ROUTE 1: Naxos town and the southwestern coast
Upon arrival at Naxos harbor you will be greeted by a string of new, modern buildings along the waterfront that at first sight may seem quite uncharacteristic of a Cycladic island.
If you were looking for a more authentic and classical Cycladic Island do not despair the real treasures are hidden in the back streets. The beautiful medieval town and the traditional old houses will become clearly apparent once you start walking through the narrow streets.
Meander through the slender streets until you reach the Venetian fortifications where you will enter the charming world of the Naxos town castle (or the Castro). The medieval streets have been kept intact within the Castro and if you follow them you will reach the center of this small medieval town where you will see the ruins of the Marco Sanudo tower. Surrounding the little square you will find the most interesting buildings: the archaeological museum, hosted at the old Jesuits commercial school, the cathedral of the Catholics, the Sanudo’s chapel known as the Capella Cazatza, the Saint Antoine of Padova chapel, the Ursulines monastery, the Crispi palace which hosts an impressive Byzantine collection, and the old mansion of the Barozzi-Delarocca family, which is also the Venetian Museum. Walking around the whitewashed houses and the narrow streets you will discover the old market with its quaint shops (jewelry, artisans, small galleries and picturesque tavernas). Passing through the streets of the old Borgo you will reach the harbor at the Metropolis where there are some post Byzantine churches and very interesting archaeological sites, with the ancient burial Tomb of Grotta being one of the highlights.
Only a stones throw away you will find the famous Portara, one of the most photographed sites on Naxos due to its amazing location and awe inspiring view of the sunset. The Portara ruins (meaning huge door!) are the remnants of a 6th century B.C. temple dedicated to Apollo, which lay on a small cliff beside the harbor, on a small peninsula called Palatia. From Portara you will enjoy the beautiful sunset and take some breathtaking photos. Some go as far as calling the Portara sunset the “best sunset in the Aegean".
On the south west coast of Naxos you will find the best and most popular beaches of the island, about 40 kilometers of clear sand and shallow, turquoise waters. Starting from Agios Georgios near Naxos town (famous beach for windsurfers), you will reach Agios Prokopis, Agia Anna, Marangas and Orkos. Near Pirgaki beach you will find a unique cedar forest with a small idyllic beach hidden under the towering trees. If you are feeling adventurous and are fond of kite surfing, Mikri Vigla is the beach for you, while if you are looking for something more isolated and romantic you might try Alikos, Glyfada and Agiassos.
Following the coastal road toward the southwest you will find some extremely beautiful and authentic villages such as Agios Arsenios, Vivlos, and Sangri, a beautiful small medieval settlement with Byzantine churches. Located approximately 4 kilometers from Sangri is the very impressive archaeological site of Gyroulas, with the impressive marble temple of Demeter. Don’t forget to visit the small but very interesting museum beside the archaeological site.
Only a short distance from Sangri you will also find one of the best preserved Venetian buildings; the Bazeos tower – once a Christian orthodox monastery dedicated to the Holy Cross, this complex has earned an architectural restoration award and during summer months hosts various modern cultural events such as exhibitions, concerts, or theater plays.
If you are still looking to enrich your knowledge of archeology you shouldn’t miss the temple of Dionysus at Yria (an area very close to the airport).
ROUTE 2: The main road to the north
Since Naxos is the biggest island in the Cyclades, the distances you will have to cover will be quite large, not to mention that due to the mountainous landscape you will have to “navigate” the narrow “snake-like” roads. For this reason you should give yourself plenty of time in order to drive through the island as you cannot drive fast!
The main road to the north will take you over the rocky northwestern coast and straight to the Eggares village. Just a short distance from the village is the Ypsilis Tower, an impressive stone made complex (tower and monastery) than dates to the 17th century.
Following the road around the mountain slopes you will enjoy the spectacular views over the Aegean and if the weather is clear you may see the neighboring island of Paros. Once you arrive at the village of Apollonia you have reached the northernmost part of the island, where you will find secluded and remote beaches such as Amitis, Abram, Agios Mamas, as well as some lovely taverns where you can enjoy fresh fish. However keep in mind that due to the strong northern summer winds, the famous ”meltemia”, most of these beaches will be subject to large waves.
A couple of kilometers before the village of Apollonia you will see one the three ancient Kouros of Naxos, a semi finished colossal statue of a man or ancient Greek god abandoned at the ancient quarry from the 7th-6th century B.C.
