Naxos sailing holidays

The largest and one of the most beautiful of the Cyclades, the island of Naxos - Νάξος, is traversed from north to south by a range of hills which fall away steeply on the east but slope down gradually on the west into fertile rolling country and well-watered plains. The hills rise to a height of 1008 m and are cut by two passes.

Since ancient times the economy of the island has depended on agriculture, marble-quarrying, emery-mining and the recovery of salt from the sea, occupations which have brought it a considerable degree of prosperity. In recent years the tourist trade has been an additional source of revenue, despite the surprising – for the size of the island – scarcity of proper anchorages/ports.

Naxos town with in the foreground the emblematic marble gateway (Portara) – with the Temple of Apollo foundation. The Naxos marina is 100 m to the right (south) of the anchored catamaran.

Previous island: Paros ↑

Sailing map of Naxos, Lesser or Small Cyclades - Yacht charters in Greece
Naxos, Lesser (or Small) Cyclades sailing map; ports and anchorages

Next island: Milos ↓

The 11th c. Church of Saint George Diasoritis near Halki village (in the impressive valley of Tragaia) is one of the most important Byzantine churches, attested by the rich architecture, frescoes and sculptures.

The island is not yet ready to cope with mass tourism, but it has much to offer visiting those on a sailing holiday – an equable climate, a wide variety of scenery, from the sandy anchorages of the west coast and monuments of both antiquity and medieval periods.

History & Mythology

Naxos was a centre of the cult of Dionysos. Mythology tells us that it was here that Theseus abandoned Ariadne.

There is much archaeological evidence to show that the island was first settled by Carians and Cretans and developed a flourishing Cycladic culture in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE.

In the 1st millennium BCE these first settlers were followed by Ionian Greeks, who in the 6th c. BCE extended their rule over Paros, Andros and other neighbouring islands.

During this period there was a celebrated school of sculptors on Naxos, notable for such works as the colossal statue of Apollo on Delos. A member of the first Attic maritime league, Naxos became subject to Athens after an unsuccessful rising and was compelled to accept the redistribution of land on the island to Athenian citizens.

After being held by Macedon it passed under Egyptian rule, was briefly assigned to Rhodes by Mark Antony and thereafter became part of the Byzantine Empire.

In 1207 Naxos was occupied by a Venetian nobleman named Marco Sanudo, who made it the centre of the Duchy of the Twelve Islands in the Aegean (Duchy of Naxos), which continued in existence until 1566 and achieved a considerable degree of prosperity.

It was taken by the Turks in 1579, and was under Russian rule from 1770 to 1774, but, like the other Cyclades, retained a measure of independence. In 1830 it joined the newly established kingdom of Greece.

Myrsini port on the island of Schinoussa in the Lesser Cycades.

More photos and information can be found in the logbook of our trip from Athens to Milos via Paros (Naoussa, Parikia and the Paros – Antiparos Channel), as well as in my Guide to sailing holidays and yacht charters in 8 steps.

In-depth Meltemi storm guide  

The port of Naxos with the rectangular ferry quay to the left and the Naxos marina in the centre.

Naxos town and marina

The island's capital – in a fertile district growing vines, fruit and vegetables – is picturesquely situated on the slopes of a rocky hill crowned by the ruins of a Venetian castle (1260; panoramic views, well-lit so conspicuously useful for a nightly approach).

Features of interest in the town are a number of dilapitated Venetian palaces (particularly the Barozzi and Sommaripa palaces), the Catholic Church of St Mary (13th c.) and the 15th c. St Anthony's Chapel on the waterfront.

There is an interesting museum with archaeological material from all periods of the island's history, including a fine collection of stone vessels and Cycladic idols (3rd millennium BCE), pottery of the Geometric, Archaic and later periods, capitals and statues and a mosaic of Europa and the bull.

Naxos occupies the site of the ancient capital of the island, the main visible relics of which are a 6 m high marble gateway and the foundations of an unfinished Temple of Apollo or Dionysos (6th c. BCE) on the rocky islet of Sto Palati, which is connected with the main island by a stone causeway.


North-east of the town stands the old fortified Monastery of St John Chrysostom.
Further north-east is the whitewashed Faneromeni Monastery, with a church of 1603.

Characteristic of the Venetian and Turkish period on Naxos are the fortified tower houses, notably the Barozzi Tower in Halki, the Bazeos Tower and the remarkable Tower of Ypsili in Chora (Naxos).

Pano Koufonisi with Koufonisia port to the left and Kato Koufonisi island to the right.
The low lying islet in the centre is Glaros, with the rugged Keros in the background.

