Naxos Island, Greece, has it all: pristine beaches, ancient ruins, great food and shopping, breathtaking mountain landscape, rural villages, Byzantine churches, water sports, a Medieval castle, value for money, day trips and cruises.
The largest of the Cyclades islands, Naxos has the charm and beauty of the Greek islands, but is also a working island with permanent residents, independent family businesses, schools, a hospital, and a tiny little airport which connects to the mainland. Or, as Andrew Bostock in The Guardian puts it, ‘Naxos is probably the only Cycladic island that could survive if all the tourists stayed away’. It’s real. (Can I say authentic? Does that word mean anything anymore?)
It’s the kind of island that merits much more than a day trip; I met travellers staying for four days (on average) but I also met people who stay for several weeks every year and don’t get tired of it. After a week there, I can see why.
You can fly from Athens in 25 minutes or you can get the Blue Star Ferry from Piraeus port in Athens which takes five and a half hours. There are other ferries but Blue Star is the main one.
A car would be ideal but the local buses are great. Return journeys around the island range from 4 to 7 Euro in price.
Where to stay
One option is Chora, the main town on the harbour. You can walk to everything and hop on the local buses which take you all over the island. I stayed at Pension Sofi.
I chose it because of its outstanding reviews on Trip Advisor and it didn’t disappoint. It’s run by a genuinely lovely, welcoming family and is immaculate, comfortable and very tastefully furnished.
While it has all the charm of a family pension, it’s run efficiently, to a very high standard and offers excellent value for money. I met guests who’ve been coming back there for years.
Where to eat
There’s an abundance of Tavernas which all offer standard traditional fare but these are my recommendations which came from locals and Greek travel bloggers:
Maro’s Taverna, Ioannou Paparigopoulou, Naxos 843 00, Greece: very traditional, down-to-earth family restaurant; huge portions; excellent value for money; jugs of local wine and dishes that you won’t see on tourist menus.
Metaxi Mas, Old Town, Naxos: a little more picturesque and romantic than the more robust, earthy tavernas.
Kozi, Leof. Naxou Eggaron, Naxos: decent food, reasonably priced but the view is outstanding. Friendly, cheerful staff who wanted me to drink wine on the house but I’d already had enough!
What to do and see:
Beaches, sailing and water sports, quad biking, archaeological ruins from ancient (super ancient) Mycenean civilization, cruises and day trips to other islands, Medieval castle, mountain villages, stunning inland landscape, island bus tour.
My absolute favourite highlights from this trip:
The return bus schedule is really well timed. I’d recommend spending two hours there (time to stop and eat).
Halki: also a mountain village, it’s surrounded by walking trails among little Byzantine churches, olive groves, farmland and goats.
You can walk up to 8 KM around the tiny village with its gorgeous little cafes and famous citron distillery.
Iason sailing trip to Koufinissia.
I was determined to see Koufinissia as a Greek friend had told me it was exceptional, unspoilt and a little off the well-beaten tourist trail. It took me a while to find a day trip that was just right for me but the Iason cruise was perfect.
The 18m long wooden boat leaves from the smaller port of Agia Anna and first takes you to a tiny, deserted beach (paradise) where passengers can jump off and swim for 45 minutes while the crew prepare the barbeque.
Plaka beach: 20 mins from town by bus, it’s pristine, calm and glorious. Agios Anna and Prokopios are also very popular.
Building projects have been halted at various sites on the island because archaeologist and ecologists are still discovering – and protecting – the remains of ancient civilizations.
The village of Filoti, en route to Apiranthos.
The Eggares Olive Press.
And finally… I had one disappointment on my trip. A day trip to Santorini was a complete waste of money and time. The towns of Oia and Thira are over-crowded and over-priced. The harbour is full of cruise traffic, the towns and the walks are full of foot traffic, the streets are jammed with tour buses and tourists ride donkeys in the heat which I find cruel and exploitative (of the donkeys, not the people!).
I realise I went on a particularly bad day and I met lots of travellers who stayed for a couple of days and loved it so if I went back to Santorini – unlikey – I would stay for a couple of days and I would stay away from the tourist beat. Spend more time on Naxos!