Naxos was the poet Byron's favorite Greek island, and you can still see why. As you arrive by boat, your first glimpse is of what looks like a vast picture frame; your second, an ochre castle atop a pyramid of glistening white houses. You're looking at the Portara, marble gate to the remnants of a 2,600-year-old temple to Apollo, and the Kastro, a fort built above Hora, the port town, by 13th-century Venetians. Beyond, there are crags, ravines, sensational views, sandy beaches, fresco-packed Byzantine churches, pretty villages, a temple to Demeter, the cave where Zeus was supposedly raised, and the town to which the robber Barabbas allegedly fled after being exchanged for Jesus before the Crucifixion. It's my own favorite island, too, and contains one of my preferred hotels.
Chateau Zevgoli (Burgo; 30-2850-22993; fax 30-2850-25200; rooms, $75-$105) nestles just below the Kastro, and its roof terrace overlooks the Portara, infamous as the place where Theseus is said to have abandoned Ariadne. In a country where even the posher hotels tend to be spare, unimaginative, and dull, it's refreshing to find a place that combines comfort with so sensitive a feel for local history, crafts, and culture. Walk up narrow, twisting streets to a square white building festooned with flowers, and enter a foyer with old prints and icons on the walls. Inside there's a courtyard with a tree that rises three stories past tiers of the island's most attractive rooms. While all are decorated with traditionally embroidered Naxian pillows, cushions, and hangings and offer a welcoming flask of citron, the local liqueur, the rooms are otherwise individually furnished. One has a fourposter; others are appointed with lacework bed coverings, pillows, and wall hangings acquired 120 years ago from a Constantinople monastery by the honeymooning great-grandmother of owner Despina Kitini. Kitini has also opened a simpler hotel, the Apollon, closer to the sea, and is creating guestrooms in an 800-year-old house within the Kastro.
Where to eat? For a meal with a view of the Portara, try the spetsofai (a dish of local sausages and peppers) at Irini's $ (30-2850-26780; fax 30-2850-23570; $15) on the paralia, or sea front, in Hora; or the excellent fare, from schnitzels to a delicious tomato soup to traditional Greek, at Elli $(30-2850-25476; $25) of Grotta Beach. On a hillside at St. Prokopios, a mile southwest of Hora, is Avali $ (30-2850-41971; $15). It not only looks out on mountains, sea, and the island of Ios but convinces you that moussaka and pastitsio are the lightest, airiest dishes in the world and melitzanosalata (eggplant salad) one of the most wonderful. Proof of Avali's success: Its proprietors have opened another taverna by the same name just behind Hora's paralia.
Restaurant prices reflect a three-course dinner for two, excluding beverages and gratuity. Hotel prices show high-season rates from the least expensive double to the most expensive suite.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card. $