Lesser Cyclades

Small Cyclades or Lesser Cyclades - Μικρές Κυκλάδες (sometimes Little Cyclades):

  • Iraklia or Irakleia - Ηρακλειά
  • Schinoussa - Σχοινούσσα
  • Antikeros - Αντίκερος
  • Kato Andikeri (Drima) - Κάτω Αντικέρι (Δρίμα)
  • Koufonisia include four main islands:
    • Koufonisi or Pano (Upper) Koufonisi - Άνω Κουφονήσι
    • Kato (Lower) Koufonisi - Κάτω Κουφονήσι
    • Keros or Karos - Κέρος
    • Glaros or Glaronisi - Γλαρονήσι

The Meltemi storms blow here from the north-east.

Ports and anchorages on Naxos

The Naxos marina is ill-equiped, mostly packed with local yachts and very shallow. Though, the port police (father) and harbour master (his son) are ever so friendly: VHF 12 or 69.
 Beware of the ferries and the wash and huge waves they create  !
There are plans to extend both the outer mole (by 170 m) and ferry quay (by 110 m).

If the marina is full, you can find shelter from the Meltemi in Vintzi just north of the ferry quay; anchor in 5 m just south of the Portara (see catamaran position in first photo).

We found shelter from the Sirocco (SE) winds by anchoring directly east of the Portara with a line ashore to the easternmost rocks of the actual islet (and not to the isthmus as is indicated in a popular pilot guide).

Apollonas - Απόλλωνας is a lovely small village on the north-east tip of the island. Go stern-to and keep the yacht some distace away from the quay; very shallow sandy bottom. Only tenable in northerlies. Near the entrance of the quarry is a colossal 10 m long kouros – statue of a youth, 6 c. BCE – in the form of Dionysos.

The pretty St Anna - Αγία Άννα is quite the opposite of Naxos marina and offers calm surroundings. Moor along-side the mole or go stern-to on the leeside. Not suitable in Meltemi/Mistral conditions.
There is a sunken chain (~2 boat lengths long) linked to the mole (south side near the bend).

Panormos - Πάνορμος bay might look like a safe anchorage, but experiences severe gusts (NE) along the valley; make sure that your anchor(s) are dug in nicely, preferably one on the beach.  Mind the Dilos reef on the approach!

Kalantos - Καλαντός offers the best shelter on the south coast in Meltemi weather, but still one should guard against strong gusts (mostly N) blowing down the mountains. A small river flows into a secluded sandy/rocky bay with crystal clear waters and some dangerous rocks closer to the beach; use a tripline.

Ports and anchorages Lesser Cyclades

Irakleia island

Agios Giorgios - Αγιος Γεώργιος port at the bottom of a narrow inlet offers room to just a few yachts at the south side of the short ferry pier (ferries will dock at the north side). There are remains from the Cycladic era, as well as well as ruins of the sanctuaries of Tyche and Dias (Δίας is the Modern Greek name for god Zeus) and of a medieval settlement.

Pigadi - Πηγάδι is a very narrow bay, open only to the NE winds. The coast south of this inlet sports a   sheer vertical cliff (121 m)  which extends into the deep.

Spilia - Σπηλιά and Vourkaria - Βουρκαριά bays are open to the north; lonely and lovely ambiences.

Spectular snorkeling around the rock formations of Glaronisi. In calm weather drop anchor with tripline just NE of the little rocks.
The island and port of Koufonisia are visible in front of mountainous Naxos to the left.

Schinoussa island

Myrsini port - Λιμάνι Μυρσίνη is perhaps the most alluring port in the Lesser Cyclades. Gusts are primarily from the north-east, if possible go stern-to opposite the larger ferry quay, near the north road to the Chora. There are two perpendicular anchor chains fouling the bottom between the quays.
If the port is too crowded, anchor in the second bay towards the south-east, Livadi bay, in pleasant surroundings.

Koufonisia islands

The windmills of the Chora will guide visiting yachts to the new port of Koufonisi - Λιμάνι Πάνω Κουφονησίου, which was constructed to offer all-round shelter right besides the amiable village of Koufonisi. Use the laid moorings that are tailed to the quay.

The smaller port of Parianos - Παργιανός slightly further north-west is usually filled with local fisherboats and the basin is too shallow for larger sailing yachts. If there is room, use a tripline to deal with the rocky seabed and the farrago of permanent (and ephemeral) moorings. Prevailing gusts from the north.

Antikeros - Drima channel: Drop anchor, just east of where the islets meet, in 6 – 8 m. Reasonable shelter from the Meltemi (NE) in cerulean waters; some lovely stretches of beach and white rock formations:    a perfect lunch-stop between Amorgos and the other Lesser Isles  . The channel has a depth of at least 4 m, prevailing gusts from the NE.

All Greek isles and the next Cycladic islands to the west are Milos • Kimolos • Polyaigos.