Exploring The Charming Ancient Mountain Villages Of Naxos, Greece
Like many Greek islands, Naxos often gets hyped up because of its beautiful sparkling beaches. But what many people don’t realize is that Naxos’ mountain villages also make an amazing roadtrip destination, providing a quiet, unhurried glimpse into the local culture.
If you’re planning a trip to Naxos, I believe you need to include at least a day exploring the ancient mountain villages dotted throughout the island—and I’ll talk about several of them here in-depth!
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Naxos has been at the center of Cycladic life since 4000 BCE, so you’ll see ruins from millennia of history throughout the island…from Thracians to Ionians, and Romans to Venetians.
As an island, it’s often overlooked in favor of the more-famous Santorini and Mykonos, and it’s generally uncrowded and more affordable—a hidden gem! Besides the largest town (Naxos Chora), there are more than 64 villages on the island, most of which are mountainous and known for their cooler climate and local cuisine.
This foodie aspect is due to the fact that Naxos is the most fertile island of the Cyclades, with a good supply of water that makes it a major agricultural player (particularly potatoes and dairy products, along with olive oil and citrus).
The green, mountainous landscape is a far cry from the barren, volcanic vistas of Santorini (the two islands make a great pairing), and really bears more of a resemblance to Crete.
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Where to stay in Naxos
You’ll definitely want to think about where the best base is…I stayed in two amazing hotels, and have compared and reviewed both in this post on where to stay in Naxos.
On the one hand, you can reach about anywhere you want on the island fairly easily. So most people base themselves in Naxos Chora (and I stayed a couple nights there at the lovely Hotel Grotta.
But if you’re looking for something a bit more unique (and definitely easier for really deeply exploring Naxos’s mountain villages), you should definitely consider the unique luxury ELaiolithos.
It’s the only hotel that’s located up in the mountains. The location and views are amazing, and the owner Helen’s hospitality is very welcoming. This is a gorgeous, unique stay in the Naxos “mountains”!
There are also many apartment rentals to choose from up in the mountain villages, and that’s always a unique local way to experience an area (and helpful for families looking for flexibility and money saving). I recommend checking VRBO, there are a ton of awesome-looking options.
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What to wear in Naxos (your packing list)
I have a more detailed overall Naxos packing list in my Naxos Town post, and though I mentioned there that Naxos can be super windy, that’s not as much of an issue inland. Because of that, I pretty much lived in sundresses.
I visited in late September and it was still quite hot during the day and warm enough at night. So I gave my fave lightweight Athleta and Eddie Bauer travel pants a little rest and threw on some of my go-to sundresses (this flowy one with fluttery cap sleeves got a lot of use, along with t-shirt dresses and tank dresses).
In addition to Amazon, I’ve had excellent luck with StitchFix in the past few years (I prefer to pick my own out vs. use the personal shopper option). Shoe-wise I alternated between my sandal life partner (seriously the most comfortable) and favorite new find for this trip, cute white Olukai sneakers (specifically this style, which doesn’t give me rubbing or blisters).
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Renting a car and driving in Naxos
In my opinion, you definitely need a car for exploring the mountain villages of Naxos! And overall, driving in Naxos is very doable, though hilly and winding, and occasionally you’ll run into some not-so-great roads.
I’ve written a much deeper guide to renting a car in Naxos and what to expect from the driving, how to navigate the island, road quality, gas station etiquette, and more.
I ended up using Joyride Naxos on a recommendation from my hotel owner (because I was having trouble finding an automatic transmission booking pretty late). It was a pretty good experience on-balance, though there were a few small hiccups. I would recommend searching on both DiscoverCars, RentalCars.com, and AutoEurope as well.
What if I don’t want to rent a car but still want to explore the island??
If you don’t want to rent a car, your other option is to take a half-day or full-day tour of Naxos…you can see options here, including private tours (compare here and here as well). I prefer private tours as you can fully shape the itinerary and skip things you don’t care about. I’d also strongly consider a food tour, as Naxos is kind of known as a foodie destination.
