Olympic Holidays

Village of Chalki

On the route to the Apiranthos, about 16km east of Naxos Town, is the village of Halki or Chalki. The village has a reputation for its handsome houses, Byzantine churches with 12th century murals and several fine Venetian pyrgi or tower houses.

The village itself is a dusty, lifeless little place and somehow fails to live up to its reputation as one of the richest villages on the island. Guide descriptions such as 'attractive', 'quaint' and 'lovely' are hard to justify on the ground, among the dust and litter.

Chalki has many crumbling old mansion houses, recalling its more prosperous days and there are several old towers nearby such as Gratsias (or Barotsis), Papadakis at nearby Akademi and of Marcopolites at neighbouring Kerami.

Also of note is the old 19th century distillery where the 'Citrus of Naxos' liquor was famous not only on Naxos but the whole of Greece. Today they sell ouzo in the centre of the village.

The local churches are also worth a visit, notably Panaghia Protothrone, dating from the 9th century and the religious museum beside it with ritual relics as well as icons. Panagia Drossiani, one of the oldest and most important, is found on the right on the steep hill as you head towards the mountain village of Moni. Built between the 6th and 10th centuries BC it has rare wall paintings from the 9th century and wonderful views over the fertile Tragea valley.

Tragea is one of the most fertile parts of Naxos, full of olive trees and citrus orchards that produce the largest amount of the island's agricultural products. Across the rolling hills are not only Halki but also the villages of Acadimi, Chimarros, Kaloxilos, Damalas, Damarionas and Tsilikario.

Filoti village of Naxos

But for its position and some pleasant roadside tavernas, you probably wouldn't give the drab village of Filoti a second glance. As it is, it rates highly in all the tourist guides, mainly for the wonderful views down the Tragea valley - stuffed solid with olive and fruit trees - and of Mount Za which, at just over 1000 metres, is the highest mountain on the island.

The tiny church of Agios Iannis can be seen perched on the mountain opposite and there is reputed to be a path up to the Za summit - if you can find it let me know. Zeus was born in a cave on Mount Za, they say, but it is a two hour trek up steep and poorly marked tracks and all you get for your trouble is a small cave with a smaller inner chamber, two large stalagmites and heat-stroke.

Filoti itself is little more than a single straight road on the side of the mountain - a tarmac terrace to take in the views. You leave the main road at your peril; dead end farm tracks are everywhere and signs are non-existent.

Filoti's long, narrow street is lined with shops selling everything from saucepans to bagged sheep fleeces. A few roadside cafes offer refreshments and shaded tables and chairs cluster under large roadside plane trees.

The village also has an interesting church, Panagia Filotitissa, built in 1801 and containing some good icons, a marble iconostasis screen and a nicely carved bell tower.

Village of Apiranthos

Perched precariously on the slopes of Mount Fanari with the valley below filled with olive and fruit groves Apeiranthos or Apiranthos is one of the most attractive and interesting villages on the island.

Wandering around the narrow marble streets, under archways and up whitewashed stone steps, is a great delight. Small piazzas crop up unexpectedly, sometimes housing a small taverna or street cafe. The chimneys are eye-catching too and the village roofs are called ‘the garden of strange flowers’.

Local handicraft is on sale and much of it is fine, local stuff. A women's co-operative sells gorgeous, if pricey, handwoven textiles and there is a clutch of museums to visit. The archaeology museum has Cycladic figurines and slate drawings while the museum of popular art has some exquisite locally-made artifacts.

The Museum of Natural History is rather less well endowed with a few old bird nests, some bleached bones, pressed flowers and fish pickled in jars and all packed into a tiny room.

The village is noted for several varieties of cheese, although the stuff I bought in the local shop had the texture, colour and consistency of marble. The local dialect is a mixture of Cretan and ancient Greek and the village has, for some unaccountable reason, produced a great number of intellectuals and politicians.

Kouros statue at Apollonas

The remarkable 'kouros' statues can be seen at both Melanes and Apollonas. They are huge but incomplete statues of young men, thought to be destined to hold up a temple roof on the holy island of Delos. These examples are believed to have been abandoned by ancient sculptors after faults were found in the marble. A 'kouros' is always a young naked man with clenched fists, standing with left leg forward, similar to Egyptian sculptures.

Their nakedness is a unique element, found only in Greek culture since the 8th century BC. The Egyptians had male sculptures but they, at least, wore a loincloth of some sort. These naked statues are important historically as they are free-standing for the first time in western art.

The best known statue on Naxos is the colossal kouros found near Apollonas, in the north-east, that dates from the 6th century BC. This kouros, lying on the hillside above the resort, is more than 10 metres from top to toe. Cement steps have been built alongside it to provide easy access for visitors that these days arrive by the bus load.

Curiously marked as a village on most maps, Melanes is actually the name of a valley directly east of Naxos Town, dotted with several hamlets and dense with fruit and olive trees.

It is best known for its own 7th century kouros which, at 6.4 metres, is smaller than its more famous neighbour at Apollonas. The figure is well signposted from the main road out of Hora and can be approached on the right just beyond the village of Mioi.

The kouros lies in a meticulously tended and lush private orchard, near a stream. Visitors are sometimes welcomed with drinks and fruit and the enchanting setting holds a charm that is missing from its more northern cousin.

Prygi Towers of Naxos

Naxos is noted for its fortified towers or pyrgi which can be found dotted all over the island. There are several distinct types and they were built either for defence against pirates or as country homes for occupying Venetians. The latter are unique in combining western and Cycladic architectural styles in their 'pyrgi'.

The Venetian towers were built with local stone, un-plastered and without any covering so that they blended into the surrounding countryside. The most important Venetian Towers are the Bellonia tower, built a little way out of the village Galanado; the towers of Gratsia and Markopoliti, in the area of Tragea; and the tower of Fragopoulos, in the village Kourounohori.

Many of the larger towers are surrounded by strong walls which once enclosed a courtyard, stables and storerooms. Doors and windows are often topped by sculpted marble lintels. They often had battlements built around the roofs. In Agia, about 6 km from the village Apollonas, is the Agia Tower located at a strategic spot near the most northerly point of the island.

One of the most important towers is the Chimaros or Himmaros Tower. Guide books put it just outside Halki but it is a hefty drive south, partly along a dirt track. The tower dates from the 4th century BC, has three storeys and is enclosed within a square stone wall. It probably served as a lookout post in the years when pirates regularly raided the island.