Located in the eastern Aegean Sea, Chios is the 5th largest island in Greece and one of the most unique in character. Its medieval architecture, its beautiful waters, and the variety of amenities on offer make it a top tourist destination.
Chios has been inhabited since the Neolithic era, and is said to be the first democracy of the ancient world. Birth place to ancient Greek poet Homer and home to Christopher Columbus in his early years when the island was part of the republic of Genoa, Chios has many claims to fame. What it is mostly famous today though is Mastiha, the ‘tears’ of the mastic trees as it is called. Not only has Mastiha been the basis of the island’s economy for centuries, but it is also a scent and a taste that flavors everything in the island!
The best way to get to Chios is by plane. There are daily flights from Athens El. Venizelos Airport to Homer Airport Chios, and weekly flights from Thessaloniki, Lesvos, Samos and Rhodes which become more frequent during the summer season. If you don’t mind a 9 hour journey by sea, you can catch the daily ferry from Pireus Athens (high-speed ferries make the trip in 4.5 hours). There are also ferries from the islands of Lesvos, Psara, Oinousses, Limnos, Samos and Ikaria, the city of Kavala and Tsesme in Turkey.
Things to do in Chios
Start your adventure in Chios exploring Chora, the island’s capital. From the neoclassical houses to the Genovese Castle and the town inside the fort walls, you will be stumbling upon landmarks and points of interest, form Ottoman Baths to reused mosques and windmills.
Go for a revitalizing swim in Mavra Volia Beach, the infamous black volcanic pebbles beach with the mesmerising blue waters. If you are looking for something quieter and smaller, then the sandy Vroulidia Beach is for you. Alternatively pick one the western side beaches, such as Makria Ammos, Metochi, Elinda or Pefka, and enjoy lying on sand or fine pebbles and diving in crystal clear waters.
Next, escape the tourist infested places, and see the island’s countryside hiking. Select from a multitude of routes for hiking and visiting chapels and monasteries on rocky hills, castle ruins, watermills, mastic tree fields, orchids and other native plants adorning the scenery. Inhale the citrus aroma as you pass by the countless mandarin fields the island is also famous for. If hiking is too much for you, cycling and mountain biking is also an option. If mountaineering is your thing, you can choose between Mount Pelinaio, Edelos and Oros or take to rock-climbing in Kournas Rock and Anavatos. Lovers of the big blue will be pleased to know that northern prevailing winds during the summer make Chios perfect for yachting and windsurfing. Choose between Bella Vista, Velonas Brondados and Aghia Dynami Beach and take to the waves! Alternatively opt for scuba diving and explore the island’s underwater in search for shipwrecks, reefs and sea caves, or have fun snorkelling. If you prefer a quieter sport at sea, try fishing by the coast or at sea by renting a boat, no permit is required!
Things to see in Chios
Masticochoria (Mastic Villages)
Take a journey back in time strolling in the labyrinthal cobbled streets of the mastic villages Mesta and Pyrgi, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Immerse in the medieval architecture of Mesta, a village built inside a fortification to prevent pirate raids. The houses are built so tightly together and the streets are so narrow and mostly covered by vaults, leaving only two entrances to the village! Then visit Pyrgi, another medieval village, also known as the ‘painted village’ due to the white and grey motifs that adorn all the building facades, amounting to a unique and striking effect. Enclosed in fortifications just like Mesta, four towers at the corners signify the edges of the village. As you walk under the vaulted street, sun dried tomatoes hanging in each balcony above you – bear in mind that it was in this particular village that Genoese Christopher Columbus lived before setting off to the Atlantic. You will see the name Columbus etched on the lintels of many houses as there were other members of his family tree in Pyrgi as well, and if you are interested, locals can point you to his house as well.
Anavatos Ghost Town
Visit Anavatos in the north of Chios and discover a different face to the island. Built on a steep conical hill, 450 meters above sea level, this town can only be accessed from the north. It was built after the Genoese occupation, probably during the Ottoman occupation and therefore bears no fortification walls. The towns only defense is its morphology and the density of the circumferencing houses. Deserted since the Great Massacre in 1922, the small stone houses stand empty and derelict, the school, churches and 3-storey olive press mill compose a ghost town ready for you to explore!
