Almost entirely by accident, Zoë Perrett found herself head over heels in love with all things Naxian – here’s her lowdown on the Greek island
It would be true to say that Naxos is the dog’s bollocks. But given the Cycladic island’s vast feline population, it would be more apt to describe it as the cat’s pyjamas.
We were only ever supposed to visit the largest island in the Cyclades for three days. Three and a half weeks later, we bid Naxos farewell with lumps in our throats and itchy trigger fingers already poised to book our next trip.
If it weren’t for a couple of well-travelled mates sticking their oars in when we mentioned we’d replaced our ill-fated holiday to Ibiza with one in Santorini, we might not even have got the ferry across to Naxos in the first place.
But thank Zeus, Apollo and every other Greek god we did; because within hours we were loathe to leave. Should we stay or should we return to Santorini as planned? As we debated, the latter island was placed on the quarantine list, and the universe sealed our fate: Naxos it was.
During those extra days and weeks, we fell hard for the island. If you, like we, dig a destination that’s remained gobsmackingly unspoilt by relentless development; boasting beautiful beaches, rich history and culture, great local food, and the warmest, most genuine hospitality, then you, too, need Naxos to be high up your travel bucket list.
And when you make that trip, look no further for your little black book: here’s all you need to know…
WHERE TO STAY
For couples: Naxian On The Beach
Located at the South end of Plaka Beach – a 4-kilometre stretch of golden sand on Naxos’ West coast, the 10-room Naxian on the Beach is less ‘hotel’ than ‘restaurant-with-rather-luxury-rooms’. With its small team, warm welcome, and relaxed-yet-efficient service, it took us no more than a day to feel like this boho-chic abode was home.
Lovers of laidback Ibiza style – neutral tones, natural materials and contrasting textures -will be as enamoured as we were with the accommodation. Everything you need, nothing you don’t – it sounds like a simple formula, but few master it as well as these guys.
The clue’s in the name; I reckon you could throw a stone from the plunge pool on your balcony and it’d easily reach the beach, where luxurious bamboo beds are reserved for guests. When hunger strikes, you can drift back up the sand to Naxian’s own restaurant Tortuga, but you needn’t: tacos, club sandwiches, and the best smash-fried potatoes you’ll ever eat can be served right to your lounger.
It’d be hard to beat Naxian On The Beach’s location, too. For a dusty beach road, Plaka’s isn’t half well-resourced; meaning that fantastic ice-creameries, bars, mini-marts, trad tavernas, and even a bit of fine dining are all within walking distance. You can be at the airport inside 10 minutes, the town in 15, and the mountains in 20.
In fact, for us, there was barely a box Naxian on the Beach didn’t tick. We’ve already got our eyes on opening week 2021.
For families: Naxos Island Escape
While we didn’t bring either of LB’s small people on this particular trip, Naxos is a fantastic prospect for a family holiday – and once again, Plaka feels like the ideal spot.
Set a little way back from the seafront, Naxos Island Escape offers a series of seriously-stylish, well-appointed four-person suites whose cave-style design ensures they’re literally as well as aesthetically cool.
Owner Mario is a gregarious host; generous with both his breakfasts – abundant local spreads featuring his own marmalades – and his island knowledge. Whether you want to go beach-hopping or you’re planning an history-packed day of discovery, he’ll happily advise on an extensive itinerary.
All sound a little too energetic? Plaka beach is no more than a two-minute walk – one that’s safe enough to let older kids make on their own while you snatch that all-important five minutes to yourselves…
WHERE TO EAT
The island’s location, climate and geology (and probably a blessing from the ancient gods too) adds up to Naxos boasting a local larder that’s both abundant and diverse. From fruit and veg to olive oil; dairy to meat; fish to fowl, you won’t eat much that’s travelled anywhere near as far as you have to dine here.
As far as restaurant diversity goes, the scope is mostly limited to ‘traditional Greek’; ‘modern Greek; or, at a push ‘Mediterranean’ – but when the cuisine’s so tasty, is that really such a bad thing?
Must-samples? Kontosouvli (spit-roasted marinated pork); Naxos sausages – those at Platanos in Aperianthos are particularly noteworthy; and the intriguing, addictive orange pie (recipe coming soon…) which is proffered at the end of almost every meal. Then, of course, there are Naxos potatoes (so good they’ll make you forget you ever described a spud as ‘humble’)… but good luck avoiding these ridiculously ubiquitous chips!
