The Cyclades make up 220 islands in the Aegean Sea. The highest point in the Cyclades is Mt. Zas, at 3,290 feet (1,003 metres) in elevation. The mountain is located on the island of Naxos in the Aegean, where it commands a view over the entire island. While visiting Naxos we did the long hike up Zas and were rewarded with some amazing views.
We drove our rental to a mountainous area near the centre of the island. Driving around Naxos requires navigating a lot of winding routes up and down the mountains. It also requires some care when driving through the small villages scattered throughout as the roads often become narrow, one-way streets while passing through them.
Before we climbed Mt. Zas we visited a nearby monastery. Fortress-like in design, the Monastery of Fotodotis is one of the oldest structures on Naxos. It was built on top of a Christian basilica in the 6th century and made into a monastery a few centuries later. Legend has it that a Byzantine princess who survived stormy seas had it built to show her gratitude. On the day we visited it was closed so we couldn’t go inside.
We headed back to the main road the the entrance to the Mt. Zas climb. The climb starts at ta small chapel called the Agia Marina and goes up from there. There is also a more difficult climbing route that starts from a nearby cave where Zeus was supposed to have been born.
The first part of the trip wound through a forest as we went up the mountain. Soon the forest gave way to treeless rock formations with low scrub. Although it was October it was still quite warm and there was no escape from the intense sun for most of the climb.
As we went higher the landscape fell away and we could see far into the distance.
We passed a long rock wall used to control the goat, but we didn’t see the goats until we went much higher up.
We made the mistake of only taking one 1.5 litre bottle of water with us and by the time we reached the top it was done. When I researched the climb some people had said it took around one hour to reach the top, when in fact it was closer to two even though we did a steady pace.
Getting closer to the top we finally met the goats. These goats were fearless, and didn’t seem to mind the rough slopes and high, exposed elevation. With no one around to herd them, the goats wandered aimlessly looking for food.
For about half of the hike there was a clear switchback trail going up. Once the grass and dirt gave way to rocks, the trail abruptly disappeared. Getting closer to the top, it was important to follow the rocky cairns made along the trail as there was no path at all, only an uneven rocky surface. We got off the trail a few times but managed to find the cairns again each time as we headed for the summit.
We stayed for about 30 minutes resting and enjoying the views. It was impressive how much of Naxos, the Aegean and the surrounding islands could be seen from Mt. Zas. It was easy to understand why this mountain had a Zeus legend attached to it. For us, it felt like we were on Mt. Olympus!
When we reached the top there were a few people taking pictures there and by the time we left we were the only ones still at the top. It was mid-afternoon and we needed to get down before it was too late, so we began the long hike back. Although it was faster than going up, the loose stones and uneven rock meant we had to take care on the way down.
Climbing Zas turned out to be an exhausting trip, but well worth it for those views at the top!