To visit the Naxos picture gallery - click HERE
We visited in June 2005.
The Cyclades are served by frequent high-speed ferries and catamarans. However many of the UK tour operators charter much smaller vessels to transfer clients, usually from Santorini or Mykonos. These boats are much more vulnerable to extreme sea conditions caused by the Meltemi wind that blows down through the Aegean during the summer months. We were able to avoid a potentially difficult and uncomfortable sea crossing by taking advantage of an Olympic Airways flight from Athens to Naxos (flight time about 30 minutes). We arrived in a 50 seater plane that was able to taxi almost as fast as it flew. It also stopped right outside the airport terminal building. In no time at all our luggage had fallen off the end of the conveyor belt and we were off. Just 10 minutes later and we were at the Nissaki Beach Hotel. The off shore breeze was a welcome relief to the much more intense heat of Athens.
Nissaki Beach Hotel
The hotel is positioned right on the beach at the northern end of Ag. Georgios, nearest to the Chora. From our terrace we overlooked the beach and the wide expanse of the bay. To the south were the mountains of the interior and to the west the island of Paros and the setting sun. The Chora was just a few minutes stroll along the waterfront to the north.
The hotel runs a popular taverna with tables spilling down onto the beach. This is where breakfast is taken – a really wonderful way to start the day. The meals served in the taverna were excellent and we often chose to eat there instead of going into town.
The owner and his family were very hospitable and helped to make our stay a very pleasant one.
There was always plenty of hot water and the rooms were kept spotlessly clean. As the temperature rose, the air conditioning proved to be absolutely vital.
For a town beach this was pretty good. The water is very shallow; so a significant paddle was required before swimming was possible. This of course makes it ideal for families with small children.
Once past the rows of sunbeds, the beach becomes narrower and backed by sand dunes, the sea here is rougher and less inviting. Further along, the beach becomes more exposed to the wind and several windsurfing schools have set up shop here. The beach continues for some way past the saltpans in front of the airport.
At the Chora end of the beach is a small headland. The Portokali Café/Restaurant occupies the prime position. We watched the sunset from here one evening but for somewhere with such a good viewpoint it was only patronised by a few people and lacked atmosphere.
There is a good choice of bars and tavernas lining the beach. Not surprisingly by early afternoon the beach gets very busy.
We liked the town. It is very picturesque and despite the obvious tourism it retains a traditional Greek atmosphere.
A huge portal to the temple of Apollo, known as the Portara is probably the most known sight of Naxos. It is located on the headland just beyond the ferry harbour and is separated from the Chora by a causeway. From this point you can look back towards the Chora and see the Grotta area with its stony beach.
Tavernas, restaurants, cafes, and bars line the waterfront. As usual you pay a premium for a waterfront location but compared to some other islands the prices here were still very reasonable. There are plenty of other places to be discovered in the maze of streets behind the harbour area.
Alleyways wind, via archways, towards the Venetian Kastro. All routes lead to a small square where the Roman Catholic Cathedral and the central tower are situated. From the top there are good views down to the harbour and north to the Grotta area.
Whenever one of the big ferries arrives there is increased activity as buses, taxis and room owners seek out new business. The town is then generally quiet again until after sunset. The harbour road is closed to traffic from about 8pm and the whole strip becomes a place to watch and be watched. There is a large car park to the south of the harbour.
The only other time the Chora is busy is between 8 and 10 in the morning. It seems as if every vehicle in the town is out on the road. Reversing forklift drivers can be a hazard while two pickup truck drivers stopping for a chat can cause a tailback of 3 to 4 cars. Returning to the Chora at about 5pm the roads are unusually clear and we wondered the first time if some catastrophe had happened whilst we had been away.
Court square is a pleasant area at the back of Ag. Georgios. There is a church in one corner and a fountain in the middle of the square. All around are popular tavernas and bars and nearby are Mexican, Indian and Chinese restaurants.
As on Santorini, watching the sunset is a popular evening ritual. Here the focus is the Portara. It is a lovely spot and not surprisingly gets very busy. A minor rugby scrum ensues as people try to capture the setting sun between the columns of the Portara. As soon as the sun has dropped below the horizon most people return immediately to the Chora.
Around the Island
Covering 165 square miles, Naxos is the largest and most fertile of the Cycladic islands.
