Greek Island Peak Bagging, Part III: Birthplace of Zeus


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Europe » Greece » South Aegean » Naxos
October 24th 2018
Published: December 12th 2018
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Across the Aegean

Flight from Thessaloniki to Rhodes, interminably long ferry from Rhodes to Santorini, then much shorter ferry to Naxos, flight to Athens before flying back to SEA.

Summit of Mt ZeusSummit of Mt ZeusSummit of Mt Zeus

Highest point on Naxos and in the entire Cyclades island chain.
In 2000 during my first trip to Greece, I was far from the maniacal peak bagger that I am at present. I visited both Naxos and Rhodes back then without any interest in summitting the high points of either of those islands but I did get to the overall high point of Greece on that trip, Mt. Olympus. Greek Island high points Parts I & II were both on Crete in 2014 as it was necessary to summit 2 peaks to be assured of hitting the highest one.

After 3 weeks blowing through the Balkans and finishing my overland stretch in Thessaloniki, I visited 3 islands on this trip, returning to both Naxos and Rhodes with a stop in Santorini which was far and away the easiest way to bridge the other 2 islands out of high season.

$US ≈ €0.87

Naxos

Very glad I came here after Santorini which was positively mobbed even in low season. Naxos was muy tranquilo which was to be expected as many places were shuttering up for the winter. Still tourists around but in very low numbers compared to the other 2 islands.

Accommodation and food Found Depis Suites & Apartments booking.com and scored a small efficiency close to the beach for ~€47 for 3 nights. Many places along the waterfront serving seafood and typical Greek food but the best was Pikantiko's €8 plate of grilled swordfish, glass of wine included.

Transport Being in the center of the Cyclades Islands there are ferries all over the Aegean as well as to & from Athens. That being said, I found a dirt cheap 1 hour flight to Athens for $25. Most lodgings provide free transfers to the port & airport which are both very close to town. Locally, there are fairly regular buses from Chora to the other side of the island via Filoti near Mt. Zeus as well as to the nearby beach at Plaka. €3.50 for a ride anywhere.

Mt. Zeus Getting to the eponymous 1,003 meter ASL (3,290') mountain was pretty straightforward. I took the bus departing Chora at 9:30 and alighted at the turn off for the Agia Marina church almost an hour later. Immediately took off for the summit and after ~15 minutes of road hiking arrived at the church and the trailhead that weaved through grazing fields before reaching the rocky summit at 11:25. The original plan was to head back down the same way as I'd read that the alternate route via the cave of Zeus's birth was unmarked in places and difficult to follow. However, very close to the summit there was another obvious set of cairns heading down the west side of the mountain in the direction of the cave and Filoti in the distance. I took that steep trail ~11:45 but did not see any cave whatsoever nor did an ascending hiker that I passed on the way down. There was a bit longer of a road walk on this route and I got to the main road on the outskirts of Filoti ~12:45. Just at the edge of town I cadged a lift from a local who was heading to Chora, arriving there just after 13:00. Had I not caught a ride there was a return bus departing Ag. Marina/Filoti at 13:45. For a more leisurely pace, there is a bus departing Chora at 7:30 but not on weekends. If I were to do it again, I would probably ascend via the cave route as it was pretty steep in places and presumably easier to go up those short stretches rather than down them. Might also be easier to spot the cave while going up.

Santorini

I desperately tried to find another way to get from Rhodes to Naxos but unfortunately the direct ferry ceased operations at the end of September and flights were pricey. There was a convoluted ferry route via Patmos, Samos, and either Mykonos or Syros but I opted for simplicity which also made the most sense economically. Two days were more than enough here.

Accommodation and food One of 2 budget places in Fira, the aptly named Fira Backpackers Place is close to the center of town and a few blocks from the bus station. Slightly grim 10 person dorm ran €14, there's a nice pool (beaches are on the far side of the island), good WiFi, kitchen & free coffee, free use of washing machine but BYOD. No shortage of places to eat in Fira but Bakaliarakia (near McDonald's) was about the only budget place around, good €5 fish & chips and even cheaper Greek dishes.

Transport Fira is the center of all bus transport on the island. During the day there are departures to all corners of the island every 20-30 min. Bus between Fira and Oia runs €1.80 and takes ~30 min.

There is a bus
Hike to Profitis Ilias Monastery, SantoriniHike to Profitis Ilias Monastery, SantoriniHike to Profitis Ilias Monastery, Santorini

Profit Elias Monastery, objective in sight.
to the port (€2.30) meeting nearly every arriving/departing ferry but not for the boat I took to Naxos departing at 9:35 which meant either taking the bus leaving Fira at 5:45, which is what I did, or take a €25 taxi (1-4 pax). Plenty of restaurants and coffee shops at the port to while away the time waiting for a ferry. Sea Jets ferry was scheduled to arrive in Naxos at 13:05 but the northerly wind was fierce and we arrived an hour late. Fare was €13.30, faster ferries a lot more.

Monastery of Profitis Ilias hike The monastery is now the high point of Santorini after the volcanic island blew its top more than 3,600 years ago. Really nice hike this time of year as it was still warm, sunny, and very windy. On the way up can make a side trip to the ruins at ancient Thira (€4 entry, skipped it, seen enough ruins). Great views on either side of the ridge looking down to the beach towns of Perissa (has a hostel for budget accommodation) and Kameri, both accessible by bus from Fira.

