Cyclades: Naxos, Greece

Click here for part 2 of my Cyclades blog: https://oneluckytraveller.com/2018/05/21/paros-greece/

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 so much more I want 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 and takes us back to Parikia. There is time for a drink at the harbour, 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. Strange enough many foreign visitors have not heard of Naxos, most of them will just choose Mykonos or Santorini for a visit. 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 so much to offer, there is plenty for me 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, Alkyoni Beach Hotel. Upon arrival I feel that I made the right decision. The hotel is like a little village, there is an inviting swimming pool with sun beds and a bar in the centre and it is only a few steps towards 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! 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, get a welcome drink at the bar and make myself lay down on a sunbed by the pool. I read a bit, listen to music on my phone and go for a swim. I am in paradise!

Later in the afternoon I decide to walk to Naxos town. It is about 15 minutes walking from hotel to center. I walk by the seaside, there is a wooden path I can walk on. The weather has changed; there is a strong wind blowing and dark clouds are covering the sky, but the temperature is still ok. On the beach there are sunbeds in case the sun comes out, but all is quiet; no people visiting the beach. There are quite a few restaurants and bars next to the wooden path for a meal or a drink. The Alkyoni hotel also offers meals, but I like to eat outside and see I can find plenty closeby.

Naxos town is dominated by the Kastro (castle). Upon arrival it is the first thing I see. I know that I will need more time to visit the castle and I hope to see it when the sun is out, so I stick to walking along 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 line so that means it is going to be good and this is true: yum! I love ice cream, but then again… I love many things when it comes to sweets. But for ice cream you can wake me up any time.

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 reacht 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. The little church is dedicated to Panagia Myrtidiotissa, protector of the island and natives of Kythira. I do not think it is open 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.

Naxos Town

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 sea in the north and 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 it has done me good to do this trip and I love being able to take my time trying to capture all that is beautiful as I can on my camera.

Portara, Palatia

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 those 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 arrange a rental car for the next day. Naxos is big, so I want to get up early to see as much as possible.

Pink sunset

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 that is lying on the table. She has no idea and I try to find it online, but have no success. I write down its name, who knows I will find it on the way.

I go south first and only a few kilometers outside of town is National Park Limnothalassa Aliki, a half salty (I think) 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 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 Sangria I go to Any Sangria. 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 2km south of the village. 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 on 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, but there are quite some cars in the parking lot. It is not that busy though and I take my time to walk around and read about the temple.

Temple of Demeter, Sangri

From Demeter’s temple I make my way to Halki, a traditional village in the middle of the island with 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 eat a moussaka. The location and food are perfect and I feel so relaxed. After my lunch I go for a walk.

Herbie at Halki

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 even hiking boots (or at least have them in the car). Well… I am used to walking on flip flops, so off I go. This area of Naxos is very fertile. I walk past very old olive trees and you can see the “Citron” tree everywhere, from which the famous Naxian liqueur is produced (and yes… I had a taste). 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; absolutely stunning. As usual the churches are closed this time of day. I walk back passing Monitsia village and Agia Marina church.

From Halki I go 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 pretty. I reach the Aria Spring where I park my car and walk around. 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. Driving down towards Filoti was worth the drive to Aria. I stick my phone on the front of the car so I can safely drive while making a short video of the amazing view I get when going down and funny enough there is a Dutch song on the radio.

Driving towards Filoti

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 I want to see another (famous) church before it gets dark, so I turn around. Again I have to stop sice 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 there is a man selling herbs and sweets and I buy some to take home. I have 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 drive. He directs me towards it and I am not sure if this is allowed, but I get quite close and only have a short walk towards the church.

Road block in the mountains

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 really beautiful. The sun does not reach it anymore, since the church is in between mountains and it is late, but 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 seems to be converted into a Catholic church in 1207.

Agios Mamas, Meso Potamia

I leave Agios Mamas and drive back to Naxos town. Maybe I am just in time to catch the sunset. I decide to drive a bit to the north to see the rocky coast. 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 anymore, there is a very small rocky path and it is getting dark and there are no lights. Well… 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 the hotel and it is late. I leave the car key at the reception; thinking about keeping it for another day. But I have one more day left in Naxos and for sure want to visit the castle. I am actually a bit tired, so I will have a moment of relaxation as well tomorrow. I love Naxos, I really enjoyed my tour today. I could live here!

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. Because I want to see as much as possible, I forget that I also need to relax and do nothing now and then. So that is what I will do this morning (well… what is left of it). I go for another swim in the pool and relax on a sunbed. I fall asleep again for another hour or so. In the afternoon I go to the centre of town again. I find my way towards the castle. The sky is dramatic with heavy clouds and the sun trying to get through. The temperature is pleasant though, around 25 degrees; just perfect.

The Castle/Kastro is the oldest and most picturesque quarter in the Town. It was built by Venetian Emperor, Markos Sanoudos II in 1207 and was the seat of power in the Cyclades for 300 years (just so you know). Within the castles 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 in time. There are galleries, tourist shops and restaurants that make you realize you live in the 21st century though.

Castle, Naxos town

I think I must have walked in the castle for at least a few hours. I leave by the end of the afternoon and walk towards the harbour. I buy myself some gyros pita’s and sit down on a bench to enjoy the view. 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 towards the see. 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 tomorrow, just like me. I have another drink before I go back to the hotel, which is next door of Flisvos. Tomorrow morning I have to pack my suitcase again and 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. I fell in love with Paros, but you have something that makes me feel at home. I got all emotional when being on that mountain driving down from Za Cave towards Filoti. I realized how much I miss living in Greece and how comfortable I feel being here. Stay as you are!

Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller

May 24, 2018

Click here to read part 4 of my Cyclades blog: https://oneluckytraveller.com/2018/05/28/santorini-greece/

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