Roads are generally good but beware, a pothole the size of a crater on the moon is out there somewhere. Once out of the Chora there is very little traffic and driving is easy. We hired a car – a new Hyundai Getz 4 door car with air conditioning - 275€ for 1 week. There were also significant numbers of Quad bikes on the road. These looked good fun and seemed like ideal transport for travelling along the beach tracks along the south east coast.
There is a distinct contrast between the north and the south of the island. The south is much more barren and remote with little evidence of occupation. The north, however, has in the past been extensively cultivated. Some of the terracing is quite extreme - walls have been built almost vertically down the slopes. Whoever had to build those walls must have done something very bad to get that job!
The interior of the island is dominated by the peak of Mount Zas. Almost every other outcrop of rock seems to be occupied with a small chapel.
Agriculture in the form of potatoes, wine, cereals, fruit and livestock provide the island with much of its needs. For some reason the fishing fleet is quite small – which is odd really given the abundance of tavernas that specialise in fresh fish.
Avoid driving through any of the villages. Almost always there is a lower or upper road which bypasses the village itself. I mistakenly took the road into Ag. Arsenios – big mistake. Even in a small car it was very difficult to navigate between the houses and disbelieving locals walking along the tiny streets. Not only was the road narrow but each turn was almost at right angles. Of course the road had been designed with mules in mind – not wayward tourists.
West coast Chora to Agiassos – the beaches of Naxos
If you are looking for beaches this is the part of the island to concentrate on. Along this stretch of coast you will find some of the best beaches anywhere in Greece. The white sand and the strong sunlight combine to produce a most beautiful turquoise sea.
The backdrop varies from sand dunes, bamboo and saltpans. The mountains are never too far away. The beaches vary from long strands to small coves.
Once past Ag. Georgios and around the headland, the first beach is Ag. Prokopios. From this point onwards for over 15 kms down to Agiassos there are some truly stunning beaches. The further south you go the less populated they become with the exception of the area around Alyko.
It is a sunbed free area at the northern end of the beach. A track runs behind the beach across a saltpan and takes you into Ag. Anna. There are tavernas at either end.
Small resort but with plenty of bars, cafes, tavernas and a small harbour. Good beach areas either side of the harbour.
Justifiably this is one of the most popular beaches on the island. It stretches for several kilometres. It is more developed at the northern end. As you head south you are more likely to stumble across a nudist instead of a sunbed. Except for a small section at the far southern end, the beach is accessible from a track which runs parallel to the beach.
From the Plaka beach a detour inland through the bamboo is required – the track has been ploughed up. Here there are many smaller beaches and coves some of which can provide shelter if the wind is strong. Which it was when we were there.
Backed by apartments and studios. A very popular spot for wind and kite surfers. The kite surfers in particular moved at great speed and every so often would soar some 20 metres into the air. Presumably care must be taken on the inward leg to avoid heading skywards and landing on the roof of a beach taverna.
Around the headland from Mikri Vigla, Kastraki is another long beach backed by sand dunes. Similar to Plaka but more rugged and less populated.
A long sweep of sandy beach backed by extensive sand dunes and a saltpan. When we were there it was almost deserted. Back from the beach up on the main road you will find the excellent taverna Faros. Good Greek cooking with the emphasis on local produce.
The approach is through a cedar forest – this sounds dramatic but in reality they are no more than stunted conifers !!
As we approached Alyko there appeared to be the remains of a fortification. This was not something that I remembered reading about in the guide books. However, it soon became obvious that this was another unfinished hotel project. Had it ever been finished I suspect it would have been very impressive. Sadly it now spoils an otherwise lovely setting. It does, however, serve as a useful parking area for the coves that are dotted around the headland. The main beach is particularly beautiful and well worth the effort to get to.
This is another large expanse of sand and even more remote although there are a couple of tavernas in the area. We visited one; the menu consisted of just two oven-cooked meals for lunch. The owners had no English so it was fortunate that we knew a little Greek and that we both liked meatballs and stuffed tomatoes.
The last beach of any note – a long broad sweep of sand ending in an area with smaller pebble coves. It has that end of the road feel about it.
When the wind blows ...
Tip 1 - In windy conditions secure your umbrella – suggest rope and large tent pegs.
Tip 2 - You may even need a spade and some ready mixed concrete (available in Greece everywhere). Dig hole ….
Tip 3 - Don’t bother with an umbrella - find a beach with a tree.
