Naxos is very mountainous. It's quite a trip getting to the beautiful mountain villages. This is not the place to learn how to drive a moped. The road is full of hairpin turns and 500 m drops, and the local buses take up most of it!
I took the bus myself, and there's a route I can recommend whether by bus or car (don't know if there's a hiking trail, but it would be worth enquiring): Take the scenic coastal road to Apollonas, then take the alternative route through the villages of Koronis and Apeiranthos (noted for its architecture). At either end you can see two Kouros, ancient statues of young men, (at Apollonas and Melanes), abandoned in their quarries. A strangely moving sight.
I suggest that when you are here in Greece a visit to the island of Santorini or( Thira) as it is also called, is a must visit. Santorini makes a difference.
You have plenty of time ahead, I suggest that you don't book tickets until you are here and believe me May is a very good month. It is a month that hotels are still cheap and in May you will not come across much traffice and crowds.
Santorini is served at least twice daily from Piraeus; from Santorini, ferries make frequent connections to the other islands—daily to Paros, Naxos, Ios, Anaphi, and Crete. All ferries dock at Athinios port, where taxis and buses take passengers to Fira, Kamari, and Perissa Beach. Travelers bound for Ia take a bus to Fira and change there. The port below Fira is used only by small steamers and cruise ships. Passengers disembarking here face a half-hour hike, or they can take the cable car (or ride up on the traditional donkeys; but please spare the poor things). The port police can give information on ferry schedules. Santorini Port Police :22860/22239
Along with its nightlife and gay scene the beaches are probably Mykonos' biggest draw. We visited two beaches in the short time we were there, one of them twice.
Agios Ioannis is the beach where Shirley Valentine was set. It's wide but not very deep and has a couple of tavernas behind it. It was just the kind of place we like - not too busy, pretty bay, good safe water, you could practically put your sun-bed in the sea (some people actually did) and a waitress would bring you drinks and snacks from the taverna behind. If you wanted something more substantial, that same taverna did absolutely fabulous food. I imagine it's a good place to watch sunset from though we were never there that late: the taverna's name? Sunset Taverna!
The other beach we visited was Paradise, one of the most famous on Mykonos. We expected it to be overrated but it wasn't. It was absolutely superb, lovely sand and even lovelier water - crystal clear and as warm as a bath. There's lots going on at Paradise, but seemingly moreso at night. Loud music and partying wasn't much in evidence in the middle of the day.
Antiparos is a small island off the southern coast of Paros. You get to it by taking the small, landing craft-style, ferry from Punta, a few km south of Parikia. There's not a lot there - the lovely, small main town, a few small "developments" scattered about the island, lots of great beaches and the famous caves, served by the island's only bus service. It's this lack of development that gives Antiparos its appeal - some people prefer it to its larger "over commercialised" neighbour, though by many standards I'd hardly describe Paros as over commercialised.
If you visit as a day trip (as we did) you won't have time to do too much - by the time you take in a beach, relax over lunch and explore the town it will be time to leave again. We went to the nearest beach, just around from the harbour. This was lovely, fine, light sand backed by Tamarisk trees and with a sea so shallow that you had to wade well out to be able to swim - ideal for kids and nervous swimmers. A picnic lunch there, bought from a shop in the town, was followed by am hour or so wandering around the town and the Kastro. It was a fantastic day, so relaxing and so peaceful.
We didn't have time to see the cave or the island beyond the town, and thoroughly expected and intended to come back another day. However the many distractions of Paros and the other Cycladean islands prevented us from doing so.
Antiparos town is small but perfectly formed. The town is a delight, a typical Cycladic village of whitewashed, narrow streets filled with lovely, flower-strewn buildings and having a fortified Kastro at its centre. Many of the streets are lined with shops and cafes and there are small squares here and there.
The Kastro area is the star of the show, most of the buildings having been beautifully restored, all of them facing inwards towards the fortified centre and reached by attractive stairways. The courtyard area also contains a church and the whole thing is accessed via a single arched entrance from the back of a square in the outer town.
