Greece is definitely having a moment. If I had a fiver for every #santorini post… well I’d probably be able to afford one of those hilltop suites with a private infinity pool overlooking the Caldera.
The Greek islands have long held a place in my heart - from family holidays and doing endless handstands in the pool; through to trips with the girls where the drinks were as free-flowing as our dance moves. I like to think that I’ve grown up a bit since then though - a few less handstands perhaps... and a little less wine (especially when combined!)
Santorini, Mykonos, Crete are probably among the first islands to spring to mind, but always looking for ways to off-road it, we’ve taken to the island of Naxos.
Not accessible by direct flight from the UK, you have to connect in Athens for a spectacular flight across the Agean; or fly into Mykonos, Santorini or Athens and go by ferry. Yes it means a bit of waiting around, a couple of taxis and possibly an overnighter in Pireus (surprisingly nice) but it’s not something that should put you off - if anything it adds to the adventure so that when you do land in Naxos you really feel like you’ve earned it!
Naxos is one of the largest islands in the Cyclades and is one of the few that is self-sustaining through agriculture. The quality of food on Naxos is outstanding as the ingredients are not being shipped from pillar to post, meaning it’s great value too.
Being a large island it’s possible to have a multi-destination trip and see very different landscapes without setting sail again. There's so much to say about this special place that I'm going to split into two posts - this one filled with beaches and a beautiful hotel; and the next with a very special bolt-hole and adventure across the island.
On our first trip to Naxos, we chose Villa Marandi as our base in Stelida, and spent a gloriously lazy week there. From the minute you step though the heavy wooden doors, into a beautiful bar and pool area overlooking the sea, you feel instantly on holiday.
They have a private rocky beach, which while nothing to write home about, is a lovely place to catch the breeze or a few early evening rays.
The rooms are beautiful - really well appointed and with a gorgeous laid back style that would be impossible to recreate at home. You can tell when a hotel is trying to emulate quality on a budget, and when they have done it properly - at Villa Marandi no expense has been spared on the things that matter and the beds and bathrooms are divine. Our photos just didn't do the rooms justice, but I highly recommend you take a peak here.
It’s a stereotypical Greek dream - lots of white and blue exteriors with calming interiors and beautiful lines. We stayed in a couple of the rooms - a superior suite and the grand suite both of which were lovely. We actually preferred the superior as the main bedroom was separated from the kitchenette, but they were both wonderful and you could tell that the honeymoon suites were spectacular with rooftop terraces and amazing views across the ocean.
The restaurant is fantastic - typically greek dishes cooked with care, alongside specialities with Mediterranean influence. We ate there at least once a day, often twice (much to the bemusement of the staff who are used to out-and-about honeymooners) and only started to tire of the menu on the last day or so.
Breakfasts are long and lazy served in the shade of the trees. Fresh fruits, bread, cakes, pastries, yogurts, eggs and cheese accompanied by cereals, meats and every condiment under the sun. Everything is just done with great care and it shows.
As the resident lazies, we often had the pool to ourselves with the more eager holiday makers returning late afternoon for their pre dinner dip. It’s a one size fits all place - a great base to go and explore the island with a warm welcome, excellent food and the most beautiful rooms to return to. Equally if you’re looking to stop and flop, you could easily while away a week without moving very much at all.
Eventually we caved and hired a jeep for a couple of days to get to the spectacular beaches of the west coast.
A very cool drive down dirt roads gets you to some of the best beaches on the island... arguably in Greece.
If you look at the map of Naxos and work down from Stelidia…
Agios Prokopios - walkable from Marandi and a beautiful spot - fine sand and clear water and plenty of sun loungers and restaurants. It’s a good option if you’ve got a beach day to kill and no car, but not our favourite as there was more than a handful of people on it ;)
Agios Anna - cute little strip of sand with some decent tavernas. A great place for a sundowner and into dinner for a change of scenery... but again a few too many people for us!
Plaka - seems to be the generic name for a long swathe of sand down from Ag. Anna all the way to Mikri Vigla. Here you’ll find plenty of bars, restaurants and hotels and a little more organisation than further down the coast. Lovely… but keep going.
Miri Vigla - again a generic name for a headland, but the first beach you come down after Plaka is worth a stop. If you get a day where the wind is strong then the beach becomes a great place to watch the kitesurfers who flock to it’s shores.
If you get a less breezy day then these shallow warm waters are like a bath and it’s almost impossible to resist a dip. Just around the headland there is a good beach bar (of the same name) but it’s a little more crowded and touristy than a bit further down.
Kastraki/Glyfada - I’m putting it out there… it’s one of our top 10, maybe even top 5 beaches of all time.
This beautiful long beach ticks all the boxes. It is quiet, unspoilt and with the calm crystal waters and fine white sand you'd hope for in a top tenner.
There are a few tavernas dotted along the shore including our favourite - Kastraki Paradise.
This fantastic taverna is right by the water and excels in simple Greek cooking from a menu chalked up daily, according to the catch.
Grilled whole sea bream, a greek salad, proper chips and a couple of drinks won't set you back more than about €25.00 for two.
We loved this area so much that we came back we stayed at Glyfada studios a super simple, but wonderful base just steps from the beach with a great restaurant.
There are a couple of places to eat dotted along the coastline in this area, but you've also got Taverna Axiotissa and Apolafsi Naxian Traditional a few hundred metres up the road which get some of the best reviews on the island. Axiotissa in particular had one of the most interesting and diverse menus we’ve ever seen in Greece and the food was fantastic.
And while not technically an essential, I packed the 100% cashmere ring scarf (just for jollies) and ended up wearing it most days in some capacity. Shoulders, head, and even as a very fancy face bag to save myself from the rays!
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