How to Conquer Mount Zeus
Mount Zas (Zeus) on the island of Naxos was definitely my favorite place to hike in all of Greece. It is the highest point in the Cyclades and offers beautiful views from its peak. It is also incredibly historical! The ancient Greeks believed the Olympian Zeus, god of the sky and thunder, was born in a cave on the mountain and this is how the mountain and the cave got their names. I think that this makes this hike so much cooler! I wonder how many people can say they have been to the birthplace of Zeus... probably not many. The hike is about 6 kilometers of unsteady rocks, magnificent views, and plenty of wildlife. Definitely not for the faint of heart. Do not look down!
I guess the first part of getting to this hike is getting to the island of Naxos. Greek ferries are so convenient, and are available from many of the other islands and also Athens. For our trip, we were able to take a ferry direct from Paros, a neighboring island. We quickly dropped our belongings off at our Airbnb in Chora/Naxos City, then rented an ATV from down the street. I would recommend getting a car if you can, as it is almost an hour drive by ATV. To get to the entrance of the Aria Spring/Cave of Zas trail you must drive 800 meters south of the town of Filoti to a junction which is marked with a sign "Aria Spring and Cave of Zas." Turn right at the sign and continue 1.2 kilometers to the end of the road.
There are actually two trails you can take to get the the summit; the Aria Spring/Cave of Zas trail and the easier Aghia Marina trail. Although it is more challenging we chose to take the Aria Spring/Cave of Zas trail so that we could check out the cave. We were definitely up for an adventure that day. The hike starts off pretty easy and brings you right to the Aria Spring. The spring is a great place to refill your water bottle with some cold water before continuing on. Enjoy this part of the trail because it only gets more challenging. The stone stairs turn into actual piles of rocks that you may even need to use your hands to move across.
You continue along this path until you reach the Cave of Zeus. I still think it is crazy that ancient Greeks actually performed ceremonies in this cave. It is totally pitch black when you look at the entrance from the outside. If you want to actually explore the cave, you can bring headlamps or another type of light source. The light on the iPhone is definitely not bright enough to use. The inside can get slippery, and you would not want to fall as it is very rocky inside. The cave is up to 115 meters high and 75 meters wide and even has stalactites and stalagmites if you can go deeper inside.
The trail above the cave becomes a lot more challenging, very quickly. More rocks, more prickly bushes, and the trail also becomes more faint. There are markers but you will actively have to look for them at some points. We were careful and took this part of the trail slowly. Then we climbed, and climbed, and climbed and climbed. Higher and higher until we were able to see the clouds just above us. The wind was also getting pretty strong at this point, and I was glad I had my Marmot jacket with me to keep me warm.
There weren't many other hikers on our way up. We only saw one other couple after passing the cave. However, we did see many goats and sheep. While on Mount Zeus all you can hear are the sounds of the bells around their necks. Nothing else. It is amazing how they are able to climb so easily. I really enjoyed watching them in the distance as we made our way to the top. But seriously, who would have thought that hooves could be more efficient than hiking boots?
As we made our way to the top the clouds surrounded us. We were so high up that we were literally touching them, you could feel both the wind and dampness. They were also blocking our view. We ended up waiting until the clouds passed to try and get some shots from the top of the mountain. It was definitely worth the wait. 2 hours up to the top, 30 minutes waiting for the clouds to pass, and we finally got the view we came for.
I think that it is pretty funny that the hardest part of this hike for us was the return trip. After taking in the spectacular view, we started heading down to the trail. We were following, expecting it to break off into two, but it never did. Before we knew it we were heading in the opposite direction from where we came. We realized this eventually because this trail was much less steep than the one we arrived from. It was getting late, so we decided to continue to follow the trail even though we knew that weren't sure where it would take us. Little did we know, we had taken the easy trail down.
We exited the trail by the Aghia Marina Church, which the easy trail is named after. We were shocked when we googled the distance to our ATV from the church. Already tired from our climb uphill, we were not in the mood to walk along the road for over an hour. This would have been the perfect time to call an Uber! While we walked along the empty road, maybe one or two fully packed cars passed us. We were getting desperate and it was getting late. Then just in the nick of time, a white car with just an older couple inside stopped on the road for us. The woman opened the door and with a french accent, asked us if we were okay. We explained what happened with our hike, and then got in the car. We made some conversation as they drove us back up the hill to our ATV, and just like that, we were there. We waved them goodbye and got on our ATV for the hour drive back to Naxos City. The sunset on the ride back was the cherry on the cake for this adventurous day. My only regret is not being able to buy that couple a drink in Santorini for saving us!