Travel | Chios: a Unique Greek Island

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Exploring the Greek Island Chios

Komi Beach

The holidays are over. Time to get back to reality, return to all things quotidian. Everything can look so bleak and bland after spending days or even weeks under the shade of the beach umbrellas, looking out to the crystal, glittery peplum of waters, whose lethargic swishing still echoes in my ears. I wonder how they have managed to overcome the violent transition to the sounds of honking, breaking and of rubber screeching on cement. But that's the circle of life (try not singing in your head, I dare ya), and though I'm sad to have left that almost alternate reality behind me, I'm also glad and eager to start fresh, put new ideas and inspirations to practice, take on new challenges and prove that holidays are essential for renewing our energy and drive.

As a last hoorah, now that September is upon us and all that it heralds, I thought I'd show you the place where I've been for the last couple of weeks. I love looking at travel guides and travel blogs, daydreaming of the places I might one day see with my own eyes. Greece is one of the places that everyone seems to travel to during the summertime. Santorini, Mykonos, Ios: you name it. A plethora of Greek islands has been the destination for many travellers myself included. Chios is an island that's not familiar to most people and which is why I loved it there, to be honest. It's a place still untouched by the mass tourism that manages to keep its authenticity well and alive. If you're interested in more laid-back kind of holidays, off the beaten path with lots to see, from historical landmarks to breathtaking landscapes, then I can't recommend visiting Chios enough.

Mavra Volia

Kato Patrika

Chios is divided in a way into two distinct parts: the North and the South. As it is a large island (the 5th largest in Greece), it's quite difficult to traverse it if you're staying for just a few days, and a car is more than needed. In the capital called "Chora" or just Chios Town, there are many car renting agencies. North Chios, is mostly famous for its maritime and naval tradition, while on the outskirts of Chios Town, there are vast spaces of bright and fertile mandarin trees enclosed inside the orange walls of old estates.This place is called "Kampos" and the estates are remnants from the island's long Genoan occupation before it was taken over by the Ottoman Empire.

Chios has a long, complicated and quite violent history that I won't be able to get into in great detail here. For anyone who's interested I can point you here or here where you can learn more about how this island came to be so multicultural or multi-influenced if you will. Perhaps, Chios is mostly known in the West by the famous Delacroix painting "The Massacre of Chios", which can be found in the Louvre in Paris. Worldwide, Chios is pridefully known for its unique product, the mastic, which can be found only in the South of Chios. Mastic is the "tear" of the mastic tree that comes oozing out when the farmers scratch and pierce the mastic tree. What's amazing though is that even though this tree can be grown in any Meditteranean climate, mastic is productive in the South of Chios alone. The mastic has many medicinal benefits as well. Nowadays it's being used in a variety of goods: from soap bars to cheeses. Its use in the kitchen is widespread not only in Greece but many Arab states as well. Along with the mahleb, it gives off such a unique taste and aroma in the different versions of the "tsoureki" or challah that circulate the Mediterranean and the Arab countries. And yes, that was what made everyone gag in an episode of the GBBO when trying to make "flaounas". It's certainly got a unique taste and smell, and it needs some getting used to. I swear you'll love it in the form of a liqueur, though! It's almost sickly sweet, but somehow it works. It's the perfect dessert for a summer dinner near the sea.

Photographs from the Mastic Museum

If there's one place to visit where you'll be able to learn more about the mastic and the hard and time-consuming process that is making it, then you must check out the new "Mastic Museum" in Pyrgi. It's very informative and comprehensive, and I can't recommend it enough.

Since we started talking about food if you ever plan on visiting Chios there are a couple more things you should try before leaving. As I mentioned before, Chios is known for its mandarins (or tangerines) as well. If they're in season, you must try some! They're the freshest and most fragrant ones you would have ever tasted! Their brilliant smell has even given Chios its nickname: "Myrovolos" meaning "the fragrant isle". But fret not if there aren't any fresh ones in the markets. Chians make a sort of marmalade from them, using the peel. You might have it served at the end of your meal but if not you can buy it in little jars pretty much everywhere.

