Again I have chosen a hotel on the outside of town.

Upon arrival in Alkyoni Beach Hotel I feel that I made the right decision. The hotel is like a little village, with an inviting swimming pool and sun beds, a bar by the pool and it is only a few foot steps to the beach. I have a great spacious room and a balcony facing seaside. The rooms have comfortable beds and little pouches with lavender underneath the pillows for a good night sleep. I love it here! The owners made sure there is plenty of green surrounding the buildings and their Bougainvillea’s are huge and create an explosion of colour. I unpack my suitcase, get a welcome drink at the bar, relax on a sunbed by the pool. I read a bit, listen to music on my phone and go for a swim. I feel like I am in paradise!

Late in the afternoon I decide to walk to Naxos town. It is about a 15 minutes walk from hotel to the centre. I walk on a wooden path alongside the sea. The weather has changed; there is a strong wind blowing and dark clouds are in front of the sun, covering the sky, but the temperature is still good. On the beach sunbeds are waiting for tourists in case the sun comes out, but all is quiet; no people visiting the beach. There are quite a number of restaurants and bars next to the wooden path I case you fancy a meal or a drink by the sea. The Alkyoni hotel also offers meals, but since I want to explore Naxos, I will have a bit in town.

Naxos town is dominated by the Kastro (castle). Upon arrival it was the first thing I saw. I know that I will need plenty of time to visit the castle and I hope to see it when the sun is out, so I keep walking on the boulevard and the streets that run paralel. I zigzag between restaurants, bars, shops, car rental offices and bakery’s. I treat myself to an ice cream at the Waffle House; I just cannot resist. There is quite a queue so that means the ice cream is going to be good. I love ice cream, you can wake me up any time for a bit of Haagen Dazs.

I continue my walk towards the harbour. Sailing boats are inviting people to book a day trip around the island or to one of the neighbour islands. I reach the port where I arrived earlier this afternoon. In the middle of the harbour there is a tiny islet which I did not see it upon arrival. It is said that sailors and seafarers from the islands of Τsirigo and Kythira, survived a sea storm just outside of Naxos and they built a little church on this islet. It is dedicated to Panagia Myrtidiotissa, protector of the island and natives of Kythira. I think it is closed and there is no bridge to reach it. It looks very picturesque and I wish the sun was out for me to take better photographs.

Apart from the castle, another high light in town you will see upon arrival is Portara, the entrance of a never finished temple dedicated to god Apollo on the little peninsula of Palatia. Portara means grand door and it is the only part that the ancient Greeks left as a reminder of what should have been. A little history lesson: around 530 B.C Naxos was at its peak of glory and ruler Lygdamis wanted to build the highest and most magnificent building of Greece in Naxos. He ordered for a massive temple to be built, but then war broke out between Naxos and Samos and the work stopped. The rest of the marble was removed and used for other buildings. Back in time, a strip of land connected the north side of Naxos port to Palatia. Today this has been replaced by a causeway, which I cross to reach the famous Portara.

The wind has become stronger. The water in the harbour is relatively quiet, but on the other side of Portara high waves are hitting the rocks. It is impossible not to get wet, since the wind carries the water over the causeway. I hide my camera underneath my shirt, so it does not get wet. The view from Palatia is incredible. I can see the north east coast of Paros in the west, the Agean Sea in the north and when facing south/east I look over Naxos town and see the amazing castle.

It is still cloudy, so no sunset for me at the most famous sunset spot of Naxos. Boo hoo… I walk back and just when I reach the causeway, the sun comes out a bit and I turn around and walk back to Portara. I enjoy a spectacular pink sunset together with other tourists and I end up taking photographs on request of couples who want to remember this romantic moment. I enjoy this moment just as much though being on my own. So far this trip has done me a lot of good and I love being able to take my time trying to capture all that is beautiful on my camera.

It is getting a bit chilly and I slowly start to walk back towards the harbour, turning around now and then to see the sky still pink behind me. I find myself a restaurant called Irini’s that serves the most delicious calamari. The price of this meal is cheap and the food is simple but seriously good. During the waiting for my food I manage to upload some photographs on Instagram and Facebook; I have to make family and friends at home jealous and I am sure they will be once they see the amazing sunset that I just saw. It is dark when I return to the hotel and I walk back through the streets since there is hardly any light on the beach. At the hotel I book a rental car for the next day. Naxos is big, so I want to get up early to see as much as possible.

