Naxos has a lot to offer, its nature as well as its culture. The landscape is especially varied: there are barren slopes where hardly any plants can survive and lush river valleys with dense vegetation; there are high, remote peaks and small cultivated plains. The island has gentle valleys with olive groves, green terraced vineyards and paradise gardens with vegetables and fruit trees of all varieties, it has steep rugged mountain slopes, sometimes bare and bleak, sometimes overgrown with oak forests or low bushes, with hidden springs surrounded by plane trees and deep, green canyons. The coast is diverse as well: you can find small, hidden bays with beautiful white pebbles between inaccessible, sheer marble cliffs; elsewhere there are extensive sandy beaches sometimes with unique juniper-covered dunes.
Cape Stavrós and the islands in the east
the castle of Apalírou
the venetian tower Agiá
chapel near the Chóra
sandy beach in Psilí Ámmos south of Moutsoúna
marble bay close to Ágios Dimítris
And Naxos has just the right size: the island is small enough that you can explore it easily in day trips, but big enough to hold a surprising variety of landscapes: Each area of the island has a character and charm of its own.
Sea and mountain
The close interweaving of sea and mountain is typical for Greece: The sea is always close and often stretches in deep bays far into the land, but immediately behind the coast in most places rise high, steep mountains. Naxos is also dominated by these two characteristic elements of the Greek countryside.
the bay of Azalás
The sea can be seen on Naxos from almost any location, it forms the background everywhere. The island is located in the center of the Aegean Sea, approximately at an equal distance from mainland Greece, from Turkey and from Crete. There are few places on earth where so many large and small islands are crowded in such a small space as in the Aegean Sea – a unique world, whose beauty is celebrated since antiquity. Nevertheless, Naxos, apart from the coastal strip definitely has a mountainous character. The two highest peaks are around a thousand feet high, and most of the island consists of a deeply rugged mountainous landscape. The peaks seem nearly alpine, and in the hidden valleys of the mountains you can almost forget the proximity of the sea.
Mount Zeus seen from the west
The scenic variety of Naxos originates in the complicated geological structure of the island. Of great importance for the diversity is the marked relief with deep valleys and steep, rocky slopes. The island of Naxos is part of the large mountain range which includes the Alps and the Himalayas. The Aegean is not a real ocean, but a sunken part of the continent, with only the highest peaks protruding from the sea. The steepness of the islands as of the Greek mountains is due to the fact that it is geologically a young mountain range that has not yet been leveled by erosion.
the main mountain range of the island seen from Mount Zeus
Three types of rocks occur in a large scale on the island: marble, slate and granite or gneiss. Each of these rocks forms a much different landscape. Because of their respective water retention, erosion susceptibility and chemical composition they also provide quite different conditions for plants, so that the vegetation differs a lot from one area to the other.
marble landscape: west of the Zeus
granite landscape: Mount Kóronos
slate landscape: near Myrísis
The western part of the island
The western part of Naxos is less mountainous than the eastern part. Several plains are located at different altitudes. Around the capital Chóra lie the Livádia, a coastal plain build up of eroded material washed down from the mountains by the floods. The plains are cultivated mainly with grain for animal fodder and with seed potatoes, which play an important role for the island’s economy. The small fields are usually surrounded by high reeds, which serve as a windbreak. Another typical feature of this landscape are the huge agaves with their meter-high inflorescences. In the midst of the flood plain lie the remains of a great temple of Dionysus, the ancient god of fertility and wine.
the Livádia close to the Chóra
The bedrock in this westernmost part of the island consists largely of schist and granite rocks, which crop out in impressive rounded hilltops and weather into beautiful coarse sand, that forms the vast beaches on the southwest coast from the Chóra to Kastráki. In some places the sand forms high dunes overgrown with junipers.
church on granite rock at the coast, near Ágia Ánna
the granite decays into a wonderful coarse sand that forms extensive beaches
Juniper on dunes near Ágia Ánna
Of great importance in particular for the migratory waterfowl are the lagoons at the river mouths, especially the large lagoon at the airport south of the Chóra. Most of the island’s tourism concentrates in the Chóra and the sandy beaches of the Southwest around Ágios Prokópios, Ágia Ánna and Mikrí Vígla.
the lagoon near the airport; in winter it is filled with water
In the western part of the island there are several other smaller flood plains, for example at Engarés north of Chóra. With their abundance of small green fields, often planted with fruit and olive trees, they give the impression of an oasis in between the surrounding barren brown slopes.
the plain of Engarés
Farther inland in the southwestern part of the island lie at a somewhat higher altitude even larger relatively flat areas, leveled by erosion. The largest plain is located around the village of Sangrí. In the midst of this area which is cultivated since ancient times lie on a gentle hill the remains of an interesting temple of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture.
view of the plain around Sangrí
North of Sangrí the green valley of Potamiá cuts into the gentle hills with its river lined by plane trees and its three small, picturesque villages surrounded by gardens and olive groves.
the valley of Potamiá
The center of the island
The center of the island is dominated by a large plateau at about 300 to 400 m above sea level, the Tragaía. It is surrounded (almost) on all sides by towering mountains. The plateau is almost entirely covered with olive trees, so that it looks from a distance like an olive forest. There are a number of settlements, including Filóti, which is the largest village of Naxos after the Chóra. The Tragaía is the green heart of the island with beautiful villages, many interesting byzantine churches, Venetian towers, windmills and picturesque olive groves.
