As the biggest island in the Cyclades, Naxos lays claim to a staggering 40 kilometres’ worth of beaches, which have been named some of the best in the whole of Greece. The island’s west coast is where most of the action takes place, along lengthy stretches of gold or white sand. Elsewhere, you’ll find hidden pebbly coves, and secluded, footprint-free swathes backed by salt pans and sand dunes.
Naxos’ south-west coast is essentially one big beach, broken up by grassy headlands and rocky outcrops. One of the biggest, and best, stretches in this part of the island is the five-kilometre-long Plaka Beach. The sugary sands are backed by rolling dunes and sweet-smelling juniper trees, plus the water is shallow and crystal-clear.
It can be tricky finding a bus that stops near the beaches of the Alyko peninsula – in the island’s south-west corner – which means only those in the know head there. You can pick from a selection of secluded white-sand bays, tucked beneath a cedar forest, lofty sand dunes and near-vertical cliffs. Because the area is so off-piste, you won’t find any sunbeds on the sands, so don’t forget to pack a beach towel.
If you’re on the hunt for take-me-homes, make tracks for Old Market Street, in the back alleys of Naxos Town, AKA Chora. Navigating the warren-like cobbled streets, you’ll pass by souvenir shops, handicraft stalls, and places selling artworks painted by local artists.
The authentic village of Halki, in the centre of Naxos, is home to a clutch of shops that sell products indigenous to the island – none more so than the local firewater, kitron, which was first distilled in the village. There are lots of shops selling the spirit, which is made from citron, a sweeter variety of lemon.
You’ll come across well-known designer brands, like Lacoste and Hugo Boss, in shops along Papavasiliou Street, in the downtown area of the island’s capital, Chora. Alternatively, head to the heart of the island, in the village of Halki, and you can splash your cash in the gallery-slash-boutique, L’Olivier.
If popcorn and a movie is your kind of night out, there’s an open-air cinema in the capital, Chora. Head to the city’s harbour, meanwhile, and you can dine in an authentic taverna on the seafront, before dropping in to a pavement café for after-dinner coffees. Laid-back beach bars are sprinkled up and down the coast, too.
Naxos Town – AKA Chora – is where the proper parties are. Here, back-streets are scattered with cocktail bars and nightclubs that stay open until the sun comes back up. You’ll need some stamina, though – the islanders’ nocturnal lifestyle means most clubs don’t open their doors until midnight.
Kitron is to Naxos as limoncello is to Italy – that is, a lemony firewater native to the region. It’s made from fruit called citron, which is abundant all over the island, and comes in three varieties. Green kitron is sweet and low in alcohol, yellow is the strongest and most bitter, while clear kitron is somewhere in between.
They may not sound very exciting, but Naxian potatoes are considered the finest in the whole of Greece. Small spuds are grown all across the island, and are world-renowned for their distinct sweet taste. Usually, they’re sliced and fried in olive oil – the result is a moreish, traditional answer to French fries.
This is one of Naxos’ more unusual delicacies – a veggie-filled pie that’s actually served up for dessert. Its name comes from the Greek word for chard, the main ingredient in this dish, which is combined with herbs and rice and crammed into a filo-like pastry, before being baked, plated up, and drizzled in honey.
Naxos is known for its cheeses, including graviera – Greece’s second most popular, behind feta. It’s a yellow hard cheese, similar in taste and name to the Swiss gruyere, and it carries a protected designation of origin from the European Union.
Imagine an omelette, with the eggs replaced by pumpkin pulp. That’s the basis of kolokythopastitsa. Onions, and sometimes chillies, are added for flavour, and the whole thing is fried up until crispy on each side.
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