Naxos has some lovely beaches, almost all of soft, pale sand. The closest to town is Agios Georgios which is adjacent to the main town, and therefore usually fairly buzzing. The other beaches string out all along the east coast, mostly south of Naxos town. Regular bus services link the closest of these to the main town, running every half hour during peak time. We went to Agia Anna, a fairly relaxed family-friendly beach about 1/2 an hour's bus ride from Naxos town. It's backed by cafes & tavernas, as is the road behind. Agia Anna has a small harbour (more of a jetty in truth) from which boat trips go to other bays and even to Piso Livadi across the water on Paros.
We walked south along Agia Anna beach, eventually crossing a small headland with a church on it to come to another small and quite secluded beach which was being used by nudists. Then we turned back ;-)
There are many, many more beaches than those I've mentioned - Naxos is a beach-lover's paradise. The beaches at Agios Prokopios looked interesting as we passed on the bus, being backed as they are by salt lakes which give a very picturesque look to the whole area.
There are quite a few villages on Naxos, most with something interesting to see either in or near them. The main bus route runs from Naxos town to Apiranthos, passing through or by quite a few villages en-route. Though Apiranthos is perhaps the most famous and reputedly pretty village on Naxos we thought it was a little too far for a day trip by bus, giving us too little time to do other stuff. We decided therefore to go to Halki, walk from there to Filoti and get the bus back from there. This worked out very well.
Halki is the former capital of Naxos, but these days looks a very small and quite sparse village, though some large and sometimes faded houses act as a reminder of its past.
Having only a small village square and a couple of tavernas and cafes, it is most famous for three things: the Kitron distillery, some fine pottery & craft shops and a couple of old Venetian tower houses. There's also a walk that you can do to the nearby church of Agios Georgios Dissori.
We visited the distillery, had lunch at the cafe, bought some goodies at the shop there and also at Ava (or maybe Eva? - a lovely shop selling home made jams, spoon sweets, honeys and so on), looked around the village and then headed for Filoti.
We didn't know what to expect of Filoti - our guide books mentioned little about it except to say that it is the biggest village on Naxos. The mountain scenery on the way there was stupendous, hillsides dotted with churches and chapels as far as the eye can see and interesting looking tracks meandering their way up and round those hills.
Filoti itself was a nice surprise. A fairly workaday village with little impact from tourism, it had a lovely "traditional centre", up some marble steps from behind the cafe in the main square. The highlight of this was the church, set half way up the steps in a small square and looking very picturesque. Elsewhere in the village were a variety of shops, cafes and services, geared towards locals rather than tourists and all the more interesting for that. There are also some more churches and (apparently) a ruined castle, though we didn't see it. We really liked Filoti.
The Kastro at Naxos is larger and better preserved than the one at Paros. You can get into it from a few different places, but perhaps the best way into it is from the north, as the North Gate is one of the major features of the Kastro.
Just within this gate is the museum of Della-Rocca-Barozzi, a traditional Kastro mansion house, still in private ownership but open to the public (Euro 5.00 admission). It was an interesting and informative tour, and you get some good views out over the city from within the mansion too.
Much of the architecture within the Kastro is fascinating, with archways, tunnels, stairways and tiny doors everywhere! The Kastro also contains a convent and a Catholic cathedral. It's a lovely area to wander around, and oh so quiet.
Naxos is one of those places where as soon as you arrive there you know it's going to be nice. The waterfront area (your first sight of the place as you arrive by ferry) is very attractive, with a promenade running its length backed by cafes, tavernas, restaurants and shops; looking out over it all is the ancient Kastro.
Behind the waterfront the "traditional centre" consists of narrow streets full of pretty and inviting shops, bars and restaurants and give way onto the occasional small square. This part of town is particularly appealing at night when the colourful shops illuminate the streets.
