(Editor’s note: Planning your summer escape? Naxos, in the Aegean Sea south of Athens, could be the perfect destination. But check Greek pandemic travel rules here before you go.)
Naxos is a very special island. Not only is it gorgeous, but it also has a long, interesting history, great food and beautiful beaches, lovely villages and significant mountains. You can read about the main town, archaeological sites and stunning beaches in Pt. 1 of this article.
Naxos also has some incredibly picturesque mountain villages: Koronos, Melanes, Apeiranthos and Filoti really stand out as beautiful and/or interesting places to explore though there are others you might also enjoy. Naxian villages are not typically tourist-dependent. They are quite authentic and perfect for anyone curious to see a more traditional side of Greek life. I would recommend taking at least a couple of hours to explore each village. They are worth it.
Wear comfortable shoes for the stony and often uneven paths that you will have to navigate. Discover each local church and school, village hangouts and take some time to try to communicate with the elderly residents who usually love to see new faces. You may not speak the same language, but non-verbal communication will do the trick and, if you are lucky, you might even be offered a spoon sweet or a glass of lemonade or sour cherry drink in a tiny village garden.
I would also recommend a jaunt to Moutsouna Bay. It is a good way to get a sense of the less popular eastern side of the island and there are a couple of very simple but very delicious fish tavernas to choose from. Of course, Moutsouna’s east-facing location means no stunning sunset, so be sure to get there early for swimming unless of course you prefer a shady dip.
I wouldn’t recommend hiking during the hot summer months but autumn and spring are lovely for hiking in Naxos. There are a number of nice trails to enjoy (some moderate and some challenging). Please be sure to check the weather conditions first, bring the right supplies and let someone know where you are going before you start off.
One of the more challenging trails will even lead you to Zas (or Zeus) Cave and Summit. Mythology tells us that this is where Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, was raised.
The Cycladic Islands are notoriously dry, but Naxos is the exception. Its relatively high mountain peaks ensure decent rainfall and the island is the most self-sufficient in the region. Naxos is known for its delicious olives, herbs, honey, seafood, cheeses (about six varieties of really tasty local cheeses), figs, tomatoes, potatoes, lamb, goat and wine. The food in most tavernas and restaurants on the island is of very high quality, even in places where you wouldn’t expect it to be.
We once grabbed some food from a random roadside stand for an impromptu beach picnic. Though we were expecting poor-to-mediocre quality, we were bowled over by the deliciousness! Naxos is also famous for its uniquely-flavored citron liqueur and citron spoon sweets (aka sweet preserves).
Citron is a fragrant citrus fruit which resembles a large lemon. Try the green, yellow and clear varieties of the liqueur to find your personal favorite. And be sure to visit the Citron liqueur distillery of Halki, Naxos.
It’s hard to choose, but I will pick three places where I had wonderful experiences with both food and atmosphere.
The first is a great place for a classic slow summer Greek lunch after spending time on Pirgaki Beach and the second is perfect for a wonderful evening meal in a colorful and lively environment with friendly service and a buzzing atmosphere. The third is a top choice for those needing a bite while exploring the lovely mountain village of Koronos.
• Psili Ammos Taverna (Pirgaki)
Here you will find perfectly-grilled fresh fish, boiled wild greens and well-prepared classic sides such as tzatztiki (yoghurt dip with cucumber and garlic), all served under a beautiful old tree with a view of the wild and windswept beach of Pirgaki.
• Axiotissa (Kastraki)
Greek with a twist and a bunch of international flavors thrown into the mix…
Axiotissa has an appetizer list fit for royalty and they even raise their own pigs for meat. You can’t go wrong at this place, whether you choose the fried sesame sardines with avocado, lime and cilantro or the Syrian burger stuffed with cheese and served with tahini dip.
Oh and they have amazing local cheese plates, Need I say more? Outstanding value for money as well.
• Taverna Matina and Stavros Platsa (Koronos)
Located in a shady and cool spot and built right into the village’s rock, this authentic taverna is a true oasis, full of flowers and right next to a running spring where you can splash your face with cool mountain water before you sit down to eat.
The taverna offers home-cooked mountain classics such as goat, rabbit and rooster dishes, among others, from a meat-heavy menu. Not to worry though if you are a vegetarian! They offer nice fresh salads and several tasty and filling sides which will definitely strike your fancy.
Be sure to try the house wine as well.
All in all, there is truly something for everyone on the island of Naxos. It is a pretty big island compared to other Cycladic islands, so a car is useful if you want to explore all it has to offer.
However, if you are just looking for some serious R&R, book yourself a spot near the beach that best suits your mood and relax awat, Naxos is perfection, however you choose to spend your time there.
About the author:
A Pittsburgher by birth, Christina T. Hudson is also half Greek and has – so far – spent most of her life in Athens, the chaotic but captivating capital city of Greece. She studied Language and Literature at Moravian College and has worked as a teacher, an editor, a writer and a photographer.
You can see more of her work here at A Pixel for Your Thoughts.
You can see more of her posts here.
See more about Greece in Dispatches’ archive here.