The island of Naxos is a treasure trove of experiences. There’s more here than the beach. Head off the beaten path and discover some of her secrets.
By: Gabi Ancarola
Hidden Naxos: villages up in the mountains
Naxos has been long known to archaeologists, scholars and students of Greek history, mythology and traditions. It remains, though, a virtual secret to the thousands of tourists that visit the beaches of the island through the season… and to many locals too. Tucked away, high up in the mountains, find hidden handcrafted treasures and interesting culinary experiences. Why not skip one of its magnificent beaches for just one day, and venture to a secret Naxos, wandering through the villages up in the mountains? Let’s explore.
Halki: kitron, marmalade, and a taste of home
Halki is a tiny village not very far from the Chora of Naxos. It’s probably the most picturesque place in the mountains and for a good reason. A collection of Neoclassical houses, tranquil pedestrian cobbled streets, and beautiful bougainvillea are the first thing you will notice. The whole atmosphere is charming, inviting you on a peaceful stroll among trees, alleys, and squares.
Over the years, Halki became known for for the production of kitron. Naxos’ traditional drink is a liqueur that knew a past of splendor when it was exported to several countries around the world in the last century. A visit to the traditional distillery Vallindras is a great opportunity to not only taste the different varieties of kitron, but also to learn about the distillation process.
Kitron is produced from the leaves of the citron, a tree that produces a fruit very similar to the lemon, though a bit different in taste. The liqueur comes in three varieties, the green one having the lowest alcoholic gradation and also a sweeter taste. The yellow version is much stronger and bitter, while clear kitron, is somewhere in the middle.
Even when kitron is the best known face of Halki, there is still more to see in the village — and to taste. Also on the main road, Epa is also worth a visit. This jam workshop is where Mr. Giannis Mandenakis has been producing home-made spoon sweets and jams since 2003.
Orange, lemon, quince, peach, and apricot are just a few of the tastes to experience. Art, craft, and culinary skills mix up to produce sweet treats without any use of preservatives or additives, the same way our grandmothers used to prepare these delicious treats.
Filoti: among flowers and olive trees
Soon after Halki, less than 20 km from Chora, the imposing Mount Zas proudly rises up. At1004 m, it is the highest peak in the Cyclades. At its base lies Filoti, one of the oldest and most popular villages on the island.
Little traditional houses are built amphitheatrically on the slopes of the mountain while thousands of trees and flowers decorate narrow alleys and passages. Filoti’s main street is lined with several picturesque traditional cafes where locals engage in long conversations sipping glasses of ouzo.
A visit to Filoti is a must in order to admire the endless olive tree valleys that surround the area. Don’t miss several Byzantine churches boasting very old frescoes. However, and most of all, a visit to Filoti is a journey into the traditional lifestyle of Naxos, where people still live at a pace of their own. It’s a place where time is enough to enjoy the simplest things in life. Here, it is common to see people sitting on their terraces, among colorful flowers, talking to their neighbors, or simply admiring spectacular sunsets.
In Filoti starts one of the paths that lead to the Cave of Zas, located about 600 meters above sea level. According to mythology, Zeus found shelter in the cave while he was prosecuted by his father, Kronos. It was also here that he was given the mighty lightning that made him ruler of Olympus. The impressive interior of the cave has striking stalagmites and stalactites. On the outside, the spectacular green landscape extends to reach the blue shades of the Aegean sea.
Apeiranthos: tradition and flocks of stairs
No day trip to the mountains is complete without a visit to Apeiranthos, situated at the foot of the Fanari Mountain. At the entrance of the village, a tower dating back to the 17th century, the Zevgoli Tower makes quite a statement with its location on top of a rock.
Apeiranthos impresses with its medieval architecture and proud character. Stone and marble dominate the landscape made of white houses, towers, and flocks of stairs. Present everywhere as a reminder of the prosperous past of the region, is Naxian marble. This is why is also known as the Marble Village. Alleys and narrow mule tracks, as well as squares are all paved in marble.
The village is well known for its many churches, but it is also rich in museums. Among them the Archaeological Museum of Apeiranthos, the Museum of Folk Art, the Geological Museum, and the Museum of Natural History. There is also a small museum dedicated to childhood, which quite amusing for kids.
When in Apeiranthos, choose any of the tavernas that overlook the valley to sit for a while and take in the beauty of the landscape. Taste a selection of local cheese with a glass of local wine and let time go by slowly.
Melanes: treat yourself with a hike and a view
The island of Naxos is home to three ancient Kouroi, all statues that date back in time from the 17th century BC. A kouros is a statue that represents ancient Greek, young male figures. The kouroi in Naxos are impressive not just because of their size, but also for the mystery surrounding the sculptures as well, since it is believed they had been abandoned incomplete. Two of the kouroi are found in Melanes, less than 20 minutes from Naxos’ main town.
A verdant path leads to the first of these statues, which have been laying on the same spot for more than 2,500 years. Archaeologists believe that ancient sculptors abandoned them there after the stone cracked under their chisels. The first of the two kouroi in not very far from the parking lot. To reach the second, instead, you will need to hike a hillside for about 15 minutes more. This hike that is well worth the fatigue because the view of the mountains and the underlying valley is stunning. Melanes’ landscape doesn’t resemble that of a Cycladic island. Rich in vegetation and abundant in water and springs, it fascinates visitors for its diversity. Remember to have water with you and to wear comfortable shoes!
Sangri and Sanctuary of Demeter
The Temple of Sangri, or Sanctuary of Demeter is a Late Archaic Greek temple located in the area of Gyroulas, not far from the road that leads to Halki. The temple was probably built around 530 BC. which makes it one of the earliest temples of Ionic order. It was completely made of marble from Naxos.
In the area of the archaeological site, a small museum exhibits other findings such as sculptures and rests of the temple itself. It also presents parts of a late Christian temple, built on the site, when the sanctuary was demolished.
The museum offers very clear explanations and excellent reconstructions that make it easy to understand the way the area used to be. The museum also exhibits pottery, vases and jewelry. . Visit the museum before you see the actual temple – you will get a better idea of the area and its importance.
According to research, the temple contains several unusual characteristics. For instance, the ground plan is almost square, while most Greek temples used to have a rectangular plan. The entrance to the archeological site and museum is free. They are both open to the public from 8:30 am – 7:00 pm. It’s closed on Mondays.
There’s so much more to Naxos
There’s so much to see and discover in Naxos. Everyone loves the beach, but why not take some time to discover the amazing experiences off the beaten path? You won’t regret it.
Have you been to Naxos? Tell us in the comments about your fave place.
Gabi Ancarola is a travel writer, journalist, and translator specializing in Greek destinations, Cretan wine tours, and gastronomic experiences. She writes about family travel for several magazines. Gabi runs the travel blog, The Tiny Book, where you can find more advice for families traveling with tiny, curious adventurers around the Mediterranean and in farther lands too.
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