If you ever go to Naxos, St George beach is probably the best place to stay – it’s one of the two sheltered beaches (St Anna further down is also pretty cosmopolitan with beach bars, cafes and tavernas as well) which are also close to Hora (the capital) or Naxos town where the stunning Venetian Castle (Kastro) in the old town is located high on the hill and one of the first sights you see on entering Naxos by ferry, along with the Portara – the never completed Temple of Apollo which stands alone on the left hand side as you come in.  Also interesting is the big church which has a green dome instead of blue.

Having said that we travelled by superferry to Mikri Vigla way down south – this time as deck passengers outside in the sun and the wind which was preferable for us rather than being below with sleeping backpackers in need of a wash in the airline-style seats.  It’s only 45 minutes or less if travelling from Paros.  Our friends had chosen Mikri Vigla not realising that it’s split into two beaches – the western side which is the windy beach (Parthena just down from Orkos beach) unsuitable for swimming as it’s the kitesurfing capital and the southern (calm) beach Limanaki where we stayed at Depis Sea Side Villas next to the big salt pan, which was fine in July but by August, the salt pan is used as a car park.  We also had to change into an off-road vehicle as from Plaka beach onwards its dirt roads.  Apparently there are plans for a new airport and to seal the roads in the next few years but it can get very dusty as a result and the buses are not as frequent to Mikri Vigla but OK if you’re at Plaka beach, where we also stayed.  There are also umbrellas and sun lounges set up along the whole length of Limanaki beach (below), where I did manage a run one morning all the way down.

Naxos has a different feel to Paros – it’s more low-key, semi-rural and less English is spoken.  Both our driver and cleaner at the villa didn’t speak English.  It is also greener than Paros but in a dry way the same Australia can be in the bush.  While there’s not much to do in Mikri Vigla besides go to the beach or one of the few taverns around (Kontos tavern next to the mini supermarket is good and we loved the Mikri Vigla family run tavern on the beach itself), it suited us in terms of timing as we’d gone out pretty hard at the start of the trip and needed some time to relax and chill out before we returned back home.  Our villa was part of a development of 5 and we loved the sense of privacy and seclusion – it did feel pretty remote at the end of a dirt road but walking distance to a nearby bakery, car hire shop and the supermarket where there was also an ATM machine.  Limanaki is fantastic for snorkelling as much as the water is colder  but clearer in Naxos than in Paros.  Our villa was also well set up for self-catering with a fully equipped kitchen which was great as it was good to have breakfast and lunch at home and just go out for dinner in the evenings.  We also went for a walk one morning climbing the big rock face that divides both beaches, which I can highly recommend as you’ve got an amazing view on both sides once you get up to the top although I was freaking out due to how windy it was as much as my kids and Mr Rosanna loved it.

It was windy on our second last day there so we decided to hire a car and head to the mountain villages where we made it to the beautiful but small village of Halki (above) where we stopped for lunch under the vines in the main square at Yianni’s (with its own spit for roasting meat) and then headed to the much bigger town of Filoti.  Halki is famous for the Fish & Olive studio gallery and boutique shop of sea-inspired hand-painted ceramics and jewellery, Penelope hand-woven textiles (although I bought a hand-woven scarf from another business) and the Vallindras Kitron Distillery, which are all worth visiting.  Due to exhausted children, we skipped the third mountain town of Apiranthos and instead headed to the sheltered beach cove of Alyko (below and Filoti) near the deserted concrete shell of a hotel started in the 1980s but never completed.  Alyko beach and the next sheltered cove along in Pyrgaki are recommended if you want somewhere less windy but they are also very remote – you would definitely need a car if staying that far south.

We spent our last two nights in Naxos in a 3 bedroom maisonette (with kitchenette) at the stylish and cute Ploes Seaside Houses (below) at Plaka beach across the road from the Plaza Beach Hotel which was a great place to stay because if the beach is windy, you have access to the Plaza Beach Hotel pool and cafe, of which we took advantage.  Ploes’ owners Christos and his wife Eleni have another arrangement for Ploes’ guests to also enjoy the breakfast buffet for 8 euro (and children half price) on the outdoor terrace of the Plaza Beach Hotel, where the bus conveniently stops if heading to Hora and where you’ll find a supermarket underneath the hotel.  Christos actually came and picked us up from Depis as well as dropped us off at Naxos Airport when we left for our last night back in Athens.  He and Eleni also checked in with us every day to see how our day had been, if we had slept well and if our maisonette was OK as well as gave us recommendations for lunch and dinner (we did go to the upmarket Petrino restaurant for dinner on our first night).  If we were to ever go back to Plaka beach we would definitely stay there again as the service was outstanding, Christos and Eleni are beautiful people and Ploes was a real highlight accommodation-wise.

We spent our last full day travelling along the coast road by bus to Naxos town where we met up with Alessandra and Phil at the port and promptly walked into the Old Town market area with its stone laneways all the way up to the Kastro.  A bit of retail spending was in order with cool T-shirts bought from the French owner (a bit telling in terms of the World Cup final that night) of Octopus Naxos which has been around since 1989.  We got lunch at one of the shaded laneway tavernas before walking up to the Kastro finding it a bit quieter at siesta time.  It was relaxing to then take in the magnificent views from the top at 1739 Terrasse Cafe where we had frappes and icecream before popping our heads into the Apodo Hellenic Design gift shop where more purchases were made.  Similar to Forget Me Not Athens and W.D Concept Store in Santorini – there were some fantastic modern Greek jewellery, accessory and clothing brands on offer including Mary Gaitani jewellery, Love Greece, Rhodesign and Loom handmade bags as well as cute children’s toys.  Alessandra and Phil had to leave to make the last bus back to Mikri Vigla but we stayed on to end our trip by visiting the Greek ruin – the Portara, which loomed large near the port stopping to have a drink at the cafe below (where a lifeguard can be found watching the people having a dip at the steps going into the water!) before we made our walk up.  Again, it was well worth it for the views of both the Portara and of Naxos and a fitting end to our time there.  By Day 20, we were a bit over Greek food so found Il Girasole pizza where we watched the World Cup Grand Final outside with raucous young French backpackers out in force celebrating France’s victory before catching the bus back to Plaka beach.

Our trip to Greece mainly ends here as we spent the following day and night killing time by the pool in Naxos before making our way back to Athens, where we stayed briefly overnight before catching planes home again to Melbourne via Abu Dhabi, this time faring better than our forward journey there.  I’ve been back in Melbourne for just over a week now settling back into the routine of school and work (and winter!) but will post on some of the travel tips as well as the food at some later stage.  We were ready to come home and for now, we are happy to be back although I’m sure itchy feet will come around again and there are other destinations on our list, as I’m sure yours.  My views on Greece?  We loved our entire time there despite some of its shortcomings – a couple of rare occasions of lacklustre Greek customer service and criticisms over the state of its economy and infrastructure and how it got there (austerity measures are still in place).  We were devastated to hear about the fires in Athens after we left and wish the Greek people all the best in getting their country on its feet again.  We will be back to visit another time and for now, Efharisto Greece from us with love.

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