Day 9 of 15: Sangri, Halki and Potamia

I wake up at 8, of course I put on the alarm, otherwise I would have slept in. I have a lovely breakfast at the hotel and I meet the rental car representative in the lobby. He hands over the key to the car and I tell him I will leave the key at the reception tonight. I ask the friendly receptionist what I have to see today and also where is this beautiful church in the rocks that I see in a photo book, which is lying on the table. She has no idea and I try to find it online, but without success. I write down its name, who knows I will find it during my road trip today.

I go south first and only a few kilometres outside of town is National Park Limnothalassa Aliki, a half salty lake next to the airport. This area is popular for bird watching. Now I love birds but have no time to spot any today. I continue and drive to Plaka, since I book quite some clients to this holiday resort. It has a beautiful beach, as do the other resorts closeby. It is a perfect place for beach lovers but also for wind and kite surfers, since in the afternoon the wind blows quite strong at this side of the island.

From Plaka I drive to Kato Sangri. As usual I stop about a 100 times for photographs or for visiting churches that I see along the way. One of the churches had a smashed window and broken pieces of glass still lie on the ground. I collect some and will put them in a mosaic or something back home. From Kato Sangri I go to Ano Sangri. I stop at Cafe Bar Milos for a drink and I chat a bit with the owner. Here on Naxos the people are just as friendly as on Paros. He is polite and interested, asks me where I am from and he tells me where to go next. I also asked about the church in the rocks, but… I have to keep on searching.

Next stop is the Temple of Demeter, about 2 kilometres south of the Ano Sangri. Another history lesson is coming! The ruins of this 6th-century BC Temple and the reconstructions are not that big, but this site is interesting historically and it is a must see. The entire temple is built of white marble in a square format, with columns in front of it. It had columns in the inside as well, which supported the roof. The temple was used for worshiping goddess Demeter and her daughter, evidence for this was found on inscriptions in the temple. I thought I was one of the few tourists driving around in this area, but at the site I am not alone. A bus full of tourists is just leaving and there are quite some cars at the parking. It is not that busy though and I take my time to walk around and read about the temple.

From Demeter’s temple I make my way to Halki, a traditional village in the middle of the island with beautiful neoclassical houses and buildings. The weather is amazing again today and it makes the day much more pleasant when the sun is out. At Halki I park my car outside the centre. I walk towards town square, see an old Herbie Beatle parked underneath a giant bougainvillea. It must be the most photographed spot in this village. I stop at Giannis Tavern, where I have a cold drink and lunch; I order a moussaka. The location and food are perfect and I feel so relaxed. This was the purpose of this holiday: to relax, to unwind. After lunch I go for a walk in the village.

There are various walking paths around the village and you need to wear sensible shoes. For the second time on this trip I am on my flip flops when I really need to wear sneakers or hiking boots (or at least have them in the car just in case). I am used to walking on flip flops, so off I go. This area of Naxos is very fertile. I walk past old olive trees and I see the “Citron” tree everywhere, from which the famous Naxian liqueur is produced. Halki is actually known as the “Mystras of the Aegean” (Mystras being the medieval Byzantine citadel in the South-Eastern Peloponnese). In the area surrounding the village I find important Byzantine churches with rare frescoes, inscriptions and sculptures. I stop Agios Georgios Diassoritis and Tahiarhis Rahis; both absolutely stunning. As usual the churches are closed this time of day. I walk back to the village centre passing Monitsia village and Agia Marina church.

From Halki I drive further east towards Filoti, another very picturesque village. I slowly drive through it, it is quiet… everybody must be taking an afternoon nap after lunch. I see a sign that says Za Cave and drive towards it. I get stuck on the road when a big flock of sheep are being directed towards a mountain slope.

The road is quite steep, but offers a pretty view. I reach the Aria Spring where I park my car and walk around and want to visit the cave. But this time I do not go further. A man visiting with his son tells me I should not go on flip flops and the area is too remote, so I take his advice. It is also late in the afternoon and I still have things I want to see before the sun sets. Driving down towards Filoti was worth the drive to Aria. I stick my phone on the car mirror so I can safely drive while making a short video of the amazing view I get when going down. Funny enough there is a Dutch song on the radio.

From Filoti I drive to Danakos, a smaller village hidden between the mountains. I would like to drive to the other side of the island, but there is not enough time. I want to see another (famous) church before it gets dark, so I turn around. Again I have to stop since the road is full of sheep and I have to wait for 5 minutes before they let me through.

