Naxos: Greece's friendliest island?

by Louise.Baty

It may not be as flashy as neighbouring islands Mykonos and Santorini but unpretentious Naxos is tailor-made for relaxation

Stepping off the boat and into the hordes of eager faces and clamouring voices, each one demanding our attention, we felt a bit like Posh and Becks facing the paps. But I doubt the world's favourite power couple have ever arrived anywhere lugging scruffy backpacks, and the people in front of us were waving clipboards rather than cameras.
It was the second day of our island-hopping holiday in Greece. Back in Athens, we'd been pre-warned about the groups of enthusiastic locals who greet every ferryload of new visitors to Naxos, the largest of the islands in the Cyclades group, trying to tempt them back to their various hotels and apartments. To be fair, they were friendly and polite but we'd been told we'd get better prices if we went to the Tourist Information Office by the jetty instead.
So we did - and we were rewarded with a fabulous newly-built self-catering apartment, Irene Pension in Naxos Town - close to the beach and with a little shared pool. The owner was friendly and the rooms were spotless and cleaned every day. Perfect.
Holiday island heaven
Even more perfect was that, despite it being June, the island was pretty quiet - the polar opposite of 18-30 haunts Corfu and Zante. That said, there's plenty of scope for a wild night out in the bars in Naxos Town if you so desire, and there are reams of great restaurants to suit all budgets. Combined with more than 40 kilometres of beaches, what more do you want from a holiday island?
If you're snap happy like me, there are plenty of photo opportunities. The harbour with its whitewashed buildings and the ancient Temple of Apollo sitting high on the hill overlooking the port are ridiculously photogenic.
The restaurants by the harbour are pricier than the ones further into town but you pay for the view. We found our own favourite watering hole: the sports bar on the Court Square above Naxos Town. Frequented by locals and tourists, it was a really relaxed spot and the owner greeted us like old friends on our second visit. There are some lovely restaurants around here too - slightly cheaper than the ones by the harbour - serving lots of fresh fish, grilled meat and, of course, moussaka. For breakfast, stock up on Greek yoghurt with honey and a huge glass of fresh orange at Scirocco in Court Square. And if you fancy something different, there's a lovely Thai restaurant nearby, East West.
Hitting the beaches
Aside from the food and drink, Naxos life is all about the beaches. The closest one to our apartment was the Saint George beach in Naxos. Although there were a few restaurants and bars it wasn't overdeveloped. That said, we spent the best night of the holiday here when one of the beach bar owners started giving away free drinks to passers-by. Needless to say, it all got quite messy and the fun only stopped when his friend dragged him away, saying he was drinking all his profits!
You could spend a fortnight on Naxos just travelling around, exploring different beaches. One day, we visited Agia Anna on the recommendation of a friend. As soon as we stepped off the bus from Naxos Town (a 20-minute journey) we noticed the difference. Although the beach is smaller than St George's, it seemed more commercial, with lines of sun loungers and busy restaurants and bars. But it's very pretty and once we'd had a dip in the sparkling water, we headed to Bananas, decked out like an Ibizan chill-out bar, for a cocktail. We wished we could stay all day - but the drinks didn't come cheap.
Souvenir shopping
We didn't spend all our time on Naxos lazing around. We managed to fit in a trip to the famous Kitron lemon liqueur distillery in the village of Halki, in the centre of the island. Regular buses leave the harbour area for the village. Beware if you suffer travel sickness, as it's a winding, jolting route up through the hills. It's worth it though, as you get a sense of the 'real' Naxos away from the tourist throng.
The village is beautiful - all ice-cream-coloured houses and bougainvillea crawling up the walls, and there's a cafe with a gorgeous shaded patio. The Kitron distillery itself is small and only takes about 15 minutes to go round but you get a shot of the lemony stuff as part of the ticket price. Little bottles of Kitron liqueur make great gifts, although ours is still gathering dust in a kitchen cupboard. Somehow it just doesn't taste the same away from the Greek sunshine!
There are lots of shopping opportunities in Naxos Town - gift shops are interspersed with the bars and restaurants, and there are lots of silver jewellrey shops. We'd intended on buying a ring each in one of the pricier shops but settled for two rings for €5, and decided to save our money for the important stuff - food and drink!
Next stop
Moving on from Naxos is easy - there are regular ferries back across the Aegean waters to the port of Piraeus in Athens (it takes around six hours on the cheaper ferry) or to the neighbouring islands of Paros, Mykonos and Santorini.
We'd originally intended to stay in Naxos for four days but couldn't bring ourselves to leave. When we eventually dragged ourselves away after a week, we headed to Mykonos, a 45-minute boat ride away. Although we loved the flashy, trashy nightlife and the striking windmill-lined harbour, the cost of living was about a third more expensive on Mykonos. We also felt very much like tourists there, whereas on Naxos, we'd felt instantly at home. I hope that, one day soon, we'll be back on the ferry from Piraeus for a bit more of that Naxos magic.


Getting there
British Airways operate scheduled flights to Naxos. Ferries leave Piraeus at least a couple of times a day, usually go via Paros and take around six hours. Alternatively, catch a catamaran, which halves the journey time but is twice as expensive. Buy your ticket beforehand, at one of the ticket agences dotted around near the port, as you cannot buy tickets on board. When leaving Naxos, buy your ticket at least a day in advance to ensure a place on the boat. There are several ticket agencies near the port.


I'm a magazine journalist, originally from Yorkshire, now living in London. I'm not a particularly organized (it's a struggle to leave the house on time each morning with handbag/keys and travel card in hand) but when it comes to planning holidays I turn into a list obsessed geek, spending hours planning flights/accommodation. I love it! I also love the unpredictability of traveling. On a recent trip to Morocco we found out we couldn't get on a bus out of Marrakech for three days. We ended up squished into the back of a tiny taxi with an entire Moroccan family as they yelled French at us for five hours. Uncomfortable and slightly scary but unforgettable. Favourite places Bangkok and Ko Samet, Thailand/ Marrakech, Morocco / Nerja, Spain/The Lake District, UK/ London - my home and the best city in the world!