Naxos

6 Things Visitors Should Do When They Visit the Island of Naxos

Greece is famous for its many gorgeous islands, which offer the promise of a picture-perfect beach vacation. Despite the literally thousands of islands to choose from, however, tourists tend to visit the same few: Santorini, Mykonos, and Corfu are among the most popular. However, a less-crowded destination that’s definitely worth a visit is Naxos, the largest of the islands in the Cyclades archipelago. Naxos has a rough, mountainous terrain dotted with a handful of small, charming villages—and more importantly, a wide range of different attractions and things to do. As the mythological home of Zeus, Naxos has also played an important role in the history of Greece. Visitors who spend some time on Naxos may want to build time in their schedule to:

 

  1. Explore different mountain villages.

Naxos boasts more than 40 different villages, each of which has its own distinct features and charm. Visitors will find unique architecture and fascinating traditions dating to ancient times in each of these towns. One of the best villages to explore is Halki on the northern part of the island. Halki features Venetian towers and Byzantine churches that tell the story of its long and varied history. In addition, make time to see Koronos in the northeast part of the island. A gorgeous valley full of vineyards surrounds this village, which has become famous for its wine. Koronos has a number of different vantage points for enjoying the splendor of the valley while enjoying a glass of locally produced wine.

 

  1. Play on the island’s many beaches.

Like many of the other islands in Greece, Naxos has a number of beaches perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and whiling away the afternoon. Visitors should hop around between beaches to figure out their favorites early on, but a few stand out as must-sees. One of these is Agia Anna on the southwest part of the island. Here, visitors can relax on sunbeds underneath wide umbrellas as they sip on a cocktail from a nearby bar. People who want a more active beach experience should check out Palaka, located along the southwest coast of the island. Windsurfing and kitesurfing are popular pastimes here. Perhaps the most famous beach on Naxos is Agios Prokopios on the western part of the island. In fact, Agios Prokopios has earned recognition as one of the top beaches in all of Europe, with its clear water and soft golden sand.

 

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  1. Learn about the archaeological sites.

Visitors in Greece will find exciting archaeological sites across the country, and Naxos is no exception. One of the sites that travelers should not miss is Portara, which has become a symbol of the island and sits near the entrance to the port. Portara is a large marble doorframe that was part of an unfinished temple honoring Apollo. Located on a small promontory, the doorframe overlooks Delos, the mythological birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, his sister. Another interesting site is the Temple of Demeter near the village of Sangri. Archaeologists think that the same people who were involved in the design and construction of this temple also built the Parthenon in Athens.

 

  1. Find the marble giants hidden on the island.

Since ancient times, Naxos has been known for its marble. As visitors make their way to the interior of the island, they will undoubtedly see the large patches of marble embedded in the hillsides. Archaeologists know that marble was mined on the island even in the ancient world because of the kouros. These massive marble statues were abandoned in the countryside, presumably because they broke during transit. There are two kouros: one in Flerio and the other in Apollonas. While it may seem like these huge statues carved to resemble humans would be easy to find, they actually take a bit of work to locate, and perhaps some conversation with local residents or other visitors. The statues’ size and age, however, make them worth the effort.

 

  1. Wander around Naxos Town.

The largest city on the island is known as Chora or Naxos Town. For most visitors, this town will serve as home base for trips around the island, but it’s important to take the time to explore its charming streets. Narrow paths wind by the characteristic whitewashed houses on the hillside, leading to restaurants and shops selling handmade goods. While wandering the streets, tourists will come across a number of beautiful gardens, napping cats, and friendly residents. Naxos Town also boasts several cute cafés and a handful of great restaurants for getting a true sense of what island Greek cuisine is like. Unlike some of the other islands, commercialization has yet to transform Naxos. While in Chora, definitely take time to explore Kastro, a Venetian castle constructed in the 1200s, and have some coffee in its cafeteria overlooking the port.

 

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  1. Climb to the top of Mount Zeus.

The highest peak in the Cyclades is Mount Zeus, found on Naxos. However, because the mountain is only about a kilometer high, it’s not very difficult to get to the top and enjoy a sweeping view of the island. However, even people who don’t reach the summit can spend some time in the Cave of Zeus, where the god purportedly hid from his father, Cronus, who wanted to eat him. Climbing up Mount Zeus is a great way to feel more connected to the rich mythology that underlies Greek history while taking in some amazing views in a spot that is often left off of tourist to-do lists.

