Naxos is the largest and most fertile island of the Cyclades and has an interesting history. It was sacked by the Persians in 490 BC, became a Venetian duchy for more than 300 years in 1207, fell to the Turks in 1566 and became Greek in 1832. On the approach to Naxos harbour, the marble arch which is part of a temple to Apollo is prominent – begun in 530 BC, but never finished. Marble is plentiful on Naxos.
The warren of alleys, arches and tunnels around the Venetian castle on the summit of the hill in town, is the most fascinating part of the town. It was the up-market end of town and many of the entrances sport coats of arms from the time when Naxos ruled over the surrounding islands.
We spent two days exploring the beautiful old town and the castle before setting sail in a building wind, to Paros, only 5 miles to the west. The north facing bay at Naoussa on the north east corner of Paros was untenable in the strong north wester, so we sailed down the west coast to the main harbour at Paroikia. There is a sheltered bay to the north of the ferry harbour where we anchored with a number of other yachts.
When you stepped off the ferry in Paros back in the seventies, your first port of call was this old windmill. It was then the police station and information office. Dozens of backpacks would be stacked against the wall outside, while their owners would go off in search of accommodation. With the advent of online booking, the windmill and the moat around it has lost this function – it is still an attractive landmark to welcome you.
A hundred metres to the left the little church is still as pretty as ever. The old town has lost none of its charm, but as one would expect, the town has grown around the bay to accommodate the masses of tourists. We did some shopping and Annie had her laptop seen to by a local computer shop – the fellow reloaded her MS software for free . I discovered a very palatable 3 litre cask Retsina at EU 6.70, so bought a couple of casks.
Annie bought and shocked me with a ventilated fedora, as she was getting worried about my dark complexion. She knows I hate anything on my head, as it makes my head overheat, but she insists this hat won’t do that. In triumph she posted a photo to our girls on WhatsApp – who cracked up, saying that I look like an Italian pimp. Confusing opinions – what is a man to do? We’ll see if the hat survives.
After two days in Paros, we set sail and carefully navigated the narrow and shallow Paros channel, between Paros and Anti-Paros, dodging vehicle ferries between the islands as well as dozens of kite boarders. Once through and out of the lee of the islands, the wind picked up to 18 knots and we had an exhilarating 24-mile run to Ios. We were lucky to get one of the last open stern berths on the public jetty, in the small harbour. It was like a Jeanneau SO 439 convention – three of Esprit’s siblings tied up next to us. Now, I did say we won’t re-visit the fleshpots of our youth – but we did want to visit Thira (Santorini), to take photos of that magnificent setting. Ios happens to be on the way south – so, we are having a little sticky beak.
Ios town is still charming, but geared towards the younger set, with more bars than tavernas. In fact, pub crawl tours are on offer, with most pubs offering five Jaeger bombs for EU10, or buy seven shots and get a free T-shirt. The island’s beaches have also become de facto nudist beaches among the younger set. After a bumpy night in the harbour due to all the ferries and a strong Meltemi, we did our climb up to the chora (main town), walked around the harbour and then sailed down to Manganari beach to be in the lee of the island in the 30 knot northerly. Manganari with one taverna, has grown a lot since we camped on the beach.
During the night the Meltemi gusted up to 30 knots, with Esprit slewing from side to side – not conditions conducive to a good night’s sleep. By midday the next day, the wind abated and we went for a long walk along the bay, before having lunch at a beach taverna. Delicious calamari and salads washed down with the house wine. A good night’s sleep followed. By 8am the next morning, we set sail for a smooth run to Thira (Santorini) and a cruise around this giant volcano.
The principal island is Thira, shaped like a new moon encircling the rim of the crater, now filled with water. To the northwest Thirasia forms another part of the rim and in the middle, a black mass of cinder and lava (Kammeni and Nea Kammeni) is the volcanic plug. Thira is steep-to, dropping sheer into the sea from 150 – 300m and keep going down for another 300m. Since the great eruption of about 1,400BC (Calculated as three times greater than Krakatoa in 1883), the volcano has remained active. It has erupted eight times since then and in 1956 a massive earthquake destroyed many of the buildings at Finikia and Thira.
Thira and the Atlantis legend – Plato first recorded the Atlantis legend that has baffled historians to the present day. Thira could be a candidate. It may be that the Thira explosion effectively destroyed the Minoan civilization on Crete and the other surrounding islands. Adding to the puzzle of Thira, is that not a single inhabitant has been found buried in the ash and pumice of the excavations at Akrotiri in the south of Thira.
Anchoring is virtually impossible due to the great depth, but we found a spot close inshore at Ormos Riva in the north of Thirasia island. A perfect evening with the lights of the towns on the crater rim glittering like stars, got us in the mood for a bit of dancing on the deck, to ABBA going full blast. A couple of Metaxa nightcaps made us sleep well. The following day we set sail for Folegandros, about 23nm to the northwest.
Karavostasi, the harbour of Folegandros is a sleepy hollow with crystal clear water. A few middle aged tourists – mostly Greek, (which is a good sign) and a few tavernas. We didn’t fancy the one hour walk up to the chora, so we did a walk around the bay and finished off with dinner at a rustic taverna on the beach.
The free Wifi at the taverna alerted us to some heavy weather coming, so we set off early the next day to sail and find shelter in Adhamas harbour on Milos, the southwestern most island of the Cyclades. Milos is an ancient volcano which, like Thira, long ago erupted and scooped out the giant bay. In the first world war the large natural harbour was a British naval base.
It was during the Hellenistic period that the Venus de Milo (the Aphrodite of Milos) was sculpted, and is probably one of the best-known pieces of ancient Greek sculpture. The statue was found in the late 19th century by a farmer collecting old Greek stones for field walls. He negotiated to sell it to the French consul, but before a French ship arrived to collect it, the Sultan’s governor forcibly took the statue and put it aboard a ship bound for Istanbul. After a brief skirmish, the French got the statue back on board a French ship.
It is said it was during this skirmish that the Venus de Milo lost her arms, which were spirited away by a local. The arms haven’t been found since and probably shouldn’t, lest it change our accepted perception of the armless beauty art historians are so familiar with. Photos of the statue adorn every shop on the island.
We took a bus up to the chora to buy more data from Vodafone and visit amongst others, the local cemetery where the departed are housed in vaults of various sizes. We spent the next three days waiting out, hopefully, the last of the fierce Meltemis.
We didn’t mind, as Milos is a most agreeable island and we could spend the time doing some maintenance on Esprit. We will next report from the Saronic and eastern Peloponnese.
Cheers until then.