Next stop Naxos… We’ve been hearing about it for so long, it’s wonderful to be so near!
Our ferry finally leaves Santorini just after 4.00pm and it’s pretty windy and choppy (no problem for the big new Blue Star ferry) so we get in a little late at 6.30 and are met at the very windy port by Stavroula from Studios Naxos and brought to our lovely little seaside studio – two rooms (kitchenette/dining and bedroom) with divided bathroom (shower one side and toilet and basin the other) and tiny balcony right over St George’s beach, all the usual blue and white and clean and fresh and comfortable. Too windy to sit outside but we have faith there will be lovely evenings out there in future…
We have nine nights planned here – unless we change our minds and there are lots of possibilities to do that – so we take it slow, walking around to get the feel of this lovely town and checking the price of car hire etc…
We are on the far side from the port down at the slightly touristy end where the closest beach is. There is a pretty good old town above the port and behind it towering craggy hills… it’s looking good already. We haven’t done much preparation, having concentrated a bit on Crete so we study our map and the internet and get a good idea of what Naxos has to offer, drives through the hills to lovely villages, an assortment of beautiful beaches, some ancient sites and very old churches… sounds great!
Food is as usual abundant and very good. We find Platia Square (between us and the town) where a friend's family had a restaurant once where our daughter Rhianon worked. The restaurant is now closed but, opposite is Scirocco which is noticeably busy and we find the food to be generous and tasty and the staff very friendly. My lemon baked lamb is fantastic, Tom’s pasta marinara so full of fabulous seafood he can’t eat much of the pasta… and like the Cretan restaurants, they also offer a little free touch at the end (with the bill) this time it’s shots of what tastes like Kahlua with whipped cream and cinnamon on top (yummmm). I love this custom. Just when you’d love something small and sweet but can’t possibly face a huge dessert, out they come with a tasty treat – sometimes a small bowl of yogurt with preserves, sometimes a small piece of sweet semolina cake with cinnamon, always delicious! We’ve realised that the gift comes with the bill so if we are having coffee we ask for the bill immediately and can enjoy the two together.
Our car hire search ends with Fun Cars in the street down from the Scirocco square. Joanna (the manager) is wonderful and gives us heaps of great information, even outlining three days of driving for us so that we get to see all the interesting places and don’t retrace our steps – and gives us a new Fiat Panda for 20 Euros a day… lovely! Next morning we pick up our purple ‘Elvis’ and head out. Naxos is a big island and so varied… the hills and high and sharp and the valleys lush and green. It is so much more beautiful than I expected.
Over the next three days we travel almost every road in Naxos – we follow Joanna’s outlines quite closely and visit all the beautiful hill towns, especially liking Apeiranthos with the marble streets and beautiful old buildings. We also visit a great pottery and carving shop there where they use the local emery stone to make an amazing shiny finish on the pots. We eat next door (on the young shop-keeper’s recommendation) and love it, all local produce homecooked…
We also really like Demeter’s Sanctuary near Ano Sagri – a wee bit hard to find (better signage pleeeease) but such a lovely setting out in the fields and beautifully tended. You walk up to the small but lovely shrine along a walkway lined with herbs and flowers… rosemary, thyme, mint, bay trees and a bush suspiciously like cannabis (even in smell) but surely not… Another highlight is the lookout at Stavros near Keramoti. You can see both sides of the island from up here and it is beautiful. As we stand in awe a shepherd driving a ute brings up first a huge herd of goats (for another old man) and then a smaller herd of sheep for himself. It’s great to watch the different behaviour of the two herds. The goats bound up the hill and cross the road in front of us in chaos… seeming to leap off the edge into nothingness, but finding footholds and running down the other side in all directions. The sheep come along in a tight little bunch – all the dog has to do is be there to control them – and, still tightly mobbed head up the hill with the shepherd.
The second day we drive to Appollonas at the northern tip, lovely if windy drive… and the tourist buses do it… we met one on a bend and had to back up! Loved Appollonas, we ate well on the waterfrontl and swam in delightful calm clear water and the only thing missing was a fresh shower but they are under construction for the high season. Probably worth staying a night there but we have our little studio in Agios Georgios waiting and drive back along the north west coastal road which is truly spectacular (and a little nerve wracking for a nervous passenger like me).
