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Chios: Scentful Castle-Towns

Updated on October 1, 2013

You might have already tasted Chios' famous mastic or have admired the descendants of its rare cyclamen in the flower shops, but nothing compares to a visit to the island that is said to be the land of Homer, which later inspired Columbus to the discovery of America. Chios is a versatile island of the northeast Aegean, the fifth largest in Greece, and is situated in-between the neighbouring islands of Ikaria and Mytilene but also in close proximity to the Minor Asia coast. Don't get disappointed by the first image of the harbor with its mundane condominiums; a walk in the capital and the rest of the island will compensate you. The village of Kampos with the mansions and citrus trees, the medieval villages and beaches, they all contribute to Chios' diverse and wild beauty.

The tranquil main port of Chios
The tranquil main port of Chios | Source

The most striking example of its unique travel profile are the perfectly preserved, vivacious, medieval castle-villages built by the Genoese occupiers - particularly those located in southern Chios (Mesta, Pyrgos, Vessa that all together are known as Mastihohoria). They have a way to suck the visitors into their alternative lifestyle, as soon as they stroll through the labyrinthine alleys. The mastic, on the other hand, puts its own stamp on the uniqueness of the island. It's made of a dioecious tree that can be found only in the southern part of Chios and refuses to give its precious resin in any other place in the world, not even in northern Chios. Also, lately, Chios has turned into an ideal destination for alternative vacation due to the many options for excursions and activities in nature - from spring walks to canyons full of orchids to joining in the collection of mastic.

Simple daily life at Mastihohoria
Simple daily life at Mastihohoria | Source

Keep in mind that you will need at least a week to explore the island and a car is necessary. Mastihohoria, Anavatos, Volissos and Kampos will be only some of your stops and are located in different parts of the island. Kampos, with a multitude of guesthouses in old mansions is a good base for those wanting to be close to the city. If you choose to stay in one of these beautiful old mansions – built as summer houses of Genoese aristocrats and rich Turks – you will have the opportunity to learn and actually live the history of the island's powerful families. You will notice the economic self-sufficiency of each mansion which always consists of a small orchard, a vegetable garden, a well and some stables. An alternative base could be any of the villages of Mastihohoria. Walking through the narrow alleys, you will feel like time has stopped, though the villages aren't abandoned “museums” but instead they are rather vivacious. A third possible base at the norther part of the island, is Volissos, from where you can visit the breathtaking stone village Avgonyma and the castle-village of Anavatos. The latter was built on the edge of a tall cliff and when it was occupied by treachery by the Turks, the women of Chios chose to jump off the cliff with their children rather than fall into the hands of the enemy.

Endless blue of the Aegean sea
Endless blue of the Aegean sea | Source

This atmosphere created by the medieval villages, stone houses and old byzantine churches is intensified by the lack of a convencional touristic development and large tourist complexes. However, there is also a complete lack of road signs and you might end up lost in the mountains, but if you think about it, it can add an adventurous touch to your trip. In any case, the locals are very friendly and will gladlyhelp you anyway they can. They will also encourage you to participate in activities and occupations of a village, experiencing thus the culture of the island.

The island's diversity is also evident in the beaches. Follow the southern coastal road that runs from the airport and you will reach the sandy beach of Karfa, one of the locals' favorite, with the blue calm waters. In summer, of course, it usually gets overcrowded, so the nearby beach of Megas Limionas might be a better choice. Further south, Agia Fotia has white pebbles and it is much larger. About 25 km south of the capital, you will find the large beach of Komi. Further south lies the best beach on the island called Black Volya cause of the round black pebbles of volcanic origin. The water is crystal clear and rather deep. North of the capital, Daskalopetra is a quite popular beach with white pebbles. Some of the smaller beaches at the north are Pithi and Elida. Additionaly, near the port of Volissos, about one kilometer away, you can reach Agia Markella with its whitewashed monastery by the sea. Finally, a very special beach is the one of Nagos (a little more north of the village Kardamilla) with a ravine filled with platanus trees.

The precious resin of the mastic tree
The precious resin of the mastic tree | Source

Chios is also a great destination for food-oriented travellers. The famous unique mastic and all of its products and recipes prove that Chios is blessed. The island produces butter and cheese (more widely known is the mastelo cheese), fresh or preserved vegetables (tomatoes, pickles), citrus fruits, vanillas and damsons, different species of cherries, wonderful ouzo and liqueurs and, of course, fish and seafood.