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5+ Naxos mountain villages you need to explore
I’m going to talk about all the villages I visited, and mention a few I didn’t get to. You can plot them on a map and there’s not one “right” order to visit them…I’m going in a generally-logical order below, but you can ping-pong between them for the most part (the distances are relatively small).
If you’re really tight on time, I recommend doing a loop of Chalkio, Filoti, and Apeiranthos, with ideally a short stop at the beautiful Rotonda restaurant. I also have a full detailed Naxos roadtrip guide that goes into things to see and do all over the island, if you’re interested!
Eggares was my first Naxos mountain village stop, and I didn’t spend a ton of time exploring the town itself. I had a specific destination in mind, and that was the Eggares Olive Press Museum.
Naxos is full of olive groves (including a 6,300-year-old olive tree), and this is THE place to learn more about the olive oil and overall harvesting process. Not to mention getting to taste the fruits of their labors.
This is a tiny, informal museum (basically one room, plus a tasting room and shop). A nice young man took me and a few other people on the tour and told us all about the process and history of olive oil on the island. Then I tasted a few of the products, such as olive oil, olive oil cake, and “sweet olives” (they’re boiled in sugar and cinnamon water).
My favorite fact was that he said that Naxos is so obsessed with olive oil that they not only use it instead of butter, but they even baptize babies in it…it makes the baby slippery so the devil cannot grasp them 🙂
Most half-day and full-day tours of Naxos include a brief stop at the olive press museum. As far as I can tell there wasn’t a ton more to see here, and so I moved on to other villages.
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I tried to find the Melanes church, but Google Maps was not my friend that day (the pic below is not it, nor could I figure out what church it is…but it was beautiful!).
Melanes is one of the oldest villages on the island, about 8 km southeast of Naxos Town. I can’t remember for sure, but I’m not sure I ended up stopping in the village. It was definitely on my mid-tier list though.
Specifically, Melanes is the start and ending point for a very cool loop walk to Myli to the Kouroi of Flerio and back. It’s supposed to be a beautiful walk, easy to do, and takes about 2-3 hours. You can see a detailed recounting of this walk from EarthTrekkers.
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A.k.a. Halki or Chalkio or probably like seven other names. Okay, now we’re really getting to the good stuff. Chalki is about 20 minutes from Naxos Town and 5-10 minutes from ELaiolithos Hotel.
I ended up spending time in Chalki on probably three or four separate visits, so really got a good feel for it. On my first stop, I had to park in the public lot that’s a few-minutes walk from the main little walking area. On other visits I found street parking.
I got sidetracked by a giant slice of galaktoboureko at Tradizionale Caffè Ristorante Galanis. It was absolutely delicious, and I wish I’d had time to try several different spots. (Tip: I’ve heard through the grapevine that To Spitiko Galaktompoureko has the best).
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My first visit was midday on a Friday, and the town was really buzzing (parking and cafe seating were at a premium). I came back mid/late afternoon on Saturday and it was definitely less insane.
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My host at ELaiolithos brought me back here in the evening (and then I came back for dinner the next night) and the village really shines in the late afternoon/early evening once the day tripper crowds have gone.
She recommended dinner at Paravas, which is a super cool spot. I had saganaki, moussaka, traditional Naxian potatoes with graviera cheese, and some Greek wine.
Her mom has a traditional textiles shop where she weaves items right across the street from Paravas, would be great to stop in if that’s the type of souvenir you’d enjoy.
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One of the cool things to do in Halki is to walk to the church of Agios Giorgios Diasoritis. But I’m not sure what I did wrong, or if I just got impatient. Supposedly it’s just a 10-minute walk from the village, and I was following some other people on the same mission.
We walked past some really old olive trees and then a different (white) church, and I turned around a bit after this because I was running tight on time. This church is where I was supposed to end up. It’s really neat so maybe be a bit more patient than I was, or ask locals to make sure?
