There’s something to be said for second-city travel, or, in the case of Greece, second-island travel. Away from the beaten-ferry-path there are hundreds more Greek islands to visit. Naxos is one of them.
Exploring destinations that fly just underneath the mainstream tourism radar is a rewarding way to get to know a country. It also helps address over-tourism, protecting the places most at risk.
WHAT TO PACK
Naxos may be less well known than its glitzy neighbours, Mykonos and Santorini, but it’s the largest of the Cycladic islands and is steeped in mythology, with sunsets, swimming, and a homegrown dining scene to rival any nearby island. It’s also one of the new destinations on Original Travel’s new Secret Series to lesser-visited locations.
European destinations such as Asturias and Galicia in Spain, Campania in Italy, and Milos in Greece make the list, while worldwide destinations include Brazil’s Gold Route, Madaba and Dana in Jordan, and lesser-known Japan, but, if Naxos appeals, here’s how to explore the earthy, unsung Greek paradise.
This luxuriously low-key, flower-filled boutique apartment hotel is hidden away in peaceful Stelida, a beach neighbourhood south of Naxos town. Life here plays out around a curved infinity pool bar, the setting for long, lazy breakfasts, lunches and elegant dinners, with a view of the endless azure Aegean and neighbouring island, bohemian Paros. Towering palms dot the elegant grounds – which are scattered with whitewashed rooms hiding up stone steps, and off paths lined with beds of fragrant herbs, rosemary, mint, and Ficus trees. They all have lovely terraces with loungers and chairs under bougainvillaea-draped pergolas. Nab one on the top terrace if you can. Sunrise and sunset are both dreamy sights from up here.
EAT + DRINK
Naxos is a fertile island so many ingredients are grown here and the standard of food is high. One of the best places to appreciate Naxos’ food in all its glory is Axiotissa. This elevated taverna with rustic decor is worth a trip. Axiotissa sits just off a main road with a distant view of the tiny Kastraki beach on the island’s southwest coast. Enjoy heaped Naxian salads, made using soft local cheese, topped with juicy capers and adorned with pretty sprigs of sea fennel, or simple plates of slow-cooked beef resting on chunks of the renowned Naxian potatoes. Settle in for lunch on the spacious shaded wraparound terrace by day, or come for a romantic dinner under the stars on the string-lit outdoor terrace amid fields, which opens in the evening.
Come to browse the luxury natural products, stay for a healthy Greek lunch. This minimalist portside shop-café-bar is found at the beginning of the Temple of Apollo promenade, overlooking the impressive marble landmark. Inside, the air is laced with natural scents thanks to sleek shelves filled with beautifully-packaged candles and products named after Naxian sights. Outside, take a seat on the earth-toned terrace looking across to the magnificent temple; a dream spot for people-watching. Best done over an ice-cold Olympus Mountain tea made with watermelon, Naxian honey and lemon, and a melt-in-the-mouth flaky filo pastry pie filled with soft local cheese.
Come sunset, dining at this pretty poolside restaurant at the five-star Kavos Naxos hotel is a romantic affair. Arrive early for a happy hour cocktail on the swing seat as the sun drops behind neighbouring Paros. Settle in for baked Naxian cheese, followed by the sublime linguine with Naxos beef or the grilled fresh fish with a lemon and olive oil dressing. Naxos is renowned for its potatoes – said to be the best in Greece – so whatever you do, make sure you order a bowl of fried potatoes with thyme. An absolute must-try, served beautifully crisp and piping hot. Pair them with a chilled glass of local rosé. The restaurant is open to non-guests, too.
Saint Anna Winery
Of the handful of small-batch wineries dotting the Naxos landscape, family-run Saint Anna is the only one open for tours. Opened in 2016, it’s named after Agia Anna, the stunning small white church on the estate. It’s also bouji to boot. Settle in on one of the cool stone benches under a bamboo-covered terrace overlooking a valley of terraced hillsides planted with vines and olive trees, and enjoy a tasting of its reds, whites and rosés – owner Petrakis Emmanuel makes two pressings of all colours.
This year-round cafe-bar above – and belonging to – the sleek downstairs Antamoma DeliCuisine restaurant is a peaceful luxe spot on the fringes of the old town centre. Sunset views are epic from its balcony, reached through a stylish dining room with a mid-century modern vibe. Alongside classic cocktails – the negronis are great – are Greek-inspired concoctions, named after the gods. The earthy-sweet Pyrgos (whiskey, berries, lime, grapefruit and soda) comes in a satisfying-to-nurse heavy crystal glass and pairs well with a plate of Naxian cheeses, available to order from Antamoma downstairs.
The rooftop of a former convent is the setting for a stylish cafe-bar open until midnight – with epic sunset views. After a snoop at the nun’s old kitchen and cabinets of memorabilia, arrive in time for sunset to witness the white buildings of Naxos town turn dusky pink. It’s the place to sample the leek pie the island is known for, made with buttery-rich shortcrust pastry and filled with local cheese. It’s also open for breakfast, brunch and coffee.
Head for the villages
Half the fun of a trip to Naxos is renting a hire car to potter around country lanes and age-old mountain villages. Pretty much every village has its own special characteristics, particularly food dishes or artisanal products. In pretty Halki, once the administrative centre, you’ll find a stylish and cultural centre of artisans with galleries and workshops. There’s also the well-known Vallindras Distillery, for a sip of the local citrus liqueur drink, Kitron.
Being central to the Cyclades island group, Naxos also makes a wonderful base from which to do some island-hopping. Consider Paros, with nightlife to rival that of Mykonos, which makes an easy day trip. If you choose to stay, the sublime new five-star Minois is a must. With its mid-century modern poolside vibes, it’s the epitome of Aegean cool, where staff in crisp cream uniforms buzz about ensuring impeccable service. All rooms face the sea and there’s the lovely, secluded Parasporos beach five minutes’ walk away, home to the Zazala Beach Bar and Restaurant with beanbags for lounging and sipping margaritas at sunset. It’s also worth a day trip to the ‘small Cyclades’, the four islands closest to Naxos that remain truly unspoilt: Iraklia, Schoinousa, Koufonisia and Donoussa, easily visited in a day on a scheduled trip. This unknown mini archipelago of islands, each inhabited by only between 100 and 300 residents, has unspoilt nature, quiet beaches, and classic sleepy Greek villages.
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