Aboard the FlyingCat4, we left lovely Santorini and skimmed the waves for 3 hours to Naxos. Our first impressive sight was the Portara, a huge stone doorway on a peninsula jutting into the sea. The entrance to a never-finished temple of Apollo, it was a dramatic introduction to the island.
Naxos was green with olive trees, orchards, and fields. White marble dust lined the roads near quarries that once produced marble for sculpture and temples and, today, hotel bathrooms. A 17th century palace housed an interesting archeological museum, and we delighted in pleasant beaches, quaint villages and walks through a countryside of flowers and fruit trees. Oleander, lavender, rosemary and marjoram scented the air. Hotel Prokopis has a great link to Naxos walks.
The 25-room Iria Beach Art Hotel faced the rather gritty Agia Anna beach. Its spacious rooms, done in tasteful Cycladic style, had every amenity, and our hostess was unfailingly helpful. Next door, at the Palatia , we ate grilled seafood and the usual good Greek salad and drank local wine. In another beach side restaurant, Gorgona, we chose our fish from the selection on ice, as the manager insisted, while customers and staff alike held boisterous conversations accompanied by shouting from the kitchen. If you need assertiveness training, we decided, come to Greece.
In Naxos town, where some streets are so narrow you walk single file, we showed up for a concert at the Venetian Museum and were greeted by a Robin Williams look-a-like. The resemblance was astonishing, as Nikolaos Della Rocca has been told many times. He is a descendant of the French and Venetian nobility who came in 1207 and built seven towers. The last one remaining is open for tours that include a glass of wine and a hearty gia sas (yah-sahs, “to your health.”) The evening concert on the tower terrace started with island drinks and moved on to violin and lute music and lively dancing. By the end, all 40 of us had linked arms and were line-dancing around the terrace. This is a regular, festive event, not to be missed.
From Naxos, the Flying Cat took us to Mykonos, the party-goers’ dream island (or that’s been its reputation). We didn’t see much decadence in the off-season, but plenty of charm. Antony, from Rania Apartments in Mykonos town, picked us up at the dock and drove the steep road to the hotel, where our room overlooked a terrace with lush pink geraniums. For under 100 euros a night, this was a great spot. It was an easy walk down the hill to the multitude of restaurants and shops.
Mykonos has a small but interesting museum of archeology and a fine folk museum, and the island is surrounded by wonderful beaches, but we were most interested in Delos, the uninhabited holy island. Only daytime visits are allowed, so we took a boat ride to the rocky, barren island. This was the sacred center of the ancient world for hundreds of years. It was a place of pilgrimage, with huge statues and temples, not only for Greeks, but for Syrians, Lebanese, Italians, and others who built their own shrines.
Today’s pilgrims are tourists wandering among the ruins in awe. We brought a picnic lunch, as there are no restaurants, and ate it sitting on a ledge where tiny lizards scurried and cacti grew in the cracks. By mid-afternoon we were on the boat again. Delos closes at 3 pm, leaving the stone walls and mosaics to silence and time.
That evening we strolled to Little Venice, a part of Mykonos town where sea captains built Venetian homes on the water. There, with the old windmills in sight, we drank Bellinis — white peach and champagne — and ate baklava, Greece’s delicate honey pastry.
On our last day, as we were walking after lunch, a motorbike buzzed and beeped behind us. It was our waiter, cheerfully waving the scarf I had left behind. That’s Greek hospitality, and the memory will bring me back.
Written by Marilyn McFarland for EuropeUpClose.com