For many people a visit to the Greek island of Naxos will involve walking up and down the harbour strip, and finding the quickest route through the small town to their hotel. They might perhaps take a trip to a few beaches south of the main port but few will actually explore the rest of the island which is the largest in the Cyclades group at 429 km2.
Fortunately for those who like to do more than sit by the pool, there is a tour which takes you into the inner regions of Naxos and proves there’s more to this island than first meets the eye. The Hidden Naxos Tour is run by British ex-photo journalist Stuart Thorpe who has lived and worked on Naxos for over 25 years. The tour basically involves being driven around the island for a day with seven other people, and Stuart behind the wheel giving you the low-down on what makes Naxos tick. And there’s not a lot about Naxos Stuart doesn’t know.
He tells us the tourist industry on Naxos is so firmly ensconced near the Chora (or main town) this means cheap land for sale everywhere else. On our journey he points out buildings in progress dotted around the landscape, well the concrete structures at least. The concrete can take some time to dry out before the house can be constructed and finally painted in the typical whitewash with blue trimmings. He says whitewash is the cheapest paint to use which is why there are so many white buildings in the Cyclades islands. Its use is also practical as it reflects the heat better than any other colour.
Although Naxos relies heavily on tourism in the summer months (at least 15-20% of its income) it is largely an agricultural island and is famous for its potatoes. Another industry, though one Stuart says is becoming more expensive to run, is that of marble importing. Naxos has entire mountains made of marble which get slowly chipped away as the marble is removed in blocks and ground down into sheets.
Stuart’s tour takes us right through the heart of the marble mountains and even stops off at a marble producing factory. Be warned though, if you’re expecting pamphlets and guided tours you’ll be disappointed. When we arrived there was just a machine grinding down a huge block of marble and lots of marble slabs everywhere. The workers were nowhere in sight. Stuart explained it was such a long process that they’d probably set the machine running and gone home for lunch.
As we discovered, when we also stopped at a traditional taverna a bit further on, lunch can be a time-consuming process. No ready made food for us, the potatoes were literally being peeled in front of our eyes. This did give us time, however, to try the locally made wine which was very drinkable, especially after the second or third glass.
Hospitality is the one thing you may not find in some of the cafes and restaurants in the tourist area of Naxos, but out of that sphere it’s alive and well on the rest of the island. Home grown potatoes, Greek salad, olives and fresh baked bread with locally made olive oil were set cheerfully before us by the owners of the restaurant and we were even able to try a bowl of the lentil soup the owner had made for his lunch. As we were leaving, the wife pressed apples from their tree into our hands which was a nice touch.
There’s lots more to discover on the Hidden Naxos Tour but you’ll just have to find out for yourself once you go on it. I found cheap tickets to Naxos from Athens flying Olympic Airlines, and Athens is a major tourist destination so you should have no trouble finding cheap flights going there from any city in the UK or Europe.