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4 Days Away... in Chios, Greece

By: Vicky Hioureas @palaiologue

This is your go-to guide for how to spend four days on a getaway in Chios. But first a very brief history:

Chios is a mystical island tucked away at the farthest end of the northern Aegean Sea. It’s known for its mastic production, which is found nowhere else on earth. The mastic tree, or sxinos, is incredibly unique, and is harvested by making cuts on the bark and collecting the sap that falls from the wounds. What comes out is a highly-coveted and expensive product, used for food and medicine. The rarity of mastic is the reason Chios has been an important commercial center for over 1,000 years. The island has been the center of struggles for centuries because of the singularity of its commercial production and its strategic position in the Aegean (this also includes the current refugee crisis and conflict with Turkey). Around Chios, you’ll see the full breadth of Greek history: ancient ruins, Byzantine churches and monasteries, Genoese towns and buildings, Ottoman mosques and a hammam, monuments commemorating the Greek War of Independence, neoclassical buildings, and modern cement architecture, all within a few minutes of each other. It’s this overlapping of history that makes Chios such a memorable place to visit.

Day 1: The Magical Mastihohoria

Chios is accessible by both air and sea, which makes it a very convenient island to visit for a getaway. The most unique part of the island is, of course, its mastihohoria, which were villages grouped and fortified in castle walls during the medieval period to protect the lucrative mastic production. Stay the night in Mesta to feel like you’ve been transported centuries back in time. You can wander through the winding, mazelike stone streets and eat in the main square under the shadow of the trees and the bell-tower of the Church of the Taxiarchs.

(Mesta, pc @palaiologue)

You can also drive to nearby Olympoi, which is another breathtaking castle village. Make sure to take a break at Amethistos restaurant, which is located at the base of the village lookout tower. There’s low-key nightlife in the mastihohoria, with people buzzing in and out of cafes and restaurants until the late hours of the night.

(Olympoi, pc @palaiologue)

Day 2. The Taste and Experience of Mastic

Head over to Pyrgi, which is one of the most famous of the mastic villages—known for its unique black and white geometric wall decoration. The photos speak for themselves. You’ll want to take pictures at every street and try to get the perfect shot of these “ksysta” or “wall scrapings.” There’s a traditional village square, with cute cafes and restaurants where you can sit back and take in the view while sipping the famous alcoholic drink of Chios: mastiha liquor (ask for it on ice if it’s a particularly hot day).

(Pyrgi, pc @palaiologue)

(Pyrgi, pc @palaiologue)

(a close-up of the "ksysta" in Pyrgi, pc @palaiologue)

Now that you’ve acquainted yourself with the mastiha drink and the mastiha villages, it’s time to visit the Chios Mastic Museum, which is just outside Pyrgi. The museum is very modern and takes you through the history of the production of this one-of-a-kind tree. It’s an incredible experience and an absolute must for anyone who visits the island—it’s a completely interactive museum, with videos and traditional songs of the harvest, raw pieces of mastic to touch, and much more.

(The mastiha tree, or “sxinos.” pc @palaiologue)

(Some cauldrons for melting mastiha on display in the museum. pc @palaiologue)

By now, it’s early evening and you’re dying to take a dip in one of Chios’ famous beaches. Mavra Volia is a black-rock beach that is made up of volcanic stones (this means you should go there either early in the morning or later in the day to avoid the excessive heat). There’s convenient parking nearby so you can check out the neighboring Emporios beach as well, which has a good selection of restaurants for your post-swim meal.

(Mavra Volia beach, pc @palaiologue)

After a relaxing swim, you can find cute bars and cafes in any of the mastihoxoria, or you can venture out to the main city of Chios for some more lively nightlife.

Day 3. Orange Trees and a Byzantine Monastery

There’s no better way to wake up in Chios than with a glass of their local orange juice. If you drive just outside of the main city and airport, you’ll find yourself on a path enclosed by high stone walls. It’s a scenic drive and worth getting lost in the winding roads, where you’ll only be able to see the brown walls and deep green leaves of the treetops. After you take in the views, you can make your way to the Citrus Museum, where there’s a café that serves incredible fresh juices and the best portokalopita (orange cake) you’ll ever have. The museum is open to visitors and guides you through the citrus tradition that has made Chios famous. A short walk from the museum, you’ll come across an imposing brown and maroon stone wall with a grand doorway, which is the entrance to the Argentiko hotel. It’s a little pricey, but if you can swing a stay there, the experience will be worth it—if it’s out of your price range, don’t worry, you can always go during visiting hours to explore the grounds.

(Argentiko hotel)

Next stop: Tucked away on the hills that overlook the main city, you’ll find the 11th-century Byzantine monastery of Nea Moni (a UNESCO world heritage site). It has one of the greatest collections of mosaics in Greece and shouldn’t be missed. If you’ve planned your 4-day getaway over a Sunday, make sure to go to Nea Moni for liturgy—the combination of spectacular chanters, incense, and the highest quality of Byzantine mosaics, brickwork, and marble flooring will make it a truly spiritual experience.

(Nea Moni, pc @palaiologue)

From here, it’s a short drive through the green hills of Chios to get to the serene, white sand Trachili Beach. Overlooking the crystal-clear waters is a medieval watchtower that you can hike to. Keep in mind that it’s not an organized beach, so make sure to bring some snacks, water, and maybe an umbrella.

(Trachili Beach, pc @palaiologue)

Day 4. Final Day: Chios Town

You’ve reached your last day on Chios, so you’ve got to make it count. Go to Loukoumades Manaras in Chios town for the breakfast of champions: Kampos Chiou tangerine juice, Chios-style loukoumades, and a koulouri. You’ll quickly start wondering why you decided to only stay for four days.

(Loukoumades Manaras, pc @palaiologue)

Once you’ve finished your breakfast, you can walk to any of a number of museums to learn about Chios’ place in broader history—the Byzantine museum, the archaeological museum, the maritime museum, the municipal art gallery, and the Ottoman baths, to name just a few. Chios also has an old town with picturesque neighborhoods full of unique houses, cobblestone streets, and ancient and medieval ruins.

Once you’ve finished exploring the old town, you can wind down your getaway by driving up the northeast coast of Chios—you’ll see the famous windmills on the way, which is the perfect photo op—and have your last swim on the island in the bright blue waters of Giosonas beach. Chios has some of the greatest food in Greece, and one of the restaurants that really showcases this is Nostos restaurant near Lagkada.

You could easily spend weeks exploring the island, but these four days away on Chios will be just enough to get you hooked so you can visit again in the future.

"4 Days Away" and photographs by Vicky Hioureas @palaiologue

You can discover more stories like this by Vicky by following @palaiologue


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