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Saddle up and hunker down in Naxos

It’s easy-peasy to discover the joys of this glorious Greek island when you hire an e-bike


The road out of Plaka is quite a climb as it pulls away from the coast and turns inland. You can measure its impact on the pink faces of weary tourists as they trudge up the hill in the implacable afternoon sun.

Yet both temperatur­e and gradient barely register as we head out of this popular beach resort on the south-west side of Naxos. even though it’s over 26c and we’ve just enjoyed a delicious lunch at Tortuga, a boho-chic beach bar and restaurant.

Such is the pleasure of e-biking. Some high-minded cyclists think it’s cheating. Not me. You get all the benefits of speed without any of the energy-sapping pedalling. That’s why, when the day is hot, it’s an ideal way to explore this fascinatin­g, yet often overlooked, Cycladic island.

Indeed, when we secure our bikes from Real Bike (realbike.gr) in Naxos Town — the island’s capital — owner Irinaios Makaris promises that when it comes to discoverin­g the place of his birth, the options are endless.

‘You should know you are visiting one of the most important places in the world,’ he explains proudly. ‘Whichever way you want to go, there’ll be something to see.’

It’s not an exaggerati­on. Whether it’s cleaving to the populated south-west facing coast to take a flat ride alongside pretty coves and beaches, or turning into the interior to visit ancient ruins, or villages barely troubled by the passing of time, Naxos is a wonder.

As for e-biking itself, it’s easy to master, requiring less than ten minutes’ tuition from Irinaios. After that, it’s up to you how much effort you want to deploy, thanks to the bike’s battery.

I’m here with my 17-year-old daughter, Sophie, and e-biking is a perfect way of addressing teenage resistance to foot-sore sightseein­g. And it carries a whiff of excitement and the thrill of the open road.

Naxos only has a small domestic airport — so we arrive via a short ferry ride from Mykonos (having flown in from our native Manchester). Rather than doing the journey in one day, we dawdle on Mykonos for 48 hours at Kivotos, a boutique hotel. Draped over a rocky hillside with its own private beach, this classicall­y Cycladic, yet modern, hotel is a perfect place to relax before we take to our saddles on Naxos.

Choosing a hotel is important when you’re e-biking. You want somewhere comfortabl­e, and which offers tasty food after a full day of cycling (we didn’t feel like shlepping out in the evening).

We opt for the Naxian Collection, a group of airy suites and villas on a hillside. The food is fresh and delicious — the hotel grows herbs, vegetables and bakes its own bread in wood-burning ovens.

There are rides for every type of cyclist on Naxos. If you take the road from Naxos Town, it’s about 11 miles (nothing on an e-bike) to Alyko, where white sand and expansive salt pans are hemmed in by a forest of cedar trees. The beach at Agios Prokopios with its mesmerisin­gly clear water is another lovely place to swim.

One popular spot for tourists is Naxos’s ancient capital, Chalki, home to the world’s oldest olive tree (a claim I have heard before, elsewhere). Today, it’s a lively village, and Venetian towers and Byzantine churches pepper the area.

From here you can press on to the Temple of Demeter — goddess of agricultur­e. hewn from Naxos marble, the ruins are believed to date back to about 530 BC and, architectu­rally, are considered a predecesso­r of the Parthenon.

There are also opportunit­ies to combine cycling with walking. One adventurou­s route, suggested by Irinaios is to bike from Naxos town to the village of Kinidaros. Surrounded by olive, plane and oak trees, the area was known for its marble quarries. There are many rugged paths to walk here if you want to leave your bike in the village (we didn’t, preferring to refuel on a juicy Greek salad topped with tangy feta).

It is possible to rely on Google maps, but you can also summon the spirit of a homeric adventurer by using a paper map and it’s hard to get lost.

One day, we head for the ruined sanctuary of the god of wine, Dionysus, who was believed by the ancients to have lived on Naxos.

It’s a gentle ride through winding country lanes flanked by farmland growing delicious Naxian potatoes as well as grapes, lemons and other wonderful produce. The air is still and the only sounds come from the lowing of cattle and the odd tractor.

Returning the bikes to Irinaios, we relay our adventures and he beams. But I bet he’s not half as elated as me. I’ve discovered a new Greek island — and become an e-bike convert.

Pitch black and it’s about 1c, yet i’m strangely calm and relaxed lying down in the middle of a forest. Earlier, i even hugged a tree. that’s what you do in Finnish Lakeland, where nature governs everything. We’re near Lake Saimaa, three hours north of helsinki and just two hours from former Russian capital, St Petersburg.

Our meditation with wellness coach tero Vanttinen, from hotelli Punkaharju, Finland’s oldest hotel, aims to ground us in the natural world and open our minds.

Once upright, tero encourages us to bellow from our diaphragms as we stand in the dark. Apparently it will rid us of any stress.

‘Don’t be afraid to let go,’ he says. i manage a loud yawn — more sleepy cub than roaring lion.

this might all sound quite hippy, but for Finnish people, the lakes, nature and being outdoors, even in winter, is part of their psyche.

One of the biggest parts of this is the sauna. it’s the only Finnish word to make it into the English language. ‘i have one nearly every day,’ says tero. ‘it’s who we are.’

So next in tero’s wellness repertoire is sauna yoga. Sitting in 50c heat, you twist and turn your body, stretching and rolling as he gently nudges us into position. After a 30-minute session, i can feel my posture improving.

Walking back to the hotel in the dark, it’s handy it is painted an eye-catching pink. Lovingly restored by Finnish top model Saimi hoyer, it’s packed with retro, vintage and fashion finds.

Saimi loves foraging for wild mushrooms and our four-course tasting menu dinner is a revelation in the versatilit­y of fungi.

the region is becoming wellknown for its gastronomy and the D. O. Saimaa mark is the first Finnish regional quality label for food. Local sourcing is apparent at tertti Manor, an ibsenesque country house packed with sepia family photos, stuffed birds and samovars, where we stop for dinner.

Owner, Matti Pylkkanen, has taken inspiratio­n from Sissinghur­st and Ballymaloe, so the menu is farm and garden to table: pickled celeriac, beetroot, pike and a riot of colour on the plate.

Leaving tradition behind, we move on to the uber-stylish Kuru Resort, a private retreat for adults. the cabins all have a sauna, views over the lake and no television­s. ‘Your window is your viewing,’ says the manager.

the food, too, is a big draw, with chef Remi tremouille blending his experience of working in Asia and Australia with Finnish produce.

Kuru has yoga classes and a Sisley spa. here i try a sound bath. Lying on the floor, snuggled in a blanket, with the sound of chimes, my mind empties and i drift off.

Kuru is linked to the neighbouri­ng Jarvisydan hotel & Spa, where you can try ‘fat’ bike riding (with big tyres) or take forest or lakeside strolls. i opt for another sauna.

the Finns, often viewed as introverte­d, in the sauna seem liberated. i chat to a woman celebratin­g a family birthday with everyone from granny to son-in-law in their swimming cossies. it’s Saturday night and a chance to get together, get a sweat on and drink beer.

‘You feel so much better when you come here,’ she says.

i can only agree.

 ?? Picture: ALAMY ?? Classical adventure: Naxos Town is a perfect base. Inset: E-biking on the island
Picture: ALAMY Classical adventure: Naxos Town is a perfect base. Inset: E-biking on the island
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 ?? ?? Healing: Lake Saimaa — and a traditiona­l sauna — will help you de-stress on a wellness break
Healing: Lake Saimaa — and a traditiona­l sauna — will help you de-stress on a wellness break

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