Visiting Naxos, one of the most central islands of the Cyclades, can always serve as a stopover. But lately it’s becoming a destination again. The once labeled as family island is now getting back on the radar with surfers flocking in the long sandy stretches and foodies discovering the latest local delicacies of this fertile land.
As I go back to Naxos, I notice the numerous landmarks I had missed on my previous visits as I was rushing to Apiranthos, the most gorgeous yet very well known by now mountainous settlement of the island. Gorgeous waters, cute little tavernas and a wide range of mountainous terrain that is waiting to be discovered!
Chora and beyond
Just before hitting the beach, we escape the hot streets of Chora and visit nearby Melimelon for a hearty breakfast at this patio that was once serving as a hotel and a marmalade family business. We feast over their sophisticated dishes that Mrs Evangelia prepares -you should definitely try their signature omelette dish topped with red pepper jam- and sip the last few drops of coffee before we venture out for the sea and sun!
August can be tricky around the Cyclades as the winds blow in all sorts of directions and speeds. Luckily, Naxos -despite its almost straight-perfect sandy stretches on the West- remains somewhat protected and offers beautiful turquoise waters all the way from Agios Prokopios to Mikri Vigla and beyond. The farther away from Chora, the less touristy and rewarding the experience becomes!
Catching the perfect wave outside Agios Prokopios beach can be tricky and as we drive south we leave behind the touristy and packed plastic sunbeds of Agia Anna and (most of) Plaka beach. We drive by two similar beachfront tavernas, Taverna Paradiso and later on The Three Brothers: traditional wooden chairs painted in white and blue, lightbulbs hanging on top of the small tables and a cluster of tamarisk trees making them the perfect Instagram frame. Finally, a few steps further down, we settle for the more upscale Tortuga Beach bar and enjoy the crystal clear waters in the comfort of the wooden beach-beds!
Aerial view of Tortuga Beach Bar
Chalkion, Filoti and Apiranthos
As we leave the city buzz behind, we start ascending towards the mountainous terrain and make our first stop in Chalkion, the first ever commercial center of the island that now boasts beautiful alleys and carefully restored neoclassical buildings. The road takes turns and each one reveals marvelous details of the Cycladic land as we reach the abandoned settlement of Sifones.
The Kitro destillery from the Mandilaras family in Chalkion is paramount to the local community here, a dive back in time as we enter their manicured shop, as is the traditional kafeneio of Galanis where locals hang with the infamous galaktoboureko dessert! A few bites, meze style, are more than enough for a late afternoon treat before heading to Filoti and the Rotonda café that hangs off the cliff just before reaching Apirtanthos.
Apiranthos has long been known for the Cretans that once migrated in the late 1940s and the beautiful settlement they built, now mostly popular for the infamous burger at taverna Lefteris. We enter the nicely decorated main floor and descend to the lush garden underneath the walnut tree before we feast over the best cheese pie ever!
Juicy steak at Lefteris in Apiranthos
Moutsouna, Kinidaros and Eggares
On a different day we head east to explore the bays near Moutsouna and we’re astounded by the great views towards the Lesser Cyclades, mostly Koufonisia as slowly descend to sea level. Psili Ammos, the best beach around that area, is a long sandy stretch with multiple dunes where we hide under the shade of the tamarisk trees and enjoy the nice breeze.
Moutsouna is this small old port with a couple of traditional seafood tavernas, the only ones that stand a chance in satisfying a demanding stomach, which we skip though in favour of meat. On the way back to Chora, we take the advice of a friend who’s been visiting the island religiously for the past few years and stop at he famous meat taverna Stou Vasilarakiou (actually this first opened as a butcher shop) in Kinidaros for a carnivores late lunch! On the way back we pass through Eggares and make a brief stop to visit the Olive Oil museum and also the monastery of Pyrgos Ypsilis in Galini.
The sun is almost ready to set and the slow-paced drive back to Chora is a nice treat as we gaze the various landscapes and patterns the clouds form. People have already started gathering in Portara to enjoy the sunset views but we opt for one last stop to Kastro, a small apperitivo and some last minute shopping of local treats from Tziblakis pantry shop. We’ll be certainly coming back but until then we want to retain some of that local essence and flavour with us!
