NAXOS Greece sits at the heart of the central Cyclades group of Greek islands and is one of the group's most mountainous.
Naxos is a big island, but most tourist accommodation is confined to the beach resorts along the south-west coast.
Naxos holiday brochures promise the best beaches in the Mediterranean, and beaches Naxos certainly has; the south-west coast is one long blonde swathe of sand. Unfortunately, much of the sand is coarse and gritty and many of the beaches are backed by flat and desolate salt marshes.
The long, empty stretches of beach add to the attraction for those who don't like company, but it may feel a little lonely for those that prefer their beaches a little more lively.
The main port at NaxosTown has an impressive harbour with the noted Portaras gate on the islat of Palatia offshore and the old walled kastro towering above.
Inland, Naxos has some impressive mountain scenery, particularly around Mt Zas - the highest peak in the Cyclades. Abundant springs and rich soil create dense green valleys of citrus and olive.
Naxos island's rich agricultural heritage has meant that the islanders have had little need to make big concessions to tourism. As a result, Naxos maintains a strong Greek identity, particularly noticeable in the many inland hill villages have a traditional Greek character not spoilt by the demands of the package holiday industry.
Holidaymakers looking for a good beach holiday without the crowds and with some inland interest and easy island hopping will certainly add Naxos to their Greek island wish list.
Naxos, Greece, is noted for the string of majestic sandy beaches that stretch right down the south-west coast from the capital Naxos Town to the very southern tip of the island. For some, the beaches are just too big for comfort and the sand too sharp underfoot to be considered the best. There are exceptions, such as the popular Agios Giorgios family beach and the picturesque Agia Anna beach of fine, soft sand further south, but for the most part the huge swathes of sand sweep off into the far distance with by low dunes, scrub or desolate salt marsh behind. Northern beaches are more cosy but fewer and often without many tourist facilities.
NAXOS TOWN or HORA, the capital town of Naxos claims to be the gateway to the Cyclades and has the doorway to prove it. The gigantic and somewhat creepy marble frame Portara stands 21 ft high on the tiny Palatia island linked to the town by a short causeway.
The frame is all that remains of what was to be a colossal 6th century BC temple to either Dionysus or Apollo, depending on which guide you read. It was never finished anyway and what's left is a majestic old tooth sticking out of the sea. It's worth a visit, both for the creepy feeling of standing in a giant doorway to nowhere and for good views to Naxos Town.
To the north of the causeway is the Naxos Town Grotta area - once the site of a town now sunk beneath the waves. There is a beach area here. To the south is Naxos Town proper - a happy mix of the brash (vulgar tavernas, bars, car rentals and tourist tat), the twee (an intricate web of whitewashed back streets stuffed with craft and curio shops) and the historic (claustrophobic alleyways that wind up to the Venetian kastro on top of the hill and no less than 45 churches).
Further south of Naxos Town is a suburban sprawl of hotels and studios that back onto the long town beach of Agios Giorgios. The waterfront is a promenaders' paradise with an extensive and attractive sea wall pocked with small, semicircular benches, dozens of street tavernas, shops behind and a prosaic, but interesting, harbour at the end of it.
What strikes the Naxos Town visitor is the cheerful liveliness of the place. A fun fair can be in town or a street festival under way - Naxos is rarely dull. Tiny alleys lead up the hill through cobbled whitewashed alleys to the 13th century kastro. Expect to get lost in this marble-paved warren, with its arched porticoes, crumbling mansions, gorgeous flowerpot gardens and attractive street tavernas.
The kastro in Naxos Town has a Catholic Cathedral and a good museum. Exhibits include some early Cycladic goddesses with prominent breasts and bellies and the museum has stunning views from the balcony. There are daily tours of the Kastro (except Monday) taking in the Venetian Museum, the Archaeological Museum, the Catholic Cathedral and the Byzantium Museum in the Glezos Tower.
Naxos Town may have its crappy tourist glitz but it all seems contained somehow and essentially Greek, despite having grown fourfold in the last ten years on the back of a visitor bonanza. Tourists are more tolerated than touted and I'm not surprised to learn that more visitors stay longer in Naxos Town than in any other tourist resort in Greece. There is a campsite on the road south to Agios Prokopios.
Virtually the whole of the Naxos south-west coast is one line of beaches many linking into each other with only the names of nearest villages to separate them. Some are huge swathes of sand backed by dunes and bamboo, others narrow slivers that shelve steeply into the sea. Generally the further south you go the bigger and wilder the beaches get.