Before Filoti I stop, alongside the road, where a man is selling herbs and sweets and I buy some to take home. We chat away for quite some time, but I really need to move on. I drive towards Ano, Meso and Kato Potamia. The Agios Mamas church is in Meso Potamia and I ask a local how to get there. He directs me towards it and I am not sure if this is allowed, but I get quite close by care and only have a short walk towards the church. Agios Mamas is one of the oldest churches of Naxos. It is dated back to the 9th century. It is important for its architectural form, which is “cross in square”. The remains of the church are beautiful. The sun unfortunately does not reach it anymore, since the church is in between mountains (a valley) and it is late, but seeing it was worth the drive. I am all alone here, out in the middle of nowhere, but this time I am not uncomfortable. Apparently Agios Mamas was the cathedral of the Orthodox before the Frankish conquest. It was converted into a Catholic church in 1207.

I leave Agios Mamas and drive back to Naxos town. Maybe I am just in time to catch the sunset. I decide to drive to the north for a little while to see the rocky coast. I guess I do not want this day to end. The sun disappears without any spectacle and I decide to drive back to the hotel. Before reaching town I see a sign: church of Theologaki. This is the church that I was looking for! Seriously, at the end of the day I find it without looking for it. I cannot go up the road anymore, there is a very small rocky path and it is getting dark and there are no lights. But… at least I found it ;-)! Even more hilarious is the fact that it looks out over town and if I had binoculars at the hotel I would have been able to spot it.

I return to Alkyoni and it is late. I leave the car key at the reception; thinking about keeping it for another day, since I have only seen a small part of the island. But I have one more day left in Naxos and for sure want to visit the castle. I am actually a bit tired, I have been on the road for 14 hours. So I will have a moment of relaxation as well tomorrow. I love Naxos, I really enjoyed my tour today. I said I could live on Paros, but I could live here as well!

Day 10 of 15: Castle/Kastro in Naxos Town

The next morning I wake up late, but just in time to get some breakfast. I did not turn on the alarm last night, forcing to remind myself I am on a holiday. After breakfast I go for another swim in the spacious pool and relax on a sunbed. I fall asleep again for another hour or so and got a nice tan in the meantime.

In the afternoon I walk to the centre of Naxos town once again. I find my way towards the castle. The weather has changed and the sky is quite dramatic with heavy clouds, although the sun is trying to get through. The temperature is pleasant though, around 25 degrees; just perfect for a walk.

The Castle/Kastro is the oldest and most picturesque quarter in Naxos Town. It was built by Venetian Emperor, Markos Sanoudos II in 1207 and it was the seat of power in the Cyclades for 300 years (just so you know). Within the castle’s inner walls there are a number of Venetian residences and a Catholic Cathedral dating from the 13th century. Here is also the French school where write Nikos Kazantzakis studied (he wrote among other things Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ); now it is home to the Archaeological Museum. The castle has been continually inhabited since it was built and during the summer it hosts concerts and exhibitions. It originally had several towers of which one remains: the Glezos Tower. I walk through its narrow streets and discover every corner, it is a bit like going back in time. Plenty of galleries, tourist shops and restaurants make you realize though, that you live in the 21st century .

I think I must have walked in the castle for about 3 hours. By the end of the afternoon I walk towards the harbour. I buy myself some gyros pita’s and sit down on a bench to enjoy the view and my food. Before sunset I walk back towards the hotel. I sit down at Flisvos Beach Cafe and order a beer. It is busy here, but in a good way. The atmosphere is good and I find myself a seat facing the sea. People next to me ask me where I am from and once again I realize how easy it is to have a chat when you are alone. They are lovely people who recognized me from the ferry boat and they will also be leaving Naxos tomorrow, just like me. I have another drink before I go back to the hotel, which is next to Flisvos. Tomorrow morning I have to pack my suitcase once again and I will leave for my next and last stop in my Cycladic adventure. Time is passing by too fast!

Naxos, you are amazing! And you are located in between so many other amazing islands… I could stay here for weeks and not get bored. If I win the lottery, I will come back and find myself a place to live on the west coast, close by the sea. Naxos has a small airport and no cruise ships who visit, so it is not too busy. I fell in love with Paros, but Naxo has something that makes me feel at home. I got all emotional when being on that mountain yesterday, driving down from Za Cave towards Filoti. I realized how much I miss living in Greece and how comfortable I feel being here. I remember the lesson I learned when living in Greece and that is knowing what matters in life! “Stay healthy, love your family and friends, earn money to pay your bills, to have a roof over your head and enjoy the simple pleasures of life and be good”. Naxos: stay as you are! I will come back someday…

Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller

May 24, 2018

From Naxos I go to Santorini. Click here to read the last part of my island hopping / Cyclades blog.

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