Naxos is magical, Diva #1’s family is from there, and returning to Naxos is always an adventure! Though we said that we wouldn’t review restaurants in Greece, we have so many friends going to Naxos and asking us for recommendations, that we decided to write a guide on the island. Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades, a quick ferry ride away from Santorini and Mykonos, which are also part of the Cyclades’ islands. You can also get to Naxos by plane or ferry from Athens. Unlike Santorini and Mykonos, Naxos is less touristic and a vacation spot for Greek mainlanders, more so than American and Canadian tourists. That being said, Naxos has seen a spike in tourism in recent years!
Chora, Naxos, Greece
You arrive on the island of Naxos via Chora, the capital and busiest part of the island. You are first accosted with a large doorway at the end of a cliff above the main town. Known was Portara (meaning large door), this is the ancient temple of Apollo built in 522 BC and never finished. It sits on a small island by the harbour that is connected by a path to the main town of Chora. Portara sits facing Chora, and a sea of quintessential Greek whitewashed buildings. Chora is anything but typical, a Kastro (castle) was built by a Venetian Emperor in 1207 and within its walls holds a maze of Venetian residences and a 13th century Catholic cathedral. If this is the history of the island, there is also its mythology.
Greek mythology states that before the Trojan War, Theseus left Princess Ariadne on Naxos after she helped him defeat the Minotaur and escape the labyrinth in Crete. Unable to bear the separation from Theseus, legend has it that Ariadne killed herself by jumping off the cliff of Portara, facing the main port where Theseus sailed off, and into the rocky beach below. Other myths stipulate that Ariadne marries the god Dionysus and commits suicide later on. We know that this is a bit of a grim way to start a guide, but it reveals the mythos of the island.
A trip to Naxos is not complete without getting lost in the winding pathways of the Kastro of Chora. Full of touristic shops, you can find a few gems like Papyrus, a used bookstore that we have been frequenting for years, and a few beautiful pottery and jewelry shops where artisans craft the most beautiful and artistic pieces. If you see something that you like we suggest that you buy it because there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to find the shop again!
If you’re looking for lunch with a lovely view of the harbour head over to Piperi for a gyro pita, French fries with a multitude of toppings, and many other dishes. They even deliver! Naxos is known for its fertile land and its potatoes, so trust us, once you’ve had French fries in Naxos you won’t be able to eat them anywhere else. For dinner, check out Barozzi, we keep hearing everyone rave about it but unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to eat there on our last trip! They serve more modern Greek cuisine delving away from the usual tavern fare.
Our other favourite restaurants include Irini’s, which is also a port side restaurant for traditional Greek cuisine. Their domatokeftedes (tomato fritters) taste like heaven, it’s a great spot for dinner and we assure you that they have been open and booming for years. There are a few gems located in the Kastro itself but finding them again is a challenge so we’ll just stick to guiding you to the restaurants on the outskirts. But since life isn’t only about food but cocktails, we also whole heartedly recommend Swing Bar, the perfect spot if you want a jazzy swing bar atmosphere with the most delightful watermelon cocktail. It’s on the second floor so you will enjoy a lovely view of the harbour! If you’re looking for a club or something sexier with more of a lounge feel or when it gets late, a club like atmosphere, then we recommend Ocean Club. They have great cocktails and it’s right on the water!
And then there is Waffle House, with two locations near Plaka Beach and in Chora. No trip to Naxos is complete without multiple scoops of ice cream from Waffle House. Our favourite flavours include chocolate orange, almond, and Ferrero Rocher. But if you want something refreshing, strawberry is to die for! This little ice cream shop first opened in Naxos and has now expanded to Athens. Make sure that you get your scoops of ice cream on their famous waffle cones!