Here we are in brolly and beach bar territory, just outside the capital of Hora. Plenty of tourist beach facilities can be found at AGIOS GIORGIOS, also known as ST GEORGE BEACH, with the solid ranks of sun beds, surfboards and jet skis for hire. But the beach turns out to be less commercialised than first appearances might suggest.
There may be hotels and studios by the score and a broken line of bars and cafes backing onto the beach, but the atmosphere at Agios Giorgios is still family friendly. Enter a taverna and the food is mainly Greek, the atmosphere welcoming and some tavernas even play classical music. The sand on Agios Giorgios beach is soft, deep and generally clean and it gently shelves into the shallow sea, making this a fine family beach. A boarded walkway runs down the back of the long, tree-shaded crescent of sand fronting several good beach tavernas and bars.
Agios Giorgios is helped by being so close to Naxos Town. The holiday apartments behind the beach are not too intrusive but they do demand an early arrival if you are to grab the best beach spots. Ferries honking in and out of the port offer passing interest, as well as sending mighty bow waves crashing on the shore now and then.
The closer you get to Naxos Town the more hectic the pace. Further south the sand turns a little more gritty and there is the odd patch of shingle, but there is the compensation of more peace and quiet as the Agios Giorgios sunbeds eventually run out. Unfortunately, if you wander too far south you find a litter strewn pond and the odd derelict concrete shed.
Beyond the headland is a small inlet and bay at MANDARI that houses a windsurfing school and after that a small dyke, built at some considerable cost to the local wildlife, to prevent the salt flats and the local airport from periodic flooding.
Brochures post up AGIOS PROKOPIOS as one of the best beaches on the island and certainly the southern end of this long, deep beach is not without some merit.
Tamarisks provide shade at the edge of Agios Prokopios beach and more tourist facilities beckon in the resort village behind. There are sunbeds on the most popular areas, tavernas behind and plenty of small hotels and apartments nearby.
Agios Prokopios village is a bit ramshackle, just a motley collection of cheap hotels, studios, cafes and tavernas. But the place still has a certain charm despite its obvious tourist overtones and Agios Prokopios is a good place to stay, particularly as there is an even better altrnative beach to be found at Agia Anna, just a short walk along the shore.
The northern end of Agios prokopios beach, however, is a desolate, flat salt marsh with a long and boring stretch gritty ball bearing sand - the stuff that scours the skin and leaves a pebble-dashed bum.
This end of the beach has an almost Saharan desolation with salt lakes behind, a single taverna and some overpriced sunbeds. Great slabs of rock lie along much of the shoreline here - not too much of a handicap as the rock is at least flat and smooth underfoot, but a nuisance nonetheless.
The resort of STELIDA, behind and above the beach at Prokopios, has become a popular target of holiday companies recently with a number of up-market hotels and holiday apartment.s
The dainty little harbour at AGIA ANNA is the main destination of most of the caiques out of Hora and who can blame them? To the north of the small jetty, modest family tavernas lie tucked behind a fine if narrow beach of soft, golden sand with a few scattered rocks further on where the beach gives way to the coarser grains of Agia Prokopios.
Agia Anna is in a really lovely setting, its beauty is strangely unsung by most holiday brochures. To the south of the jetty is the small harbour surrounded by a rocky outcrop. Among the rocks is the formation known as Shark Rock, sculpted by winds to resemble a shark.
Snaking south from Shark Rock is a wide and dusty dirt track road which leads on to the Plaka area with its vast kilometres of white coarse sand. The biggest problem with Agia Anna is that it is relatively short at around 300m and numbers can quickly build as the caiques and buses roll in.
But Agia Anna beach is well placed for those who to explore the island's more remote beaches whilst staying in touch with the more lively Naxos Town which is only a short bus or taxi ride away - about 7km. The once tiny village is growing fast and there are increasing numbers of studios, small hotels, tavernas and supermarkets. And they grow the most delicious spuds on the flat, fertile plains nearby.
Around the headland south from Agia Anna, and past the tiny church, the coast opens up into a huge vista of flat, sparkling white sand that shoots away into a distant haze. This is the starts of the huge beach known as Plaka but which is so big the various sections have developed their own names. The most northerly beach of Plaka is known as MARAGAS
Maragas was once several kilometres of empty beach with a single ramshackle taverna. Now, behind Maragas beach is a wide dirt track, substantial enough to take cars and even buses, and lined with several shaded tavernas, bars, apartments, shops. There is also a campsite nrearby, partly hidden by the kots of trees and bamboo.
