Where to Go in Naxos
The largest island in the Cyclades, Naxos has managed to remain one of its more hidden treasures. While the hordes of tourists make their way to Santorini and Mykonos, here you’ll find fabulous nearly empty stretches of soft white sands, an enchanting Chora with Venetian architecture lining narrow paved streets and traditional whitewashed villages dotted across the mountainsides. It’s the kind of destination that almost everyone will enjoy from honeymooners to outdoor adventurers and families, offering a long list of things to do, including translucent turquoise waters for swimming and scenic trails to hike.
Naxos has also become world-renowned for its food scene with many restaurants serving farm- and sea-to-table dishes, something that was spotlighted in an episode of the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” At nearly166-square-miles, you’ll want to rent a car for at least part of your trip to discover some of the best the island has to offer.
Chora, also known as Naxos Town, is the capital and main city on the island, located on the west coast. Most visitors arrive by ferry into the port area here which includes a picturesque waterfront promenade lined with tavernas, fish restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops.
One of the prettiest villages in the Greek islands, at the top of town is a Venetian castle, built in the early 13th-century under Marco Sanudo. In the castle complex you’ll find the Archaeological Museum of Naxos which displays a variety of fascinating artifacts, including figurines uncovered here in the early Cycladic period along with finds from chamber tombs and other graves.
The lovely paved narrow streets are lined with Venetian architecture, including mansions, churches, and monuments, with a distinct medieval atmosphere.
Plaka is the most popular beach resort area, a blue flag stretch that’s just a little over four miles from Naxos Town. The beach itself is the longest on the island, spanning for about 2.5 miles with soft, golden sands and calm, clear cobalt water for swimming.
Most of the beach clubs, restaurants, shops, hotels, and self-catering apartments sit at the north end – the furthest point is where the nudist section is, defined by dunes and a rocky hillside that’s topped with a small white chapel.
You’ll also find water sports facilities and a family-friendly area organized with sunbeds and umbrellas. The south end is more unspoiled, with striking natural beauty and plenty of room on the sand for sunbathing.
The village of Chalki (also Halki) is the former capital of Naxos, a gorgeous village with neoclassical buildings at the center of the island, an area known for its olive cultivation. In addition to the magnificent old mansions, strolling the colorful alleyways feel like a walk back in time, lined with many well-preserved homes, Venetian towers and churches like the 9th-century Church of Panagia which features impressive Byzantine and post-Byzantine frescoes.
Often referred to as the “Mystras of the Aegean,” the area is reminiscent of the medieval Byzantine citadel in the Peloponnese. By visiting the Vallindra Kitron distillery you can take a tour to learn how Kitron liqueur is produced and enjoy a sample of it along with some ouzo which is also distilled here. If you’re looking for a souvenir, there are some fabulous shops selling jewelry and ceramics in traditional Cycladic style too.
A scenic drive up the steep and winding road to Apeiranthos is really a must. The mountainous village is considered by many to be the crown jewel of Naxos, different from others here as a place that feels as if time has stopped. It’s managed to retain its unique authenticity, with surprises around nearly every corner.
This is also where the “Parts Unknown” scene of Anthony Bourdain taking part in a traditional celebration in the town square was shot. You’ll discover plenty of delights, including castle-like homes and Venetian buildings that reveal its rich past. Be sure and visit Panagia Apeirathitissa church and the ruins of the old windmill. If you stop for a bite to eat, perhaps grilled rooster with homemade cheeses at Taverna Platanos, you’ll notice the locals have a distinct dialect, revealing their Cretan origin.
If you have any interest in hiking, you’ll want to climb Mount Zeus which soars to nearly 3,300 feet above sea level. There are a couple of different routes, both doable by anyone with a moderate level of fitness.
Along the way you’ll walk alongside goats that scurry across the rocky hillsides with the bells around their necks jingling as they go. Myth says that this was the home of the God Zeus and hikers can visit Zeus cave, which includes impressive stalactites and stalagmites. The easiest route starts at Aghia Marina, meandering for a little over two miles to the mountain summit where you can take in awe-inspiring views of the glistening blue Aegean and several neighboring islands.
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