Agios Prokopios Beach, Naxos, Greece
Agios Prokopios Beach is one of the many beaches of Naxos, known for its turquoise water and white sand that is more like fine pebbles, it wonderfully doesn’t stick to you or your towel. You can choose to sit in the sand or rent one of the many umbrellas and sun beds associated with various restaurants and cafés along the beach. The best part? A lovely gentleman who we have seen for 10+ years walks up and down the beach all day selling doughnuts covered in sugar. In his melodious voice, he yells “DONAT EH DONAT!” The doughnuts are so simple and divine, but a real treat when you’re hungry on the beach.
Another fabulous perk of Agios Prokopios beach is the Naxos Diving Center, we fell in love with diving when we visited Naxos. They’re PADI certified and perfect for beginner and expert divers,. You can dive in a wreckage of planes, a boat wreck, caves, and various reefs and coves of Naxos, and its surroundings small islands.
Anesis Spiros, Agios Prokopios Beach, Naxos, Greece
A perfectly traditional Greek restaurant is located at Agios Prokopios beach near the parking area (the word lot would be generous). Anesis Spiros is a traditional Greek tavern that boasts being one of the oldest taverns of the area. Known for their seafood, if you’re looking for Greek food, do not hesitate to walk in!
Their calamari is to die for, lightly floured and pan fried, the first thing that we noticed was how large each ring was. Unfortunately, it is rare to see such calamari in Montreal, each bite tasted like the sea and is incomparable to the deep-fried variety found back home. This is the way to eat calamari in Greece!
One of our favourite salads in Greece is melitzanosalata, an eggplant salad that is more of a dip than salad. The pulp of the eggplant is always full of flavour, and it’s tossed with plenty of fresh herbs. We love it so much that we don’t need to eat it with bread, a spoon is good enough for us! Unfortunately, we haven’t found a place in Montreal that can make it taste that good!
The pièce de resistance is their grilled octopus in a lemon sauce. The succulent tentacles are grilled to perfection, never chewy, and, like the calamari, is served with some of those famous Naxian French fries. The picture doesn’t do it justice, it tastes even better than it looks, if possible! If you’re visiting Agios Prokopios Beach, head over to Anesis Spiros restaurant for a true taste of Naxos.
Plaka Beach, Naxos, Greece
Further up from Agios Prokopios Beach is Plaka Beach that has been gaining popularity in the last few years. Waffle House has an ice cream shop at Plaka Beach, and more and more restaurants have been opening up and making this beach a more popular destination. Less busy than Agios Prokopios, Plaka used to be a nudist beach that is now a regular beach with a nudist section segregated at the end.
Quieter than Agios Prokopios, Plaka Beach has plenty of beach space to lay your towel down or umbrellas and sun beds for rent. The sand is finer and sticks to everything, but it has a certain charm to it. The water has a few large rocks that swimmers should avoid but the fact that it’s quieter during the heavy touristic month of August kept inspiring us to return.
If you’re feeling peckish in Plaka Beach there are a few popular spots, including Souvlucky, a little grill house that serves a wonderful gyro pita and Greek salad. Unfortunately, with the influx of tourism in Naxos it’s sometimes tricky to find a simple gyro pita, restaurants are going more modern or trendy. Our only complaint about Souvlucky is that their service is poor at best, we were the only ones in the restaurant and we had to hail our waiter to us many times because he kept forgetting things.
And if you’re visiting or staying in Plaka Beach, where do you go for cocktails? Yazoo Summer Bliss of course! Even P’tit Frère who ever so rarely goes out for cocktails recommended this little hot spot. They serve food too but they’re a popular cocktail bar with a gorgeous view of the ocean. They throw full moon parties and they’re known for their nightlife!
Aegean Land Palace, Plaka Beach, Naxos, Greece
If you’re looking to stay at Plaka Beach look no further than the Aegean Land Palace. Though we didn’t stay there we have a lot to say about their fabulous beach front and pool front and their cocktails and food! Unlike most sunbeds and umbrellas, the Aegean Land Palace allows you to sit on theirs for free. Obviously the assumption is that you will buy water, coffee, cocktails or even food from the restaurant, but they aren’t pushy if you choose not to.
