CULTURE

A guide to help you escape the crowd on Naxos island

It’s still (almost) cool enough to go trekking early or late the in day, and, on the islands at least, the trails are never far from the sea. In the center of the island of Naxos, the greenest of the Cycladic islands, is a network of paths leading to several archaeological and natural sights off the beaten track – Byzantine churches, tombs from the Geometric period, fortresses from the island’s Frankish period, caves and springs. A guide to the area published last year by the Municipality of Drimalia is an excellent font of information on the geology, economy and culture of central Naxos, and includes a color fold-out map. One of a number of projects currently under way around Greece is to revive the old paths connecting villages that have fallen into disuse since roads were opened. The seven walking trails described vary from 4.5 kilometers (two hours) to 6 kilometers (three and a half hours) and are graded «moderate» to «strenuous» – one of them leads to the top of the highest point in the Cyclades, Mt Zas, at 1,004 meters. The paths take trekkers through groves of enormous olive trees, some allegedly dating from the Venetian occupation of the island in the 13th to 16th centuries, stands of rare Valonian oaks, Venetian towers and neoclassical houses dating from the early 20th century in Halki, the village that was capital of the island until 1925. Route Three, from Akadimi to Halki, takes in terrain that has examples of the island’s typical vegetation, on which the the guide contains a particularly good section, as well as details of the geology, climate and bird habitats. One part of the section on vegetation is devoted to plant species to be found on this route and where to look for them. Route Four takes in most of the heritage sites in central Naxos, including the Kalavros, Barozzi-Grazia and Makropolitis towers. Routes Five and Six are for more seasoned and hardy mountaineers, with climbs to the top of Mt Fanari (883 meters) and Mt Zas, from whose peak one can see across to the Turkish coast on a very clear day. Flora and fauna The olive tree (Olea europea) is as common everywhere on the island as it is in the rest of Greece but in the central region of Tragea (also called Drimalia, meaning «forest of olive trees» in ancient Greek) there are specimens that could be at least 1,000 years old. Naxos municipalities, in cooperation with the Ariadne development company, have been carrying out programs funded by the European Union to preserve the terraces on which the olives are grown, as the dry stone techniques for building and restoring this traditional form of erosion control and rain water retention are slowly being lost. The guidebook focuses on the typical flora found in the dwarf phrygana vegetation typical of the Mediterranean, where forest fires are frequent and the land has been subject to overgrazing by sheep and goats. For amateur botanists, the guide goes into more detail on a section of Route Three and describes the cultivated plants that have become part of the Mediterranean landscape, such as bougainvillea and jasmine, as well as native plants found on the route, and linking them to their use in the local’s daily lives, from the village gardens to vegetation found along streams, including aromatic plants, such as mint once collected by locals, and the Cistus creticus used to extract laudanum collected from the wool of sheep that brush against the plant while grazing. The path also passes a majestic Valonian oak (Quercus macrolepis); pigs fed on the acorns of this tree are said to produce tastier meat. Migratory birds are attracted to the insects that feed on the aromatic plants which flower in spring and summer among the phrygana and olive groves, which, when bearing fruit, are a perfect ecosystem for birdlife. Trekkers in higher country might be lucky enough to see birds of prey, such as goose vultures, griffon vultures, falcons, kestrels, peregrine falcons, lesser kestrels, Bonelli’s eagle, buzzards, sparrow hawks, and others. The guidebook would have been improved with the expertise of a professional copy editor who is a native English speaker, but the sometimes literal translation does not detract from the fact that a great deal of hard work and research has gone into its preparation, and obviously a lot of affection and respect for the places described. «Central Naxos – A Guide with Map» is published by the Municipality of Drimalia, with the cooperation of the Naxos Academy, a non-profit organization that holds conferences on the environment, and a team including Louise Ranck and Merce Aguera Cabo, within the framework of a European Heritage Campus coordinated by the Mediterranean Environment Center in Avignon. The guide is available in Greek and English at the Zoom Bookshop in the island’s capital for 7.50 euros. It will soon be available in Athens at the Road travel bookshops.