The island of Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades islands and yet might be an island that some travelers overlook. We traveled by ferry between Athens and the islands and saw fewer people disembark at the Naxos port than in Santorini or Mykonos. We planned our Greek holiday so that we had a little of everything from lively atmosphere to lazy beaches, and Naxos was the perfect place to enjoy the latter of the two.
But, don’t sell this island short for beaches alone. In this week’s Eat+Stay+Play guide, I’ve selected 5 reasons to fall in love with Naxos in addition to our full four day itinerary. These reasons are not ranked but rather listed in the order in which we experienced them. This is part three of my Greek travel guide series (check out my Athens guide and Mykonos guide, too). As always, at the end is my free pdf of links and resources for quick access to everything mentioned in the post. Download and add to your travel folio and don’t forget to pin to your travel board, too!
We traveled by Seajets ferry to Naxos and our driver was waiting at the port to immediately transfer us to Nissaki Beach Hotel. Located right on Nissaki Beach, this smaller boutique-style hotel has beautiful rooms with incredible beach front views. We opted for a junior suite which gave us a roomy private terrace to enjoy the sunset. There were even lavender sachets to place under your pillow at night.
The first order of business was checking out the beach. Nissaki Beach is a long public access beach with very affordable lounge chairs and umbrellas for rent as well as a few restaurants to grab a bite to eat. There was quite a bit of seaweed on the sand but the water is clear and shallow so you can wade out for a good distance.
A great spot for lunch is just a short walk to the main square of Naxos Town at Gyro Gyro Grill. There’s a nice covered patio and the gyros are the best we had on our trip. A walk through the Chora, or Old Town, was exactly what we needed after that. There are plenty of local artisan shops to find unique pieces of jewelry, housewares, clothing and shoes.
Reason #1 to fall in love with Naxos – Portara, The Temple of Apollo or “door to nowhere.” This is Naxos’ most famous landmark and definitely worth the easy walk up to. It was pretty windy on the day we visited. Waves crashed dramatically along the rocks and the winds whipped around you from every angle. Quite an inspirational setting for writing the next great epic poem! The Portara is the doorway to the temple, which dates to 530 BC and is unfinished. At an impressive 26 feet tall it’s a beautiful part of the landscape desired by the photographer in all of us. It directly faces Delos, the mythological birthplace of Apollo.
Just beneath the temple is a bar overlooking the port. It’s a nice spot to grab an outdoor table and watch the swimmers and boats come and go. On our way back to the hotel we hiked up to the castle (Kastro), a well-preserved medieval structure. If you don’t tour the castle you can still enjoy long-range views of the island and surrounding seas.
I highly recommend Oasis for dinner. We enjoyed it so much that we ate there twice. They have a very large menu with numerous traditional Greek dishes and the service is great. We enjoyed grilled seabream and lamp chops with baked feta and peppers. Make sure to get a digestif of Kitron, a citron liqueur produced on the island.
Reason #2 to fall in love with Naxos – traditional Greek villages of Halki and Filoti. Purchase a bus ticket in Naxos Town and enjoy a scenic drive into the mountains. In Halki we loved walking the sleepy streets and speaking with shop owners, some of whom are still practicing the same art as their ancestors like traditional loom weaving.
We enjoyed our first traditional Greek frappé beneath a labyrinth of grape vines. As a coffee
addict lover I enjoyed this beverage immediately. It’s a cool, frothy, and semi sweet velvet drink with just enough caffeine kick to keep you going. Regular coffee is just so blasé now.
You must visit Era Jam Workshop to try delicious handmade jams and “spoon sweets,” a sweet preserve served in a spoon as a gesture of hospitality. The flavors of these handmade fruit spreads are electrifying! The best jams I’ve ever tasted.
The kitron liqueur I mention is also distilled in Halki at the Vallindras Distillery. You can walk in and sample as well as tour their museum of traditional tools used in the process of distilling kitron.
A short bus ride takes you further into the mountainous region to the village of Filoti. Every footpath seemed to have a canopy of fruit trees and the air is full of their perfume. We saw figs and small red plums, which we ended up having later on.
We walked through town and found a café bar with an incredible view of the mountains. Sitting high at the top is a white church and the valley below has farmers corralling their sheep herds. The wind blows strong and even on a warm day I could have used a sweater. The views here were breathtaking. It’s completely worth a little pit stop.
I recommend Nicolas for lunch. It lives up to it’s #1 rating with excellent souvlaki and fried feta. Yep, fried feta. As if my cheese addiction wasn’t strong enough!
