Naxos is one of the largest Cycladic islands, if you would like to experience Greece, past and present this island is possibly your best bet. And a foodie’s paradise!
I indulged myself in a short break with friends. Five days are hardly enough to see the island of Naxos but plenty to recharge my worn down batteries. Decision was made on a whim, we needed to escape from the heat of Athens, fast! But what is so special about Naxos?
Well, you can tell as soon as you approach the island by boat. To the left there is Portara, the huge door that remains from Apollo’s temple and straight ahead the castle of Hora, the main city which is developed around the Venetian castle. To the back, the hill tops stretch as far as the eye can see and they hide villages and many paths if you like trekking. Surrounded by crystal clear water and pristine sandy beaches, you will not want to leave this place. Oh, did I mention? It gets windy and certain beaches are surfers & kite surfers paradise.
Naxos has been popular with Greeks for many years. My mum was reminiscing of the potato fields to the back of the handful of rental rooms available at Agios Prokopios back in the 90’s. The days Naxos was a hidden paradise, off the beaten track are obviously long gone but the island has so much to offer.
No matter what you seek for, I can very confidently say that you will find it in Naxos. On a family trip? Lot’s of kid friendly beaches all around. Are you the sporty type? From trekking to water sports, what ever your heart desires, you can do it. On a romantic break for two? You can have plenty of you time and the most romantic sunsets to loose yourselves in. On a genuine break where you don’t want to meet another soul? I hear you! Naxos will shelter you away.
For foodies? Rejoice! It’s the best Greek food you will ever try: dairy, meat products, fresh fruit and veg, herbs. You name it, Naxos has it. I will go through this in another post, below are a few tips on how to best enjoy your break and help you plan your trip.
Where to stay
I picked the beach of Agios Prokopios, only 15 minutes away from Naxos’ Hora. I dreamed of waking up and running straight to the beach and my holiday was pretty much this. Agios Prokopios has many rooms to cater for every taste and a really long stretch of beach that you can wash away all your worries.
The coast is dotted with restaurants and cafes that do double duty as bars later in the evening. If you wish to become a total sloth over your break and not move an inch, you can easily stay on this beach.
There are many other seaside resorts to choose from. Neighbouring Agios Prokopios is Agia Anna which is equally popular and is teeming with life. You will find many rooms on every beach. The further South you get, you might need to rent a vehicle to fully enjoy your stay. Check below the get around section for more info.
As on any Greek island, Hora is the main town and it bursts with life any time of the day. Naxos’ Hora is rather large and you can leisurely walk from Portara, the remnants of Apollo’s temple all the way up the Venetian castle. Loose yourself in the narrow paths of the ancient city and if in doubt, simply walk downhill and you will reach the coast for another leisurely promenade.
Many rooms are available as far up in the castle as you would like. There is a beach close by but you also have the coach lines start off point on your doorstep so for many is a good choice to stay central.
Where to swim in Naxos
Starting from Agios Prokopios, to the south west of Naxos you start the best beach adventure you have ever had. Naxos boosts some 21 really long stretches of beach, many are organised, many still free from the tourist bug. I don’t mean this in a bad way, I can be very comfortable on a sun lounger but it gets even better if I can get far away from everything and just rest my gaze in the horizon without the background noise of racket players (loath them).
The beach can very conveniently combine great accommodation and a sandy beach. Its largest stretch is organised and you can find sunloungers for rent or set up your own umbrella if you prefer. I spend a couple of days there, the water is wonderful the racket players did send me away though.
It is very close to the saltpans and depending on the winds you might get a whiff of something gone off but this unpleasantry is never set to last.
Here you will find another wonderful stretch of sandy shore. There is a wooden platform to take you to the shore that crosses through cedars and sand lillies. It’s magical at sunset and I really enjoyed my food at Paradiso.
Orkos & Mikri Vigla
Congratulations you just reached the kite surfers paradise. Waters are lovely to swim in but we only had a quick stop here. When windy it’s a bit unpleasant for a leisurely stay, plus without kite surfing equipment you will feel a bit left out. If you fancy you can take lessons. It’s mesmerising to watch them ride the waves. When bored, head to the next beach for leisurely swims.
Alykó & Hawai
As you approach the peninsula of Alykó there are two stretches of beach to lay your beach towel down. Straight ahead there is an abandoned ghost hotel dating back to the grim Greek ‘70s, to the right there is Alykó, this beach is also nick named Hawai for its turquoise waters and Mikro Alykó which is better protected from Northern winds. To the left, you will find the small protected bay with the tiny chapel of Agios Georgios. All of them are great for a swim and worth spending your day. The cedar forest stretches for quite some kilometers, be gentle to this precious forest, its root is what keeps the sand dunes in place.
Do grab a large bottle of water and some snacks or fruit before heading out there. The walk in the cedar forest before reaching the beach is amazing but this is not an organised beach and hydration will be needed.