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There’s some nice shopping in Chalkio for local products, and the most famous is also something you can tour. This is where the local liquor, kitron, is distilled, and many people will list the Kitron Distillery as a must-visit. It was a self-guided tour through a few rooms, not particularly educational.
As someone who has toured a lot of distilleries in my day, I don’t feel like this stop is worth it. I had a cocktail with kitron while in Naxos Town, but here I tried to get kitron ice cream next door to the distillery…sadly they were out (I got cherry instead).
If you’re doing a tour of Naxos instead of a self-driving roadtrip, you might consider doing a private tour and having them go to Chalkio but skip the distillery.
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From Chalkio I went on to Filoti, but a side-trip you could consider here is the nearby village of Damalas, which has a traditional pottery workshop. I wanted to stop here but didn’t get a chance. Definitely worth checking out, though, it gets great reviews!
(These pics aren’t Damalas as far as I know, just some of the beautiful views as you’re driving between villages.)
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Filoti is only 2km away from Chalki, but I didn’t end up spending as much time here because I had trouble finding parking every time I drove through.
Filoti is the largest village in Tragea Valley, so has lots of good options for taverns, restaurants, and apartment rentals. Winding up the hill from the main road, you’ll find a maze of streets and alleyways that are perfect for meandering without a destination in mind.
It also has a photogenic white marble church, Panagia Filotissia (Virgin Mary of Filoti), toward the top of the town that is absolutely worth the hilly walk.
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Even if you only stop briefly (as I did), Filoti is very cute and worth a walk around, to sit and have a drink or snack. I sat at a cafe called Platanos right on the main road for a smoothie and to enjoy the shade and breeze for a few minutes.
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I headed along the road toward Apiranthos (Naxos also spells it Apeiranthos), but on the way I definitely had to stop at the stunning Rotonda restaurant. I’ve written a separate post on this lovely spot, which is a must-visit in your Naxos mountain village explorations, as long as the weather is nice.
It would be amazing at sundown as well!
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Pro tip: I think the views and pullouts going the opposite direction (from Apeiranthos to Chalki) are better.
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Apeiranthos (or Apiranthos)
This village absolutely deserves a spot on your itinerary of Naxos mountain villages. The name means “plenty of flowers”, and it’s a beautiful STEEP little village full of little alleyways and paved walking paths. For the most part you park on the edge of town and then walk into/up into the main town area.
I ended up parking in two different places as the parking situation was a bit confusing. One was just the side of the road, and the other was a public parking lot.
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Visiting Apiranthos won’t take long, but is worth carving out the time to do (especially since the drive there is also gorgeous, with lots of beautiful viewpoints). I did a bit of souvenir shopping and forgot to try and find the old wood bakery (a dying art) that is supposedly there.
A couple of things that are somewhat nearby are Agios Mamas, a mid-9th century church that’s the oldest in the Balkans (and which I famously discovered accidentally while on a harrowing drive where Google Maps failed me). It’s gorgeous and completely untouristy, worth a visit.
Additionally, from Filoti and before you get to Apiranthos, you can hike to the top of Mount Zeus, the highest point of the Cyclades. Naxos’ most famous hike starts at “Aria Spring” and is supposed to take an hour and a half. I didn’t end up doing any hiking while on Naxos, but it’s a very popular pasttime.
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From Apeiranthos, you can continue on to Koronos, which I didn’t get a chance to visit. This is also your gateway to some of the best beaches in Naxos. Similarly, I didn’t get a chance to visit the lush town of Flerio.
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This is just a brief tour of Naxos’ mountain villages, but hopefully I’ve convince you to make room in your Naxos itinerary for exploring these charming, historic spots!
Other super cool historic village roadtrips you’ll love:
- Exploring the Hill Towns of Northern Croatia
- A “Cheesy” Morning In Gruyères, Switzerland
- A First-Timer’s Guide To Cappadocia, Turkey
- Soaking In The Charms Of Tiny Cortona, Italy
- Santorini Beyond Oia: A Roadtrip Exploring The Island
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