The third day is lazier – just an exploration of some of the other lovely beaches. We find a deserted spot at Kastraki, a long beautiful stretch of sand to the south and sunbathe and swim and collect shells (but none of the famous Naxos eyes which they say are only found on Naxos but I have picked up in Thailand and also commonly find at home in Australia). Then it’s back to civilisation at Agios Anna which is just lovely. We eat at a great taverna right on the water and even ask about a room – lovely room with sea view for 30 Euros… and are sorely tempted to leave the much busier and windier Agios Georgios. It’s probably a bit crowded and touristy (and much more expensive) here in the season but now in May it’s just beautiful.
But we decide to stay on where we are because the next day the wind whips up again and it’s better to be near the town and the castle then and also because we decide to go to Delos and Mykonos on Thursday's daytrip…
Delos is wonderful! The boat trip, on a very hazy day after the huge wind that hits us on the Wednesday (more wind and dust from Africa), is quite boring and a bit rough but the island is a delight.
Mykonos on the other hand is not really for us and seems a bit upmarket, but it’s good to have gone on this tour to discover that and know we don’t really need to spend time there. Naxos is so much more ‘real’. But we wander the pretty old town (feels very set up for the tourists), eat remarkably well and cheaply at a little tavern (where the waiter tells us things on Mykonos are very, very quiet compared to other years) and swim at the little beach right in front of town before we are hustled back onto our boat and enjoy a pleasant trip back to Naxos via Paros (at the lovely little port of Naoussa we'd seen last trip).
Friday is our last day – it’s windy again… hmmmm. We are determined to have a last swim so we head to the other side of town, Grotta. It’s a pebble beach but out of the wind ,and we spend a lovely few hours swimming around the rocks there (even if I do struggle getting in and out of the water on those blessed pebbles/rocks) and sunning our selves before a rather sumptuous lunch at our favourite restaurant in the castle - Lucullus Tavern. We share a huge meze plate of Lucullus delicacies and the usual 500mls of great wine… followed by a special Lucullus (this time a small bowl of natural yogurt with preserved fruit yummmmy) and it’s time to go home for a rest (again).
The last supper is spent at our other favourite – Scirocco – again sharing mezze plus calamari… what a lovely friendly, tasty place!
Next morning its off early to the ferry port for a 5 ½ trip to Piraeus. Love these big Blue Star ferries… so much room, so many different places to spend your time, lots of food and drink available and, even more importantly for me, they are huge and stable and there’s no rocking and seasickness!! We had been looking at every way possible to arrive in Rafina rather than Piraeus and could have gone to Mykonos and stayed a night there before going on to Rafina from there but a) it would have cost more than twice as much for the ferries alone and then there was the cost of a night in Mykonos, and the hassle of moving for just one night… and b) the weather was unreliable with some very strong winds and there was a good chance of problems with one or other of the ferries. So we gave in an just stayed on in our comfy little studio and leave from Naxos on Saturday morning. Besides we have only one night before we fly out to Singapore – how bad can Piraeus be?
With a lovely lunch of leftovers from the studio (including wine), a wee snooze, good books the time goes quickly and we are soon in Piraeus easily finding Hotel Triton nearby (51 Euros for a double without breakfast).
How bad can Piraeus be? Well it is certainly pretty depressing on a rather grey late Saturday afternoon… the market is closed and most of the shops too… graffiti everywhere and a generally seedy air. But a city is always a little like that when the shops and businesses shut down and Athens is not in a happy state at the moment we have found. Anyway after being in the islands so long, we expected to have a bit of culture shock. The Hotel Triton is not bad at all for the price, our room is clean and fresh and has a fridge and balcony. And it’s certainly in a good position so close to the ferry port and the airport bus stop. It overlooks the market which on another day would be great fun – today there is some kind of rock venue tucked away in there and some very loud music blasts out – straight up to our balcony and through our not very soundproof doors – hmmm we hope it won’t be a night venue too? (but we discover later that it goes until the small hours and we’re grateful for our earplugs.)
After a quick stop at the next door supermarket for some breakfast items, we walk and walk, to the smaller ports and through more active, social areas… in spite of light rain. We do find a really good authentic tavern in a side street halfway between the main port and the smaller port (with the gorgeous yachts and Porsches) and eat and drink well (great meze and salad, lamb kebab, cake, wine and coffee for E28) for our last night in Greece (sigh).
It’s been an absolutely wonderful trip… we are so lucky! And no doubt we’ll be back. There are many more islands to explore and even a whole mainland we haven’t even touched yet…
Naxos trip report - 9 wonderful days in May 2013
Next stop Naxos… We’ve been hearing about it for so long, it’s wonderful to be so near!
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