A few straggly trees line edge the track and in their shade a few wooden tables and chairs give the scene a big dollop of romance. The track eventually peters out in the dunes to where Plaka proper begins and where the naturists like to hang out.
PLAKA beach is almost impossibly huge, with deep golden banks of sharp sand for several kilometres backed by low dunes and rolling farmland and the uninhabited islet of Aspronisi offshore.
After leaving the northern end of Maragas, the beach gets more exposed and desolate though small cantinas appear here and there and sunbeds come out along the most popular stretches of Plaka beach . Otherwise it is just sand, sand and sand, very exposed with little shade and some low dunes behind.
You can reach the more southerly part of Plaka beach by heading along the main road to Alyki, turning off just before Tripodes (according to the map) or Vovlios (according to the road signs) and keeping left down the valley past a high watchtower.
Curtains of bamboo and dead-end farm tracks conspire to foil all but the most intrepid. It is they who can enjoy the sparsely populated and bare delights of the sandy Plaka dunes beyond where naturists tend to congregate.
Further south from Plaka and about 18km from Naxos Town is a chain of small, pebble coves surrounded by cedar trees - unusual for Greek island beaches. This area is known as ORKOS beach where nudist bathers enjoyed some privacy before the Orkos Village apartments were built nearby and the textiles moved in.
It is still a nice spot though with the pebble coves extending for about 1.5km and a stone mound behind Orkos beach that offers views of the coast north and south and red coloured fields behind that are usually planted out with potatoes.
To reach Orkos you take the road to Mikri Viglia and turn right at the seashore along a dirt track. Orkos is one of the best known of the Naxos surfing beaches and visitors can find watersports both here and at neighbouring Mikri Vigla which is much busier.
The resort of MIKRI VIGLA, is about 18km from Naxos Town and which generally marks the end of the windsurfing region. Scores of holiday studios sprinkled higgeldy piggeldy around the headland hill give the place the air of a deserted suburb.
There are beaches both to the north and south of the large headland. PARTHENOS beach to the north, PATHENA, is sandier of the two, but windier as well; a popular haunt for windsurfers and campers. The sand is a white coarse grit and the beach has a large hotel complex overlooking the small bay.
The SAHARA beach is to the south - and the name could not be more appropriate. Four kilometres of coarse white grit disappears into the desolate distance. It looks arrestingly beautiful but you are better off admiring it from afar. Apart from some scruffy beachside scrub, the only shelter to be found is in the single basic beach cantina.
Large rocks at the northern headland provide some interest but this is boredom beach. Slabs of rock line the shore just below the surface of the water, a nuisance for swimmers.
Poorly signposted from the main road, many think KASTRAKI the best stretch of beach on the island. It is, in fact a succession of small coves running for about 3km and about 17km from Naxos Town.
There is a shoreline track but it is often interrupted by farmland and lines of bamboo which can run right down to the beach. Kastraki means 'little castle' in Greek and there is a small Venetian fortress Pyrgos Oskelos about 2km east of the village.
The coast is punctuated by a scattering of tavernas and holiday studios and, at one spot, a hotel complex with the hugely imaginative name of Summerland. There is precious little else at Kastraki except dunes, scrub pine and prickly pear, though impressive rock formations between the various coves add interest and in places there are trees to provide some natural shade.
There are sunbeds on the most popular parts of Kastraki beach but most of the coast here is empty, despite its uncompromising beauty and probably as a result of the relative inaccessibility and the distance from Naxos Town.
There are a few seafront tavernas, a summer beach cantina and a minimarket about 100 metres back from the shoreline. Apartments are dotted along the coast and this is a delightful spot of you are looking for peace and quiet. The southern end of the beach is known as GLYFADA where there are a couple of small lakes behind the beach and some good seafront tavernas.
One of the most beautiful spots on Naxos is the headland at ALYKO, sadly marred by a derelict unfinished cement hotel that at least is out of sight from the beach.
Those will to venture here, about 20km from Naxos Town, will find narrow beaches of golden sand tucked between wild rocky outcrops with near vertical cliffs behind that are covered with deep green scrub pine and cedar trees.
