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Welcome to the largest island in the Cyclades, Naxos. So fertile, it’s self-sufficient. You’ll find plenty of history, ruins from every era, an extraordinary array of landscapes, friendly locals and wonderful food in the most beautiful part of the Aegean.
Entering the harbour of Naxos, you’re greeted by the ancient Portara – the massive marble gateway identical to the National Geographic logo – and the sight of the medieval castle above the town. Inland, you’ll find isolated villages untouched by time, like Tripodes, Filoti, Halki and Apeiranthos, that invite you to explore their beauty.
You’ll find Mt Zas (another name for Zeus), green valleys, abandoned monasteries, venerable churches and lofty buildings like Bazeos Tower on Naxos. Built in the 17th century, the tower functioned as a monastery of the True Cross (Timios Stavros) for decades. Today, it hosts a wide array of cultural activities, such as the Naxos Festival.
If you’re a sun worshipper, Naxos’ endless stretch of gorgeous sandy beaches will keep you blissfully happy during your holiday. And if you’re even remotely interested in antiquities and culture, you’ll make sure to see the two giant kouri – giant statues of young men – lying down in the open. No wonder that Naxos is known as the island that has it all, not just in the Cyclades but in all of Greece.
Traces of many past civilisations enrich Naxos’ main town. The most obvious is the gigantic Portara, all that remains of a massive temple to Apollo that was never completed. The legacy of the Venetians and Franks, nobles who took over Greek islands and mainland as spoils from the Fourth Crusade, is more layered. Walk through the narrow alleys in the oldest part of town and up to the fortress and you’ll think you’re back in the Middle Ages.
Take a walking tour in the Hora of Naxos
Naxos’s most impressive sculptures are in the open air. They are one of the most popular attractions on the island. Colossal, half-finished statues of young men – Archaic kouri – they have been resting for aeons in the same spot, one in a garden at Melanes, the other overlooking the coast at Apollona. Lying, as if waiting, for their creators to come and finish the job.
Foodies will love Naxos. Its outstanding local products make it an unsung gastronome’s treasure trove. First, try the cheeses, highly prized by Greeks, such as graviera (similar to gruyere), kefalotiri called arseniko (masculine). Second, order some potatoes, preferably fried. Their superlative taste and texture come from the island’s potassium-rich sandy shale. You may find you like them so much, you’ll order some more for dessert! Then, to end your meal, have a glass of kitro, a liqueur distilled from the leaves of the citron (citrus medica), which comes in three versions, green, yellow and clear.
Apeiranthos, or T’Aperathou, is a jewel among the mountain villages of Naxos. More than ten centuries have rolled by without substantial changes to its houses, cobbled streets, accents, customs and daily habits. The locals still speak Greek in the lilting idiom of their Cretan forefathers, who settled in the village ages ago. No doubt they would have no trouble recognising the marble-flagged alleys, vaulted arches, Venetian towers and two-storey stone houses. Have a seat in one of the old kafeneions (cafes) and drink in a bit of this unadulterated civilisation.
Spend the day village-hopping on Naxos
Find the source of Naxos’ delicious agricultural produce by heading to the Temple of Demeter, the 6th-century BC sanctuary dedicated to the goddess of harvest and fertility … and a forerunner of the Parthenon in Athens.
Make sure you come to this fertile valley in the heart of Naxos. Blessed by nature, it is also home to 12 delightful villages and more than 30 of the most important Byzantine churches in the Aegean, beginning with the 6th-century Panagia Drosiani, the oldest.
Mount Zas, the highest in the Cyclades, is named after the ruler of Olympus. Local legend maintains that he was born in a huge cave halfway up. The cobbled stone path to reach it starts from Filoti.
The winds at Mikri Vigla beach blow steadily and constantly. But since the wind and kite-surfers have discovered it, their sails make more noise than the wind itself. And their even louder cries of excitement can be heard miles away.
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