Next up in our Greek Adventure was the ferry from Santorini to Naxos. I chose to go with Hellenic Seaways on the ship Nissos Samos. We weren't really sure what to expect. The port of Santorini that the ferries go into is different than where people depart from cruise ships. Often there are 3 or 4 different ferries departing at almost the same time. I bought our tickets at the Athens Airport from Aktina Travel (lower level of airport, they can both make the reservation and print the ticket, something not all agents can do) as I didn't want to have to pick up the tickets at the port. As we only bought the tickets 3 days ahead they could also tell me if there were any looming ferry disruptions due to strikes which are quite common. There had already been 4 days of strikes in May but our dates were smooth sailing.
You can't tell from this picture but there was tons of traffic, people and ferry cops trying to ensure that everyone got to the correct ferry on time.
This was our ship. We were very pleasantly surprised as it was refurbished in 2016 and much nicer than our ferries in British Columbia, almost cruise ship quality. We had paid 2 Euro more each to get airplane seating (reserved) just in case the ship was busy and seats were hard to come by. If I had to do it again I would not have paid for that as there were plenty of open seating areas on the open air back of the ship as well as eating lounges. In July and August and any long weekend/religious weekend it is recommended you get seat reservations though. We paid 22.50 Euro each for this trip which took about an hour and a half. This is not considered a high speed ferry as it carries cars as well as people. Some of the high speed jets only get to the same destination 30 minutes faster and were twice as much money. As well, as advised by one of our taxi drivers, Sea Jets which is a high speed ferry line has the poorest reputation for being on time, is often late by several hours as they cannot deal with bad weather like the larger vehicle carrying ferries can. Our ship was spotless and all of the crew were very nice. We were impressed by that ferry ride and wish North American ferries were as nice. You carry your luggage on (another reason to pack light!) and they ask you to put your luggage in a specific area depending on which island you are getting off on. The luggage area is secured and no one is able to access it during the sailing until about 5 minutes before you get to port where you go down, get your luggage and walk off the ferry.
|open air area at back of ferry, there is a bar and TV as well as chairs and tables|
|Ferry economy airline seating style|
Before we knew it we were at Naxos. This turned out to be one of our favorite parts of the trip. Naxos is a large mostly unspoiled island where all the tourists(not nearly as many as other islands) and port are in a couple of areas and the rest is farm land and mountains. It is one of the largest Greek islands yet doesn't have a large population. It is most known for it's beaches as has some of the prettiest in the world. My previous memories of Greece were pebble beaches but not on Naxos where soft sand beaches were everywhere and crystal clear water. It is a quieter more peaceful island not known for nightlife - other islands offer plenty of that if that is what you are looking for and we weren't.
We stayed at St Georges beach at the Ippokampos (means seahorse) which is a 10 minute walk to the Port area. It is a beachside restaurant with umbrella rental area and 9 small beach front rooms. It is also family-owned. The manager is the owner (onsite almost all of the time) and his brother is a waiter on the beach. We loved the location and friendly staff. You could walk out into the Agean Sea for several hundred feet and still only be up to your knees in water, very safe for all ages and swimming capacities. This was not meant to be a beach vacation but we thoroughly enjoyed those 3 days as we took advantage of the beach and walked barefoot and swam there daily.
|Breakfast view at Ippokampos Restaurant, excellent food and service|
|St Georges Beach at Sunset in front of Ippokampos|
|Tiny hermit crabs found on St Georges beach while looking for shells|
|Marina at Agia Anna Beach, Naxos|
Naxos is an island that mostly shuts up every October and reopens in April for the tourists other than the local farmers. The Naxians work very hard in the summer months, 12-14 hour days every single day for their money as it has to last all year long. Our young restaurant/hotel owner who was in his 30s with a young family sees little of his wife and kids in the summer season except when he goes home for lunch/supper breaks or they come to the hotel. In the winter they all go to Athens and stay with family.
|Port of Naxos otherwise known as Naxos Chora (Naxos Town)|
|Venetian Castle at Naxos Chora|
Part of the reason why Naxos is unspoiled is it has a one room airport with very few flights and ferries are the best way to get there. There are a very low number of cruise ships that go to Naxos as it has a shallow harbour and they have to park a long way away and tender in to get people to land. Our room at the Ippokampos early June (not yet high season for a few weeks) upper beachfront was 95 Euro a night including a fabulous off the menu breakfast every morning (approx $140 CAD a night including taxes). We could have easily found accommodation in the 30-70 Euro range but as we tend to splurge a little on vacation and penny pinch at home we spent the extra money for water-view which we enjoyed with happy hour on the small balcony each night. Naxos is one of the most affordable islands in Greece with all styles of accommodation.