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greece

7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece That You Need to Visit

For thousands of years, Greece has been a crossroads of civilization. The many different people who have called Greece home have created an intriguing mosaic of cultures and archaeology in the country. This fact makes Greece one of the most exciting countries to explore in the world. Tourists who visit these structures that have stood for millennia can learn about how much life has changed by examining the artifacts of these civilizations.

Due to its unique history, Greece has a large number of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The places included on the World Heritage List point to the creative genius of humans through the ages and testify to a unique culture that has become part of our heritage. Read on to learn about some of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Greece that you need to visit.

 

Temple of Apollo Epicurius

Named a World Heritage site in 1986, the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae is located on an isolated mountainside in the Peloponnese, which makes it difficult to visit. However, tourists are enamored with its unique construction and design. One of the best-preserved temples of the Classical period, the building has pieces of Corinthian, Ionic, and Doric design. The structure dates back to about 450 BCE, but archaeologists did not start working on it until the late 1700s after a French architect discovered it by chance.

 

Medieval City of Rhodes

At the heart of Rhodes is a medieval city that continues to look much like it did when it was first occupied half-a-millennium ago. The Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, also called the Hospitallers, settled in Rhodes in 1309 and remained there until 1522. The town combines elements of Gothic, Renaissance, and Byzantine design. Tourists may even pick up on some uniquely Ottoman additions. Most of this design can be traced back to the Hospitallers. When people visit the city, they often feel like they are being transported back in time several hundred years ago, which offers an immersive experience that enables them to learn about the unique history of the area.

rhodes

 

Mount Athos

A testament to the rise of Christianity in Greece, Mount Athos is a major monastic center that has served as a major site of Orthodox spirituality since 1054. In Byzantine times, Mount Athos gained autonomy as a monastic state, and it remains so today. The state has 20 monasteries that are home to about 1,400 monks.

 

Aigai Archaeological Site

The town of Aigai served as the first capital of Macedon. While the city now goes by the name Vergina, the remains of the ancient city still stand. After the passing of Philip II in 336 BCE, his son, Alexander the Great, assumed the throne in the same town. Visitors today can explore a number of different archaeological sites throughout the town, including the grand palace and its many mosaics and murals. In addition, archaeologists have uncovered more than 300 tombs, including one that belonged to King Philip II.

 

Samos Pythagoreion and Heraion

Many of the Greek islands also have UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Samos. Here, visitors will find two distinct features that comprise a single site. The Pythagoreion is an ancient port containing both Latin and Greek monuments, while the Heraion is a temple dedicated to Samian Hera. Visitors should be sure to explore the ancient aqueduct, a large tunnel connected to the harbor.

 

Corfu’s Old Town

The Old Town of Corfu, which stands at the entrance to the Adriatic Sea, has foundations that date back to the 8th century BCE. Many visitors are mesmerized by the beauty and charm of the fortified city. Tourists will find three forts painstakingly designed by Venetian engineers. Due to the strength of its forts, the town was able to protect itself from the Ottoman Empire. Over time, the forts were renovated and rebuilt on many different occasions, but the site is still renowned for its authenticity and integrity.

 

Chora on Patmos

Another island that fans of Christian history may want to explore is Patmos. This island is famous as the home of St. John the Theologian when he wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. Located in the Dodecanese, Patmos has a monastery that dates back to the 10th century and is dedicated to the apostle. The site stands as a major site for pilgrims to this day. The historic center of the island, which is called Chora, has a number of different buildings, some that possess religious significance and others that are completely secular. Chora has an immense charm that visitors will enjoy even if they know little about Saint John and Christianity.

 

spice

8 of the Most Common Herbs and Spices Used in Greek Cooking

From appetizers to desserts, Greek cuisine is known for its liberal use of spices and herbs. While a number of these flavor profiles are familiar to people outside of the Mediterranean, they may be used in very unique ways in this region. For example, cinnamon proves a common addition to savory dishes and is not used just for dessert.