If you have enough time for a side trip, the historic island of Psara are located just 12 miles northwest of Chios. You can arrive by boat from the capital of Chios or from Limia. Today, there are fewer than 500 permanent residents, who live in the one and only settlement of the island. As exected, there is only a rudimentary tourist infrastructure. On the northeast coast of Chios thereis a group of five tiny islands, the largest of which is called Oinousses. In ancient times it was famous for its fabulous wine, so it is now believed that the island's name comes from the word “oinos” (the word for wine in greek).There are small hotels, couple of rooms for rent, cafes, restaurants and many nice beaches, and here lies one of the largest schools of Greek merchant shipping. The connection by boat with the capital of Chios is regular and during the summer months many travel agencies organize trips.

Absolutely amazing rocket war

When to go

The perfect time for visiting Chios depends on what you want to do: summer for swimming, spring and autumn to explore Mastihohoria and, of course, Easter to see the impressive rocket war in Vrontados.

What to see

  • The Byzantine Museum: The old mosque at Vounaki square at Chora (the island's capital village) was converted into a Byzantine Museum back in 1980. The exhibits come from excavations in various parts of the island and date from the 5th up tp the 18th century. The most important ones are a postbyzantine wall painting depicting the miracle of St. Nicholas (a 1734 work of Anagnostou Michael Chomatza) and two marble lintels of the era of the Genoese depicting St. George fighting the dragon.
  • Justinian's Palace: Entering the Old City through the monumental Porta Maggiore, you will see the medieval palace of Justinian. Now it is a gallery with mosaics, frescoes and woodcuts, though formerly it was prison where, in 1822, the 70 elders of Chios were kept and hanged.
  • The Maritime Museum: A remarkable record of the history of local seafarers who sailed the seas, making the island an important commercial center. Illustrated in the best possible way is the most important part of the island's life, with a large collection of objects, historical data and facts about the development of navigation and commercial vessels. The collection also includes several “portraits” of sailing and steam ships created by Aristeidi Glyka, objects used in navigation, ship models of various periods and plenty of rare photos.
  • The Archaeological Museum: In a beautiful building, typical of the 60s architectural style, there are collected various representative samples of both art and everyday life from the late Neolithic period to the late Roman period. On the third floor there is hosted an exhibition entitled "The Fisherman in antiquity", which includes Mycenaean graves from the island.
  • The Folklore Museum of Philip Argenti: At the impressive library “Korai”, there is an interesting collection of paintings - some of which date from the 17th century.

The stone village of Anavatos
The stone village of Anavatos | Source
  • Kampos: Wooded area full of citrus trees in the south of Chora. Probably the island's most beautiful village, with red yard-walls and old mansions, whose architecture is believed to have been heavily influenced by the Genoese, but in fact, helped develop a local style with references to the 17th and 18th century. Some mansions have been turned into guesthouses.
  • Mastihohoria (group of villages): The village Nenita is one of the oldest, but definitely worth the visit, while Kalamoti is the realm of mastic. It is surrounded by hills covered by mastic trees and on the streets leading to the square are concentrated all the cafes and shops. Best preserved is the medieval village of Mesta where the houses are built next to one another and the streets are narrow. The oldest monument is the small Byzantine church of Palios Taksiarxis, with traces of frescoes and a wooden iconostasis of 1833, a typical example of the local style. Finally, Pyrgi stands out for it's grey-white houses (also called “ksista”) with the geometric shaped decorations.

Getting there

There are daily flights from Athens International Airport, while during the summer months there are additonal flights directly from Thessaloniki and the island of Rhodes 2 to 3 times per week. You may also catch a boat from Pireaus port, as well as the neighbouring islands Samos and Lesvos all year round. From the coast of Turkey, there are plenty of ferry connections from Çeşme that take roughly an hour.

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    • AprilGallagher profile image

      AprilGallagher 3 years ago from Athens, Greece

      Thank you! I am happy you found it interesting :)

    • DemiT profile image

      DemiT 3 years ago from Greece

      A very insightful hub!! Keep it up :)