In most areas of the world, autumn signals the return of morning frost, layered clothing, and the old, familiar roar of hundreds of leaf-blowers awakening from their summer slumber. But on the island of Naxos, nestled right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, there is no frost. There are no sweaters. There are no leaf-blowers, because there aren’t any leaves to blow. Instead, autumn on the island means waiting until 11 am to jump in the water, and maybe, if it’s a particularly chilly night, adding an extra blanket to your bed. This is the story of my trip visiting Naxos in the off season.
Naxos in the Off Season
Despite being the biggest island in the Cyclades, Naxos is often overlooked by Paros, its flashier, hard-partying neighbor. But while Paros may have the nightlife and the booze, Naxos has the beaches. This is an island with more beaches than villages. Naxos is wrapped in a near-unbroken 150 km long halo of wide, sandy seashores.
While droves of eager European tourists fill up the Naxos ferries in the summer, visiting the island at the tail end of November is a dramatically different experience. As I walked from the ferry to my hostel, I couldn’t help but notice that the streets were devoid of gift shops and raucous crowds. In fact, the streets were devoid of almost everyone, save for a few cigar-smoking old men and the occasional stray kitten. As I neared the hostel, huge hotels and holiday homes lined the street. Almost all of the windows were dark. The off-season had begun, and, by and large, the only people left on the island were the islanders themselves.
I arrived at the A1 Soula Hotel and Hostel, where a very friendly young man led me to my dorm. It was a quiet, big place with soft beds and a few curious cats on the balcony. I had the whole dormitory to myself. Actually, I had the whole floor to myself. And, as I discovered the next morning, I had the whole beach to myself too.
Agios Georgios beach borders the south-west side of the town. In the summer, due to its convenient location, it is typically packed with droves of sunbathers and windsurfers. But when I visited, there were, at most, a dozen beach-goers. A few small shapes on a beach that stretched out, quite literally, as far as the eye could see.
I had initially assumed that the water would be too cold for a proper swim. This belief was quickly erased when a trio of gray-haired ladies, with no hesitation, paddled out into the waves. I took a deep breath and waded in. While the water was cold, it was, by no means, unbearable. After a minute or two, my shivering stopped and I began to relax. Even in the deep, I could see my toes. An array of colorful fish floated languidly below them, seemingly unconcerned by my presence. The sea was remarkably still. I was able to simply lie on my back and float aimlessly for almost a full hour. The water was almost the exact same pale blue as the sky. If it weren’t for a flock of cottony clouds, it would be hard to tell where the sea ended and the sky began.
The next day, I transferred over to an Airbnb home. My host, Stratis, was wonderfully accommodating. I was free to use the entire apartment. It only cost 12 Euros! This included my own small kitchen, large bathroom, and sunrise-adjacent balcony. Naxos offers numerous Airbnbs and guesthouses. Everyone seems eager to welcome you into their home.
I found the same spirit of hospitality at every market, food stand, and restaurant that I visited. While most Greek islands rely heavily on tourism to keep their economy afloat, Naxos derives a great deal of its income from agriculture. Its markets are packed with locally produced milk, meat, bread, and, of course, fish. If you’d prefer to eat out, you’ll find that the island is dotted with numerous charming restaurants. By the docks, dozens of tavernas serve up packed plates of creamy moussaka, grilled octopus, rich, cheese-stuffed spanakopita, and, for the more adventurous diners, big steaming bowls of stewed snails. There’s nothing quite like devouring an army of snails by the shore as the sun dips below the horizon and tiny sailboats blush pink.
Of the five Greek islands I visited, the sunsets of Naxos were by far the most stunning.
Imagine a sea that glimmers like the embers of a dying fire. Then, imagine a river of rosy pink slicing through a splattering of blood-red and burnt orange sky. Imagine clouds heavy with this orange, as if they are on the brink of raining droplets of light upon the shores below. Now, imagine that all of this happens every single evening.
The sky seemed to have a magical effect on the island itself. When the sun set, everything slowed. Villagers stopped on the sidewalk. Seagulls ceased their squawking. Even the waves seemed to quiet themselves. It was as if the Mediterranean couldn’t help but stop in its tracks to admire the spectacle above. There were moments like this in Naxos all of the time. Moments that cause you to question whether or not you’ve accidentally fallen into a postcard or a Corona commercial. There are moments of intense beauty. Moments of intense serenity. Even moments of intense gratitude.
If you’re looking to break free from the dreary old autumnal routine, leave your sweater in the closet, your leaf blower in the garage, and your stress at the door. Naxos is waiting for you.