However, some of the flavors will be less familiar to travelers, so it can be helpful to know what herbs and spices are used so you know what kind of taste to expect. Some of the common herbs and spices used in Greek cooking include:

 

  1. Anise

aniseCalled glykanissos in Greek, anise is a common seasoning in many baked Greek dishes, including a wide range of pastries. Related to parsley, anise can also be found in a handful of savory dishes, including beef and fish recipes.

Anise has a sweet character and is used very frequently in Greek drinks, including the popular ouzo. Travelers will also recognize the unique black licorice-like flavor of anise in tsipouro, another common Greek beverage.

 

  1. Mahlab

This spice comes from the kernel of a specific type of wild sour cherry. When used in pastry dishes, mahlab leaves behind the lingering flavor of cherry and bitter almond. Visitors may start to distinguish mahlab because of its intense aroma.

Perhaps the best way to taste mahlab is in the traditional Greek sweet bread tsoureki. This bread can easily be found around Easter.

 

  1. Cinnamon

cinnamonKnown for its slight sweetness and significant warmth, cinnamon has been a popular spice in Greece since ancient times. The English word cinnamon is actually derived from the ancient Greek name for the spice.

Visitors will find cinnamon in a variety of cookies, cakes, and sweet breads. However, it often has a place in meat marinades and may be used in dishes containing fish, poultry, and various types of red meat. For example, kapama is a dish consisting of braised chicken flavored with cinnamon.

 

  1. Saffron

Recognized as the most expensive spice in the world, saffron is derived from the red stigmas of the crocus flower. In Greece, the crocus of Kozani has become renowned for its high-quality saffron. The spice provides a flowery aroma and lends dishes a bit of a bitter taste.

Individuals can usually tell something has saffron in it from the orangish yellow color it gives to a dish. Greeks use saffron in pastries, cheese, liquor, and seafood dishes. In addition, it can often be found in rice, potatoes, and pasta, as well as poultry dishes.

 

  1. Oregano

While people may associate oregano with Italian cooking, it is actually one of the most popular herbs in Greece. The Greek word rigani refers to origanum vulgare, an oregano variety that has a slightly different flavor from other variations of the herb. Individuals will find this herb in soups, tomato sauces, bean dishes, and on meat.

oregano

According to Greek legend, Aphrodite created oregano. The herb has come to symbolize happiness and joy to the Greeks. Sometimes, the herb is used to create a tea that people believe helps with indigestion.

 

  1. Dill

The ancient Greeks would use dill to flavor wine, although visitors today would have some difficulty finding this product used for that purpose. However, the Greeks continue to use dill in a variety of different ways. Often, it is found in lemon sauces and paired with cucumber, although it can also be used in tomato sauce, soups, and salads.

Probably the most common utilization of dill in Greece is in its hearty, crusty bread. Travelers will also find dill in tzatziki, dolmades, and pies known as pitas. Occasionally, Greeks will still use dill in a drink, although today it is used in a tea that is meant to help people sleep.

 

  1. Cloves

People know cloves for their pungent flavor and their sweet, pleasant aroma. Because of the spicy and sweet notes of this spice, it is used in both sweet and savory dishes in Greece. As in the United States, cloves are used to flavor pies, tarts, and other sweets.

clove

However, Greeks also regularly add clove to fruits, walnuts, or even just honey. Furthermore, cloves may be added to liqueur for flavoring. On the savory side of things, clove is often paired with pork and beef, although it also lends a lot of depth to broths, especially when paired with onion.

 

  1. Coriander

Another member of the parsley family, coriander has historically been used as a medicine. In fact, according to Greek myth, consuming coriander could help secure immortality of the soul.

The spice has a very earthy flavor that leaves hints of citrus and sage behind. During the cooking process, coriander mellows out in terms of flavor and become much more delicate.

Greeks will use the seeds whole in some dishes or grind them for a more diffuse flavor. Often, the spice is paired with lemon as a flavoring for vegetables, poultry, and fish. Coriander is also often found in soups and roasts.

oyster

9 of the Best Seafood Dishes that Greece Has to Offer Tourists

When people think of Greek cuisine, they may first think about cheese or grilled lamb, but the heart of cuisine in many parts of Greece is seafood. After all, much of the country is surrounded by water, so it makes sense that so many meals are based on what the sea provides. While traveling to the islands, you’ll have the chance to try all kinds of different types of seafood in a variety of preparations. However, even on the mainland, you can find incredible fish, mussels, squid, and so much else. Some of the must-try dishes include:

