I arrived happenstance in March on the island of Naxos, in the village of Filoti, where they still celebrate the ancient “Dionysian feasts” of the Greeks
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I have an obsession. I really do. Filoti, Naxos, grabbed me by the heart from my very first visit. Actually, I fell in love with the island of Naxos as my ferry approached the dock on that fateful sunny day.
Naxos is an island that exists in the realm of magic it seems, especially after a long journey by sea. The quick ferry stop at Paros titillate the senses for Naxos. The anticipation, built up over 6 hours, rushes to the chest, that sense of imminent relief is almost uncontainable.
Then this island like a safe haven shimmers out of the waves of sea and heat, rising up as the ferry approaches, spreading out far and wide. A live painting a graphic design; dazzling white buildings are sketched in, pale gold mountains rise above in wide strokes, the sapphire blue sea fading into a joyful aquamarine enfolding lovingly the silvery white beaches.
Portara, the magnificent marble gate of an unfinished temple of Apollo (530 BC,) is the island’s emblem and main landmark. It is not unlike a doorway that appears out of nowhere…a gateway to a magic land.
As the ferry approached the port, a flurry of activity ensued and before we knew it we were in queue waiting for the bridge to touch shore…Ferries in Greece, the way these ferries are manoeuvred is unlike anything I have ever experienced, to understand what I mean, read about it.
Once we had spent a few days in the Chora ( Xwpa), we ventured out to the other villages. Specifically to see the village of our friend, Xenia from Filoti. Now, on my first encounter with the village, I just felt something shift within me, like I was coming to a place I had existed in before. Everything felt right…have you ever felt this feeling in a place far away from home? For me, and I have travelled far and wide and have loved so many places, but for me…Filoti felt…right. You know?
Filoti village is the greatest and the most beautiful village on Naxos island. It is located high up in the mountains, a place deep up-country which makes it ever so unique. There are many scenic roads to Filoti Village; several roads lead to the outskirts of the village and then onwards to the square where the stupendously ancient plane tree presides over all and sundry.
Filoti village is nestled close to the peak of Mount Zas, the highest summit in the Cyclades at 1,004 metres, right in that place where the land is protected and fertile. The people of the village must feel safe hence their uninhibited welcome of the stranger to this never-changing haven.
That summer I spent exploring the island, the history and historical sites, and the beaches, and the food. It was a tourist’s dream for a summer vacation…I knew I had to return in the Spring before the island prepares for the tourist season, I wanted to feel the energy of the place without touristy distractions. It was the best decision I have ever made…
February was just coming to a cold close when I arrived in Filoti, the sun was peeking out warm from puffed up clouds, the air was sweet with new growth…rosemary and spring flowers, oranges and lemons, and smoky fires under pots of creamy cheeses slowly stirred.
After meeting Katerina, owner of Giannakis Hotel, in person – as she came bearing a basket of fresh fruit from her garden. I checked into my home for the next 2 weeks, and then it was time to get my supplies from the establishments encircling Filoti village square; the little village grocer, my coffee from the tiny taverna, bread from the bakery, money from the bank, cigarettes from the kiosk.
The first evening was cold when the cousin of my friend came to welcome me, she quickly returned with a thick warm blanket.
The first morning was soul changing as I woke to a crisp clear day; on opening the window the scents of rosemary and oranges were a heady perfume that added to my dreamlike state. The village was morning-quiet, the sky blue, rich vegetation everywhere. Mount Zas beckoned in the distance.
The scent of fresh baked breads hauled me across the narrow street. I paid for one homemade bread (Psomi Spitiko) and was given 3, another welcome to the village.
Everyone I encountered on that first day greeted me with welcoming smiles and a friendly Γειά σου! They did not seem to question this lone brown tourist in their village at this time of the year. From my first coffee in the taverna where the old men gathered, to my last day of this life-changing getaway I was treated like a weary traveller who must be welcomed into Filoti life…she must be pampered and sated before her journey onwards.
As the days flew by I glided from one adventure to another…I hiked to the church perched up on Mt. Zas, climbed down into valleys carpeted with delicate spring-flowers, meandered through ancient olive groves, visited many homes, ate at many tables, frolicked with new lambs, made Arseniko Naxou cheese, celebrated Tsiknopempti…all this and more without ever leaving Filoti.
Tsiknopempti. Greek: Τσικνοπέμπτη, is part of the traditional celebrations of Apókries (Απόκριες), the Greek Carnival season.
I arrived happenstance one March, in the village of Filoti, Naxos Island, where they still celebrate the ancient “Dionysian feasts” of the Greeks, where people dress in white robes and don fierce masks, they sing and dance, drink wine and consume feasts. Outdoor stage plays are performed for a week leading up to the festival day…all in honour of Dionysus. My namesake.
No wonder I felt like I had come home.
Dionysus , Greek: (Διόνυσος) is the god of the grape-harvest, winemaking and wine, of fertility, orchards and fruit, vegetation, insanity, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, festivity and theatre in ancient Greek religion and myth. He is also known as Bacchus, the name adopted by the Romans.