Naxos: your Greek island home
It’s difficult to be objective when talking about Naxos as it’s such a huge favourite of ours. It’s the perfect destination for a whole host of different travellers: great for families with kids of different ages, perfect for beach and kite surfing lovers and above all, foodies.
Naxos has been on the island hopping trail for years but it’s not as famous as some of its Cycladic neighbours, despite it having an airport and plenty of ferry links from Athens all year round. The season goes up until the end of October and it’s the perfect place to start your exploration of the less developed Small Cyclades, which include hip Koufonissia but also places like Schinousa and Iraklia. In high season you have a choice for every budget, from daily ferry connections or a whole host of sailing trips from Naxos harbour.
If we had to name the two main reasons we fell in love with this island, the beaches would have to be reason no1. There are endless beautiful, long sandy streches or small coves, all with clear blue waters. And when we say endless, we mean endless. The majority of them are only a short drive or bus ride from the main town (Chora). This is pure bliss whether you like your swimming costume on or off! Plaka is the longest beach with plenty of restaurants and cafés nearby but without feeling like they take anything away from the sand dunes or the sound of the waves. Mikri Vigla on the other hand, is the go-to destination for kite surfers. During the summer months the number of people taking advantage of the Cycladic winds is a sight to be enjoyed by all, even those who don’t feel like being super sporty!
The size of this island provides a feeling of space, even in high season. You will find the space to place your towel even in August and if you’re willing to hire a car, you can escape the crowds altogether. Whether it’s a smaller beach you’re after or a bit of a wild and wonderful hike with goats as your guides, it’s worth leaving the more popular strip.
The quaint mountain villages like Apiranthos, the hidden away gem of Demeter’s temple, Bellonia’s castle, the “sleeping” Kouros in Apollonas. There is a lot to see and if you’re willing to drive a little further away from the ‘main strip’, there are a number of accommodation options to choose from depending on the budget and type of holiday you’re after. From villas to exclusive hideaways, basic rooms for the surfing crowd, family friendly accommodation and everything in between, Naxos will provide an experience tailored to your needs.
Naxian hill-top villages have their own beauty and for many, they are the ‘real Naxos’. Check out Halki and Filoti for a slice of real island living. In fact skip the really popular beachfront options altogether in high season. Naxos is really beautiful and places like Agios Georgios or Agia Anna will make you feel claustrophobic during the peak summer months. Do give the Chora some of your time though, don’t just ignore it on your way to and from the port. The sunset at the Portara is an Instagram dream and the old market alleyways are cuteness personified. Avoid the usual tourist traps and your visit to the main town can be a lot of fun, especially if you visit the amazing old school groceries on the main shopping street. Koufopoulos cheeses and Mr Tziblakis’ wonderful store showcase the best the island has to offer. Incredible cheese, the best potatoes in Greece and loads of other local products that will provide a taste of your holiday when you’re back at home.
While on the subject of food, we have to admit that it is most definitely the second reason we come back to Naxos time and time again. There is nothing posh about the dining scene here, just great local products (meat, fish, dairy and vegetables), a lot of respect for Cycladic traditions and a nod to modern cooking techniques by younger chefs and restaurant owners. Prices remain reasonable and the welcome you’ll receive is warm. There are so many places to choose from but our absolute favourites would have to be Axiotissa in Kastraki, Petrino on Plaka beach and Giorgis in Melanes village and they’re only a small snapshot of the places you’re going to discover yourselves. As in most Greek islands, going away from the main port/town and other tourist settlements and driving towards the mountains is where foodie heaven is to be found. It’s the places frequented by locals, run by families using produce they’ve reared or grown, lavished with love and attention.
This is definitely not Mykonos or Santorini. There are boutique options if that kind of hotel is what you’re after and a number of more exclusive activities if you’re willing to look for them. Naxos is more about relaxing and feeling free though, whether you’re young and going on your first Greek island adventure or an experienced traveller who has clear priorities for their precious time off. It’s an island which manages to offer all the amenities a developed tourist destination can provide with a feeling of being able to be part of an authentic island existence. It’s a difficult balancing act but Naxos nails it and will always leave you wanting more.
This article was first published in Australian newspaper Neos Kosmos on 27th August 2016. Reproduced with kind permission, all rights reserved.