Bicycling on Naxos
Guest contribution by Dieter Linde
Naxos is a diverse island. For the biker its flat coastal strips, high mountains and the hilly interior offer charming but mostly challenging tours by which you can explore the beauty of the landscape far better than by car.
If you keep to the more touristic west coast with its enchanting beaches you will encounter mostly flat terrain from the main town of Chóra to the south-western beaches of Kastráki, which little demands on fitness. If you want to go inland though, for example to the olive tree-covered Tragaía with the former island capital Chalkí at its centre, you have to cycle from sea level to an altitude of about 250 metres. Most of the climbs are moderate (up to 5 percent), but there are short, strenuous climbs of 100 to 200 metres that are over 10 percent steep.
In order to reach the mountain villages like Apíranthos or Kóronos, which are located at an altitude of about 600 meters, you have to manage longer climbs that require a good physical condition. The big northern round to Apóllonas is even more demanding, because the coastal road from Chóra northwards crosses numerous river valleys, which makes the tour a constant uphill and downhill ride, but one gets rewarded by magnificent views of the neighboring islands and the mountains. The approximately 85 kilometers amount to a total of more than 1700 meters of altitude. The steady climb from Apóllonas to Koronída with an altitude difference of 670 meters over 10 kilometers presents the greatest challenge.
If you want to cross the island from west to east and visit the old port of Moutsoúna with its excellent fish taverns directly at the pier, where once the emery was loaded onto ships, you have to traverse the central mountain range crossing with the highest point of the road at an altitude of 630 meters, if you go by Filóti and Apíranthos. On the way back from Moutsoúna to Apíranthos you have to manage a climb of about 11 kilometers from sea level up to 580 meters, which should not be underestimated especially when it is hot and your belly is full.
Most places on the island can nowadays be reached on asphalt roads. They are generally suitable for racing bikes, although due to the coarse asphalt with some potholes it is better to have wider and puncture-proof tires. Away from the paved road network, there are numerous gravel roads leading to the more remote areas of the island, that farmers and shepherds use with their pick-ups to get to the fields and pastures. Here the demands on physical condition and driving skills are much higher. After the rains in winter, the surface is often washed out and full of small stones that make cycling difficult. In some places you can ascents or descents of up to 30 percent will require full concentration and a certain willingness to suffer. But even they can be mastered if you use a mountain bike. Those who love this kind of challenge will get their money’s worth.
For all tours it is important to keep in mind that Naxos away from the coast is still an agricultural island. This means that in the mountains goats and sheep usually run free and can suddenly appear in front of you after a bend. So it’s better not to run at “full risk” through the turns, and one should always be ready to brake. The shepherds also drive their animals across the road from pasture to pasture. When you encounter a herd, you should slow down so that the animals do not scatter as it may mean a lot of work for the shepherd to gather them back together. If you stop for a moment at the side of the road, the herd will pass by, and a polite greeting will please the shepherd.
Bicycle tours on Naxos can be combined easily with a visit of the numerous sights of the island as well as with short hiking tours – if you take along appropriate footwear. In towns and villages like Chóra, Chalkí, Apóllonas, Komiakí, Kóronos, Moutsoúna, Filóti, Engarés, Mélanes, Potamiá, Liónas, Ágios Prokópios, Ágia Ánna, Mikrí Vígla and Sangrí you will find good taverns for your lunch or dinner. In some places there are public water faucets that provide free drinking water. However, if you cycle to more remote places like the bay of Kalandós, you will not find water on the way. The same applies to the 25 kilometers of road between Engarés and Apóllonas. So make sure you carry enough water!
It is best to lock the bike in a town or at a farm if you are stopping for a longer time. So far, bike theft is virtually unknown on Naxos. Naxos is not too large an island, and people know each other, and whoever steals a rental bike and uses it on the island will be discovered quickly. Therefore, a simple lock is sufficient. The rental companies usually provide it free of charge, as well as a helmet.
By now, there are several shops on Naxos that rent bikes. In my personal opinion the best (but also the most expensive) is “Naxosbikes” in Chora, run by the friendly and competent Jánnis. He speaks good English and French. Besides trekking bikes, mountain bikes and racing bikes, there are also some e-bikes for rent. Jánnis has a homepage that provides more info. You can also rent a bike from some motorcycle and scooter rental companies. The offer ranges from simple and not very well kept bikes, which should only be used for a ride to the beach, to well-maintained bikes of good quality. It’s best to walk from store to store and look at the bikes yourself. Prices are usually daily rates. If you want to rent a bike for a week or longer, you can negotiate and usually get significant discounts. In the off-season, deals as low as 60 € for 10 days for a basic bike are possible.
When can you go cycling on Naxos? Basically all year round, because the summers are not as hot as on the mainland, as the island is cooled somewhat by the wind and the sea. But in summer the sun still burns mercilessly from the sky, which should not be underestimated. Also the strong summerly north wind can be a considerable encumberance. Naxos after all is a hotspot for kiters and windsurfers! Autumn and spring offer the best conditions, especially since there are fewer tourists, so that you will encounter few cars on the roads, while in high summer there are many rental cars and quads underway. The tourists, enchanted by the beauty of the island, represent the greatest traffic risk, especially since the routes are mostly unknown to them. Nevertheless, compared to, say, Mallorca, traffic is moderate to low. Most locals drive carefully, but because the traffic is mostly low in the off-season, some drivers may use the whole width of the road in the turns. It is always advisable to be careful!
If you are not afraid of the challenge, you will be rewarded with beautiful and varied biking tours on Naxos. Even if you want to explore the whole island you can cover it in different tours from the same location – overnight stays are not necessary.
- Boat tour at Panormos
- Boat tour to Kalandos
- Scuba diving with Blue Fin Divers
- Scuba diving with NaxosDiving
- Sea-kayaking part I
- Sea-kayaking part II