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!

Naxos's coast and the Temple of Apollo The Naxos port officials forced our crew to relocate our cruise (due to the high volume traffic in the area...they wanted us out of the way as much as possible) One of the ferry docksman (Becky tried to take a photo of his incredible curly hair but he stepped back at the last minute) The chapel of Myrditiotissa is floating in the harbor on its manmade islet. The busy waterfront, Protopapadaki, is lined with cafes, restaurants, and stores The marble Portara archway is on its own peninsula. The unfinished temple was dedicated to Apollo (and was commissioned under the orders of tyrant Lydamis in 6th cent BC) Lots of ferries pull into the harbor, making for a busy area Check out this old buggy; Hora Back streets of Halki Stone walls lined several hiking paths leading out from Halki Olive grove; Halki Halki has several handsome villas and tower houses Although we enjoyed strolling through this town, we would not rate it as "Naxos's must see"; Halki Lovely shaded restaurant; Halki Side alleyway; Halki 1896 Vallindras Distillery in Halki; Naxos is one of only three places in the world to produce 'Citron' Free samples of citron; Vallindras Distillery in Halki The ingredients for ouzo, one of Greece's most potent alcohols! Bottled specimens in the citron manufacturing process; Vallindras Distillery The Vallindras Distillery is still making citron the "old fashioned" way, passing down generational secrets since 1896 The Vallindras Distillery is a small-scale, family operation, producing several hundred bottles of citron a year Quaint courtyard; Vallindras Distillery Halki is a delightful village, but its rather tiny and it didn't take us long to explore Naxos countryside mural painted on the school's walls; north end of Halki Roundabout in Halki; opposite the school yard on the north end We finally left Halki, and soon were surrounded by fantastic vistas such as this one This picturesque church caught our eye, so we stopped for a group photo Renting a car to drive around Naxos is easy and straightforward, and allowed us to head towards whatever looked interesting Close up of a working windmill; outskirts of Apiranthos We made a brief stop here to explore the village of Apiranthos, which our guidebook stated would feel like a "trip back in time" We wandered through sleepy Apiranthos, but not a soul was in sight A large, shady tree dominates the main square; Apiranthos Typical doorway found in Apiranthos Too bad the streets of Apiranthos were deserted, as we would have loved to stop and talk to the locals to hear their unique dialect (political refugees from Crete populated Apiranthos in the late 18th Century) The old village of Apiranthos has numerous handsome buildings We chanced upon an artist's dwelling, and checked out his paintings for sale. This one is of Naxos's kastro (castle) This other one caught our attention as well; a windmill against a perfect whitewashed village Grapevine growing up against a narrow alleyway; Apiranthos We could see evidence of Naxos's fertility and later read that it produces olives, grapes, figs, citrus fruit, corn and potatoes. Mount Zeus at 1004m is the Cyclades highest peak, and from this angle we had fantastic views of the west coast We decided to drive on, and made our way to this church intersection. Next we headed west, as we wanted to return back to Hora On our return trip, we saw this stone quarry where chunks of stone have been taken piecemeal from the mountain A donkey by the roadside caught our eye Becky stopped to feed it some figs A curious pigeon waits to see if Becky will feed it as well We returned the car to explore Hora by foot Walking past the Protopapadaki waterfront, we saw eateries offering fresh seafood and roasted meats The lamb, chicken and pork roasts smelled unbelievably good; Protopapadaki We still had time to explore, so we wandered around Hora's Kastro and Bourgos area Several Venetian mansions survive, with well kept gardens and the insignia of their original residents; Kastro Residential Kastro (castle) has narrow alleyways, timber lined archways and white washed houses, making for a romantic stroll Roman catholic cathedral; Kastro Even Kastro's letterboxes have an antique look/feel to them! Another view of the Roman catholic church in Kastro We enjoyed wandering around the labyrinth streets of Kastro Colorful potted plants Hora retains an old island charm with its twisting historic quarter Becky models her friend Kel's strapless white dress against Kastro's gorgeous backdrop We loved seeing Kastro's unique door knockers Every once in a while, we'd see a plaque indicating how old a building was (in this case, circa 1782) Even though we didn't really know where each path would take us, we knew we couldn't get too lost in old Kastro After a while, we'd come full circle as we inadvertently would retrace our steps Another of the many different styles of door knockers; Kastro A quaint balcony tucked away in old Kastro Many of Kastro's buildings have plaques giving us a historical reference as to the building's original function A tiny church tucked away in Hora To navigate through Hora's busy streets, we used this Orthodox church as a reference point Looking over a nearby neighborhood from Kastro, we realize there isn't much time left before sunset So we retrace our steps in the labyrinth of Kastro There are so many photo opportunities in old town Naxos, so despite the fading light, we kept snapping away Robby finally tears himself away from the Kastro walls We make our way back down Bourgos's streets for one final glance at the beautiful Kastro We finally decided that we needed to make our way out of the Bourgos area to watch the sunset at the Portara, and somehow managed to stumble through this alleyway Only to chance upon Naxos's most romantic dinner spot, the Lucullus Taverna We snuck a peek at the interior of Lucullus Taverna and give it two thumbs up for its location, ambiance and menu Its easy to fall in love with this part of town with its gorgeous alleyways There are plenty of romantic dining opportunities in Old Naxos Town Typical window sill decor in this part of Naxos Town Maps ensuring that tourists don't get too lost in Hora are posted in easy to find spots thoughout the city A mermaid statue near the sunset point and Temple of Apollo Sunset over the western coast of Naxos We had to dodge wild waves of water splashing us as we sprinted across the peninsula leading from Hora to sunset point The marble Portara archway beautifully lit up as the sun sets The sunset was absolutely perfect Hora at dusk, just before it starts getting lively at night View over Naxos during sunset We finally left Portara to check out what was for dinner All the Protopapadaki restaurants looked fantastic, and even though we wanted to return back to Old Market Street for dinner, we were craving something else Mexican food ruled out and we found Cafe Picasso Mexican Bistro, and downed some margaritas to celebrate another perfect day in Greece foto gallery lightboxby v6.1

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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