 

Fried calamari

Virtually every psarotaverna, or fish tavern, will serve fried calamari, especially during the summer months. This dish makes the perfect snack and is often served as an appetizer to share before a meal. Typically, the squid is dredged in flour spiced with various seasonings and then fried until it is crispy and golden. The seasonings are often enough, but a sometimes a spritz of lemon juice brings that extra freshness to the calamari, as do fresh tomatoes and cucumbers.

calamari

 

Shrimp saganaki

Cheese may come to mind when you hear the word “saganaki,” but the word actually refers to a frying pan with a thick bottom and two handles. The shrimp version, like the cheese, is prepared in this dish. Shrimp saganaki involves sautéeing fresh shrimp in Greek olive oil and then deglazing the pan with ouzo, an anise-flavored liquor that’s widely popular in Greece. The cooked shrimp are added to a spicy tomato sauce that’s topped with fresh herbs and a sprinkling of feta. Traditionally, the dish is served as an appetizer, although many people find it filling enough to constitute a whole meal.

 

Sardines

One of the most popular fish to eat in Greece, sardines (or sardeles) can be found in a variety of dishes. You’ll often encounter them on menus as a small dish that comes either grilled or fried, depending on the restaurant. Either way, sardines are delicious. Another tasty, but less common preparation involves baking the sardines with fresh lemon, oregano, and tomato sauce. As a general rule, smaller sardines are more flavorful than larger ones.

 

Mussels

In Northern Greece, mussels can be found in just about any fish restaurant because of their popularity. Typically, the mussels are prepared in a tomato sauce with feta cheese after they have been meticulously scrubbed. This variety is known as mussels saganaki because it is finished in the oven in that same pan. Greek chefs also commonly steam mussels with fennel, fresh tomato, and ouzo before finishing them off with cream. Many people enjoy sipping the salty broth from the bottom of the pan or soaking it up with some bread.

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Lavraki

In Greek, the word “lavraki” refers to sea bass. In Greece, it’s popular to coat a whole fish with salt, pepper, and herbs, and then grill it over charcoal. Sometimes, restaurants will serve the fish with ladolemono, a sort of lemon vinaigrette dressing. Another version of lavraki involves wrapping the fish in parchment paper and baking it. Travelers on the island of Cephalonia will find the fish virtually everywhere, but it is also offered at other restaurants across the islands and mainland.

 

Cuttlefish

Similar to squid is the cuttlefish, which has shorter tentacles. Because of the ease of cooking cuttlefish, especially compared to squid, it has become very popular throughout Greece. Unlike squid, cuttlefish is virtually never fried, but instead stewed in a tomato sauce or sautéed with spinach. The sautéed version usually contains bay leaves, dill, tomato, and lemon juice for a nice tart kick.

 

Crab salad

A traditional dish served throughout Greece, crab salad makes good use of fresh crab meat by combining it with lemon juice, mayonnaise, onion, tomato, and white wine. Some aromatic herbs usually top off the mixture—in addition to a variety of other ingredients that depend on the chef’s particular taste. You’ll likely find that different islands, and even different restaurants on the same island, have their own secret ingredients that they think makes their crab salad the best in the country. While most chefs will not reveal their secrets, it can be fun to try to guess what the mystery flavors are.

 

Octopus

Considered a delicacy in Greece, octopus can prove difficult to catch, so it does not often appear on restaurant menus. However, Greek chefs can do wonderful things to this protein so that it simply melts in the mouth. On the islands, you’ll sometimes encounter an octopus hanging out to dry outside of a taverna. Once caught, restaurants usually dry the octopus for a period of time and then grill it on the barbecue, although some chefs also stew it with tomatoes and serve it over pasta.

octopus

 

Astakomakaronada

If you spend some time out on the water, you may spot lobsters crawling along the floor of the sea in the shallower depths. This familiar creature serves as the start of astakomakaronada, a classic Greek dish considered by many the best the Mediterranean has to offer. The lobster is served on top of pasta with a sauce that is usually made from garlic, tomato, onion, and wine, as well as a small pinch of star anise to give it a unique flavor. While the dish is not hard to find among psarotavernas, it’s typically one of the most expensive options, although it’s certainly worth trying at least once.