Fiercely independent in the center of the Cyclades, Naxos, Mykonos and Delos knew of times before there was time.
Naxos: birthplace of the King of the Gods
According to legend, the young Zeus was raised on Naxos Island in a cave on Mt. Zas. The 3,200 foot Mt Zas (aka Mt. Zeus) is the Cyclades tallest mountain on the largest island in the chain. It’s a hikers paradise.
Zas Cave, was inhabited during the Neolithic era, which ended in 2,000 BC. Archaeological excavations have found ornamental objects of copper and gold.
Naxos is well known for its agricultural abundance. The 166 square mile island is large enough to have interior microclimates. Lush valleys provide produce such as the famous Naxos potato as well as the products associated with dairy and grazing.
A symbol of Greece, the Portara, main entrance to the Sanctuary of Delian Apollo, c 500s BC, commands a panoramic view of Naxos Town. It faces due east inline with the great Temple to Apollo on sacred Delos Island.
Dionysus, god of wine, theater and love, is the protector of Naxos. He is also a son of Zeus. The island provides much to make the god’s stay comfortable.
Naxos and the Small Cyclades, the official name, has been for centuries an island empire in the midst of the Aegean Sea. During the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Naxos dominated commerce in the Cyclades.
Prosperity and hospitality continued through the centuries as its advantageous trade position made it a prized possession of empires smart enough not to interfere with a good thing. Even the Ottoman’s kept a distance as long as the taxes flowed into Constantinople. The administration of the island was outsourced to Venetian bankers.
What to do:
Naxos town: lots to do and see in this postcard Cycladic town. From the long pedestrian waterfront lined with shops and cafes, the iconic Portara and the Venetian Castle, you will be immersed in the then and now.
Naxos Sweet Home: If you’re a chemical engineer bored with your job what do you do? If you’re Kali & live on Naxos Island you open up Naxos Sweet Home making unique flavored hard candy and become a Naxos Island sensation making both yourself & customers smile.
The 13th century Venetian Castle still dominates the Kastro (fortified upper town) of Naxos Town and is in remarkable condition. It houses the Archaeological Museum of Naxos. The historic quarter is a warren of narrow streets and restored houses.
Vioma is a cooking school for traditional Greek dishes with Maria (mother of my guide Katerina). Marie’s classes are hands on as the five of us prepared an entirely vegetarian meal, which became lunch.
Pottery Workshop Sfouni: Limpertas Manolis is the 4th generation to keep hand made Greek pottery traditions viable. It’s not all cooking pots either. There is a long tradition of designing simple objects that don’t do just what they seem.
Naxos Sun Holidays, Spiros Manolas leads tours in his VIP Mercedes van throughout the lush Naxos countryside including the Temple of Demeter and an opportunity to wander the narrow streets of the interior’s mountain villages such as Apiranthos, the village of marble, dramatically clinging to the lush mountainside.
Eggares Olive Press Museum: Olives are sacred fruit to Greeks. If you have never seen the process of extracting oil then this is the destination.
Vallindras Distillery, Chalki Village, opened in 1896 making sweet liquor for medicinal purposes. The addition of saffron, chlorophyll and other herbs contribute to flavor, color and alcohol proofs. Irini Fragouaki is the 4th generation to run the distillery, which also is a small museum to the history of medicinal spirits.
Where to eat:
Ippokampos: On St. George Beach there is a sleek white and glass beachfront restaurant. Owner Vlassis.has created a sophisticated menu keeping the relaxed beach atmosphere. Premium D’Artemis Ouzo paired perfectly with traditional fried cheese pies drizzled with thyme honey from Evia Island .
Meze Meze: Living up to its name, Lefteres has created a menu of small plates – Greek meze. Greeks gather at a table nibbling on meze for hours while slowly drinking without feeling stuffed. Raw skate “cooked” in vinegar and olive oil and an outstanding dish of mussels steamed in a savory tomato sauce with feta cheese.