On the way back to our hotel we stopped at a nearby grocery store to stock up on some wine and charcuterie. One of the best parts of a private terrace is having a low-key night like we would at home. A light dinner and a sunset are the best way to unwind after a day of exploring.
Today was our second “beach day” on the trip and Reason #3 to fall in love with Naxos – beautiful beaches. Just as we did in Mykonos, we rented lounge chairs on one of Naxos’ most beautiful beaches, Plaka Beach. This beach is the epitome of pristine. Its gorgeous white sand and crystal clear waters are so pure and clean. It’s the therapy your body craves. As far as beaches go, Plaka Beach is top-ranked for me.
There are different sections of beach where you can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas. I’m really glad we went almost to the end of the bus route before getting off because we found the best sunbeds I’ve ever seen on a beach. It’s located right in front of Tortuga, a new restaurant with some pretty impressive gastronomical fare. We ordered a green goddess and chicken sandwich, which were brought out on beautiful wooden trays. Food and drinks can be ordered all day and it’s where you’ll pay for your sunbed rental. These sunbeds were the priciest rentals along the beach but they were the cushiest and further down from the larger crowds. The food and service from Tortuga were excellent, so we felt it was worth the higher price.
Dinner was at Oasis (yes we really did eat there twice). The octopus salad, moussaka, and grilled swordfish were exceptional.
Reason #4 to fall in love with Naxos – sailing around the island with Naxos Yachting. These guys provide an amazing adventurous experience. We opted for a private full-day charter so the catamaran, Danae, was completely ours. Ioannis and the crew provided everything we could have asked for. After coffee and a safety briefing, we lounged on the net trampolines while our captain took us to our first stop, a cove with an unfinished and abandoned resort hotel near Alyko Beach. This was our first swimming spot and we took many dives off the Danae. Snorkeling equipment was provided and we saw small fish swimming around us.
Our second sight, as we did not stop and anchor, was the San Savio chapel. Ioannis told us the story of this chapel and how it was built by a fisherman from Santorini after he prayed to God to save him from a storm. He was bringing wine and olive oil to sell in Naxos. If God saved him from the storm he promised to build a chapel. It is only accessible by boat and is frequented by fisherman. According to Ioannis, you can smell wine and olive oil when you enter.
We next enjoyed a mid-morning snack of bruschetta with tomatoes and tzatziki with olives and raki. I could get used to this lifestyle.
Our third stop was at a cave where we anchored and took Danae’s dingy into the cave to explore the stalactites. The sea floor glows turquoise blue and there is a fresh water spring. We left the dingy and swam into the cave where you can stand easily and enjoy the warm water. I was a bit surprised as I thought it might actually be colder inside but it wasn’t at all. Above the cave’s entrance is a high cliff where we decided to cliff jump. I am not a daredevil but this was one of the most life-affirming experiences I’ve ever had. Truly a rush! All around this part of the island were wild goats that actually came to shore and drank from the sea.
When we returned to the boat lunch had been prepared. A feast of pasticcio, Greek salad, fresh bread, and wine was laid out on the table for us to enjoy. We were able to connect our iPhones to the boat’s sound system to play our own music while we dined, which ended up being some Texas country mixed with 1950’s American rock. Never would I have imagined this scenario in the Greek islands but that’s the amazing thing about life if you just go with the flow.
Our last stop was at Panormos on the southern tip of Naxos. Ioannis said that Panormos can mean “desert everywhere” and the surrounding terrain proved this description pretty accurate. But the beach is beautiful and not very crowded. From here we dropped anchor and dove off the boat. I don’t think I could ever tire of swimming in those beautiful blue waters.
It was a rather windy day with pretty choppy water on the way back, but the guys prepared a fresh fruit platter of bananas, plums, pears, and apples. We followed that with Turkish coffee and cookies. A taxi picked us up from the dock and took us back to the hotel where we had another low key evening of charcuterie and wine on the terrace. A full day at sea can really take it out of you. We were asleep within minutes. If you’re headed to Naxos, I highly recommend the crew at Naxos Yachting. It was one of the best days of our lives.
Reason #5 to fall in love with Naxos – the natural beauty of the island. Aside from taking in gorgeous beach views from our hotel terrace, getting to explore Naxos by foot, bus, car, and boat really gave us the opportunity to appreciate the incredible beauty the island has to offer. Beaches, mountains, quaint villages, ancient ruins, and welcoming people make Naxos an island not to be missed.
On our last morning we enjoyed a breakfast of mini Nutella pancakes at our hotel followed by a pick up and transfer for the ferry to Santorini (guide coming soon!).
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