The word ‘Greece’ is synonymous with islands – but while everyone knows there are many, many Greek Islands, most Americans may only be able to name two: Mykonos and Santorini. And while they may be aware that there are several island groups, few would be able to name the Cyclades – let alone one of the largest and most delightful members of that collection of Aegean gems: Naxos.
It is the largest and greenest of the Cyclades, with high mountains, fertile valleys, green gorges, wonderful seascapes, and gleaming white villages perched on mountains.
Many inhabitants still wear their traditional dress and live off the fruits of the land and visitors delight in beautiful homes, churches and monasteries – masterpieces of Cycladic architecture that appear side by side with Venetian castles.
When one enters the port of Chora, glimmering with whitewashed buildings, he is greeted by the islet of Palatia, with its iconic and much-photographed marble gate, the Portara, the remains of the temple of Apollo that has stood since the 6th century B.C. Greek mythology tells us that the god Dionysus met Ariadni there after she was abandoned by Theseus.
The dominant landmark of Chora, the capital of Naxos, is an imposing Venetian castle. It is an old castle town with stone paved alleys (known as kalderimia) where you can admire a unique blend of Cycladic and Medieval architecture: mansions with Venetian blazons still decorating their entrances, narrow arched alleys (known as stegadia), Catholic churches, and fortifications.
A visit to the Archaeological Museum is a must. Housed in a historic building of the Venetian Period, it showcases artifacts from the Early Neolithic Age up to the Early Christian Period and has an excellent collection of Cycladic figurines.
Guests love exploring the varied landscape of the island by following numerous breathtaking routes (Chora–Melane-Halki, Halki-Danakos-Apeiranthos, Skado-Apollonas, etc.). By following the hiking trail from Apiranthos (or Aperathos), along the emery mines (12 km), you’ll have a breathtaking view of the Archipelago up to Moutsouna Beach! Climb to the top of Zas Mountain, the Cyclades’ highest mountain (1,004 m) and Fanari Mountain (908 m) or follow beautiful biking routes around the mountains! On your way to Zas’ summit, don’t forget to visit the beautiful cave of Zas and observe its impressive stalactite formations. Note that the cave was dedicated to Zeus.
There are many traditional villages around the island: Aperathos is a colorful mountain village that is home to five museums, stone-built houses, beautiful squares, and narrow alleys paved with marble, and Panagia Drosiani, a beautiful church of the Early Christian Period.
Filoti is a picturesque mountain village, built on the top of a rock, surrounded by lush vegetation and cubistic houses, and narrow stone-paved alleys. Nearby is the biggest Byzantine Church on Naxos, containing important murals, Panagia Protothroni (9th-10th c.).
Sagri consists of five small neighborhoods (Ano Sagri, Kato Sagri, Kanakari, Kastraki, and Mikri Vigla) where guests are awestruck by the Venetian towers, the traditional windmills, and Byzantine churches, such as Agios Mamas. These delights make Sagri the most significant destination of Naxos!
Nearby is the 6th century B.C. sanctuary of Demeter and Apollo built of white marble.
Naxos was the seat of the renowned Duchy of the Archipelago, part of Venice’s great maritime empire. Many well-preserved towers can be seen on the island, bearing eloquent witness to the island’s glorious past, among them are the Bazeos Tower in Sagri, the Crispi-Glezos Tower (in Chora), the Belonia Tower at Galanado, and the Della Rocca-Barozzi Tower in Chora.
Because Naxos is the most fertile island of the Cyclades, it is a major agricultural producer.
Visitors are encouraged to taste quality local products like olive oil, potatoes, spoon sweets, the island’s famous liqueur (called Kitron), mouth-watering wine and above all the renowned cheeses of Naxos: graviera (hard cheese), xinomyzithra (sour myzithra, made of goat or sheep milk, yeast, and salt), xinotyro (sour cheese), and arseniko (a tasty hard cheese made of goat and sheep milk) – all delights for the palate.
Naxos is famous for its wide variety of cultural events and traditional fairs, including the Naxos Festival, organized by the Municipality of Naxos at Bazeos Tower and Dionissia. Fascinating events take place all summer long and the celebrations culminate with the famous Wine Festival and the Fisherman’s Feast held in September.