At the far end of town, just past a small headland, is the town beach of Agios Georgios, one of the best town beaches you'll find.
On a small island linked by a causeway is the Portara, Naxos Town's most famous landmark, the remains of an ancient temple to Apollo built in the sixth century BC. It was with some surprise that I realised on the day I was leaving Naxos that I hadn't found the time to visit the Portara! There's just so much else to do there, especially in a short visit.
Tinos has some stunning coastal scenery. As you drive the main road from Tinos Town to Pyrgos you are presented with panorama upon panorama of mountainous terrain sloping dramatically away down to crescent bays far below, torturous switchback tracks wending their way down to them from the main road. There were many tempting spots on the way, but we by-passed them all as our prime objective that day was Pyrgos (see elsewhere). After spending a good while there we eventually moved on to the coast at Panormos, a small harbour town once used for the export of marble. These days it's more of a pretty, low-key resort town; tavernas and cafes line the harbour and "rooms to rent" signs adorn the buildings above and behind. At one end of the harbour is a small and somewhat disappointing beach, though as a place to swim from it's perfectly adequate. The waters of Panormos are crystal clear, so clear that they give that optical-illusion effect that you sometimes notice, where the boats appear to be standing on top of the water rather than sitting in it. The shadows from the boats can be seen casting onto the ocean floor many meters below. We walked past the beach and along a track to some nice rocks and dipped our toes in from there while we picniced, enjoying the views back across the bay to the village.
After an hour or so at Panormos we moved on to Kolymbithres, reputedly the best swimming spot on the island - well Kolymbithres means "bath" or "pool" so what would you expect. The distance from Panormos to Kolymbithres is not very far but the road is tortuously twisting and the views that constantly open up in front of you serve as sufficient distraction to make you keep your speed down. I'm not sure how long it actually took, but it seemed like an age - but an enjoyable one!
Kolymbithres lived up to its hype. The water was, if anything, even clearer than at Panormos and it was literally as warm as a bath. The bay is quite dramatic, scooping right around from its narrow opening and having a beach at either side of its end-point. That on the left is wild and undeveloped with a small salt lake behind, a home to birds. The other has beach cafes and sunbeds, a taverna or two and a hotel. It's hardly Mykonos, but it's developed for this part of the Cyclades.
We spent a while enjoying the warm waters, soaking up the sun and sipping drinks on the rocks before heading back for the (more straightforward) drive back to Tinos Town.
Pyrgos is probably the most famous and prettiest village on Tinos. Its fame comes from marble and the craftsmen who work it. The village is full of lovely houses, streets and churches that show fine marble work and there are a few museums both to marble working and to individual artists. We never went into any of them, though, there's enough going on outdoors to satisfy us.
It's become the most used phrase of mine within these pages, but I'll use it once again: Pyrgos is a typically Cycladic village, being a maze of narrow, whitewashed streets filled with fine houses and churches with the occasional square thrown in here and there. One of the streets drops down to the (usually dry) river over which there's a small bridge to cross before you climb back up the other side. Things like that are only found by wandering around the place and getting lost.
Fine examples of marble work are everywhere, but in particular the fine public wash house that stands by the main square (beside Alexander's Taverna, home of the finest Galaktoboureko - see my restaurant tips elsewhere) and the Necropolis (cemetery), which you reach by climbing the marble steps behind the wash house and passing the huge marble-built church that stands there. The necropolis is wonderful and gives fine views out over the village and surrounding countryside too.
The Church Of Panagia Evangelistria is most people's main reason for coming to Tinos. Pilgrims come in their thousands to visit the place, especially on March 25 and August 15, the main pilgrimage dates. It might be wise to avoid these dates if you hate overcrowding, or conversely it might be fascinating to see the crowds. The reason they come is to see the miraculous icon within the church and to pray to it for its healing powers, or to give thanks for some prayers already answered.
