Having explored the big city of Athens, the beaches of Milos, and the commercialized cliffs of Santorini, we were ready to see a more traditional side of Greek culture as we continued our island-hopping travels through Greece.
Naxos is the largest island in the Cyclades groups and known for its sunny conditions and fertile soil which offer ideal conditions for farming fresh, healthy and delicious produce. Most visitors opt to stay by the port, old town, and beaches, and enjoy their vacation along the coast, but for the most authentic glimpse into Greek culture and generations-old culinary traditions, we headed inland to the small villages in the hills of Naxos.
As much as we are fans of DIY travels, we needed the help of a local expert to give us an insider’s guide to Greek culture in Naxos. We booked with Philema Food Tours, a new Naxos tour company recently started by long-time Greek tour guide Eleni Kontopidi who took the leap from working for others, to working for herself and starting her own culinary tour company. Philema, a Greek word which loosely translates to “offering a small taste of something to eat or drink”, specializes in bringing small groups around Naxos island with custom itineraries to show visitors a local and authentic side of Naxos that most tourists wouldn’t be able to access on their own.
Having worked in tourism for over a decade, Eleni never was a fan of the big-bus tours where she had to speak into a microphone to address a busload of tourists. Like us, she prefers to make personal connections with both the locals of Naxos and the clients she guides around the island. Every itinerary is different and tailored towards the preferences of the clients she tours.
Based on our request of seeing a traditional and authentic cultural perspective of Naxos and a desire to meet and connect with locals, our day with Eleni included a jam-packed schedule of visiting a cheese farm, pottery workshop, distillery, Greek tavern, vineyard and more — all small family-run establishments with generations of knowledge and expertise.
Read on to see how we spent our day in Naxos with Philema Food Tours.
Cheesemaking in Naxos
Our morning started with cheese. We visited a family-run farm with 50 goats and 80 sheep, and, true to Greek hospitality, were invited inside for a long visit where we drank iced frappes, ate homemade zucchini fritters and fresh-out-of-the-oven spinach pie, and drank homemade wine. Eleni served as our translator, bridging the gap between us, and the husband and wife duo, who showed us a demonstration of their cheese-making process.
The family specializes in making two different types of traditional cheese:
- Arseniko – A hard cheese made of goat and sheep milk. The name is translated as “male” in Greek. In other parts of Greece, the same cheese is referred to as Kefalotiri.
- Mizithra – The leftover milk from the Arseniko production gets turned into a soft cheese called mizithra. It’s similar to ricotta and is often used as a spread on bread or as a topping for salad.
We saw the cheese being stirred, strained, and molded, into what would become the hard Arseniko cheese. Then we saw the leftover water being heated until a ricotta-like soft cheese formed. We were then served the cheese, the freshest I’ve ever had, with bread and homemade wine.
Although the cheesemaking demonstration and breakfast with the Greek family was the purpose of this visit, we also experienced a bit of farmlife and loved playing with their happy dog, feeding the goats, and holding baby peacocks the size of our palm..
Pottery Workshop in Naxos
Kitron Tasting in Naxos
Lunch in Apeiranthos, the “Marble Village” of Naxos
Traditional Textile Workshop
Still in Apeiranthos, we visited a women’s textiles cooperative, specializing in hellenic handicraft creations. The cooperative is dedicated to preserving the traditional art of weaving, an art form which was once prominent in every household, but has since evolved to be more of a decorative art. This textile workshop specializes in making tablecloths, napkins, bag, and wall hangings, pillowcases, and more.
The last stop of our tour was at a vineyard owned by the Tranampelo family. This vineyard in Naxos is the passion project of a retired food chemist who had a long career working in global multinational firms. A few years ago, he retired to manage his grapes full time. The wine produced by the Tranampelo is one of the few that are bottled and sold, but even then, their yield was very small: only 1,500 bottles last year.
Other the the house wines that every family makes on their own for friends and family, wine production on a mass scale is not common in Naxos. (If you want the best wine from the Greek islands, head to Santorini instead.). From a business perspective, there’s no money to be made in the wine industry in Naxos, but what was special about this vineyard is its owner and the passion he shows for his grapes.
Overlooking his beautiful vineyard, we shared a bottle of wine and chatted about travel, culture, food, and wine.
Grapes on a Vine