From Apollonia you continue to Komiaki, a beautiful mountain village with famous local musicians, and Koronos, a big village with a spectacular view of the lush green valley below. The people here used to work at the smirigli (emery) quarries that are spread all over the Amomaxi mountain. As you reach the nice beach of Lionas (approximately 7 kilometers from Koronos), you will see all the old caves and digging sites.
ROUTE 3: Apeiranthos and the east coast
For many of the visitors coming to Naxos, Apeiranthos is the most beautiful village of the island. It is located on the mountain with spectacular views of the sea and the “small Cyclades” islands of Koufonissia, Amorgos, Donousa, and Keros. Lovingly called the “Marble Village” by locals and surrounded by lush green valleys and rocky cliffs, the architecture of this unique village has been meticulously preserved and is characterized by its neoclassical mansions, white churches, beautiful squares, and lovely streets and stairways, all made of white marble.
The local population of Apeiranthos has preserved old habits and traditions and an interesting folk culture. The most fascinating of these traditions is the local language, which is similar to the language spoken throughout some mountain villages in Crete! There are five small but interesting museums in the village which are worth a visit: the archaeological museum, the folk museum, the natural museum, the geological museum, and the gallery of local artists.
From Apeiranthos you may follow a beautiful route to the small coastal village of Moutsouna, where there is a small harbor for the ships that used to carry the smirigli (emery). From Moutsouna to Panormos the road is quiet and pleasant, running besides small isolated beaches such as Psili Ammos, Liaridia, and Kleidos, while the sandy beach of Panormos is located at the end of the road. If you want to get back to Naxos town you will drive from Apeiranthos through the mountains, where you will pass through the small but picturesque villages of Keramoti and Kinidaros.
Along this road you will also find the archaeological site at Melanes, close to Mili village, where you will see the ruins of several ancient temples and settlements and an ancient aqueduct hidden in the green valley. Only a short walk away you will find the second semi-finished archaic Kouros of Naxos, the Kouros of Melanes.
Continuing on the main road you will reach the village of Kourounohori, where standing tall you will see the Delarocca tower. Once you leave the village of Kourounohori the houses of Naxos town will become visible in the distance.
ROUTE 4: Filoti and the Tragea plateau
Having a population of about 1800 people, Filoti is one the biggest villages in the Cyclades and includes a quaint old neighborhood where you will see the old venetian tower of Barozzi. Over Filoti you will see the superb view of the Zas mountain (the name means Zeus, the ancient Greek god) and from the fountain of Aries, approximately 2 kilometers south of Filoti, you will find the path that leads to the superb Zas cave at the top of the mountain, the tallest peak in the Cyclades islands standing at 1,004 meters, or 3,294 feet, in height. There is a spectacular route from Filoti to the Kalandos beach that takes you through a magnificent landscape where you will see the ancient tower of Himarios, dating from the Hellenistic period (2nd century BC). At Kalandos you will find a sandy beach and a brand new, well- equipped marina.
The entire area south of Filoti and especially around the village of Halki (including a dozen other villages such as Kaloxylos, Damarionas, Damalas, Acadimi, and others) is called Tragea and during the Byzantine era was one of the most important places in the Aegean. In addition, there is a unique group of Byzantine and early Byzantine churches in the vicinity of Tragea. Most of these historical monuments are quite spectacular and host fantastic frescoes and wall paintings. Since you can only visit some of these monuments, don’t neglect to see Panagia Drosiani, Agios Georgios Diasoritis, Panagia Damiotissa, and Agii Apostoli Metohiou.
Moving on to Halki you will find the financial and commercial center of the Naxos mainland during times past. Halki, filled with neoclassical buildings and Venetian towers, still maintains a very nice atmosphere of the ages of glory. You will find little but very elegant shopping here, while a site you should not miss is the old citrus liquor factory of the Vallindra family. There you will learn that the Naxos citrus is a tasty, digestive liquor that is made from the leaves of the citrus trees: once there were thousands of them around Halki. This traditional alcoholic drink is still being made here by the very same family and at the same old distillery using the same traditional methods!
From Halki you can follow the road to the three Potamia villages (Mesi, Ano, Kato Potamia), passing under the steep cliff on top of which you will see the ruins of the Apano Castro (which is a 30 minute trek from Tsikalario village), the most daunting Venetian castle on the island. From Potamia, Naxos town is only a short drive away.