April in Greece, part 3: Naxos

Naxos is a key island in the Major Cyclades because you can get ferries to several destinations from there (Santorini, Mykonos, Paros and Delos, for example). I arrived from Iraklia on April 11 and stayed two nights.

I stayed on Naxos in April 1986, at Despina’s Rooms. Sadly the hotel was not open in early April 2022 so I stayed nearby at Bourgos Barrio. I had an excellent double room with a sea view for 30 Euro a night, complete with lots of cats.

This cat was especially friendly. She was waiting for me when I returned from my walks each evening.

Greek islands seem to have thousands of homeless cats. Who feeds them? Who looks after them when they get ill? These questions were with me all the time I was in Greece.

On some islands most cats were wild, and hissed if I approached them, and then scampered away.

The area where I stayed is only a 100 metres from the waterfront but is a veritable rabbit warren and difficult to navigate during the day. At night, even with good GPS, it can be a problem finding one’s room. It is important to memorise landmarks such as restaurants and shops.

Signs are small and difficult to read, and destinations are sometimes just indicated by an arrow painted on the pavement.

But the area has a strange charm, and April is a good time to visit because the crowds are small and the restaurants, gearing up for summer, tend to work hard to impress — presumably so they get lots of recommendations on social media.

Two restaurants that impressed me were Mezze Mezze and Irini’s. Both are in the row of eateries that spread along the waterfront from the ferry terminal.

Mezze Mezze specialises in seafood, and it was disappointing to see the number of American tourists insisting on meat/hamburgers and fries. I had super fresh calamari. Sprinkled with lemon juice, it was a delight.

Irini’s is more traditional with dark brown wooden chairs and tables. It’s near the ferry terminal. I had grilled mackerel on the recommendation of my waiter and it tasted so fresh that it fell off the bone. I was salivating as it landed on the table.

My double room at Bourgos Barrio.

Sunsets are spectacular on Naxos.

A fun thing to do is to take a local bus from the main bus station by the ferry terminal to the village of Halki (also spelled Chalki) in the centre of the island. The bus fare is 2.30 Euro each way and the journey takes about half an hour.

Timetables are on the door of the bus office at the main bus station. On my return journey to the port the woman next to me crossed herself each time we went past a church. Her hands seemed to be moving all the time. I lost count after a dozen churches.

Halki is small with about 500 residents but it has several excellent hiking tracks. The village houses a famous distillery on the main square named after Gregorios Vallindras who invented a process for distilling a liqueur from local lemons in the 1870s. His son Markos gained a licence in 1896.

The fourth and fifth generations currently produce Naxos Kitron in the same copper still that has been used for more than a century. The liqueur is matured in the bottles and jars shown below.

The local version of the citron tree (xinokitria) produces lemons whose skin is thick, green, aromatic and bitter tasting. The leaves are rich in essential oils. The process is difficult because of the spikes on the trees and workers need to be careful not to damage the trees when they remove leaves. The distillery makes three types of liqueur which are available for tasting.

The area around Halki is also famous for its olive trees. The photo below shows trees that are said to be more than 2,000 years old.

The ferry journey from Naxos back Piraeus, the port of Athens, takes about six hours. It stops at Paros on the way back to deposit and collect passengers and trucks. I last visited Paros in 1986 but its harbour, shown below, remains as beautiful as I remember it.

Categories: Greece, Not home

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