If beaches aren’t your thing, or if it is a notoriously windy Cyclades day and you want to escape the sand whipping at your face, check out their gorgeous pool. Once again it’s free admission, and you can choose to order from their restaurant and bar for some potent cocktails. We aren’t the type to go into pools while the beach is steps away, but the Aegean Land Palace has two sexy pools and a fabulous pool bar, so we left the beach to check out their amenities.
Other amenities include a play area for children, right by the pool, tons of parking which is a rarity for the area, and spa facilities. They make a mean red wine sangria that has cinnamon and tastes nothing like sangria but is still delicious, and a mean mojito and freddo cappuccino. Freddo cappuccinos are our favourite cold Greek coffee, much better than the more common frappé.
But let’s talk about the food since that’s what these Divas love! If you’re not in the mood for the usual Greek tavern fare, then the Aegean Land Palace has you covered. We started with a saganaki made with Naxian graviera, which was cooked to perfection and perfectly melted. Their traditional Greek cuisine ends there, they have a smoked salmon plate, as well as a few salads that were perfection on a hot summer day.
The Uber Health Salad was a favourite of ours with lettuce, sun dried tomatoes, dried fruit and nuts. Almonds, raisins and coconut added to this perfect summer salad. The portion was generous and we enjoyed it more than once during our trip. Another favourite was the tropical chicken salad with a wonderful orange honey mustard dressing. The Aegean Land Palace is the spot to go when you want something healthy to keep that beach bod that you’ve been working so hard on!
By the end of our trip we were craving pizza, and we were impressed by the margarita pizza at the Aegean Land Palace. It was so big that we instantly regretted not sharing it, and once again our beach body was sacrificed to satisfy a craving. If you’re craving a pizza, you won’t regret ordering their margarita pizza, we absolutely loved it! Although it brought on a food coma nap on the beach…
And on our last full beach day we were fed up with Greek cuisine so we opted for the club sandwich. Simple, a classic but something that we haven’t enjoyed in a long while. Packed full of bacon, it was absolutely delicious and a great beach front snack that we shared (you see, we’re learning) before heading into the sea for one last dip!
Tortuga, Plaka Beach, Naxos, Greece
Tortuga is a beach bar and restaurant in a bohemian inspired setting. Unlike the other restaurants that we recommended, Tortuga is less casual and atypically Greek, and much more of a gastronomical experience. The sun beds right on Plaka beach are pricey but just look at them? They’re part of the Bohemian paradise that Tortuga paints!
The restaurant itself is as beautiful as its beach front. The service is impeccable, which is something that we often find lacking on the Greek islands in comparison to Montreal. The food was delicious and refreshing, and though the portions weren’t large, they were perfect for a light lunch before returning to the beach for a lovely afternoon.
This hotel and restaurant is modern and simple, but since we were there to eat, let’s talk about the food! The ceviche trilogy was made up of sea bass, tuna and salmon with three different sauces and seasonings. The sea bass carpaccio tasted exactly like the sea with plenty of delicious olive oil, and the octopus croquettes were cooked until crispy while the inside remained tender.
The seabass and topinambur, which is a Jerusalem artichoke, was a small portion but full of flavour. The seabass was both seasoned and cooked well, and the topinambur was a creamy addition. We had this dish along with the shrimp orzo. In Greece, shrimp is often served whole with the head and shell, so you have to work for your shrimp but it’s worth it in the end.
The shrimp orzo was full of flavour in a delicious tomato sauce. The orzo was cooked al dente and after tasting it, we know why our waiter recommended this delicious dish. Tortuga is a more expensive lunch and beach option, but it’s worth spoiling yourself for one meal and day in their sunbeds!
Halki, Naxos, Greece
We’ve painted a beautiful image of fun activities on the more well-known side of Naxos, but we’d like our guide to reflect the whole island, including the villages. Halki (Chalki) is the first popular village as you make your way up to the xoria (villages).
