The Cave of Za and hiking Mt Zas in Naxos was another adventure during our 2021 trip. The Cave of Za is also known as Zeus Cave. How many people get to visit two Cave’s of Zeus in one trip? The First Zeus Cave, in Crete is believed to be the birthplace of the Greek god, Zeus. The second Zeus Cave is in Naxos on Mt Zas and is believed to be where Zeus spent his childhood.
We had originally not planned on hiking this as we didn’t think we would have the time, but we were up early and decided at the last moment we should check it out!
In Greek mythology, Zeus is the supreme god, the god of the gods. Zeus is also a protector of all. His beginnings were not so god like though. He was born in a cave in Crete called Dikteon Cave. Legend has it Zeus was raised in the Cave of Za in Naxos, which is included in this post. My understanding of the story of Zeus is as follows: Cronus, the father of Zeus, did not want his children to take over his kingdom so he would swallow them as soon as they were born. Rhea, the mother of Zeus did not want this to happen. She decided to trick Cronus. After Zeus was born, she swaddled a large rock, gave it to Cronus, and he swallowed that instead, believing it was Zeus. Because of this, Zeus was hidden until he grew up and became strong enough to defeat Cronus.
There are two paths for hiking to the summit of Mt Zas in Naxos. We started at the Aria Spring trail. Aria Spring is a little over 30 minutes Southeast of Chora in Naxos. Basically, follow the signs to Filoti, follow Epar.Od. Damariona-Danakou/Epar.Od. Naxou-Apiranthou Road and you will arrive at Aria Spring in just over 5 minutes. The road was easy to drive and follow.
About Mt Zas
Mount Zas in Naxos is the highest point in the Cyclades and the cave of Za is on the way to the summit. Rising at 1003m (3290ft) this impressive hike has beautiful views. It is a rugged mountain with lots of rock and goats! There are great views of Naxos when hiking Mt Zas.
Where to Start
There are two ways to hike to Mt Zas. You can start at Aria Spring which is shorter, steeper and more rugged, or you can start at Agia Marina which I understand is easier and less steep. Some people start at one side and end at the other. If you want to visit Zeus Cave, it is just off of the path and visible if you start at Aria Spring. We chose the Aria Spring route as we wanted to see the Cave of Zeus and we like a challenge.
We parked along the side of the road by Aria Springs, there were a few other cars there as well. Aria Spring is natural spring. It is a nice shady area with trees and stone walls. This is where you start the hike to Mt Zas and Zeus Cave.
The Hike Up
You can’t miss the path to Aria Spring and after you pass through this area you will soon see a sign.. Don’t let the distances fool you into thinking this will be a quick hike. I have read about this hike and the information I found has made this trail sound anywhere from easy to impossible so I was curious to find out for myself. As always, difficulty of trails is based on my opinion and experience.
The trail started out easy and uphill. The path was easy to follow and well defined at first. Careful stepping as there is some loose rock.
As we came closer to Za Cave, the path became hard to walk on and some scrambling became necessary. The rocks are slick as many of them are Naxian marble which is abundant on the island. I figured if the goats could do it so could I. I also picked a great day to wear white shorts!
Cave of Za
Right before the Cave of Zeus, the trail became much more difficult with large loose stones and no discernible path other than up. This was taking much longer than we expected and we almost turned around here, but decided to continue after the cave, mostly because of the views! The cave was rather disappointing, but because of the legend, I was glad we went.
We noticed most people turned back after the cave. We continued upward and not surprisingly the hike became much more technical. There were many slippery loose rocks and it became a difficult path. In the photos below, we thought we were getting close to the summit so we trekked on.
The Turn Around
Once we came to what we thought was the summit, much to our dismay we were wrong. We continued on a bit further and enjoyed the views but increasingly disliked the trail. Shortly, we came across another group hiking down and they informed us we were about half way to the summit. We decided to turn around as we wanted to make it to a beach yet this day. We were in a beautiful spot so it was a good stopping place.
The Hike Down
In retrospect we were quite happy we turned around as we found it much harder going down than going up. Careful stepping was needed as we slid more going down and it was also hard on the knees.
Hiking Mt Zas in Naxos is a beautiful hike but tough. We hike a lot and this trail was surprisingly difficult. I would rate it as more difficult than most of the Colorado hikes we have done, mostly because of the loose rock trail. Although I would have loved the view from the summit, I am glad we turned around as we made it to the Lionas Beach later and it was spectacular. You can read about Lionas Beach in my next post.
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