Greece – Naxos

The biggest and largest island of the Cyclades, Naxos contains more than 98 kilometers of fine golden sandy beaches. Umbrellas, sun beds and water sports facilities can be found in some of those paradise-like beaches. Some of the most famous are Agios Prokopios, Plaka, Agia Anna, and Mikri Vigla. Head over to St Georges Beach which is only a short 15-minute walk from the ship. Don’t forget to check out the impressive town of Kastro located in the center of Naxos Town where the ship will be docked. It has a well-preserved Venetian castle and it is full of beautiful whitewashed houses with small windows, surrounded by stone-paved narrow alleys. Naxos is characterized by its many picturesque and wonderful mountainous villages, the “marble village” of Apiranthos, the fertile valleys, the olive groves, the long golden sandy beaches, the crystalline turquoise waters, and the unfinished Temple of Apollo. The temple is just a quick 10 minute walk from the ship to your left of the port and is the best place to see the sunset, a Naxos tradition!

17 Sep: We pulled into Naxos harbor at a decent time and initially thought we’d be able to disembark earlier than expected (before 1130 am) and get a head start to our day. However, a Naxos port official vigorously protested the position of our Easy Cruise in the harbor, and demanded that our vessel be relocated approximately 15 meters. This 15 meter move equated to over an hour while the crew scrambled to accommodate the port official’s docking requirements, and we actually ended up disembarking the cruise closer to 1 pm. Our plan for the day was to rent a car and drive up to Halki/Chalki (known for its colorful buildings, Venetian towers, and citron), stroll through Apiranthos (supposedly a “trip back in time where old men lead bucket-laden donkeys through crowded streets and the townspeople speak a unique dialect”), wander around Chora’s Kastro and surrounding Bourgos area, and watch the sunset from the Portara (Temple of Apollo).

First order of business was finding a rental car. We accomplished that at Budget car rental where we hired their last 30 Euro/day car, declining the optional insurance. The roads leading out of Hora were a bit chaotic, and we weren’t used to seeing all this traffic on any of the other Greek isles. It took us a little while to get out of town, but eventually we were on our way eastward towards Halki. The road cut through a mountainous interior, and we could easily see that Naxos is more fertile than the other islands as there were olive and fig trees aplenty. Ann and Robby kept scoping the horizon for the fig trees, and little did we know what they had in store for us later that day!

Both of our guidebooks raved about Halki being the “must see” quaint village of Naxos. To be honest, when we finally got there and parked in the schoolyard at the north end of the village, we felt that Halki had been over hyped. But our stomachs were growling and we were starving, so we stopped for an impromptu picnic in the schoolyard. The wind was still kicking, and at least our parked car and the schoolyard enclosure provided for some level of protection against the dust storm.

After chowing down on our typical lunch fare, we headed into town to see what Halki had to offer. And the consensus was not very much. We did wander down a nice stone-walled path to discover the Church of Ayios Georgios Diasoritis, and backtracked to stroll through the miniscule village. The highlight was definitely a visit to the 1896 citron distillery, which has been in operation by the Vallindras Family for over 100 years. We found out that the island of Naxos is one of only three places in the world where the fragrant citron tree grows. Citron is actually harvested not from the citron tree’s fruit, but from its leaves! The distillery recently stopped exporting its citron, so unless you visit Naxos in person, you are unlikely to spot this unique aperitif for sale elsewhere.

After our visit to Halki, we headed northward to Apiranthos. On our way, Robby and Ann spotted a massive fig tree, and of course had to make a pit stop. Filling up their pockets to the brim just wasn’t good enough, so Ann ran back to the car to get a plastic bag. There they were, picking delicious ripe figs to their hearts content with not another soul in sight, until another carload of tourists pulled over and began to follow suit! Who knew fig-picking was such a popular tourist pastime?

15 minutes and 60 figs later, we pulled into Apiranthos and hiked up to the town square. Apiranthos is a quiet village, and it appeared to have shut down for the remainder of the tourist season. The town square is dominated by a large shady tree, but not a creature was stirring. It was blissfully quiet, and we tread lightly through the town and returned back to our rental car. We took a group vote and no one was interested in driving north to Apollonas to visit the 11 meter kouros, so we decided to head back into Naxos town and hang out there.

On our return drive home, we spotted a donkey and Robby came up with the brilliant idea of feeding it some of our newfound bounty. In case you didn’t know it, donkeys love figs. Even after feeding the ravenous donkey, we still had well over 50 figs in our plastic bag, but Ann kept insisting we’d enjoy them for breakfast. We had visions of fig pudding, fig sandwiches, fig juice, fig cereal…oh well, that was the highlight of Ann’s visit to Naxos.

After returning the rental, we wandered up and down Naxos’s waterfront strip and then made our way inland to explore the Kastro. We saw so many tempting drink specials on offer at the waterfront bars that we wished we had just decided to make a drinking day of it. If only we had known earlier that the interior of Naxos would have only minimally held our interest, we would have been perfectly content with hanging out in Hora. We ended up loving Naxos’s gorgeous Hora…lots to see and do and we didn’t tire of wandering through the Bourgos “old market street” or the lovely kastro’s labyrinth. The Lucullus Taverna definitely caught our eye with its fabulous décor, and we read that it is the island’s most famous taverna mostly because of a 1998 New York Times write up that raved about its location, ambiance and menu. The small ouzeries by the waterfront also looked especially appealing, with octopus being grilled right there in plain view.

We joined the throng of tourists all gathering by the Temple of Apollo for the sunset. Trying to capture a photo of the unfinished temple and the sun was an exercise in futility as there were just too many people scrambling for the same photo. So we just huddled together on a rock and watched as the sun disappeared over the horizon. Just before sunset, a sailboat buffeted by the strong winds flew past our lookout spot, making for a spectacular sunset shot.

Even though we were temporarily swayed by the incredible spit roasts and grilled seafood on offer by the waterfront, all of us had voted that tonight’s dinner would be Mexican. Café Picasso Mexican Bistro to be exact. Finding the restaurant was a bit tricky, but we just asked the locals who pointed us in the right direction. Despite the rave reviews Café Picasso gets, we didn’t think their guacamole or margaritas were anything to write home about, although the meal was fairly decent, albeit pricey for Mexican.

Afterwards, we wandered around the atmospheric Hora, which is very romantic at night. Endless stores lined Hora’s streets, and many of them had slashed their prices during the end of season sale. This made for a shopper’s paradise, and Becky and Ann scooped up several gorgeous pieces of jewelry at a fraction of their original price. Their favorite purchases are made from a special seashell found only on the beaches on Naxos, called the “Naxos’ eye”, which is said to bring good luck. Becky later found out that the Naxos eye is the “operculum, or door, of a seashell with a spiral design”, and the Naxian fishermen collect it to be made into jewelry.

We ended up enjoying our time on Naxos, although if the winds hadn’t been as strong as they were, we would have opted for a beach day here. It would have been easy to catch a bus to Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna or Plaka, where we heard that the beaches were beautiful and perfect for lounging our day away. Naxos’s Hora is a gem, and we really enjoyed wandering aimlessly around its narrow streets.

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