Halki used to be the capital of the island before Chora. Located in the center of the island it is located in the region of Tragea. It’s a very picturesque village, and the photos don’t do it justice. Old mansions and beautiful churches that are either Byzantine and Venetian decorate the area. It also holds most of the olive groves of Naxos, as we said before, Naxos is a fertile island with tons of agriculture.
Halki holds the Kitron distillery, as well as many “Citron” trees from which the lemony Naxian liqueur is produced. The Kitron liqueur is made from Citron leaves into a lemon liqueur similar to the popular Italian limoncello. You can tour the distillery, taste their product and even a type of Naxian ouzo that is made on site.
Halki has a number of artisans that sell their unique wares in various shops. Pottery, jewelry and art is sold at a variety of shops throughout the village, so if you’re missing a gift for someone back home we would head to Halki. The Fish & Olive is the famous art gallery in the area, there are two locations in Halki. Known for their handmade jewelry and ceramics, this shop is gaining international acclaim.
Halki is a large village, as well as one of the first villages that you enter as you head towards Filoti, another popular Greek village that you drive through on the way up. Since Halki used to the be the capital of the island you can see the grandness of some of its historic buildings, located near Chora there is a bus to take you to Halki but we suggest that you rent a car and see all the villages.
Mount Zas, Naxos, Greece
Mount Zas is the tallest mountain of Naxos and the Cyclades. According to Greek Mythology, Zeus was born or raised in a cave on Mount Zas, and this cave is still accessible, and the mountain itself is a hiker’s paradise. At an altitude of about 1,000m it is a popular hiking destination that begins at the small chapel of Saint Marina, near the village of Filoti.
We’re not going to pretend that we are hikers or mountain climbers. Nor are we going to pretend that we went willingly, actually P’tit Frère promised that he would join Diva #1 on a boozy adventure if they climbed Mount Zas, and she complied. The cave at the base of the mountain is also accessible to hikers but bring proper lighting (FYI an iPhone flashlight is not proper lighting) because there are dangerous crevices and holes everywhere.
The hike is a long incline to the summit, at some points you will have to use your hands to climb. We were clearly unprepared, we assure you that Adidas Stan Smith shoes are not appropriate footwear, but you live and learn and we completed the hike unscathed. The hike begins at a delicious freshwater source that leads you to the cave, and an ancient sign which translates to “Mount Zeus, Protector of the Herds.”
After a lot of huffing and puffing we made it to the peak of the mountain where there is a registrar to write your name and the date. We felt like we were on top of the world! The way down was a little scary because our inappropriate footwear ensured that we were sliding on the smooth rocks, but it was an experience that we won’t soon forget!
Apeiranthos, Naxos, Greece
Beyond the entry point to climbing Mount Zas is Apeiranthos, a mountainous village that is affectionately known as the crown jewel of Naxos. We’re biased, Diva #1’s family is from this picturesque village, butthat’s not why it’s worthy of a standing ovation. Over the centuries, Apeiranthos is known for having retained its authenticity and charm.
Built on the slopes of Mount Fanari, you cannot tell that you are on an island, as you are surrounded by mountains. Known for its phenomenal views, most restaurants have a view of the peaks and valleys, so that you see the winding road, as well as the flora, houses and churches below. Apeiranthos is all about the promise of a stellar view!
Το Υπερώον is our favourite shop in Apeiranthos, filled with antiques and treasures, this little shop is our weakness. We have a beautiful antique gramophone that we got from there, and plenty of antique keys and treasures, like hand painted Christmas ornaments and gorgeous jewelry. Honestly, we recommend Το Υπερώον to anyone who wants an antique-styled or unique gift from a little mountainous village in a non-touristic part of Greece!
