Take a drive around Naxos and the first thing that will surprise you is just how big the island is. Part of the Cyclades group of islands, with Mykonos to the north and the volcanic crater of Santorini to the south, Naxos appears on a map to be a typical small island; one which you could comfortably circle in a day’s driving. Don’t be fooled though; with winding mountain roads linking the small towns, many of which you’ll want to stop in and take a look around, it would take several days of exploring to see the best of Naxos.
So what is a reasonable plan for a day out in a rental car? We started from Naxos town and set off to the village of Ano Sagkri. From here it’s a gentle walk across fields to the ruins of the Temple of Dimitra – once an important site of worship on the island and now undergoing very slow restoration. It’s a fabulous setting, especially against the backdrop of the mountains to the east.
From here we made our way to Damalas, where we stopped at a local pottery workshop. The drill is familiar – walk in, watch a pot being made, go to the shop. While the owner Manolis, who represents the fourth generation in a long family line of potters, does show us his work, there’s something about his dusty showroom, random display and warm, disarming smile that made even this old cynic open his wallet and buy a wine jug to carry home.
The nearby villages of Halki and Filoti are tourist honeypots, with craft shops, cafes and restaurants tucked in among the narrow, pretty streets. The air was noticeably cooler here than on the coast, no doubt a welcome breeze in the summer months. Either village will make a good lunch stop, before moving on again and heading for the hills.
Those with a desire to climb Mount Zas, the highest peak on Naxos, will need to make a separate day trip. A short climb with an outstanding reward can be found by turning off the main road and stopping at the roadside near Danakos. From here it’s a 30 minute climb along a marble path to reach the monastery of Fotadotis. A glorious old ruin set in a delightful valley, you could easily sit on the grass or on one of the stone walls and decide to end the day here.
But we must move on. Apeiranthos is one of the highlights of Naxos and well worth allowing at least an hour to wander around the tightly-packed whitewashed houses set along the miniature marble lanes. From here the mountain pass leads through the villages of Koronos and Koronida, dramatically set into the hillsides, before eventually taking you down to the coast at Apollonas.
Stop at Apollonas to admire the largest of Naxos’ three kourai (large stone figures built around 2500 years ago) and stay awhile at the pretty harbour, a great place to relax and have a drink or a snack before the 45 minute drive back to town. You’ll have had a busy day, covered around 100 km, and yet when you look at the map you’ll see that you’ve covered less than half of this ‘small’ island.