The church stands at the top of the hill up which the town is built. The main street leading up to it, Megalahoris, has a red carpet laid down one side of the road, and cones to keep cars away from that edge of the street. The really devout pilgrims climb the hill to the church by crawling up that carpet on their hands and knees. We saw a couple of people doing it when we were there - they must be very devout.
The church, while quite modern, is built in a pretty, neo-classical style and is surrounded by courtyard buildings that contain side-chapels, museums and living quarters. No photography is allowed within the buildings.
The other street that runs up to the church, Evangelistria, is crammed with shops, many of them (particularly towards the top, near the church) selling devotional trinketry. Most of it is pretty, some of it is tasteful, but the majority is just downright tacky. Fascinating to see though. There's a good line in enormous candles too, some of them almost 2m tall! There's a special room at the church for the placing and lighting of such candles; within the main church - where the holy icon resides - only the usual small taper candles are permitted.
Tinos Town is a lovely place. More workaday than some of the island capitals are, because Tinos is not on the mainstream tourist map and because the town is comparatively new. That's not to say it's not pretty, it is, but it's not a typical Cycladic town. It has none of the maze of streets that other places have, or an interesting Kastro or anything else that stretches back to antiquity. What it does have though is a laid back, relaxed feel, with genuinely friendly people and enough to do to entertain you for a few days. It has a pretty harbour filled with fishing boats, yachts and other pleasure craft, a couple of squares lined with tavernas, a whole row of cafe/bars facing the harbour and some pretty good shops.
Oh, and did I forget to mention the church? The church of Panagia Evangelistria is one of the most holy places of pilgrimage in Greece and dominates the town from the top of the hill above the harbour. The next tip explains more.
We found Tinos to be the highlight of our holiday. No hustle and bustle, no crowds, no English tourists, friendly people, lovely towns, villages, beaches and landscape, fantastic food. Going from there to Mykonos was a huge shock, I wanted to get straight back on the ferry to Tinos!
Lefkes was a strange place. We got off the bus at the entrance to the village (the bus doesn't go through it, it skirts by), walked around a bit and thought "well OK, it's quite nice, but there's not much to it". And then it dawned on us, we hadn't actually made it to the "Traditional Centre" yet. The village is built in an amphitheatre of hills, following the contour around in a semi-circular arc and making it one of the most spectacularly sited villages in the Cyclades. When you get off the bus, walk into the village and keep walking until you've almost looped back on yourself. Now you're in the "Traditional Centre" - there's actually a nice wooden sign pointing the way from roughly the mid-point of the village.
The traditional centre is lovely, the usual Cycladic style of narrow whitewashed streets forming a maze of passageways, arches and dead ends, with the odd square thrown in here and there. There's also a couple of churches, one being the immense Parish Church with it's equally immense graveyard behind, extending out into the countryside beyond.
There's a Byzantine path that links the mountain villages - this being a part-paved way that stretches back into antiquity - and we had considered walking a stretch of it from Lefkes before picking up the bus again for Piso Livadi. We decided against it though, the day was just too hot and there is no shade up in those mountains. Something for another time perhaps.
Piso Livadi is a small fishing harbour turned resort on the East coast of Paros, facing across the channel to Naxos. Much smaller than Parikia and Naoussa it has a quiet charm of its own. A smattering of tavernas sit alongside the harbour and its town beach is quite pleasant with fine, clean sand. Boat trips leave the harbour on an (almost) daily basis for Naxos, just a few miles away. Naxos town faces almost directly across to Piso Livadi.
Walk South a little way, over a little headland, and you get great views back to the town and its harbour (main picture) and eventually you end up at another, even nicer, beach. This is a long stretch of sand that is backed by beach bars and has crystal clear waters. Walk even further, over another small headland and you get to yet another beach - even better than the last! Fine golden sand, backed by an immense array of sunbeds on decking behind the beach, beach bars, cafes and an enormous dancefloor with what looked like a gigawatt sound system. Could this be the Pounda Beach Club that was on the back of every bus ticket? I think it was.
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