The scene from the clifftop is simply breathtaking, so good you could eat it. But this most exquisite scenery is blessed with the ugly forgotten shell of a monstrous hotel complex, monotonously grey and grim and spattered with grubby graffiti.
The north side of the headland has a string of sandy coves and a small port, while on the south side is a splendid cedar forest and a long beach of white gritty sand. There are a few tavernas nearby and rooms to be had with a small mini-market that opens in the summer months.
A wide track leads down from Alyki to the coastal resort of PYRGAKI, about 21km from Naxos Town and the last stop on the coastal bus route, though buses do not run here at weekends.
There is a shortish, sand and shingle beach (about 300m) that marks the end of the coastal swathe of beach for which Naxos is most famous. Access to Pyrgaki beach is down a short dirt track. It is very deep and exposed with no shade unless you retreat back to where the cedars, for which the area is known, meet the edge of the beach or to the nearby beach bar.
A large and intrusive hotel complex has been built as if to deliberately spoil the views but it does least it offer some useful facilities, though there is a cafe and a taverna here also. There is water skiing and wind surfing, evidence that the bay at Pyrgaki is rather exposed to the prevailing winds.
The road south out of Pyrgaki follows the coastline to the remote sandy beach of AGIASSOS. The road soon turns into a dirt track although it is not a particularly difficult drive.
A few scattered houses make up the resort which is about 22km from Naxos Town. The beach is quite large, is a mixture of sand and shingle and a gentle slope into the sea makes it popular with local families, though not many families will want to make the long trek to get here.
There is a good taverna with great views above the beach and a few rooms to rent, though not many. Never many people on the beach either, making it an ideal getaway for those who like to avoid the crowds.
There are no sunbeds and little shade except at the northern end of the beach where a large clump of trees are set back from the shoreline.
Draw a line from Prygaki, in the south-west, to Moutsouna, in the north-east, and it will mark the boundary for all decent roads on Naxos. With a few exceptions this is donkey track territory and, with beaches less attractive, hardly worth the effort of getting around. All are worth a mention though, starting from Agiassos and heading up the east coast to Moutsouna.
The south-facing beach of sand and shingle at KALANDOS sits at the head of a small sheltered inlet in the far south of the island.
Kalandos beach sits in a small cove, well protected from the northerly winds. It is a remote beach for those who enjoy escaping the crowds but has no facilities, although a small ramshackle cantina has been known to open in the summer months. Take plenty of provisions if you do go as the nearest store is 24km away in Filoti.
Kalandos is best reached by heading south out of Filoti and it's about 42km from Naxos Town. The road is not particularly good however. There is a decent road to the turn-off for Chimaros Tower then a dirt road after that. The final stretch is pretty rough and you need a 4X4 to do it safely.
Kalandos also features on some excursion boat tours from Naxos Town so you may opt for that, although the sea journey is a long one.
PANORMOS is an attractive south-facing sand and shingle beach on the southeast coast, about 45km from Naxos Town. It is so remote it is mostly deserted and, despite it's beauty, is one of the quietest beaches on Naxos.
You can reach Panormos from Kalandos along a coastal footpath but it is hard going. There is also a road that branches left after the Chimaros Tower turnoff, but this is only for 4x4 vehicles. The easiest way is the longest - heading south along the asphalt coast road out of the north-east port resort of Moutsouna.
There are no sunbeds or other facilities at Panormos so you need to take some provisions, though there is parking for the car and some natural shade on the eastern end of the beach from a line of tamarisk trees.
The Greek name is a term for fine sand and at PSILI AMMOS that is exactly what you get. The east-facing beach is one long scimitar of rolling sand that banks up in great drifts to the scrub and cedar trees behind.
At 42km from Naxos Town it is too far away to ever get crowded and only those looking for quiet beauty will venture to find it. Psili Ammos is best approached on the south road out of the small port at Moutsouna along the good asphalt coast road.
There are a few houses scattered here and there but otherwise the area is pristine, with undisturbed fine sand and shallow, clear water. There are no facilities at Psili Ammos so take your own provisions.
A couple of kilometres to the south is an even more remote beach at KLEIDOS, also referred to as KLINDOS, a beach area of three inlets split by rocky outcrops and one of the prettiest places on Naxos.
There are no facilities here and very few people. Rock overhangs provide shade on two of the stone and shingle beaches and on the hills behind walled terraces reach almost to the sea.
