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Friday, August 07, 2009

NAXOS: ARIADNE'S ISLAND


Naxos Beach II Hotel
NAXOS, June 10 - 13, 2009
This island, the largest of the Cyclades, is one of my favorite Greek islands. This was the fourth time I've been here. Twice I came on solo camping trips, and two years ago I visited with my friend Anna Britt. I wanted my sister and niece to experience this unique island as, like all the islands in Greece, it has it own very special charm.

The island is the one where Theseus, when he was fleeing from captivity and chaos in Crete, bringing along the Cretan princess Ariadne, stopped on his way back to Athens. Somehow he 'lost' or 'abandoned' Ariadne. There are various stories. One is that she ran off with Dionysos, the god of wine and was so entranced that Theseus left her behind. At the harbour entrance there is a small island with the remains of a temple built for Apollo that was never finished. Only the portal stands. There is also a sanctuary for Ariadne near there.

No matter what Ariadne's story is, Naxos is an intriguing island. The first time I visited here I had a definite feeling of abandonment, with the many coastal villages that had been abandoned due to pirate raids. You have to take the round the island tour if you go to Naxos and you will learn all about it's fantastic history.

The Venetian ruled here for some years and at the main port of Naxos town there is a Venetian castle on the hill overlooking the harbour, and still some ruined buildings that are distinctly Venetian style, including the vaulted little cobblestone streets of the old city called Kastro.

I had wanted to stay at a beach hotel, but we were unable to get the one I had stayed in last time. Instead we had this very nice hotel which was high on a hill with a view of the beach below and the hills. We were able to take taxis down to the beach and from there catch the island bus into town. But next time I go back I would like to go to the Maragas Beach camp site again, where I camped several years ago. There are 25 kilometers of sandy beach on the Naxos coast. It's really a beautiful paradise!

Maragas Beach
The round-the-island bus tour, with an excellent tour guide on board, is an all-day tour, taking you around the whole island on winding hair-pin mountain roads giving you a panorama view of the countryside. Naxos is a fertile island, unlike barren Mykonos, producing olives, grapes, figs, citrus, corn and the best potatoes you've ever tasted. There are also emery mines on the island.
It was an important island during the Byzantine period and there are about 500 churchs and monasteries. The bus tour stops as several of the mountain villages, a ceramics workshop, and (my favorite) the distillery where they distill Kitron, a liquor brewed from the kitron, a large, lumpy lemon-like fruit once called by the Greek 'the Median apple'. Possibly the first of these fruits were brought to Greece by Alexander who sent many samples of flora and fauna back from Persia for Aristotle, his teacher.

There are three colors and strengths of this liquor: white is the strongest, yellow is medium strength and sweetness, green is more like an apertif. You can drink it straight (in a shooter glass) or mix it. The bar girl at the hotel mixed the green kitron with coconut liqueur and white rum for a drink call "Ariadne of Naxos". I brought some white kitron home with me this time and will try it myself.

The winding mountain roads

One of the interesting things you'll see on your trip around the island is this giant 7th century kouros which was cracked when carved and left in situ. It's supposed to be a statue of Apollo and is near the coast town of Apollonas where we stopped for lunch and a swim.
7th century kouros

We had purchased tickets to go to Samos Island and from there intended to go to Kusadasi Turkey. Unfortunately, we mis-read the time on the ferry and when we got to the port we discovered it had left at 1 a.m. not 1 p.m . as we thought. What to do? It happened that there was a ferry arriving at 1 p.m. for Santorini. So, after a brief discussion, we decided to hop on it and go. My sister and niece were actually delighted by this change of plans. I was disappointed about not going to Samos, but I hadn't been to Santorini for about 20 years, so I was just as pleased with our quick decision. Although I was sorry to be leaving the beautiful beaches of Naxos (which we didn't get enough time to really enjoy) I was keen to see what Santorini was like now -- it was an island I had avoided because of the heavy tourism. But it was time to return there and see for myself if it had changed from the days when I used to stay there on little Perissa beach.


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