Apeiranthos is a historical village whose history is often passed down in the form of songs or poetry. It boasts five museums including an Archaeological museum, a museum of Natural History, a Folklore museum, etc. What makes Apeiranthos so unique is its architecture that is composed of a stone tower, and marble stairs and alleys. Local craftsman shops, a market with local products, and an embroidery shop are not Greek but Apeiranthian!A famous piece of architecture is the Zevgoli tower, a 17th century stone tower that is Venetian built and now renovated and inhabited. Visitors are sometimes taken on a tour of this remarkable edifice that adds much charm to Apeiranthos.
Apeiranthos is oftentimes called the Marble village due to its marble platias (squares) and stairs. Apeiranthos has a gorgeous marble and ceramic pottery shop that is in its main platia, full of both inexpensive and expensive treasures. You can choose to buy a beautiful decorative piece or a whole dish set in a variety of materials like marble or ceramic, and colours. Near that store is another a little market-like shop full of local specialties such as various spices and herbs, teas, spirits, homemade soaps, and other natural products.
After you shop and roam around the village there are a variety of restaurants that you can stop at. If you want a snack with a view, head over to Berdema, a café and beer house. It’s a great little spot to grab a coffee, enjoy a traditional Greek yogurt with walnuts and honey, or a crêpe. The terraces of all of these restaurants and cafés usually either spill onto the platia, or on the outside with a view of the mountainous area.
Rotonda is a restaurant located right before Apeiranthos, and is known for its incredible view, particularly of the sunset. We ate there once and the food is decent but it’s more popular as a nightlife spot, with many cocktails to choose from and a DJ spinning tunes. Rotonda is where you end your night if you want a more modern party, it’s made the village hip and has attracted a younger crowd from neighbouring villages.
If you want a more traditional Greek night you should go to Amorginos in Apeiranthos, they often have bouzouki and violin players or bands, oftentimes with a singer that entertains the crowds until the wee hours of the morning. They play traditional Greek music, particularly island music that includes the violins. They serve plenty of grilled meat and traditional Greek fare, their loukaniko (sausages) and lamb chops are delicious. We had a wild boozy night that ended quite late, angering yiayia (grandma)!
Mount Fanari, Naxos, Greece
Fanari mountain is the mountain behind Apeiranthos, steep stairs and an inclined hike will lead you to Fanariotissa Church, the church on top of the mountain. Built in 1886, there is still a festival for Fanariotissa at the end of spring, and many Apeiranthians (and Naxians) do the hike as a pilgrimage.
It’s amazing that in the 1880s materials were carried by people and donkeys to the top of Mount Fanari to build this impressive church. Once again a ledger is available in the church for those who want to inscribe the date and who they hiked with. This is a much easier hike than Mount Zas so we would start with this one and conquer Mount Zas afterwards. Unfortunately P’tit Frère ensured that we did the opposite…
P’tit Frère got Diva #1 to climb Mount Zas first, so Mount Fanari seemed like a walk in the park in comparison! Besides the church at its peak, there is also an interesting cave and wonderful view of Naxos. Although Mount Zas makes for more of a hike, and experience, Fanari is tied to the village of Apeiranthos and is more of a pilgrimage than nature hike.
Moutsouna & Panormos, Naxos, Greece
Once you get to Apeiranthos you can head in two directions. If you go east you head towards Moutsouna, a fishing village with a gorgeous beach, and our favourite restaurant in all of Naxos, Ostria Inn. To read about Moutsouna and the unspoiled side of Naxos, click HERE for a detailed post on our favourite part of the island and our favourite Naxian restaurant, Ostria Inn.
Moutsouna used to have dangerous roads that made it difficult for tourists to navigate. In the last few years there have been renovations and now the unspoiled side of Naxos is available to all. Since we raved about Moutsouna and Ostria Inn in another post, we’ll tell you all about the other beaches on this side of the island, they’re worth multiple visits if you want to see the less than touristic side of Naxos.
We’ll start with Psili Ammos which is the beach at Kanaki. Psili Ammos means fine sand and it lives up to its name. Unfortunately it’s a windy beach because it is so open, but it is also very shallow, making it a warmer option. It’s so secluded that there are limited facilities, but that’s fine with us because in August it is almost empty and you feel like you’re on your own private beach.