MOUTSOUNA was once the main port for shipping out the emery that was mined in and around the villages of Apiranthos and Koronos - remember emery paper? It was carried down by mule until an aerial runway was built, the remains of which can still be seen.
Emery was replaced by carborundum and the industry died, but parts of the runway remain as a monument to the island's industrial heritage as do the rail tracks that still line the harbour.
Moutsouna is the gateway to the remote east coast beaches of Naxos, a pretty port and one of the few genuine fishing harbours left on Naxos. It is reached by a good, but narrow, twisting and occasionally hair-raising road from Apiranthos and is about 45km from Naxos Town.
It is growing as more visitors use it as a touring centre but has only a few rooms to rent. Pleasant fish tavernas overlook the small east-facing sand beach and the port where the old derricks that were used to swing emery into the waiting boats still stand.
A little to the north, over the headland, is AXALA beach, known for its fine and varied pebbles. To the south are many pretty coves that extend all the way to Psili Ammos.
The east road out of the hill village of Koronos leads down to the rugged but scenic seaside village of LIONAS. Another of the old emery ports it now offers peace and tranquillity for tourist visitors. At about 40km from Naxos Town it doesn't get too many of those and there are only a few rooms available to rent.
Lionas beach is stone and shingle with no sunbeds or other facilities, apart from some very pleasant seafront fish tavernas. The asphalt road goes right down to Lionas beach but drivers should take great care on the narrow, twisting bends. Lionas is an ideal beach for those looking to escape the crowds but otherwise it has little to recommend it.
A colossal stone statue, or kouros, abandoned on the hillside around the 6th century BC has turned the relatively remote northeast seaside village of APOLLONAS into a tourist Mecca.
This was once, like nearby Moutsouna and Lionas, an emery exporting port until the trade died. Now tourism is the main money spinner with regular tour buses from Naxos Town, about 54km away and plenty of local hotels and apartments as well as tavernas and cafes.
Apollonas beach is very public, overlooked as it is by dozens of taverna tables (there is even a taverna called Baywatch) but it has nice soft sand with shingle here and there. To the west is a walk around the rocky headland to another beach, wilder and a little more private.
The kouros is just outside the village on a well marked route. The statue is more than 10 metres from top to toe and some cement steps have been built around it to provide visitors with easy access. There are plenty of those with tour buses from Naxos Town arriving in droves throughout the summer.
Tavernas and cafes have sprouted up on the wall around the small sand beach to satisfy the hunger and thirst of the visiting tourists. Until the development of Agia Anna and Prokopios this was the main alternative resort to Agios Giorgios.
Also worth seeing are the old marble quarries at EMPOLI. Many works of art have been created from the fine marble mined from here.
The north-west coast of Naxos is noted for its wonderful countryside, particularly around the Engares regions just north of Hora but the coastline is pretty much inaccessible cliffs along most of its length. There are only a couple of beaches of note, though these are exceptionally beautiful.
Beaches to the north-west of Naxos get the full force of the meltemi and as a result can be rather windswept. ABRAM, also called ABRAMI or even AMPRAMI is a lovely shingle beach overlooked by a huge head that has been carved into the rock - the work of the sculptor Rokkos. It is also overlooked by a small, but ugly, hotel, found further back.
There is a pleasant summer taverna overlooking Abram beach with great views of the bay and there are a few rooms to rent in the area. Rarely crowded this is an ideal spot for a quiet holiday. The beach is shingle with some sand but no sunbeds. It can get windy here as Abram is exposed to the north wind. There are views across to the islands of Paros and Mykonos.
It is found in the far north-west about 20km from Naxos Town with a good asphalt road all the way, then a dirt track off it for about 300m to the beach. Nearby, and worth a look, is Agios Mirnas monastery, and there is a small shingle strip at PACHIA AMMOS to the south.
The lovely beach at AMYTI, AMYTIS or AMITI is found below two reservoirs that supply water to Naxos Town. This is an idyllic spot with fine, soft sand and offers the best bathing on this part of the coast, though the meltemi can bring the waves crashing in and with it the usual rubbish and detritus.
Amyti is close enough to Naxos Town to be a popular target for day trippers with a good asphalt road most of the way through the beautiful Engares region and a good dirt track of about 3km. A beach cantina sometimes opens in the summer but otherwise there are no facilities. Nearby is the fortified monastery of Ypsilos.