There are other foods and sweets you should be on the lookout for. In Chios town, you can find many places serving "loukoumades", a traditional Greek doughnut that's served with a warm honey syrup and cinnamon. Yes, it's as good as it sounds. I'm drooling just thinking about it. If you're a die-hard chocolate fan, though, fear not. There are almost always iterations of it, with chocolate ganache, or (most times) Nutella, which as we all know has the magic ability to pair brilliantly with everything.

Photographs of Mesta, Chios

Enough about food (for now)! Let's move on to the actual places I visited and what one can expect to find there. My holidays were spent mostly on the Southern part of Chios. Most villages there started forming from small castles that were communicating with the watchtowers surrounding them. They have a distinctive medieval defensive architecture and in of Mesta and Olympoi, the wall that fortified the castle and the settlement is very much intact in both villages . All the houses inside the wall, seem to be interlinked, thus creating narrow passages and photogenic little arches. The square of these villages with their quaint cafes is the perfect stop for a quick snack before heading to your next destination. I, of course, got an ice-cream, and it was pretty yummy. Coffee was essential too since we still had lots to do.

Photographs from Pyrgi in Chios

Another village with unique architecture is Pyrgi. All the buildings there are decorated in white and black geometrical shapes. It's certainly not something you see every day. The village's church is also quite spectacular with its opulent decoration and the intricate wood carvings. I loved the blue colourings inside the church and if nothing else the amazing mosaic floors of the churchyard can provide the perfect #ihavethisthingwithfloors moment. Enjoy!

The beaches are a sight of their own on this island. Crystal clear blue waters that are refreshingly cool. Anywhere you find yourself you'll be sure to find one to satisfy your particular tastes. In the "mastic villages", the most popular, busy, and typically organised beach is "Komi Beach". It's very well organised with lots of beach bars and umbrellas. Because of its incredible length and great variety, you'll be sure to find a spot to suit you; whether that is in a quiet and secluded place or right in the middle of the beer parties on a Sunday afternoon. If you're a sweet tooth like me, go to "Glikandeery", where you'll find the most delicious chocolate cake you've ever tried. The syrupy orange cake is another one that sells out like crazy and for good reason. I'm sure you know where my preferred spot was. Every morning and on some evenings too, we would head out, equipped with our sun creams and books, and we would go there. We swam, drank our coffees (or ice cream for breakfast in the case of my dad. Genes), and lie under our umbrellas until the sun would rise so high we couldn't evade it, and so we'd leave. I know, you'll say that it's lovely being under the sun, and I get it! But believe me, by 12.30 am it was burning too hot, and we're all quite sensitive to it, too, so it was either leave or let your skin burn.

Photographs from Komi Beach

If however, you want to see something more unique, then head to the other side of the mountain where the "Emporio" port is hidden. There you'll find many local taverns serving fresh fish, but that's not what it's all about. Take the road up the hill and on the other side, you'll find a beach, unlike any other. It's called Mavra Volia because instead of regular sand and mini pebbles, there are black ones, shining blue as they mirror the colour of the sea. Mavra Volia is encircled by abrupt rocky hills that combined with the darkness of the sea and of the pebbles, offer it its wild beauty. The black stones are the product of a volcanic eruption that occurred inside the ocean a long, long time ago. I'm almost thankful for it. I love that beach more than any other probably. Its waters, though they can certainly be cold, are of the clearest I've ever seen. No, scratch that; they are the clearest and cleanest I've ever seen! If there's one place where I'd urge you to go, that's the one! Trust me! Just don't go on a particularly windy or cold day. You might regret that, and the experience just won't be as good.

Photographs from Mavra Volia Beach

I could go on and on about all the places you can visit or the beaches that are worth seeing but unfortunately I didn't visit that many. I also can't recommend hotels on a first account basis. What I can do, is let the photographs talk for themselves. Next time, I'll try to visit even more places and villages of this beautiful island.

For more information about visiting Chios head to the Visit Greece and the Chios Tourism Websites.

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