Tortuga, Plaka Beach
With a modern Mediterranean menu, slick presentation and boho-luxe atmosphere, Naxian On The Beach’s restaurant seems to be a bit of a destination diner for international visitors and Greeks alike. Go here for spankingly-fresh seafood carpaccios, seriously good steaks, and a superior wine list.
Nikos & Maria, Plaka Beach
AKA the classic beachside taverna of your childhood holidays, family-run Nikos & Maria offers a simple, timeless menu from which you want to eat absolutely everything. Try kalogeros – aubergines stuffed with slow-stewed beef, topped with an indecent amount of two local cheeses; and little soft-cheese stuffed filo pies drowned in Naxos honey.
Petrino, Plaka Beach
You don’t expect a vine-laden taverna opposite the beach to devote itself to the modernisation of Naxian classics and major in molecular-style techniques, but that’s precisely what you get here. Naxian sausages are set in a pool of piquant ‘Arseniko’ cheese foam; trad salads are presented as intriguing ‘cakes’. Food for thought as well as appetite.
Gianni’s Taverna, Chalki
With tables strewn under the shade of the tree in the main plaza, Gianni’s is as pleasant a place to people-watch as it is to dine. A chalkboard menu offers a handful of excellent salads, mezes and slow-cooked dishes, but it’s the meat cooked on the imposing outdoor rotisserie that’s the real lure. The pork kontosouvli is life-changing.
Giannoulis, Agia Prokopios
With the father in the kitchen and his two outgoing, characterful, sons running the floor, this is a proper family affair. The easy-going taverna is known for its hospitality as much as its sizeable menu of Greek and local classics – and the quality of both ensures the charming blue-and-white restaurant is packed night after night.
Scirocco, Naxos Town
Scirocco’s lively, friendly and jocular service is matched by its fantastic food. Mezze platters are a godsend for the indecisive diner (aka me). In the learned opinion of someone who sampled saganaki – fried Naxian gruyere – every single day, Scirocco’s is the gold-standard; its crunchy batter sprinkled with sesame seeds; the whole shebang drenched in local honey.
Boulamatsis, Naxos Town
With a tiny terrace overlooking the port, few frills, and a counter laden with local meat and home-made, slow-cooked Greek classics, Boulamatsis is a fine place to dine on super-traditional food in resoundingly unpretentious surroundings. Those in the know get there early to bag one of the few tables for a superior sunset view.
Paradise, Kastraki Beach
Were Paradise any less than it is, that name would be a somewhat bold claim. It’s simple, and it’s simply perfect: a taverna in a shaded glade beside Kastraki beach, serving faultless grilled fish and seafood and an orange pie you will probably dream about long after you get home. Lunch here, and lunch here early – dishes on the concise daily-changing menu sell out fast.
Get your head out of the minimart freezer: Naxian milk makes the most dreamy ice-cream. If you’re in Naxos town, head to Waffle House and feast on flavours from the traditional to the outlandish (cheesecake with Naxian rusks and tomato jam). If you’re Plaka-beach bound, pay a visit to Mitatos, where the ever-changing menu might feature arbaroriza (similar to rose geranium) or the seriously indulgent banoffee.
WHERE TO DRINK
It’s not all ouzo, raki and Metaxa – Naxos has its very own liqueur, Kitron, made from the fruit and leaves of a local citrus tree. Greek wines are worth exploring, too – particularly white Assyrtiko from the neighbouring island of Santorini.
Kitron Café, Naxos Town
With a chic interior, knowledgeable, affable service, and a killer cocktail list alongside its picturesque portside location, Kitron is surely the best place to introduce yourself to Naxos’s eponymous, indigenous liqueur. Venturing further afield? Visit Kitron’s sister bar up in the mountain village of Halki, where you can tour the attached Vallindras Distillery.
Like Home, Naxos Town
Blue neon bathes this cave-style bar in the main town’s backstreets, lending the interior a deliciously otherworldly, underwater-ly aesthetic. It’s worth venturing out the other side to the rooftop terrace, though; where the twinkling vista of the boats bobbing in the port is the perfect pairing for the spot-on cocktails.
Tortuga at Naxian On The Beach, Plaka Beach
You’ll glean a lot of wisdom on the island’s bar scene from Tortuga’s head bartender Giorgos Korres, but to be frank, we were often far too busy enjoying both his drinks and his company to leave the stools at Naxian On The Beach’s boho-chic restaurant bar in favour of any other destination.
