The lush island of Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades group, and one of the most fertile, with green valleys filled with olive groves and orchards. It is mountainous too, with Mt Zas in the south of the island rising to 1003m (3291ft).
Naxos has lots of excellent beaches, many of them deserted even at the height of the summer, and yet despite these attractions it has not yet been over-run with tourist development in the way some of the other Cycladic islands have
Naxos was one of the main centres of the Cycladic civilisation when it started to flourish from about 2800 BC onwards, and was one of the first islands to use marble for sculpture and architecture.
Naxian marble has been used in some of the finest kouros statues found, including several on display in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, and for the Lion Terrace on Delos. It was subsequently conquered by the Venetians and later the Turks, both of them leaving their mark on the island.
Naxos Town is busy port and a lively town, with bars and good restaurants both down round the harbour and up through the various neighborhoods to the Venetian kastro, which looks down on the town from behind its high walls. Below in the district known as Bourgos is the impressive 18th century cathedral of Zoödochou Pigis, which was actually built by using stone from older churches and an even older temple.
One of the oldest and most impressive sights in Naxos Town is the Portara Gateway, situated on the islet of Palatia, connected to the town by a causeway. This huge gateway was going to be the entrance to a Temple of Apollo, which was begun in 522BC but never completed. It is now frequently used as a symbol for the town and the island, and gives visitors arriving by ferry a dramatic greeting.
There is an extensive collection of the island’s remains in the fascinating Archaeological Museum, which naturally includes a good number of the graceful carvings made during the Cycladic civilisation. The museum is also of interest for the building that houses it, a palace that was built in 1627 and later became the French School, one of whose pupils was the Cretan novelist Nikos Kazantzakis.
Naxos is large enough to reward a long stay, allowing time to explore its natural charms such as the Livadi Valley, where the best Naxian marble was mined, the Melanes Valley, which contains some of the distinctive Venetian watchtowers, and the Tragaia Valley, with wonderful mountain villages and excellent walking country.
Of the resorts, Apollon is one of the most popular, not least for its choice of good fish restaurants. Another major attraction, though, is an unfinished statue, though to represent the god Apollo, which has been lying abandoned in the marble quarries on a hillside outside the village since about 600BC It is over 10m long and an imposing sight, also slightly sinister and strangely moving.
Flights to Naxos
In summer there are 1-2 daily flights from Athens to Naxos on Olympic Air with a journey time of about 45 mins. There are also many direct charter flights in summer to Naxos from various European countries.
Ferries to Naxos
There are daily ferries between the Athens port of Piraeus and Naxos, with a journey time of 5hrs 30mins. There are regular ferries between Naxos and the other islands in the Cyclades, including Santorini (journey time about 2 hrs).
Ferries in Greece has an excellent and very thorough website where in addition to checking ferry schedules and times, you can also book tickets and get lots of useful information about travelling by ferry in Greece.
The latest edition of the Lonely Planet travel guide to Greece is a comprehensive 750-page guidebook to the whole country.
Greece Travel Secrets visits the Cretan Botano herbs and spices shop near Matala in southern Crete in search of the herb man of Kouses.
Greece Travel Secrets visits the Zacharioudakis Winery near Ancient Gortina in southern Crete, and does a vineyard tour arranged by our guide from Go Crete.