The plan for our week on Naxos was simple. Relax, read, eat, repeat. Especially after being delayed for a day, leaving us with an unexpected Athens city break. But knowing we’d soon have a hankering for different scenery from the beach, we decided to rent a hire car for the day. The receptionist at the Liana Hotel couldn’t be more helpful, recommending a couple of reputable companies, calling up and getting this booked, and finally plotting out a route for us for the best places to visit on Naxos.
Our rental car was delivered direct to our hotel at Agios Prokopios so this was the starting point for our day. To visit the main villages though our route took us back towards Naxos Town so I’ve used this as the start and end point on the map below. Armed with a sketchy paper map and offline maps on our phones, Mr Fletche and I were ready to discover the island of Naxos.
** We chose to hire a car but it is possible to visit all the places mentioned in this post by bus. You can find a timetable here. All journeys start from Naxos Town. I’d suggest popping into the office at the bus station to help you plan your journey and pick up the latest schedule**
We leave behind the vast blue expanse of the sea, first driving through dry landscapes before hitting a lush valley dotted with olive and fruit groves. Our first official stop is the old capital of the island Halki. (Our first unofficial stop was the Temple of Demeter. Which is closed on Tuesdays. Which of course is when we tried to visit.) It’s about 16km from Naxos Town and was probably my one of my favourites places to visit on Naxos. Shaded narrow streets open onto bougainvillea-lined squares. There are whitewashed buildings with colourful doorways and inviting bars and tavernas. Family-run shops, galleries and craft workshops selling traditional wares. And the obligatory cats strolling along, basking in the mid-morning sunshine. The Vallindras distillery at Halki is the perfect place to try the local kitron liquer. Preferring something a little less alcoholic we stopped for an al fresco coffee at Giannis. And yes, we stumbled across that Instagrammable car. And yes, of course I had my photo taken with it…
It’s just a short 3km drive on to our next stop, the picturesque tree-lined village of Filoti. There’s a main street, lined with cafes and taverns, although we chose to clamber the steps behind the village and wander amongst the locals. It nestles on the slopes of Mount Zas, the highest point in the Cyclades. The Fontaine D’Aria, just 3km from Filoti, is the perfect starting point for the Caves of Zeus, or for those wanting to hike to the summit. We were just reaching midday so decided that starting a strenuous 5km hike up a mountain probably wasn’t a good idea. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
Built on the slopes of Mount Fanari, Apeiranthos retains the feel of an authentic Greek village. 32km from Naxos Town, Apeiranthos sits precariously on a hilltop between verdant green valleys. The alleyways are marble-paved, which must be like an ice rink when wet. A stroll through the village will take you past Venetian-influenced architecture, pretty whitewashed houses and picturesque squares. Craft shops display their wares, embroidery and ceramics in particular, and there are plenty of tavernas with terraces overlooking an impressive vista. Apeiranthos also has a host of museums, including an archaeological museum, a geological museum and a folklore museum.
We did stop for lunch here, but unfortunately we didn’t have the best experience. My chicken souvlaki was woefully undercooked, and we were plagued by wasps, both on the outside terrace and when we requested to be moved inside. We should have held off for a seafood lunch at our next stop.
Apollonas is the most northern village on Naxos, and is a mountain-sheltered seaside town. It’s a traditional fishing village so don’t be surprised to see lots of fresh fish and seafood on the menu. And there are plenty of cafes and tavernas lining the bay. There’s a small sandy beach, and a larger pebbly beach, lapped by the crystal clear waters of the Aegean sea
It’s 36km from Chora, reached by narrow, winding roads descending from the mountains. You’re unlikely to be “just passing through” but many people do visit because of it’s proximity to the Kouros of Apollonas (see below for more info about the Naxian Kouroi).
We were meant to visit the small farming village of Eggares because of their wonderfully restored olive mills and 19th century olive press. Except at some point we blindly followed the GPS which didn’t seem to lead to the centre of town. In fact, it just led us down an ever narrowing street. With just inches either side between the wing mirror and wall. And blind bends at 90 degree angles. And of course, this isn’t a one way road, and Mr Fletche doesn’t fancy reversing. Eventually we emerge into a country lane. I do a recce ahead but can’t see any way that heads back into town. There’s just enough space for Mr Fletche to do a 300-point-turn. I decide to walk back down the road we’ve just driven down in case of oncoming traffic. Mr Fletche follows behind me at 2mph. It’s like the world’s smallest funeral procession. Except its a Fiat Panda instead of a hearse, and I’m wearing a leopardskin dress rather than all black.
We never do find the Eggares Olive Press.
Naxos is famous for its Kouroi, ancient unfinished marble statues dating back to 6th century BC. There’s one on the hillside above Apollonas, and two more which are accessible from the village of Melanes. Melanes lies about 8km south east from Naxos Town, and like Eggares is largely an agricultural village. After our navigational faux pas at Eggares, we decide not to linger in Melanes and head back to the coast. But should we return to Naxos, Melanes is a great starting point for a number of hikes, passing lush valleys, ancient sites and small settlements. I particularly like the sound of this 6km circular village trail hike documented by ace family bloggers Earthtrekkers.
We were lucky to be staying directly on Agios Prokopios – widely acclaimed as one of the best beaches on Naxos – but if you have a rental car then it’s a great opportunity to find some of those beaches that are a little off the beaten track. Take a trip down the western coast of Naxos to explore Agia Anna, Maragas, Plaka, Orkos, Mikri Vigla and Alyko. Don’t forget that some of these beaches may be clothes-optional!
The designated driver is Mr Fletche. I am by default the designated navigator. Which generally works out OK. Definitely follow signs rather than GPS where possible. Roads are generally good on Naxos and signposts to the main villages and points of interest are surprisingly frequent. Malta could learn a thing or two.
Once you get inland though, nice straight roads are a thing of the past. You hug mountainsides, with nothing but a few trees to stop you plunging down into the valley below. Roads switchback at an alarming rate, with hairpin bends creating a snaking route back down to the sea. It reminds me very much of driving on Tenerife. Mostly the road is wide enough for two cars but occasionally it’s a little more of a squeeze. Although we barely passed two dozen cars once we were out of the villages.
Our day spent exploring the villages of Naxos was a welcome break from the “relax, read, eat, repeat” routine! I felt like we had a taste of authentic Naxos, and not just the side on show for the tourists. If you are planning a trip to this beautiful island then definitely make sure you leave that sunbed and explore – on two wheels, four wheels, pubic transport or walking!