Irini: George opened Irini in 2000 with an eclectic menu offering traditional Greek meze like dolma in lemon sauce, but also with variations on the inexhaustible combinations of food that can create a meze. Mushrooms with garlic butter and mustard was a delight.
Apostolisis is owned by the Glannakis family. Colorful lights illuminate an attractive courtyard. Pink salt was a nice addition to sprinkle on olive oil dipped rustic breads. A salad of fruits and greens was dressed with a citron vinaigrette. Apostolis has a shop selling Naxos food products such as smoked fish and savory Naxos sausage.
To Kati Allo on the waterfront has grilled, sun dried Gouna fish. The fillets are rubbed with salt, pepper and oregano and left to dry in the sun for several hours before grilling. The sun infuses & intensifies the fish, which remains juicy & tender.
Where to stay:
Hotel Naxos Resort is a full service St. George beachfront hotel an easy 15 minute walk from the port of Naxos Town. Built in a village configuration, the attractive stone buildings are softened further by gardens and a large swimming pool. The hotel includes a spa.
Hotel Grotta is perched at the edge of this ancient – Neolithic – village now part of Naxos Town. It has panoramic views of the Aegean and the Sanctuary of Delian Apollo. Dimitrios Lianos is the 2nd generation and keeps the very attractive hotel open year round.
Delos Island: birthplace of Apollo
Apollo was born on Delos, another son of Zeus and brother to Dionysus. Yet Delos, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, did not need Apollo’s stardom even in antiquity.
Delos was firmly established as a spiritual center by at least 2,000 BC. The rock island of Delos, a mere 9 miles by boat from Mykonos, is one of the most important Greek archaeological sites. The excavations are under the direction of the French School at Athens.
At its zenith in the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Delos was the wealthiest city in ancient Greece. It had an astounding population for its day of 25,000. Wealth poured into the temples in return for guidance.
Geographically it was in the right location to serve the Pan-Hellenic world of Asia Minor and the Greek mainland. Evidence of multiple agoras, mansions with exquisite mosaics, a theater with a spectacular panorama and even a luxury hotel speaks of its international appeal as a religious vacation destination for the wealthy of the Aegean.
Since the small rocky island of Delos produced little in the way of food to support the population, Naxos agriculture benefited mightily. The position of Mykonos Island – named after Mykons a son or grandson of Apollo – made it an ideal middleman for commerce to Delos.
Delos can only be reached by boat. Many excursions are available from Chora, Mykonos, either just to Delos or part of daily and multi-day yacht charters. Do allow 2 to 4 hours just to get a sense of this once great city and view the treasures in the museum.
Laurent Medrano’s L’o Yachting is a leading Mykonos charter company. L’o Yachting has its own kitchen and staff that caters the food needs of its charters. Even on a half-day excursion to Delos a delicious and healthy picnic lunch of wraps, salads and in-house baked goods was provided.
Mykonos: island of winds
Tourism is a major industry and Mykonos is well known for its vibrant 24/7 summer season nightlife and for being a gay-friendly destination with many establishments catering for the LGBT community. It has also replaced Delos as Greece’s wealthiest and most expensive island destination.
Mykonos is firmly ensconced among such luxury destinations as Ibiza and the Seychelles. The international rich and famous will fill the hundreds of stunning villas, chic restaurants and toney shops. This island of 10,000 population will swell by 4 million visitors during the summer season.
Despite its party reputation Mykonos is more subdued than other luxury Cyclades destinations. There is 24-hour shopping and dinning/drinking, especially in Chora, yet entertainment may occur just as often in a fully staffed luxury villa.
The Golden Butler, created by architectural restoration expert Kostantina Kokotos, gives the term “full service” an extended definition. Along with an army of on-call staff from doctors to helicopter pilots, The Golden Butler does not simply manage villas. It creates the customized life-style their individual clients desire.
A butler, chef, guards, chauffeur and nanny can literally cater to every need at any hour. Celebrities, royalty, industry moguls, high-tech billionaires or a couple wanting a dream wedding often desire discretion and seclusion when they have time to relax.