Gorgeous setting right by the beach at Taverna Paradiso
- Portara / Apollo Temple – Naxos’ signature doorlike monument boasting in front of the main port; nice walk just before sunset although tends to get really busy
- Kastro – the fortress of Naxos, or else the old walled city, formed in a pentagonal shape and having three main gates, offers a nice labyrinth-like walk just before sunset
- Apiranthos – one of the most popular settlements of the island, situated 28 km north-east of the capital of the island, built on the foothill of mountain Fanari on an altitude of 600m. Amazing buildings of a village that was once created by migrants from Crete, Nice to visit in the afternoon when it’s less busy
- Chalki – beautiful little settlement on the way to Apiranthos; magical alleys and some cool traditional shops and tavernas. Also features the distillery of Kitron, a local liquor
- Filoti – nice settlement, mostly around the main street, as you go up towards Apiranthos. A lot of tavernas and a famous café, Rotonda, with great views to Chora
- Cyano Suites – well-equipped modern appartments, just outside of Chora boasting magnificent views to the sea and Portara. On the negative side, breakfast is only offered at their main hotel 3mins down the road (and similarly way more down in terms of quality)
- Ploes Seaside Houses – your basic Cycladic architecture rooms, in walking distance to Plaka beach and Tortuga Beach Bar
- Naxian on the beach – very nice boutique style hotel, run by a small group of excellent staff, which opened in 2016 and is located in Plaka beach. Also featuring Tortuga Beach Bar & Restaurant which is definitely a plus!
- Mikri Vigla – naturally a kite-surfing bay that doesn’t have sunbeds; the other Mikri Vigla bay on the other side is organised and offers much better experience
- Agios Prokopios – mostly for surfers, near the airport and next to a few salt lakes
- Agia Anna – long sandy dunes that are cramped with sunbeds and tend to be ultra touristy; only worth if you’re visiting off-season and catch one of the sand dunes underneath the trees
- Plaka – best spot at or after Tortuga beach bar as you go south
- Psili Ammos – long sandy stretch in the eastern part of the island (ie. a good 50min drive from Chora). Nice to combine with a fish lunch in Moutsouna
- Hawaii – nice beach in the south with some sandy dunes but nothing spectacular; best to visit Mikrolimano beach 5 mins away on foot
- Taverna Lefteris – best food of Naxos, in this traditional little garden in Apeiranthos. Famous for their grilledburger, stuffed with tomatoes and local Naxos cheese; their cheese-pie is to die for! Read our full review here
- To Spitiko Galaktompoureko – small traditional taverna in Chalkion. Perfect stop for a small treat where locals also tend to hang in the early evenings. Read our full review here
- Stou Vasilarakiou – butcher shop turned to a traditional meat taverna in Kinidaros. Got to visit this place and indulge in a juicy steak! Read our full review here
- Matina & Stavros tavern – one of the best traditional tavernas on the island, located in Koronos. Sourcing vegetables from the garden and their own homegrown meat, don’t even bother asking for a menu! Read our full review here
- Taverna Paradiso – comfort food with a magical set-up fright in front of the beach and under the shade of the most photographed tree
- Barozzi – tasty and sophisticated menu in this upscale restaurant in Chora that opened in 2017
- The Net – the best fish on the island in the bay of Moutsouna beach; can combine with Psili Ammos
- Melimilon – the best spot for breakfast! They used to sell only homemade marmalade jars before they launched this very sophisticated breakfast place. Read our full review here
- Stella Tavern Café – typical taverna in Eggares
- Tortuga Beach Bar – very elegantly designed, probably the best beach bar on the island. The restaurant has a very nice ambience although the food is not amazing. Definitely nice for a stop-by
- Platia – excellent local food in Galini/ Mostly home-cooked food, you have to try the omelette, local cheese xinomizithra and vegetable soufflé
Sunset view of the Temple of Apollo
- Swing Bar – quite commercial and upbeat bar, serving though the best cocktails! If you go early enough and sit on the open-air veranda you can also avoid the big crowds
- Notos – more low-key and atmospheric bar featuring 2-3 different patios/verandas. Very good for opening the night!
- Rotonda Cafe Bar – just outside of Apiranthos, with breathtaking views overlooking Chora
- Waffle House – tasty waffles and ice cream in what later on ventured out to the famous Athenian dessert place. Make sure you visit early (or late) enough in the night to get a table!