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Naxos has a wonderfully diverse landscape that ranges from the severe beauty of marble mountains and deep, Eden-like valleys to perfect and deserted beaches. It is Greece in microcosm, where walkers explore an infinite network of traditional paths and experience classic Greek countryside, coastlines and culture.
Because of the island’s size (about 750 sq km – the size of the Isle of Wight, for UK readers), soil, and plentiful water, it is self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy produce, and produces its own wine, liqueurs, and olive oil. The seasonal rhythm of farming life evokes a sense of peace and continuity as you walk through tiny villages bordered by market garden terraces and citrus orchards, beside channels of sparkling water.
The island’s eventful past reaches far back to the myths of ancient Greece. Minotaur-slayer Theseus abandoned the Cretan princess Ariadne here. Some say that the wine god Dionysos was born in a cave high above the island’s north-east coast and that the Olympian god Zeus grew to manhood on the slopes of Mount Zas.
You see history around you as you walk, in the shaping of the land and in its art and architecture, or a pre-Classical temple commanding a broad valley of golden fields. Mysterious grave circles are set in a granite moonscape at the foot of a weathered tor – which is topped by the ruins of a fortified palace built by Venetian occupiers.
The walks take you to magical parts of the island that you would never discover on your own, along marble-paved mule-tracks and hidden valley paths, past the crumbling ruins of a vaulted monastery in a luxuriant, wild garden or a remote Byzantine chapel with rare frescoes.
Arrival. You are met at the port or airport and taken to your accommodation, either a hotel in Naxos town or the Walking Plus country villa, which is 800m from the best beaches on the island.
Over high farmland, then a network of traditional paths that link the ruins of a bishop’s summer residence and an architecturally interesting church, the steep-stacked houses and orchards of the Potamia villages, a ruined monastery in an exotic abandoned garden, and marble quarries, ancient and modern. B&B cobbler’s village house, Mesipotamia.
An old ‘potter’s road’ leads beneath a granite tor topped by a ruins of a Venetian fort, then through olive groves to a picturesque village with distillery and sun-dappled plateia (square). Pass a tiny chapel with an extraordinary view, and ascend Mount Fanari via a marble-paved path that zig-zags like a collapsible ruler. The view from the summit is sensational, and the descent to the mountain village of Apeiranthos is short. B&B, village rooms.
From the café terraces of Apeiranthos, a path descends through woodland to an isolated chapel with rare frescos that emerge like magic paintings from the shadows. Cross to a harsher landscape with the rusting remains of a once-thriving emery-mining industry as views open out of a spectacular stretch of coastline. Reach the coast at the tiny port of Moutsouna, with its taverns and sandy beaches. Accommodation, village rooms.
After a day exploring and relaxing on the coast around Moutsouna, we pick up you and your baggage and drive you to the village of Filoti. Accommodation, beautifully restored neo-Classical house.
Climb from the village to a fortified monastery with a prospect of sea and the islands of the Minor Cyclades. A dazzling white, marble path leads to a village in a deep-cleft valley, from which you head gradually uphill to towards Mount Zas (1004m), highest point in the Cyclades. From the summit are breathtaking views of land and sea, and, if you’re lucky, wheeling Bonelli’s eagles or Griffon vultures. Accommodation, neo-Classical house.
Start with sweeping views of a plain silver-green with olives and studded with Venetian tower houses, and continue through maze-like lanes of two prosperous villages, one with a finely restored olive press. Then walk through a wide valley flanked by limestone crags where eagles fly before reaching a broad vale that has been farmed for millennia, crowned by the marble of the early-Classical Temple of Demeter. B&B, Walking Plus country villa.
The island remains extraordinarily beautiful, filled with ancient Greek remains and Venetian towers, its whitewashed villages and well-watered terraces clinging to the sides of mountains that soar above deep green valleys. Olive trees and vineyards flourish in the fertile soil that for 5,000 years has attracted settlers.
There can be few Greek islands more suited to walking than Naxos, where verdant valleys, orchards and vineyards temper the rocky Cycladic landscape – and where tour operator Walking Plus has introduced self-guided walks.