I took the 10:00 bus from Fira to Perissa (€2.40) to the end of the line next to the beach and started the hike just after 11:00. Easy 1¼ hour hike to the monastery. I began the walk down the other side and effortlessly hitched a ride to nearby Pyrgos where I waited ~45 min for a bus back to Fira (€1.80).

Rhodes

Package tourism, slightly crass, patches of elegance, bit of a seedy side, cool historic fortified old town, suitable for all budgets... Rhodes still hasn't lost any of its charms.

Accommodation and food First place was Stay Hostel for 2 nights then again for my last of 5 nights, €15/night in a 2 or 3 person dorm. Super clean, great facilities, kitchen, and a cinema/satellite TV in the basement, muy importante for watching the New England Patriots eke out a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs and also the Boston Red Sox take charge of their ALCS series with a game 4 win over the Houston Astros. For the 3rd and 4th nights I got a deal for Angela Suites right around the corner from the hostel. Two night total for a single with bath ran €44 and included a good buffet breakfast but the WiFi only seemed to work in the lobby. No shortage of places to chow but I hit the all you can eat €10 dinner buffet at Danish Corner which I'm sure was there in 2000. Great €7 breakfast buffet at the Best Western Hotel. Augstinos has virtually taken over an entire city block serving cheap Greek dishes, really good pizza, and frosty bottles of Mythos.

Transport ANEK ferry to Santorini departed the new port (~45 min walk from the hostel) at 7:00 and arrived 21:45 where there was a local bus waiting to take pax to Fira. Fare was €29 in deck class, €3 extra for WiFi, and there's an OK cafeteria on board. Airport bus between RHO and Rhodes town runs every 30-40 min, €2.60 for the 50 min ride. Bus to Lindos is €5.50 dep from the bus "station" every 30 min and takes 1:40 although some are faster taking only an hour.

Athens

Spent a couple of days here before the long, 19 hr trip back to Seattle, just enough time to check out the fairly new archeological museum and search for a couple of tchotchkes. Ended up skipping the museum, just chilled.

Accommodation and food Stayed again at Cosmopolit Hostel near Omonia in a 4pp dorm for €31 total including an OK breakfast that included brewed coffee last time I stayed there but was majorly downgraded to Nescafe this time. Fortunately, you can not walk half a block anywhere in Athens without passing a coffee shop.

Transport Airport bus X95 runs between Syntagma Square and ATH for €6, takes an hour.

Thessaloniki

Nice place although fairly non-descript. Arrived late from Skopje one night. Spent 2 more nights, one full day would have been enough.

Accommodation and food Very close to the bus/train station is Thess Hostel where I got my own room with share bathroom and kitchenette for €20.50/night. Free coffee available in the lobby although it opens at the oddly late hour of 10:00 in the morning. For earlier morning caffeine fix, nearby Katselis sells cappuccino and the ubiquitous mpougatsa crema for €1.50 each. Also close, Kouzinaki dishes up huge plates of Greek food for ~€6, big enough for 2.

Transport Airport bus 1X dep from the street in front of the bus station frequently for €2, trip takes 35-40 min.

Skopje, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

a.k.a, F.Y.R.O.M. but maybe not for long.

Somewhat of a mandatory stop here between the Balkans and Greece coming from Kosovo. Alternate entry point into Greece from Albania but I'd already been and missed Skopje on 2 previous trips to the region. Free (i.e., tips based) walking tour is OK but the pack of harmless, yet constantly barking, wild dogs following the group, as is the norm, was really annoying.

$US ≈ 53 Macedonian dinars (MKD)

Accommodation and food Rocked up at Get Inn Hostel and paid €24.50 for 3 nights in a 8pp dorm which was never full. Breakfast and free flowing Turkish coffee were included as well as free dinner Monday nights (hostel owner also owns a restaurant) and free haircut Tuesdays. Great staff and overall vibe. Near the hostel is Spetsialna Pekara (Special Bakery) serving take away local food and great pastries like Tres Leches and baklava. More towards the center is Chef, similar cafeteria style but more variety.

Transport The daily bus to Thessaloniki dep from the station at 17:00, arr 21:45 (I think there's an hour time change). Fare is 1230 MK (can pay in the terminal with credit card), includes baggage, and there is a 50 MK terminal tax that must be paid separately. Any
Oia Clinging PrecariouslyOia Clinging PrecariouslyOia Clinging Precariously

On the boat ride from Santorini to Naxos.
leftover dinars can be used to buy pretty good 15 MK espresso from the Lavazza machine in the terminal.


Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17


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FolegandrosFolegandros
Folegandros

On the boat ride from Santorini to Naxos.
IosIos
Ios

On the boat ride from Santorini to Naxos.
IosIos
Ios

On the boat ride from Santorini to Naxos.
Macedonia's Finest BrewMacedonia's Finest Brew
Macedonia's Finest Brew

Half liter of 11% alcohol content.
Alexander the GreatAlexander the Great
Alexander the Great

The Skopje 2014 project led to the construction of a huge number of massive statues.
Parthenon and AcropolisParthenon and Acropolis
Parthenon and Acropolis

Built in the classic design of the Golden Rectangle, Athens.


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