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, 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. 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.
What to do on Naxos
Traces of many past civilisations enrich the island’s 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.
The giant kouri
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.
A culinary journey
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.
A Cretan village in the mountains of Naxos
Apeiranthos, or T’Aperathou, is a jewel among the island’s mountain villages. 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.
Hidden gems of Naxos
The Tragaia Valley
Make sure you come to this fertile valley. 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.
Windsurfers’ heaven at the beach of Mikri Vigla
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.
Experience the best of Naxos
A walking tour of Naxos’ Hora, the complete island town
Mountain village hopping in Naxos
- The Hora
- The giant kouri
- A culinary journey
- A Cretan village in the mountains of Naxos
- The Tragaia Valley
- Zeus’s mountain