January 12th to 23rd 283km
We left Santorini on the late afternoon ferry which gave us a last glimpse of Thira and Oia in the sun as we sailed out of the caldera to the north. Two hours later we were rolling off the boat in the beautiful port at Naxos. Clare had scoped out a beach around the corner from the harbour, where we pitched the tent just as night fell. Behind our tent on a small rise were the remains of the Temple of Apollo, lit up at night. The following morning we went for a wander around it before setting off on the bikes.
We set off under bright blue skies on a loop of the top half of the island. We were quickly out of the port town and on to a very quiet road which loosely followed the hilly coastline. Sometimes we were right next to the sea, sometimes a few hundred metres inland on a hillside, but always with a good view. Halfway through the morning we ticked over 18,000km for the trip. It’s taken a while to clock up the last thousand k’s with the long Christmas break. It’ll probably be a little while to the next one too, as we’re not covering huge distances hopping between the islands. We had a good spot for the photo though, with sunshine and the blue sea behind.
The day’s target was Apollonas, on the north tip of the island, which looked on the map to be a decent sized town. The landscape in the north of Naxos was more mountainous with cliffs dropping down to the sea. We had a final climb and then a long descent down towards the group of white buildings nestled in a cove. Everything was closed, except for a single cafe next to the tiny harbour. We were carrying enough food for the evening and for breakfast, but it taught us the lesson that we can’t rely on shops being open in tourist towns in the off-season.
One advantage of everything being closed was that we were able to pitch our tent next to an empty hotel, protecting us from the strengthening wind. It couldn’t protect our tent from a cat which jumped on it in the middle of the night and clawed a few jagged holes in the material, though. Add it to the list of equipment that’s damaged and worn after almost 18 months on the road.
The wind was still strong in the morning and dark clouds were hanging low over the mountains that we were to climb over to get us back to Naxos town. Most of the morning was a climb, winding around the ridges with the wind coming from all directions, strong enough at times to blow us all over the road. Luckily there was no traffic (at all!) so it wasn’t dangerous, just frustrating. We reached a high point, crossing a ridge lined with a row of new wind turbines next to an old Cycladean windmill, a nod to the past maybe.
From there it was a long cruise back down to sea level, passing the big marble quarries that the island is famous for. We had one more night in Naxos and we were able to camp in the town on the terrace of a closed beach bar. With our now slightly less watertight tent, we’ve been looking for cover where possible to shelter from the frequent overnight showers. (Repair patches have been ordered!)
The 9 o’clock ferry the following morning took us the short hop over to Paros, Naxos’ neighbour to the West. Paros is a slightly smaller island, much flatter than Naxos, with a coast road making a perfect two day loop. We had a day off in Paros Town, as another rain storm rolled through, then set off anti-clockwise the next morning. This kept us on the sea side of the road, working our way initially south next to countless coves and beaches. We saw another tiny island off the west coast of Paros – Antiparos, linked by a small car ferry. Why not? Our bikes joined two scooters and a couple of foot passengers on the deck for a 10 minute crossing over the narrow strait seperating the two islands.
Antiparos is known as a hippy hang out, with famous nude beaches on the north coast. It also has a few famous residents, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis and Dustin Hoffman apparently have holiday homes on the island. We saw some very posh villas with big gardens and private beaches, but we didn’t spot John McClane, Forrest Gump or Rain Man. In the winter, it seemed like nobody lived there. We cycled on empty roads past lots of windmills down to the South of the island, to St George beach. Not really a village, just a collection of villas and beach restaurants. Only one was open, where we went for a late afternoon beer. We were their only customers, and as it looked like they were closing up for the day, we asked if they would mind us camping on their covered terrace. No problem, so we had another dry night. Lots of cats prowling around, but none attacked our tent.
We returned to the small port on a road that took us inland through the middle of the island. There were some steep climbs, but they were short and over pretty quickly. There’s a cave in the hills which was recommended but, of course, closed for the winter, so we continued, getting back quickly and catching the 12:30 boat back to Paros. We stopped for lunch and a quick swim on the other side, then back on the bikes to continue our anti-clockwise loop. By mid afternoon we’d rounded the southern tip of the island and found a spot to camp on a quiet beach. Looking to the east, we saw big clouds dumping rain on Naxos, so we prepared ourselves for rain in the night. Luckily the clouds stayed where they were and we had a beautiful starry night.
We took video during the day and made a short edit.
The next day we worked our way up the east coast to the top of Paros, dodging rain showers all day. A couple of times we had to shelter in shops or under verandas, and at other times we sat in the sun on gorgeous empty beaches. It felt like the weather changed every ten minutes and the sky looked different in every direction we looked. We reached Santa Maria beach and spotted an empty beach bar down one end. With a mix of blue skies, rain clouds and rainbows above us, it looked like a good place to pitch the tent.
Our next hop from Paros was to the west, to Milos on a recommendation from our friends Daphné and James. It was a long ferry ride, on a choppy sea which rocked us for the whole five hours, leaving us both feeling pretty queasy and glad to be back on dry land. We docked after dark and found a quiet beach next to the port where we pitched our tent and went to sleep feeling like we were still swaying on the waves. The next morning the wind was howling around the cliffs behind the beach, which made it hard work on the bikes. We took a road around the lagoon in the middle of Milos and then headed through the centre of the island to get to the east coast. We left the sealed road and were onto gravel and then into some very steep climbing, at one point both of us were pushing the bikes. For a moment we felt like we were back on the Pamir Highway again, passing herds of goats and the odd lonely donkey.
The middle of the island was heavily quarried, with holes in the ground and big grey buildings. The dirt roads were wide and well travelled by big dumper trucks carrying their loads down to a beautiful rocky beach, spoiled by a huge industrial port at one end. We stopped for lunch next to the beach, enjoying the view facing away from the port, then continued around to the north coast of the island which was much wilder and more natural.
We pulled off the road at Sarakiniko (that sounds like a Japanese name!) beach. It’s the headliner of the beaches on Milos, famous for its wavy white rock formations. We passed the carpark and on down the footpath, riding over the big smooth slabs of rock to the tiny beach. It was still very windy and the waves were pounding the coast. Getting down into the beach, nestled between the cliffs, we were able to pitch the tent in quite a sheltered position. Another place which no doubt would be rammed in the summer, but we had completely to ourselves. We went for a walk out along the cliffs to look at the wreck of a ship that drifted on to the rocks in 2003. Seeing the waves crashing against the remains of the ship, it was easy to see how it could’ve got into trouble in rough seas.
In the morning, the sky was clear, but unfortunately the wind was still very strong. I had hoped the waves would be calmer so it would be safe(r) to jump off the cliffs into the sea, but it wasn’t to be. (Probably to Clare’s relief!) Instead, we walked along the cliffs again, and then up the tight valley that went inland from the beach. It was a really beautiful walk, like a mini Cappadocia, with very similar rock formations, picturesque against the blue sky.
Then it was a short ride back over the hill to Milos town and the port. We caught the afternoon ferry to Piraeus, the main port of Athens. The sea was still rough, but luckily the boat was larger and more stable, so it was a comfortable trip, arriving at about 9 o’clock in the evening. The next morning we had a quick ride down the coast to where my parents had rented a place for a few days and were flying down to meet us. Piraeus was very built up and Monday morning traffic was heavy, but we found a route through some of the facilities built for the Olympics back in 2004. That got us away from the worst of the urban congestion and onto the coast road for the 45km to Anavyssos.
We’ll be here for 4 nights spending time with my parents, exploring a bit of Athens and the surrounding area. Then, onwards into Mainland Europe! Here’s our route from Santorini, through the Cyclades to Athens: