Naxos is also easily reachable from the busier islands of Santorini and Mykonos, so why not plan some island hopping to tick a couple more destinations off your bucket list?
While there’s plenty to keep all kinds of travellers entertained when visiting Naxos, history fanatics will be spoilt for choice. Firstly, there’s the historic Portara, or ‘Glass Door’. This is the only remaining part of the ancient Temple of Apollo, dating all the way back to 530BC, and it’s found just a short walk away from the main town.
Then there’s the 13th century Venetian Kastro, or ‘castle’, located in the island’s capital. Enter through its old wooden doors and allow your imagination to run wild! The Temple of Demeter in the village of Sangri is also worth a visit, constructed of Naxos marble way back in the 6th century BC. There’s a small museum here too that’s free to visit.
Looking to get outdoors and explore? Mount Zaz (Zeus) towers over the island at over 3280ft high, serving as the tallest point in the Cyclades. A typical hike here can take between 2-3 hours, so make sure you come armed with a map, plenty of water, and a snack or two to keep energy levels up. You don’t want to be stuck out there fading away in the sun!
For those who think four legs are better than two, take a tour with the Naxos Horse Riding Club. They offer excursions that take between 2-3 hours, trekking across the beach, through forests, and even wading in the waves!
Speaking of which, if you prefer water to land, you’ll obviously have plenty of options on Naxos too. Give windsurfing a try at Laguna Beach Park’s dedicated school – one of the safest spots in the entire world to give this watersport a try. Many companies also offer sailing trips around the island, with the possibility of chartering your own boat!
Despite being an island, Naxos’ lack of natural ports means that it’s actually lacking in the seafood department. Instead, you’ll find fine cuts of beef, lamb, pork, rooster and even rabbit on the menu – all elevated in flavour by the fertility of the land.
That also explains the wealth of locally grown ingredients available. In fact, most villages even have their own specialties that they love to show off! Dakos is one dish that makes excellent use of island produce – this traditional meze plate tops a slice of olive oil-soaked bread with chopped tomatoes, crumbled feta and fresh herbs.
A staple of Greek cuisine, gyros is popular here too, filling pita bread with grilled meat, tomato, onions, tzatziki sauce, and sometimes even chips! If you’re looking to eat lunch on the go, this is your best (and most filling) bet! After something simpler? Try a plate of fries smothered in melted Graviera cheese – Naxos’ very own variety made from goat’s milk. Other popular cheeses here include mizithra (an excellent pasta topping) and manouri (a lighter soft cheese).
To wash it all down, try Kitron. This citrus liqueur is made in Halki at one of Greece’s oldest operating distilleries. However, Naxos is actually said to be the island where Olympian Dionysus grew up, so if you prefer a glass of red or white with your meal, plan a visit to the Saint Anna Winery – it’s renowned for producing some of the island’s best bottles.
After a sweet ending to your day? Walnuts are grown widely across the island, and so incorporated into many desserts. Kataifi is one such example, similar in texture to baklava. It combines chopped walnuts with ground clove and cinnamon, wrapping everything up in crispy dough and smothering it in lemon syrup. Warning: you don’t need much of this to get a sugary kick! Melachrino also celebrates the popular nut, baking it into a dense cake that’s moistened up with Kitron.
Katafi with Walnuts and Lemon Syrup
Looking for the sandiest spots where little ones can happily build castles and splash about all day? Head to the west side. Plaka Beach is perhaps the most popular, with a whole host of restaurants and hotels to the north, while the south stretch is a little quieter. Agios Prokopios Beach is our top spot for families however, and you can easily reach it by bus from Naxos Town.
For the explorers among you, the Aliko area will hold endless appeal. It’s situated on the edge of a protected cedar forest and made up of four different beaches. Mikrolimano is the most intriguing – it’s home to an unfinished and abandoned hotel!
Finally, if you want to amp up the romance factor, head to Kastraki Beach around sunset. You can’t beat the glow coming from behind the neighbouring island of Paros.