Mykonos has been recently voted best service in Europe. It’s obvious service is a given as I shadow Kostantina as she juggles constant phone calls while being my personal guide. Not only was the season opening, but also construction of new villas was being supervised.
Villas and resorts on Mykonos are often built into the hillsides to maximize view. Clean lines constructed with native stone, marble, concrete, tile and glass grace the architectural landscape of Mykonos governed by strict building codes. At night indirect lighting bath the hills in a candle-like glow
The villas of The Golden Butler range in size from luxury modest to a two dozen bedroom palace suitable for an extended family or an entire wedding party. A smorgasbord of services is provided, and the safety, security and privacy of clients is paramount to The Golden Butler. Any number of emergencies are covered by specialists on-call 24/7.
What to do:
Chora: wander and get lost in the narrow ancient twisting streets of Chora. Shop for top designer jewelry, clothing, arts and crafts. Dine or just have a drink in any of the cafes along the atmospheric Little Venice waterfront. In the summer season the historic core is pedestrian only.
Ftelia Beach is Natura 2000 certified (laws protecting local animal species with restrictions on human activity).
Super Paradise Beach with its up-scale beach bars is well known to party seekers both straight and gay. It is geographically beautiful with golden sand and wave carved craggy cliffs – and loud music.
Yummy Pedals, guided bike tours – biking, swimming and food tasting. The tours begin and end at the Vioma organic winery and farm.
Where to stay:
For the true luxury experience book a Golden Butler villa.
Where to eat:
Taverna Marcos & Vaso – oldest on island since 1982. Fish fresh daily off the boats. They also sell a local cherry flavored tsipouro: Byssino.
Alemahou – fresh sea urchin, Grandma’s eggplant. Vassilis Moshos is not shy deconstructing traditional recipes or serving some of the sea’s exotic delicacies.
Eat, Play Love: John has a long pedigree in the restaurant and entertainment industries. His imaginative dishes have flair: poached egg on pastrami, pistachio pancakes with chocolate sauce and fresh fruit.
Bakery Attika Aptoliolela – a plethora of traditional breads, pastries and strong coffee.
180 Degrees Sunset Bar: It’s a bit of a hike to reach this very popular bar. Perched on the hillside high above the Chora, 180 Degrees offers you views, the finest gin martini I’ve had in Europe and a delicious ham and cheese tray with some of Europe’s best cured hams.
Scorpios is the place to be seen on Mykonos. I had the good fortune of being invited by owners Thomas and Mario, and Marina, public relations director, to their much sought after 2018 season opening party. The rich and famous seek relaxation just like anyone else – with good music, food and friends. On Sunset Beach it commands an impressive location that blends into the craggy shoreline. An eclectic menu reflects international tastes.
Vioma organic winery and farm is an experience as well as a purveyor of fine wine and philosophy. Only organic and biodynamic methods are used in growing both grapes and produce. This includes fanciful found objects turned into folk art by the owner, Nikolas Asimomytis, and placed among the vines. Speakers scattered around the vineyard broadcast classical music.
Nikolas says the vines closest to the speakers are thicker, more productive, so he plans to expand the speaker system. I am as contented as the gods must have been to just relax on Vioma’s dining terrace, sipping dry organic wine, gazing over contented grapevines listening to classical music – the magic of the Cyclades.
When you go: Naxos and Mykonos can be reached by ferry service from Pireaus and Rafina. I recommend the comfortable ships of Blue Star Ferries from Pireaus and there are a couple choices from Rafina. It is possible to fly from Athens to both islands.
Disclaimer: The author was the guest of the businesses mentioned in this article. All opinions are my own. I wish to thank Dimitrios Lianos of the Municipality of Naxos and the Small Cyclades for my itinerary and your company, and Re Make Consulting for facilitating the arrangements. Motonaxos Car & Bike Rental provided transportation on Naxos.