You do not need a car unless you want one as there is a good bus system in the hotel areas and it even goes to the small interior towns if you want to explore. In Greece you can drive licensed quads on the road and they were for rent all over the place. We chose instead to rent a small car for two days so we could drive across the island and over the mountain, not something you want to do with a quad. It is one of the safer places in Greece to rent as there is not much traffic on the roads but you still do have to have your wits about you. We rented from Europcar which was about a block and a half from our hotel and paid 88 Euro(yes, expensive but worth it) for two days for a Fiat Panda including full insurance which we needed as our credit card rental coverage only covers cars in USA and Canada.
|Hubby and our red Fiat Panda|
Funny story: I did not want to drive in Greece, I hate driving rental cars at the best of times. Hubby loves driving them. We found out 3 weeks before we left that hubby's license was expiring on June 3rd and he needed a valid drivers license (not temporary) in order to get an International Drivers Licence which North American's need to drive rentals in Europe in order to make your insurance valid. He could not renew his license until 10 days before our trip as needed his license to rent a car on a business trip. He renewed as soon as he got home from that trip but only had a temporary license until the real one came in the mail - the morning of our departure. We had pretty much written off the idea of renting a car there as I was not willing to do it. After checking the mail that morning we raced to the BCAA (any triple A office in North America issues these, no membership required) office, paid our $40 and got his International drivers license just in the nick of time. I am so glad it worked out that way as we will always remember driving over Naxos. Why? One of the prettiest/scariest car rides of our life driving over the mountains and down to the sea on the other side.
|Agean Sea in the distance|
The road is narrow, looks like two lane but really is one and a half with a line down the middle that locals ignore. A blind switchback curve every 50 feet for a four hour drive (including stops)! I was a bag of nerves with all the switchbacks and had a bird every time we met another vehicle, including transport trucks and touring buses. The views were amazing however. Every 20 minutes or so we would come across another sleepy town. We made a few stops along the way so I could get myself together.
|Town of Halki on Naxos|
|Unknown ancient tower spotted on the drive|
Naxos is not known for archaeology but one of the few ruins was the Temple of Demeter which was somewhat difficult to find and only side of the narrow road parking. To anyone who thinks they will use GPS to navigate in Greece - think again. Our data plan included enough to ensure we didn't get lost but it misread many of the names of streets so we ended up using the old-fashioned paper map that the rental agency gave us, making this an almost impossible trip for one as you needed a navigator. We made lots of wrong turns but the joy of holidays is sometimes getting lost.
Many except the most important of the archaeological sites of Greece have no active excavations/staffing as there is simply no money for it due to the state of the economy. There were no guards or staff at this site, only us, a few other tourists, many crickets and a couple of lizards.
Temple of Demeter, Naxos Island
|Tail-less lizard at Temple of Demeter|
After driving over the mountain we reached the tiny seaside town of Apollon. It has a couple of tavernas, very small hotels and a small beach. We needed refreshment so had our usual lunch of Greek Salad, beer and then then we fed the small fish beside the taverna our bread.
Difficult to see in this photo but there are hundreds of small fish between 2-4 inches long that hang out beside this restaurant being fed bread. We thoroughly enjoyed that half hour, very entertaining.
The drive back to Naxos took about an hour and a half along a coastal mountain highway which was slightly better than the interior one. Stunning views all the way.
And here is us, looking rather wilted after our hot harrowing/exciting driving day. I earned that wine! No point in worry about how your hair looks in 100% humidity.
We absolutely loved Naxos and I can easily see us going back one day for a week or three to relax and decompress on the beach. There are a few charters here from the UK mainly, and flights from Athens but it is easily reachable by other islands by ferries.
Next post up will be a long one again - our three days in Athens. We have now been home for a full week and are back to normal sleeping/healthy eating patterns. In good news I gained no weight on holidays even though I ate and drank my way across Greece! We walked a lot, between 10,000 and 20,000 steps a day plus lots of stairs so I burned those calories off. I have managed to finally plant my flower bed (a month late, neighbors thought my flowers had gotten stolen while we were away in our zero crime neighborhood lol), cleaned my house and am fully caught up on laundry. Work is good - busy but good though we worked through the weekend to catch up. We are hoping to get outside and do some kayaking soon as the weather is looking good for the next few days, warm and sunny after a rainy cold week. Back to normal summer living on Vancouver Island!