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Naxos & the Lesser Cyclades: 17 (McGilchrist's Greek Islands)

Largest of all the Cyclades and with the highest peaks in the group, Naxos is the central geographical hub around which they all cluster. It has a patrimony of history, archaeology and monuments which puts it among the three or four artistically richest islands in the Aegean. It offers the grandest and most varied landscapes in the Cyclades; it is rich in water and its tranquil spring-fed orchards and olive-groves in the heart of the island considerably modify our customary picture of the dry `Cycladic landscape'. The striking beauty of the island is further enhanced by the numerous Byzantine stone churches dotted among the trees dating from the 6th to the 16th century and mostly decorated with paintings of great quality. The extraordinary unfinished kouros statues of the 6th century BC are a treasure-house of information about early sculptural techniques. The waters of the Lesser Cyclades are among the most protected in the Aegean, shielded from the north winds by the great bulk of Naxos, and they can have the appearance of a lake in the middle of a ring of mountains and hills. Almost one third of the Early Cycladic figurines known today comes from the uninhabited island of Keros. Donousa and Herakleia are havens of tranquillity, while Schinousa and Koufonisi are developing fast into centres for visitors.

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