Naxos Greece offers beaches, history, and kitron

Guide to Visiting Naxos Greece: Ancient History, Spectacular Beaches and Abandoned Villages

In the harbour of Naxos a massive marble gateway looms from a nearby rocky islet. The famous Portals, entrance to a great temple to Apollo that was never completed, stands as a forlorn sentinel to greet the ferry boats and yachts that sail into the port. The islet is linked to the land by a causeway of rocks forming a breakwater for the harbour.

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Abandonment is a theme on Naxos. Once long ago, according to myths, Ariadne, a Minoan princess, frolicked there with Dionysus and the maenads while Theseus searched for her along the shore. She had helped Theseus escape the labyrinth of the Minotaur on Crete and he abandoned her on Naxos and sailed away. Legend has it that Ariadne threw herself into the sea from the sheer cliffs where the waves dash on the rocky shoreline. The ancients built a temple shrine to Ariadne on the rocky outcrop. Today it too, is abandoned.

No matter what Ariadne's story is Naxos is an intriguing island with a fascinating history.

Back in 500 BC, Herodotus described Naxos as the most prosperous of the Greek islands. In contrast to the other arid Cycladic islands, Naxos is fertile with lush greenery, cypress groves, fig trees, citrus orchards and olive groves and is known for growing the best potatoes in Greece.

Naxos was once a cultural centre of major importance and one of the first islands to work marble. There are still marble quarries and emery mines in the interior of the island.

Beyond the shoreline the mountains rise, tree covered, sheltering tiny villages, some of them deserted now, remnants of bygone days when the shore people fled into the mountains to escape pirate raids and the invasion of Ottoman Turks.

Touring Round the Island

I took the round-the-island bus tour to explore some of the traditional villages and archaeological sites. The narrow road winds up through the mountains, a breath-taking ride as the driver manoeuvres around sharp hair-pin turns affording panoramic views of the island.

I've taken this tour several times and marvel at the skill of the driver and the interesting historical anecdotes told by the tour guide. The tour stops at many sites including a tiny church where there was a secret school so children could be taught the Greek language after the Ottomans forbade it.

Naxos Greece offers beaches, history, and kitron
Near the seaside town of Apollonas where you can stop for a swim, there is a giant 7th century BC marble kouros, supposedly a statue of Apollo, lying in situ in what was once a marble quarry. It had cracked when carved and abandoned there.

Kitron Distillery

One of my favourite stops on the bus tour is the kitron distillery. Kitron is a traditional drink brewed from a large lumpy lemon-like fruit once called by the Greeks the Median apple.

Possibly the first of these fruits were sent back to Greece by Alexander the Great during his conquest of Persia. Kitron is unique to Naxos. Until the Christian era it was the only citrus fruit cultivated in Europe, known for its medicinal qualities, a symbol of fertility and affluence.

At the distillery you can sample the three colours and strength of the liqueur: white is the strongest, yellow is medium strength and sweetness, green is an aperitif.

Remnants of Venetian Occupation of Naxos

During the 1200s, Naxos went under Venetian occupation. The Venetians ruled Naxos for many years and at the main port of Naxos town there is a Venetian castle on the hill overlooking the harbour. This castle is one of the few preserved in Greece and includes a housing complex within the structure of the medieval city. Descendants of these Venetian Catholics still live in some of the old mansion. Lose yourself in the twisting lands, one of wh ich will sooner or later lead you to the highest point of the town inside the castle. The old medieval town is distinctly Venetian style with vaulted little cobblestone streets. Along with boutiques and tavernas there is a Venetian museum.
Naxos Greece offers beaches, history, and kitron

And the Beaches

There are over forty kilometers of spectacular beaches along the coast of Naxos with silky sand and a crystal clear turquoise sea. They have names like Aghio Georgios, Aghia Anna, Plaka and Prokopios. Colorful beach umbrellas and lounge chairs are arranged in clusters along the shore in front of shady beach tavernas where you can sit and refresh yourself with cold Mythos beer and a plate of Greek mezedes. Many of the beaches are crowded with holidayers but there are stretches of the pristine shoreline where you can feel as if you have been abandoned on a tropical isle.

I've camped on Naxos several times. My favourite campsite is the Maragas Campsite on Aghia Anna Beach where you can pitch your own tent or rent one with all the equipment. It's a spacious area with room for tents and RVs, and also provides rooms and studios. Conveniently, there is a local bus service that provides transport to the nearby villages and the town of Naxos.

If you'd rather have more comfortable accommodations, along the shoreline are pensions and hotels. On one of my visits to Naxos, I stayed at Irea Beach where you'll find lots of excellent tavernas and coffee shops along the shore. Enjoy a romantic sunset, the crimson sun disappears somewhere between the mountains of Paros, a few miles away, the boundless blue Aegean.

Whether you stay in Naxos town or one of the unique villages on the island, or choose a studio by the sea you'll be sure to enjoy Naxos as one of the best holiday destinations in Greece.

If You Go

There are daily ferries from Pireaus and from several other islands. You can also fly there.

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W. Ruth Kozak has been a historical fiction writer since her teens and a travel journalist for more than 15 years. She also instructs classes on travel writing, creative and novel writing and memoirs. She has travelled extensively, often solo and always on a budget. Her travels inspired her to create a new travel ezine

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: October 26, 2016

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