Naxos: A Hike a Day on Vacay

We planned our Greek island trip as we went, so when we were in fancy Santorini, it was time to think about the next stop. Perhaps the obvious choice was Mykonos, mostly because I had heard of it. But an island with a reputation for where the super rich land their private jets for a weekend of Dom Perignon and Molly-fueled partying sounded like, eh, not not the best fit for Adam and me. Perusal of some TripAdvisor message boards made Naxos – a large but not particularly touristy, green, and fertile island with supposedly great food, great hikes, and beaches – sound like a better fit. Voila, booked a hotel and two ferry tickets and off we went.

The ferry from Santorini to Naxos was packed this time, presumably with the hordes going on to Mykonos.

Only a few dozen of us got of at Naxos. We pulled our bags to a nearby car rental, somehow convincing ourselves even though we’d already rented a car we didn’t need in Santorini, that we’d need it in Naxos. (Turns out we did need it). Naxos is fairly flat and easy to get around so driving was simple except for our hotel being located down a very narrow dirt road, but honestly, you haven’t even seen a narrow road until you drive town a two way residential street in Algiers with cars parked on both sides and little kids playing in the middle.

We laid eyes on our hotel, Medusa Resort and Suites on Plaka Beach, and after the sophisticated glamour of Santorini it felt distinctly less glam. It was a nice but basic room, lots of Greek and French families hanging out at the pool, a chill pool bar, and a little covered area overlooking a narrow strip of beach, great swimming water, and friendly hotel staff, hotel dog, and hotel cats. But it didn’t take long for me to get into the more casual and family mindset and out of the fancy rich couples vibe of Santorini. We were offered a welcome juice, requested some welcome rum be added, and sipped our sundowner in the cabana overlooking the beach.

We walked to dinner on the delightfully long and lovely beach, cutting over at the end to walk along a quiet dirt road that felt like some U.S. beach towns I’ve been too, except for the horse and carriage taxi waiting to take people back to their houses or hotels.

We ate at Petrino Beach restaurant, in a cute outdoor area covered in vines. We learned that Naxos takes a lot of pride in all they grow on the island, and lots of those ingredients – potatoes and homemade cheeses for instance – are featured on the menu. We really splashed out with a cheese fries starter and pistachio ice cream finisher. That pistachio ice cream was some of the best I’d ever had. (We came back for it again a few days later).

After a caloric meal like that, we were really for some hikes. We decided that each of the following three days would follow a routine of coffee at our hotel, a several-hour hike, post-hike beers and taverna lunch, a stellar vacay nap, a swim and a book on the beach, a cocktail, dinner, bedtime. And we stuck to this rigorous schedule for our stay in Naxos.

Adam and I don’t have great senses of direction. He thinks he’s more directionally inclined than me, which may be true, but only slightly. Also, about one-quarter of the time, our hikes devolve into grand disasters. Combine these two facts, and it was immensely helpful to have the photo- and maps-packed blog posts from the husband/wife duo who run the EarthTrekkers blog. They outlined, in great detail, three hikes to do on Naxos. (The motto of their blog is to write the guides they wish they’d had on their travels).

For the first hike, we drove to the inland village of Melanes and parked, and walked about four miles through a number of other teeny agricultural villages. The landscape reminded me of that in the West Bank, kind of rocky with terraced olive groves and fruit trees. Lots of goats, sheep, and the finger-nails-on-chalkboards sound of braying donkeys. We walked on ancient marble paths past streams and tiny villages. This area is known for its marble, which in the old days was exported to places like Venice and Florence. Sometimes sculptures were made right in Naxos (as the marble slabs are very, very heavy) and the finished works would be carefully wheeled down the mountain. Sometimes that didn’t work and the sculptures broke en route and the they’d leave them where they fell. There are a few of these, called kouros, that were interesting to see. One dated back to 570 B.C.!

I really loved this peaceful hike and to top it off, we ended back in the very quiet village of Melanes at a O Vasilis taverna and had one of the more memorable meals of the trip. Ice cold beers (served by the owner’s adorable 11-year-old daughter), a cheese plate, a trio of dips, and heavenly tomato cheese fritters. It was a lovely moment: Tired legs from a hike, eating scrumptiously cheese things at a country tavern, overlooking a peaceful Greek village and domed church.

The following day, we did the Apano Kasto hike, or upper castle. This hike started in the town of Ano Potamia and from there we followed a hiking trail, presumably to an old castle. However, at a certain point, it was so thick with thistle that to continue would have meant losing so much leg skin I’d be unable to wear shorts for the rest of the summer and that was simply to great a sacrifice, so we didn’t forge ahead to the old castel. Still, some really nice views.

And on the third full day, we did the most well-known of the Naxos hikes, Mount Zas, aka Mt. Zues, yes that Zues. We hiked the mountain on which the man, the myth, the legend (well, probably just the latter two) was born and raised. This was a quad-busting hike straight up a mountain. The views at the top were very worth it – it’s the highest point in the Cyclades islands (which is the island group Naxos, Santorini, and our next stop Sifnos, are all a part of. Crete is not part of the Cyclades). And seriously, after the hardest-ever hike up the tallest mountain in North Africa, Mount Zas was easy. Afterwards, we went into the adorable and very untouristy village and had a nice lunch on a little street packed with bustling cafes.

Naxos does have a kind of bustling main city, but we didn’t spend much time there, other than one dinner out. Oh, and two visits to the computer repair shop in town, as I was still hopeful my dead Macbook Air could be brought back to life by some kid at a hole-in-the-wall shop mostly specializing in cell phone repairs.

Naxos wasn’t where we had the best meal of the trip. We had no death defying hikes and I wasn’t forced to violate laws of modesty and decency as I was on our hike in Crete. It was just a solid place: Pretty views, nice water, good restaurants, kind people, and great hikes. Would highly recommend, especially for families.

Next up: A post about our absolute favorite stop on the Greek islands vacation: Sifnos.

To vacation hikes,

Emily

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