In between the Tragaía and the valley of Potamiá lies a gentle mountain with the ruins of a Venetian castle (Apáno Kástro) on its top. The barren hills are covered with large rounded granite boulders between which only very sparse vegetation can exist. Still this strange landscape has its beauty as well: the bare rocks patterned by colorful lichens, orchids and many other flowers that grow in between them, and the tafoni, a peculiar form of erosion by which the granite blocks are hollowed out from below.
the granite hill with the Ápano Kástro on the top
To the east of the Tragaía rises the nearly 900 m high ridge of the Fanári, and in the southeast towers the highest mountain of the island (and the Cyclades), the 1004 meter high Zeus.
the Fanári seen from the west
Filóti with the Zeus in the background
These mountains consist mainly of marble, occasionally interrupted by shale layers. They are mainly covered with sparse shrubs while in some places there remain small forest mainly of Kermes Oaks. The top of mountain Zeus is almost bare. From there you can enjoy a breathtaking view over the island. In the narrow valley of Danakós northeast of the summit with its relatively cool and humid climate grows a particularly lush vegetation. On the almost vertical and inaccessible western slope of the Zeus grows a remarkable open forest of giant Holm Oaks.
the Holm Oak forest in the western slope of Mount Zeus
The central mountain range and the north of the island
To the north of the Tragaía runs the deep valley of Kinídaros with its year-round flowing river. Here grows a remarkable dense riparian forest mainly of alder and plane trees. The wanderer may enjoy here an entirely different landscape: the dense undergrowth, the gurgling of the water that rushes over the granite blocks, the shadows of the trees, the turtles, frogs and dragonflies. Similar rivers flow in several other valleys north-west and north of the Kóronos massif, where the bedrock is granite or slate, which don’t let the water drain away into the underground as marble does.
the valley of Kinídaros
river near Apóllonas
North of this river the summit of mount Kóronos is located, with 997 meters barely less high than the Zeus. It now sustains only a sparse vegetation, although until a few centuries ago it was still overgrown with dense chestnut and oak forests. Today the impressive peak is covered with in parts an interesting vegetation of fern and heather on which in some places dense shrub lichens grow. This remarkable lichen growth is due to the clouds that often cover this mountain range even in summer, as the moisture of the warm sea air condenses while it rises at the mountain chain. On the western slope of Mount Kóronos in a small area around the abandoned little village of Skepóni exists a dense macchia unique for Naxos with Tree Heath and Strawberry Tree.
the top of Mount Kóronos with its heather vegetation
heather with lichens of the genus Usnea
In the picturesque mountain valleys at around 600 m height lie three major villages (Apíranthos, Kóronos and Komiakí). The flanks of the valleys are all over terraced and planted with vineyards, fruit trees or vegetable gardens. Until about 50 years ago every available patch of fertile ground was farmed, but today most terraces are abandoned. Around the villages of Apíranthos and Danakós and in many places in the Tragaía grow huge and impressive Valonia and Downy Oaks.
The northern part of the island consists mainly of various kinds of slate. The lower parts of the steep slopes are covered by a dense, uniform dwarf shrub vegetation which in summer gives a somewhat dreary impression. The hills close to the northernmost idyllic harbour village of Apóllonas, where the Tree Spurge is abundant, acquire a beautiful yellow-green color in springtime. On the fertile and moist upper slopes around the village of Komiakí grows an almost impenetrable thicket of fruit trees, Evergreen Maple, Blackberry and many other species.
the valley of Apóllonas
The eastern and southern part of the island
The eastern and southern part of the island have an especially typical mediterranean landscape. The bedrock here consists mainly of marble. The landscape is very dry because the rain water drains into the underground. In the river valleys water is flowing only after heavy rain in winter. Nevertheless they are densely covered with gorgeous pink flowering oleander. Only in a few places is enough water available for cultivation, but many valleys are planted with olive groves.
river valley near Ágios Dimítris
The slopes are mainly used as grazing land for goats and sheep. The various pieces of land are separated by stone walls running for miles over the mountains. According to the severity of grazing some slopes are covered only sparsely, mostly by dwarf shrubs with thorny or poisonous plants like the Sea Squill, which form tall white inflorescences in late summer. In many places, however, thrive small trees, especially Kermes Oaks, wild olive and Phoenician Juniper. In some cases the trees even form loose forests. Close to the sea some very thermophilic species such as the Carob Tree occur.
near Ágios Dimítris
east coast landscape in winter