Greek Islands

The Byzantine Churches of Naxos Island, Greece

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Church of Ayios Georgios Diasoritis, Naxos.

Small historical sights dot Naxos. Some of the best historical features are the little churches which were built during the Byzantine era (the Eastern Greek-Speaking Roman Empire) from the 6th to 15thcentury A.D.  Most of these little churches will not be mentioned in U.S. guide books, pick up (usually free) a local guidebook upon arrival from your host (see reference below).

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Church of Ayios Nikolas, Naxos, now in a cow pasture!

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Another view of Ayios Nikolas Church, Naxos.

Naxos Island Map

Naxos Island Locations.

Some of the churches are a little walk from the main road or parking, a few are right off the main roads between Naxos Town, Chalki, Moni and Apeiranthos. Many contain wall paintings. Some of the churches are open only a few hours a day, so plan your visit accordingly. We just missed getting in the Church of Panagia Damiotissa which closes at noon, but we were able to go into the Church of Panagia Dosiani (on the same road as Panagia Damiotissa and near the town of Moni), which dates to the 7thcentury A.D., and is one of the oldest Christian churches in existence. It is open mornings and afternoons. There are somewhat faint (7th & 8th century) frescoes on the walls and ceilings of the little apse (we could not take pictures inside). I loved seeing these paintings which have survived pretty well for over 1,300 years!  A small donation is requested at the door.

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The ancient stone work of Panagia Drosiani, Naxos.

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The cemetery of the Church of Drosiani, Naxos.

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Church of Panagia Damiotissa, Naxos Island.

There are also small Venetian towers (forts) all over the island. The Venetians ruled Naxos from the 13th to the 16thcenturies. The forts could send signals to each other in times of danger.  Most are now private residences, but a few can be visited. These buildings form the centers of Naxos town and Aperienthos.  It’s fun to just drive around the island and let the little brown historical signs guide your stops along the way.

Reference:   Naxos Guidebook, 2009;

The Beaches of Naxos Island, Greece

Alyko Beach_Naxos

Beautiful Alyko Beach, Naxos.

Ok, I’m going to share a secret: Naxos has some of the most stunning beaches in the Greek isles and the best part about them is that they are nearly deserted. It was amazing to us that most of these beaches are so undeveloped. (Since they are so quiet, there are some that are “clothing optional” so beware if that’s a concern).

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Another view of Alyko Beach, Naxos.

Naxos Island Map

Naxos Island Locations.

We rented a car for €33 per day, and it’s the best way to see the island and get to the beaches. Most of the best beaches are along the west coast, and there are many that begin just south of Naxos town. It’s almost a continuous string of beaches all the way to the southern tip of the island. Don’t worry about road signs; just follow the coast as closely as possible. Little paved roads may turn into narrow dirt paths between tall reeds, but trust your instincts and shortly you will find yourself at one beach after another.

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Plaka Beach, Naxos.

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Plaka Beach parking at the end of a dirt road.

The challenge is choosing just one beach–we spent over an hour just stopping at each one we saw, and wondering if the next one could possibly be any better. We finally settled on (and loved) Alyko beach (pictures above) which is a little farther south and very scenic with crystal clear water. We also stopped at Plaka Beach, which happens to be the main nudist beach (unbeknownst to us!), but with lots of room to find your own space. Also to the north of Naxos town is Abram Beach – down a bumpy road (about 1/8 mile). Watch closely, there is a sign on the road. Keep going north along the coast and eventually you will reach the little town of Apollon, at the northern tip of the island—it has a sandy beach, and some of the best snorkeling on the island.

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Abram Beach, Naxos.

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Even the Town of Naxos (Chora) has beautiful beaches just north town center.

Naxos Island – A Change of Pace

Naxos Island Map

Naxos Island Locations.

From Santorini, we took the Blue Star Ferry to Naxos, which is about a two-hour ride north. Compared with other popular islands Naxos is tranquil, with far fewer tourists. Naxos is in a great location, in the middle of the Cyclades and about halfway between Santorini and Mykonos, two of the busiest Greek isles.

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Blue Star Ferry at Naxos Harbor.

If one is looking for a quiet, peaceful island experience, and yet desires to be not too far from the “action” then Naxos is the place. Also near Naxos are the islands of Paros and Antiparos, which are rising in popularity.  We stayed at Pension Sofi, in Naxos Town and just a 10 minute walk from the harbor.  The host family was wonderful and provided us with all kinds of treats and information about the island.  There are grocery stores just a short walk away also.

Naxos Cathedral

Naxos Cathedral.

Naxos’ economy in ancient times was based on emery mining and the marble quarries. The town of Naxos (also known as Chora) is built on layers of history, and there are some ruins just below street level near the Greek Orthodox Cathedral.


The town of Chora and the Portara.

The harbor area is full of restaurants, but don’t bypass the older medieval town just up the hill. There are quaint alleyways, and the Castle of Chora (1207 A.D.) which holds concerts in the evenings and several restaurants with great views over the harbor in the old city.  Just outside the city to the northwest on a small peninsula is the Portara (530 B.C.), a huge doorway to the never-finished Temple of Apollo. This location provides a lovely view of Naxos town and is a quiet place to spend a little time just soaking up the Aegean ambience.The harbor is a lovely place to watch the sunset.

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Naxos Town harbor at dusk.