WHERE TO SHOP
You can’t really go wrong in Naxos Town. Sure, the port boasts the usual concentration of touristic shops, but as you head into the meandering streets of the old town, you can’t walk two steps without tripping over yet another breathtakingly beautiful jewellery workshop, olive wood craft emporium or leather goods specialist. Feel free to browse, ‘cause there’s a refreshing lack of hard sell – the friendly, chilled local manner persists even where commerce is concerned.
Top tip: save yourself the public carpark bun fight and leave your rental car in safe hands at Mixalis Pitilakis’s private one (turn right up the side street just before Antamoma restaurant and it’s on your left).
Papyrus, Naxos Town
Still prefer turning pages to swiping Kindles? Me too – but chunky beach reads can add unnecessary heft to your luggage. Second-hand book shop Papyrus’ library-like shelves are stuffed ceiling-high with books, arranged by language and genre. Return a novel when you’re finished and get 50% off your next purchase… then spend the saving on something from the silver showroom at the back.
Onira Glika, Naxos Town
Silver, gold, statement, subtle… jewellery-lovers are spoilt for (surprisingly reasonably-priced) choice in Naxos Town. And it’s not just the pieces that are beautiful: local shopkeepers have the most amazing eye for displaying their wares. Perhaps the keenest attention to detail is paid by Onira Glika’s proprietor Diana, whose boutique is lined with dozens of boards hosting perfectly-symmetrical, colour-coded assortments of her signature beaded items.
WHAT TO DISCOVER
The Abandoned Graffiti Hotel
Located just off the cedar-pine-lined beach of Aliko on Naxos’s Southeast coast, this unique treat is worth a fair few hours’ exploration. Some say the hotel was abandoned before it ever finished being built; some claim it was a WW2 decoy, but whatever the history, it’s a treat for the modern eye. Over time, the sprawling site has been increasingly decorated with graffiti, rendering it a sort of open air art gallery. Kinda spooky; slightly strange; utterly stupendous.
The Charming Mountain Villages
… aka CMVs; all of which do a sterling job of earning the epithet by being the living embodiments of the most picturesque postcard you ever laid eyes on: winding alleyways, shops filled with local crafts, bustling café on bustling café. The mountain-edge drives are seriously scenic, too. We visited Apeiranthos, Filoti and Halki and loved the latter the most, but I can’t imagine ever encountering a Naxian CMV I didn’t like.
The Ancient Ruins
We didn’t explore many of these; partly because it’s not our jam and mostly because we were too busy splitting our sides at LB’s droll joke that at the ‘ripe old age’ of 45, he’s well on the way to becoming one himself and doesn’t need to see any more. But if history’s your thing, Naxos will spoil you rotten with the Temple of Demeter, the Cave of Zeus, not one but two Statues of Kouros, and even more besides. Getting a shot through the famous ‘frame’ at the Temple of Apolla at Naxos port at sunset will earn you serious Insta-cred.
Sending postcards may be a thing of the past, but it’s still sweet to treat your loved ones to a token of your travels – especially when the gift’s unique to the island from whence it came…
Made from the fruit and leaves of the island’s lemon-like citron tree, this local liqueur comes in three varieties: green, clear, and yellow. The former is sweeter and less alcoholic; the latter the punchiest of the bunch; and the middle one, aptly, somewhere in the middle. It was originally manufactured at the Vallindras distillery – first established in the mountain village of Halki in 1896, and still open for business (and visitors) today.
The Eye of Naxos
Despite its appearance, the Eye of Naxos is not a shell polished by man to a flat, shiny finish: it’s a natural jewel in its own right, formed in the oval opening of an actual shell, smoothed by the sand and sea. Believed to promote luck and good fortune, you’ll see them sold loose, strung onto necklaces and bracelets, and set into rings… or you might be lucky enough to find your own on the beach.
THE CATS OF NAXOS
In my eyes, this ‘ultimate guide’ would be lacking if I didn’t make mention of the island’s extraordinary cat population. Yes, I am aware that cats abound on every Greek island; but YOU may not be aware that Naxos seems to boast a particularly high concentration; or indeed, just how much of a crazy cat lady I really am. So here are a few of the feline friends I encountered; featured here both to indulge their egos and my own personal passion.
Want to read more like this? Check these links. Granted, it’s a funny old time to travel, but that doesn’t mean you can’t gather inspiration for when you finally get to take that trip…