The largest of the Cyclades, Naxos packs a lot of bang for its buck. Its main city of Hora (known also as Naxos) has a gorgeous waterfront and a web of steep cobbled alleys below its hilltop kastro, all filled with the hubbub of tourism and shopping. You needn’t travel far, though, to find isolated beaches, atmospheric mountain villages and ancient sites.
Naxos was a cultural centre of Classical Greece and Byzantium, and Venetian and Frankish influences also left their mark. Its high mountains form rain clouds, and consequently Naxos is more fertile and green than most of the other Cyclades islands. It produces olives, grapes, figs, citrus fruit, corn and potatoes. Mt Zeus (also known as Mt Zas; 1004m) is the Cyclades’ highest peak and is the central focus of the island’s mountainous interior, where you will find enchanting villages such as Halki and Apiranthos.
Hora has the colour and bustle you’d expect of the island’s port and capital. Settled on the west coast, the old town is a tangle of steep footpaths and is divided into two historic Venetian neighbourhoods: Bourgos, where the Greeks lived, and the hilltop Kastro, where the Roman Catholics lived.
Despite being fairly large, Hora can still be easily managed on foot. It’s almost impossible not to get lost in the old town, however, and maps are of little use.
This village is a vivid reflection of historic Naxos, with the handsome facades of old villas and tower houses a legacy of its wealthy past as the island’s long-ago capital. Today it’s home to a small but fascinating collection of shops and galleries, drawing artists and culinary wizards. Halki lies at the heart of the Tragaea mountainous region, about 20 minutes’ drive (15km) from Hora.
The main road skirts Halki, with parking areas near the entry (from Hora) and exit of town (the latter by the schoolyard). Pedestrian lanes lead off the main road to the picturesque square at the heart of Halki.