In the last few years a few rooms and snack bars opened up in Kanaki near Psili Ammos beach, but it’s still relatively peaceful in comparison to other beaches. If you seek isolation than this is the beach for you! Just to paint a picture, from Apeiranthos, you have made your way to Moutsouna, then to Psili Ammos, and now to Panormos Beach at the end. There are many other little beaches along the way but this guide is about our favourites!
Panormos Beach is the most popular beach on the unspoiled side of Naxos, it is sandy with rocks, and a perfect beach for snorkeling for urchins. This beach is located in a cove at the end of a lovely drive along the coast. A few boats are usually docked near the beach that has warm water because of the way it is formed into a cove. Recently a little souvlaki beach bar restaurant has opened, allowing you to grab a bite and cocktail. Though this beach can get rather busy in the height of tourist season, it is actually in the middle of nowhere!
Koronos, Naxos, Greece
At Apeiranthos you can choose to head towards Moutsouna, and then follow the coast to Psili Ammos and Panormos, or you can head towards the village of Koronos. Koronos is a small village that is known as one of the oldest settlements of Naxos. It is a dramatic mountainous village between the slopes of a ravine.
Its beautiful whitewashed homes with Mediterranean blue trim makes it the most traditional looking village in terms of its architecture. It is what you would expect from a village on an island! This is not one of the most well-known villages of Naxos but it has a certain charm to it that we’re drawn to. Koronos used to be supported by their emery mines but during World War II and the German occupation those mines were forcibly shut down leading to extreme poverty and starvation.
Since then Koronos has turned to agriculture as the village’s main source of income, known throughout Naxos for their vineyards. Koronos is also home to a cave where clay statues of Pan were excavated, it seems that he was once worshiped in a cave in Koronos. Naxos has many caves and ancient stories such as this one!
Apollonas, Naxos, Greece
Apollonas Village is a fishing village that you will reach after you pass Koronos. This is the most developed village in northern Naxos and quite a picturesque stop in your exploration of the island. The beach is lined with restaurants, cafés and shops, and there are plenty of rooms for rent.
Famous for its Kouros statue that dates back to the 6th century BC, archaeologists believe that is represents the god Dionysus. If Portara is the most well known ancient site on Naxos, then the Kouros in Apollonas is a close second. Legend has it that the Kouros never stood, and that there were initially more than one sculpted but they were stolen. Apparently the Kouros were never left behind due to dramatic accidents that occurred during their sculpting.
Greeks are superstitious people so the Kouros statues were abandoned! Today one remains, and no one knows how the others were stolen, the Kouros are huge and heavy, but Greeks are resourceful people haha! Naxian marble is known across Greece, famously known for their use in the Acropolis of Athens, as well as the sculpting of other famous statues.
Apollonas is accessible from Apeiranthos, through Koronos, and then to Apollonas, but you can also access it by Chora through an alternate route. Driving around Naxos is heavenly, the winding roads and cliffs are an experienced driver’s paradise, and perfect for someone in search of adventure.
Unfortunately, Apollonas is in a windy part of Naxos, making it difficult to swim but a wonderful spot for a lunch of fresh fish and a beachfront view. And though we have only gone diving at Agios Prokopios Beach with Naxos Diving Center, we’ve heard that Apollonas has excellent waters for diving. The beach at Apollonas is less populated than Agios Prokopios, therefore the waters are less disrupted and there is more to see.
Naxos is the biggest island of the Cyclades with plenty to do. We only highlighted our favourite activities, there are still more beaches to explore and activities like wind surfing, to enjoy. Our only recommendation is that you rent a car so that you aren’t limited to the busier and more popular part of the island, the unspoiled side of Naxos is what really sets it apart from other islands. When you finally go on that Greek island adventure that you’ve been putting off, go to Naxos, rent a car and explore, have your adventure, and fall in love with the island.
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