Visit the Chios Mastic Museum in South Chios near Mesta and Pyrgi and learn more about the island’s unique product, mastic. Look at machinery from the first mastic gum factory, watch short films about the cultivation and processing of the product. Learn more about the islands ancient past in the Chios Archaeological Museum. Visit the Byzantine Museum, housed in Mecidiye Cami, an Ottoman mosque, an interesting landmark itself, for an informative journey from the early Christian era to the present in relation to culture. Learn more about maritime Chios, in the Maritime museum in Chora. Enjoy a taste of folklore with a visit to the Argenti Folklore Museum & Library at Koaes Central Public Library. Visit the Ioustinianou Palace Museum, a building by the major Castle gate in Chore that houses a modest but remarkable collection of medieval Christian art, including wood reliefs and frescoes.
Churches & Monasteries
Visit Nea Moni Chiou Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in 1204 by Byzantine Emperor Constantine 8th. You will have the opportunity to admire some of the most impressive byzantine mosaics in the world, as well as the most macabre collection of skulls collected after the Great Massacre of Chios in 1922. When in Pyrgi, don’t miss the 12th century frescoes in Aghii Apostoli Church. Moundon Monastery near the village of Diefha in the north of the island is also worth a visit. Once the sanctuary of monks coming from the Chian aristocracy and house to an extensive parchment library, it was destroyed Great Massacre. Wall paintings dating from 1620, however, survive, and are worth the effort.
Located at the south of Chios, not far from Pyrgi and Mesta, Olympi Cave -also known as Sykia- is a 55m deep and 30 long cave, dating 1-5 million years. Despite its modest size you will be impressed by the formation of its stalagmites and gravity defying stalactites!
Food in Chios
Chian cuisine just like it’s architecture will pleasantly surprise you. Though Mastiha is the island’s main export, it wasn’t historically used in local gastronomy because due to the fact that demand drove the price so high, locals preferred to sell it rather than consume it! It does fare in a few deserts and drinks though.
You will find a great variety of pies and pastries, the most typical Chian being the Tambouropita (pumpkin pie) and Chortopita (wild greens pie). Sample mouthwatering spinach balls, fennel balls, wild greens balls, potato balls tomato balls and Taramadokeftedes (preserved fish roe balls) and savour the aroma of the different herbs in each dish. Try Souggato, a type of omelette with fresh poppy flower pedals or broad beans and Glistrida Soup (a wild greens soup) which you’ll only find in Chios. Also pork casserole served with fried gruel balls, slow-cooked meat with quince, goat soup and a variety of rabbit meat dishes served with green fried tomatoes in the summer. Homemade past is also a big tradition in Chios, and a taste you shouldn’t miss. Try Cherisia Makaronia or simply Cherisio, and frumenty in many flavors. Cheese lovers will be thrilled with the rich tasting Mastelo cheese, and the chewy and spicy Kampousiko Chiou, and the aromatic Fresko Chiou. Indulge in some sweet temptations with Amygdalota (almond paste sweets in various flavors) Kourkoubini, Mamoulia (a type of biscuit with dried fruits) Mastichakia (fyllo pastry sweets filled with almonds, bitter almonds, lemon zest, egg whites, mastic powder and mastic sweet), Mastic Sanali, and Ypobrychio Masticha (mastic submarine, a mastic spoon sweet served in a glass of water).
Just like the north of the island is loaded with mastic trees, the south is all about vineyards! Chios has been famous for its wine since antiquity. Try the local Ariousio wine, referred to as ‘nectar of the gods’ by ancient poets, Bigleri, Chiotiko Krasero and Agiannitis. Other Aegean varieties to try are Asyrtiko, Athiri, Moschato and Savvatiano. Also try the fresh tasting local beer and its intriguing smoked version. Don’t miss Souma, the local tsipouro made of figs, as well as Mastiha Liqueur. Whatever you do however, don’t leave the island without taking some Mastiha products as gifts or souvenirs home with you; your friends will be impressed!
Insider’s tip for Chios
Visit Chios during the Orthodox Easter period and witness the incredible rocket fight between St. Markos Church and Panagia Erythiani Church parish! Over 100 thousand self made fireworks light up the Easter sky in this unique local fair!