Largest and most fertile of the Cyclades, and often described as the most beautiful, Naxos is green and mountainous with distinctive architecture and sandy beaches. It is a prosperous agricultural area, growing olives, potatoes, fruit and citrus – a large fruit used to make preserves and a sweet liqueur, which Naxos exported worldwide in the 19th century. Recently, tourism has become important.
Legendary Theseus abandoned Ariadne here, despite her aid in the Cretan Labyrinth. Dionysus was on hand to comfort her – the god of wine and ecstasy belongs to Naxos and many boys are still named after him. During the Classical era, its fine white marble was famously used for sculpture and architecture. In 1207 Marco Sanudi founded the Venetian Duchy of Naxos (towers and mansions all over the island date from this period). Later, Cretan refugees colonized the east.
Naxos Town is the bustling and enjoyable port capital. Up from the waterfront, steep alleys wind under archways to the Kastro, the Venetian capital. Many houses still bear the insignia of the original residents; during siesta, the atmosphere is hushed and timeless.
The town beach is pleasant but busy; further south, resorts are smaller and the sands emptier. Inland Naxos is scenic and fascinating. The Tragea, the central high plain around Mount Zeus, is a lovely region of olive groves, little churches and traditional villages. Apiranthos, a hilly collection of fine stone houses, is an excellent base for walkers. It has several small museums. The villagers are descendants of the Cretans.
When to visit
September to January
How to reach
Domestic flight; flights to Mykonos and connecting ferry. Ferry from Piraeus, Crete or Thessaloniki. Inter-island ferries.
The Portera – a huge stone doorframe to a never-completed temple to Apollo on an islet just by the harbour.
The Temple to Demeter, south of Sangri – fascinating ruins on a hilltop location.
Flerio – the marble quarry here is home to two large and very finely detailed 6th century BC Kaourai left lying unfinished because of faults in the stone.
The Domus Della-Rocca-Barozzi in Naxos Town – home of the old Venetian nobility.
You Should Know
After Ariadne died, Dionysus threw her wedding crown of seven stars into the night sky where it became the Corona Borealis.