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The largest island in the Cyclades, Naxos may not be as well knownas its neighbor Santorini, but those who visit are likely to discover that it truly is one of the best-kept secrets in the Greek Islands. If you’ve haven’t been, here’s why it should really be on the top of your must-visit list.
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Naxos hosts the most beautiful beaches in the Greek Islands, some of which have been ranked among the best in all of Europe. The south-west coast has the longest beaches of the Cycladic islands, and as the sand is made up of granite and marble, it’s also whiter and brighter than other Greek beaches. Plaka Beach is a favorite, with plenty of room to enjoy peace and tranquility, as well as well-developed areas with umbrellas and lounge chairs. It also edges inviting crystal clear azure waters that are ideal for a swim.
The waters that surround Naxos are such a surreal blue-green color you may have to blink a few times to be sure what you’re seeing is real. There are countless swimming spots around the island, which means you won’t have to compete for space – you’ll be able to immerse yourself in total relaxation, floating across the water while gazing up at the brilliant blue skies above or dipping below to see what’s underneath with incredible clarity. Swimming or snorkeling is most enjoyable in late spring, when water temperatures have become comfortable again, or in early autumn, when the sea is at its warmest. You can take a ferry or sailing excursion to visit remote bays and coves where you may even be able to enjoy a swim all to yourself.
Not only does Naxos boast some of the best beaches, it’s mostly mountainous, which makes it ideal for those who like to hike. There are dramatic peaks and cliffs, where you’ll walk alongside goats and hear little else but the jingling of the bells around their necks and the songs of the birds. You’ll find miles and miles of trails, some that connect traditional villages, and others leading to high mountain summits like Mount Zeus (Zas in Greek) which soars to nearly 3,300 feet above sea level. This was the famous home of the God Zeus, and it also hosts Zeus cave, complete with dazzling stalagmites and stalactites. From the top you’ll enjoy jaw-dropping views of the endless Aegean Sea and a number of neighboring islands.
Naxos is also home to countless traditional villages. Chora has managed to maintain its gorgeous Venetian architecture with elegant towers and charming narrow paved streets that make it look like a fantasy come to life. The streets are lined with boutiques, cafes and restaurants, some that are full of surprises, like rooftop patios that suddenly bring the sea into view. Inland, striking white villages dot the mountainsides, including Sangri, Halki, Apiranthos and Koronos.
With all of that water, there are also a wealth of sailing adventures to be had, including a number of day trip options. Naxos Sailing with Captain George offers excursions to Rina Cave as well as some of the smaller nearby islands like Iraklia. The cave is filled with that stunningly clear aquamarine water, and you’ll be outfitted with a waterproof flashlight as well as noodles and other equipment for exploring it. The experience even includes a DVD with photos and videos captured of the day, so you’ll have your memories to watch over and over when you get back home.
There are many ancient sites in Naxos, including the most visible, which can be seen as you enter the harbor. Known as the Gate of the Apollo Temple, it’s a massive 2,500-year-old marble doorway that leads to nowhere. This is the entrance to the unfinished temple that faces directly toward Delos, the birthplace of Apollo. For this reason, most scholars believe it was dedicated to Apollo, but some feel it may have been built in honor of Dionysus, who was worshipped on the island. The door stands 26 feet high and is made of four blocks of marble that each weigh 20 tons. Some of the foundations and temple floor have also survived.
Naxos flourished during the period of the Cycladic Civilization, between 3000 and 2000 BC, thanks to trade, seafaring and its mineral wealth, notably marble and emery, which means you’ll see remnants of this period in many areas. The Temple of Demeter near Sangri is also a must-see.
There are so many outstanding restaurants on Naxos it would probably take at least a year to sample them all. As Naxos is an agricultural island most of the eateries here feature locally grown vegetables, fruits and meats, and of course, lots of fresh fish. The specialties of the island are its delicious cheeses and sausages, paired with tasty local wines. The local ouzo is distilled, pure and some of the best in the entire country. The small Naxian potatoes have been cultivated on the island since the late 18th century when Naxos became one of the most significant producers contributing greatly to its prosperity and are a local delicacy considered a must try. Keep in mind that the portions are often huge, and oftentimes, you’ll get free dessert thrown in as well.
Shopping opportunities are practically endless in Naxos too. As you climb the stairs and wander the narrow streets, you’ll discover all sorts of little boutiques and shops selling fashions, souvenirs, gifts, jewelry, arts and crafts, antiques and more.
While you might think sea views would come at a steep price, accommodation on Naxos is very reasonable, making it much easier to afford luxuries you may not be able to in other places. Iliada Studios sits atop a cliff overlooking the Aegean, the islands of Paros and Mykonos, and the ancient city of Naxos, and from here, you can enjoy some of the most glorious sunsets on Earth.
The sunsets on Naxos may be unlike anything you’ve ever seen. In fact, they’re often ranked as among the best in the world. Watch from the island’s most famous landmark, the Gate of the Apollo Temple, or from the patio at Iliada Studios, where you’ll see the brilliant orange glow illuminate the sea.