The strong wind caused the sea to become quite rough. Whilst this makes it a windsurfers paradise I suspect that it is a ferry passengers nightmare.
West coast Chora to Apollonas
Once out of the Chora the first village is Gallini, small with a couple of attractive churches. Its neighbour is Engares – marginally livelier but only just.
The first beach of note on this route is at Amitis Bay. This can be seen from the main road and looks quite inviting. It is reached via a dirt track. When we arrived we just had the seagulls for company. It is a wild beach but at the time the shoreline was a mass of thick black seaweed.
Further along this part of the coast other small bays could be seen from the road. We decided not to venture down to any of them as we suspected that they too would also suffer from the brunt of the prevailing north wind and were probably best seen from a distance.
The further north you go the more dramatic the scenery. The Agias tower is worth a 5 minute stop and around Cape Stavri there are some interesting rock formations.
In the ancient quarry off the main road just before the turning for Apollonas lays the Kouros of Apollonas, an abandoned half finished marble statue. Another example can be found at Melanes.
Apollonas is now a popular destination for the excursion buses. There is a small attractive harbour lined with fish tavernas. There is also a small beach overlooked by the tavernas although there is also a larger more exposed beach on the outskirts of the village.
Apollonas south to Filotio
The road leading out of Apollonas up towards the mountain villages is a spectacular drive. Heading south there are some interesting and pretty villages on route including Koronida, Koronas, Aperanthos and Filotio. The central inland region is also known as Tragea.
Moutsouna and the East coast
From Aperanthos there is an excellent paved road all the way down to the coastal village of Moutsouna. As the road snakes its way down the mountainside there are good views out to the minor Cyclades and to Amorgos. The drive down is not for the faint hearted as not all of the bends afford the reassurance of crash barriers.
Moutsouna is a very pleasant place to stop for lunch. There are a couple of nice tavernas and a very good sandy beach. This is where the emery mined in the mountains above arrived via the cableway.
The road heading south has been recently widened and re-surfaced. There are a number of beaches along this stretch of coastline, the best of which was Psili Ammos. The road runs out at the sheltered horseshoe shaped bay of Panormos.
Filotio to spring at Aries
On the southern outskirts of Filotio a road leads to the spring of Aries. The road is narrow and somewhat scary given the sheer drop to one side. The road comes to a dead end with just enough room for turning. A short walk brings you to the spring. This is a very pleasant spot to take in the view. The path continues upwards to the caves of Zas.
Filotio to the Chimeros Tower
At the southern end of the village take a right turn signposted to the Chimeros Tower. This is a wonderful drive beneath the slopes of Mt Zas. The road meanders through a wooded valley and then climbs steadily up towards Agh. Triphon. The landscape here is very barren with little evidence of any past settlement. There are views down to both sides of the island and out across the Aegean. It is also the starting point of a downhill cycle track and home to a busy quarry. This would explain the lorries that we had encountered on the way up. The tarmac road continues all the way down to the tower – which when we visited was surrounded by scaffolding and was in mid renovation. From this point it is possible to reach the south coast via a dirt track – 4-wheel drive required.
Sangri – Temple of Demitras
This is a pleasant drive to the south of Sangri. The temple of Demitras is set in a very peaceful spot and the grounds of the site are beautifully laid out.
We found all of the tavernas that we used to be very good, both in terms of quality and value.
Amstel Cost of Living Index
Hotel Nissaki taverna 2€ (large bottle)
Cafe bar in the Chora 2€ (small bottle)
Supermarket buy 5 cans get 1 free 6€
Supermarket – large bottle 0.70€ – 1.0€
Meal for 2 about 30€
This is a favourite destination for backpackers and consequently people would come and go quite frequently rather than stay in one place for 2 weeks. It is also a very popular destination for Greek holidaymakers.
We did notice significant numbers of visitors from Scandinavia. This may account for the number of occasions that we noticed tomato ketchup bottles on taverna tables. Interesting fact - Sweden spends more per head on tomato ketchup than any other nation in the world.
It is not one of the easiest places in Greece to get to but we found it to be worth it
It has a great town, fantastic beaches and wonderful mountain scenery.
All of our travel arrangements were made using the services of Greeksun . This is a UK based family run business who provided excellent service – highly recommended.
To visit the Naxos picture gallery - click HERE
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