There was a cantine on the main road when I visited Alyko should you wish a refreshment and a bite to eat but anything else is quite far to reach.
Pyrgaki and before Pyrgaki
Do you feel like rolling down a sand dune? Here is the place to do it.
You will find Pyrgaki after Alyko. As you approach, the first stretch of beach might seem a bit uninviting as the shore is a bit rocky but there is a tiny hidden cove and a corner full of sand to your right hand side that will make you rejoice. If you drive a bit further down, you will find an organised stretch of beach and the most wonderful sand dunes to walk or roll down from.
This is a lovely and very quiet beach so definitely recommend.
Where to eat in Naxos
I very rarely jot down restaurant recommendations. It’s not that I’m a snob, to the contrary, but good food in Greece is very easy to find. As far as restaurant reviews go, to be impartial and objective you need more than a couple of visits. The task is completely out of reach for me as any visit is too short to be able to make a good job of it. There are food critics for this.
For restaurants on islands it is very difficult to share an opinion that is not very personal or precarious. What I found this year might not be there the next summer and even if the establishment is present the chef might have changed and the experience will be different. So always tread with caution and follow your nose. It always turns out for the best!
Anyhow, setting my personal reservations aside. Here are some dishes to seek for and what I personally enjoyed in Naxos.
Taverna Giannoulis, Agios Prokopios
This tavern is situated before you hit the beach of Agios Prokopios, just a few meters up the coastal road. This traditional eatery has an array of traditional dishes and as always daily specials. We tried the signature pork dish of the island Rosto Aperathitiko and it worked a treat. Plenty of Naxian raki to wash it down is highly recommended. This dish is a simple casserole with distinct garlic flavour that is often offered on weddings and special occasions. Their salads are a real treat too!
This was a really good goat papillote with potatoes, courgettes and a healthy portion of melted Naxian gruyere cheese, topped with absolutely huge portions of everything. I am always weary of seaside taverns, and you should be too, I was not disappointed.
You can loose yourself up in the cobble streets of the Venetian castle or enjoy the seaside views. There is a lot of sight seeing and leisurely walks but let’s focus on a couple of good places for food.
Tipografio – modern Greek gastronomy and a great cellar
It is at the footsteps of the castle with really good views to the square and a gently breeze. Tipografeion used to house one of the many printing press that run in Naxos. Now the chefs put together some of the most carefully thought dishes, modern Greek gastronomy with local ingredients and a great wine list too!
Boulamatsis, the family tavern of dreams
Here you will find some seriously good homely food and enjoy a view to the port. Its entrance is a bit hidden, you enter from the back alley and although the restaurant is small, its balcony has a great view to the port. This family tavern uses vegetables from their own garden, has a great selection of lathera, pots and stews and of course daily specials.
Well, it’s waffles, really good waffles and my very first food memory of the island. Indulge yourselves.
Kafeneion Galani, Halkeion
The best galaktoboureko you will ever try. This is a traditional Greek kafenion, you can enjoy your coffee or an array of mezze for lunch. If your road takes you to this picturesque village please do stop if not for anything else, for the galaktoboureko!
The only place you will need to book: Axiotissa tavern. For good or bad, I didn’t get a chance to visit as when I stoped it was apparently fully booked at 4 pm in the afternoon. I am averse to bookings, waiting and anything that kills my spontaneity. I avoid booking even when in London, let alone when I am on holidays. Apologies I’m a little special, I like to follow my nose. But, if you like to experience really good food Axiotissa grows and serves from their own vegetable garden authentic Greek dishes, traditional and modern. Recommended by many trustworthy sources but as I mentioned I didn’t make it, I will reserve this one for the next time.
How do I get there:
By Air: Naxos airport has connections from Athens and many international airports as well, check seasonally as these tend to change.
By boat: by far my favourite way of travel, you have not experienced Greece unless you take an early morning boat from Piraeus to your island of choice. Don’t stay in the air con seated area, go up on the deck, shelter yourself a bit from the wind, when you feel the first sea water gently touching your face you know you are on holidays. Enjoy the infinite blue horizon!
It takes around 4-5 hours depending on the stops, normally there is a stop to Paros before reaching Naxos and some routes are direct. Check the ferries.
Transport when I get there:
The local bus company has fairly good connections to the villages up in the mountains and the most popular beaches. If you are out on a discovery trail, rent a car for a couple of days, you will be able to roam freely and stop whenever it takes your fancy.
In Naxos, there is also a lot of sight seeing, including ancient Greek relics, Byzantine churches and Venetian heritage buildings dotted throughout the island. There are many trustworthy travel sites to guide you through this. I have put a small list of links at the end of this post. I owe you a recipe and more info on Naxos food which is coming soon.
Have you been to Naxos? Would you like to share your tips? Please write in the comments below.
from Naxos with love,