Robert Ettinger, CEO of Ettinger, told us about one of his favourite cycle tours in the world.
Early the next morning we boarded the Artemis, the old workhorse ferry of the Aegean islands. I think that the virgin Artemis, the goddess of wild animals, the hunt, vegetation and of chastity and childbirth, may not be flattered by her namesake. But it is my favourite boat, where you can find an uncomfortable seat in the shade outside and while away the hours watching the sea slowly passing by.
The view of Serifos from the Artemis en route to Sifnos, with the Hora on the hill
In Sifnos, we stayed in Kamares at the lovely Sifnos House and enjoyed swimming in the shallow cool waters of the bay. This quiet port is a real insight into small island life as all essentials must pass through it. We watched the fuel tanker that comes with its own lorries for distribution, the refrigerated vans and the private deliveries. Tourists would come and go as islanders arrive, their cars fully jammed from a shopping trip to Athens. It is unusually organized so everything happens in an unobtrusive manner that provides interest rather than disturbance to those eating on quay.
An early morning bicycle ride took us to the northern charming port of Cherronisos via the monastery of Agios Simeon with its stunning views back to Kamares.
Cherronisos is a diminutive port with, of course, its own monastery which was the only habitation in the increasingly barren north of the island. Returning on a different route through the picturesque Hora, high on the mountain, hidden from the ravages of pirates. Hora buzzes even out of season with its cobbled streets, bars and many ouzeris where they serve snacks with ouzo or another Greek liquor.
The little Port of Cherronisos
Another ride took us through the Hora and round the mountain to the safe anchorage of Vathy. Fearing the heat, we did not linger to eat at the recommended taverna but continued the long climb back up.
The island is incredibly scenic with magnificent views, but the topography is testing on a bicycle. At every turn there are churches and monasteries, apparently, per area, the greatest number of any island in the Cyclades. Everything here is inextricably related to the island’s religious heritage. It is a very Greek island with a heart and soul that celebrates its artistic and culinary traditions. Numerous pottery shops ply their trade as they have done so for centuries. Special meals are slow-cooked in wood ovens in the local earthenware pots, sometimes communally, for Sundays and religious feasts. Chickpeas, for which the island is known, often provides the staple ingredient.
It is only too soon before we must leave and this time, we had absolutely no choice but to take the small fast boat. With my wife looking a little green about the gills, we changed to something more stable in Paros, reaching Naxos perfectly in time for lunch.
The Portara, Naxos (Image by Greece Travel Ideas)
We disembarked to the stunning views of the huge Portara of the ancient temple of Apollo. This marks the exact spot where Ariadne, the Minoan princess, was abandoned by her lover Theseus. His gratitude left much to be desired, considering the assistance she gave him in getting out of the labyrinth and killing the Minotaur, which is not really an everyday task. Not even the Greek god of love and wine, Dionysus, could provide her solace.
Behind the town on a hillock, you could also see the medieval kastro with its ancient gates, walls and atmospheric interior.
Parts of Naxos have become too touristic for my taste, so we set off after lunch for a 36km ride to the little port of Apollonas. We stayed at the charming Hotel Adonis ran by the extremely attentive Stamatis. Everything was quite the family affair there and his cousin ran the best taverna. Upon arrival, a fresh pork chop was ordered for me on the island bus for my dinner! This little port has a history and is so different from the beach developments on the South coast, which purely meets the needs of expanding tourism.
The view from the taverna in Appolonas
Apollonas has been inhabited since antiquity probably on account of its marble quarry. It sports an unfinished 6th century, 10.5meter Kouros, a statue that lies rather ignominiously flat on the ground. It used to be the port for the surrounding mountain villages. There is a great sandy beach and surprisingly warm sheltered water. The little port, I must admit, could do with some tender loving care.
We cycled to Koronida, one of the mountain villages, surprised to find it was what our hotel proprietor termed a ‘closed village’ that did not welcome tourists. On arrival, it did indeed have no tourist facilities and an atmosphere, not hostile but that we were not wanted. This part of the island is so verdant, with babbling brooks and cultivated terraces and unfortunately, vicious early summer horse flies that made resting an impossibility.
Halfway views down to the port of Apollon, Naxos…
...And views up to the mountain village of Koronida, Naxos
Crossing the pass near the emery mines, where the abrasive used in our nail files is mined, we reach Drymalia church with its astonishing views in every direction. The firemen join us, it is also an essential viewpoint for scanning the countryside for fires.
We descended on a scenic lane to Moni and one of the most beautiful and oldest temples in Greece, the Panagia Drosiani.
Panagia Drosiani (Image by Naxos and Small Cyclades)
A little further is Halki, the old capital, rightly known as ‘the Mystras of the Aegean’ with its neoclassical houses, Venetian towers and numerous byzantine churches in the surrounding olive groves. The name is thought to have originated from a family of bronze smiths who were settled here by the Venetians.
Somewhat hot and tired, we descended to a lovely cove for swimming at Mikra Vigla and then to the Hora and Mykonos for our return flight.
Cove near Mikri Vigla