We enjoyed a drive through the interior of Naxos. We stopped at the tiny town of Sangri, with the little monastery of Timios Stavros, and then drove on to the Temple of Dimitra (also called Demeter), Zas (Zeus) Cave, and the marble-paved town of Aperienthos. We loved the quiet roads, the lack of tour buses, and the rural feel of Naxos.  It felt to us more like the “real” Greece where the pace of life is slow and enjoyed to the fullest.

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Monastery of Timios Stavros (Bazeos Castle) – Naxos.

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Dimitra’s Temple, Naxos.

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Hiking up to Zas Cave, Naxos.

We had scheduled a flight from Naxos to Athens at the end of our stay. There is a small, I repeat—small airport on Naxos.  In fact, the tiny airport just south of Naxos town was so quiet I never heard a plane, and wondered if there really were flights! At the time of our trip (May/June 2011), Olympic Air operated two flights a day (prop planes) to Athens (early morning and in the evening). The flight only takes about 25 minutes.

Naxos Airport

Naxos Island Airport.

Reference:   Naxos Guidebook, 2009;

Overview of Greece

Greece Trip

Our Primary Destinations in Greece (over two weeks).

I’ve had the opportunity to visit Greece twice—in the mid 1980’s and very recently (May-June 2011).  The country has changed a lot over the past 25 years. I recall when I visited the first time that the country felt quite poor, and for a visitor, it was inexpensive. Now that Greece is on the Euro, prices are much higher, and there is more evidence of prosperity—many nice homes and BMW’s speeding past us on smooth highways.


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Syntagma Square, Athens – Government Austerity Demonstrations.

The current government debt problems are definitely a concern, and during our stay in Athens we ended up in the middle of a huge protest on Syntagma Square (an almost daily occurrence we understand). The protests are not violent and almost have a festive atmosphere.

Here is some information that I hope will be helpful in planning a visit to Greece.

Places to Visit

Greece is a large country, including about 2,000 islands. When planning to visit, one must decide how much of the country to cover, which will depend on time and budget. The mainland can be divided into roughly two parts–north of the Corinth Canal and south–the Peloponnese peninsula. The islands are quite varied in landscape and features, and very dispersed over the Aegean Sea. Since my first visit was focused on some sights of the Peloponnese peninsula and Thessalonki, we decided this time to visit 3 islands and a few other sites on the northern mainland. We chose the islands of Rhodes, Santorini and Naxos. These islands provided a great variety of natural and historic sights, and were relatively easy to get to. In future posts, I will review each of these islands. On the mainland, we rented a car and drove up to Delphi and then on to Meteora, which is about 5-6 hours by car from Athens. Delphi is an ancient Greek and Roman site, and Meteora has the famous monasteries dating from the 1300’s perched on rock pinnacles. Both sites were outstanding, and I will share more information on each in separate posts.  Our final day was spent in Athens.

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Naxos Island – West Coast.

Our itinerary provided a good mix of beautiful beaches, ancient Greek and Roman sites, medieval sites, natural scenery, and quaint towns.

Another option is to take a cruise through the islands and to some mainland ports. If you don’t mind large crowds, having just one day in a port, and missing the quiet evenings on shore, a cruise could be a good option, and saves the hassle of the transportation logistics between islands.


Suffice it to say that we loved the Greek food. It is outstanding, especially if you like meat and seafood.  Most restaurants and tavernas offered a variety of Greek dishes and some Italian fare (pasta and pizzas).  It was hard to go wrong with a restaurant choice.  We loved the grilled meats (slouvaki), meatballs, moussaka and gyro sandwiches.

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Enjoying our Greek salads!

We also couldn’t resist ordering Greek salads (tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives with a slab of feta cheese and a dash of olive oil) at every meal. We found great gelato most places too!


As might be expected, in all the main tourist areas, English was widely spoken. What surprised us was that even in non-tourist locations like Lamia (3 hours north of Athens), we found storekeepers who were thrilled to see a tourist and spoke English quite well. We did learn a few Greek phrases which is always considerate and fun.


In spite of what many guide books and websites say, driving in Greece was no problem.  On the highways, just stay to the right and let those that want to drive 150 km/hour pass you. Even in Athens the traffic was quite orderly. We found most road signs in Greek and English, sometimes the English sign would be separately posted (Greek sign first, then 50 yards later an English sign). Some signs for small towns and other locations were only in Greek. Driving on the islands was very easy; there is little traffic outside the main towns. Gasoline was extremely expensive, almost $8 US per gallon. Around Athens there are tolls on the highways (most are 2 Euros or more), so be prepared for them.

Getting Around the Islands

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Aegean Airlines plane on Rhodes.

We flew to Rhodes from Athens, and then to Santorini (via Athens). Flights on Aegean or Olympic Airlines are not cheap (between $90-200 per person per destination). We took the ferry from Santorini to Naxos.  Ferries are cheaper, but take longer and may be held up by weather.

Places to Stay

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Our hotel (Doupiani House) in Meteora.

Except for Athens, we stayed in small hotels, and found the recommendations in the Lonely Planet guidebook and online at to be very good. The hotel staffs were very helpful and friendly.   The only thing we didn’t like about most rooms was the hard beds! They seem to be standard in Greece.  Most of the little hotels also included free wireless internet access, and breakfast was included in a few.  Room rates varied from €34 per night (2 people) on Naxos to €100 per night on Santorini (for a hotel that was right on the edge of the caldera—worth it!).

Information on Greece

I used three guidebooks: Eyewitness Travel for the Greek Islands, Lonely Planet and Frommer’s.  Each guidebook provides a unique perspective and was helpful. Matt Barrett’s website on Greece also has a lot of information.