Κυριακή, 14 Ιουνίου 2020

Chios: 11 experiences you have to live in the island of mastic

The 'fragrant island'. The island of mastic and rose water. The island with the pervasive fragrances of jasmine, citrus fruits, and, of course, mastic. After all, the name 'fragrant island' is not random. Whichever season you pick to visit Chios, there are so many places to see, whether you choose to stay in the city or you are determined to explore it.

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The famous windmills at Tampakika of Chios. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

In case you don't already know, Chios is my hometown. I was born and raised on that island and, even though I have visited other islands in the past that I absolutely fell in love with (such as Crete, Zante, Kythera, Aegina, Spetses), I wouldn't change my island for any place in the world. 

So, if you want to find out why, keep reading!

💠 Useful information

👉 Chios is not a small island. People who don't know or visit for the first time think that Chios is like the Cycladic islands, which can be explored within a few days. Not even close my friends!

👉 Chios is the fifth-largest island of Greece, which means you are going to need transportation to explore it.

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The Waterfront at the port of Chora. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

👉 Chios is inhabited by approximately 51.200 permanent habitats, it has more than 60 villages, approximately 90 beaches, most of which unknown to most tourists.

👉 Chios is accessible by ship (8 hours) from the port of Piraeus and by airplane (50 minutes) from Athens and Thessaloniki (1 hour).

👉 There are two ports in Chios now: the one in Chora (this is how we call the city of Chios) and the newest one is located in the village of Mesta, on the west side of the island. If you choose to travel by ship and reach the port of Mesta, the ship would depart from the port of Lavrio (4 hours). It's half the trip, but keep in mind that you will need an extra hour to reach the city of Chios by bus or car. Unless you have booked a room in Mesta or a nearby village. In that case, it's a good deal.

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The monument of  National Resistance at the port of Chora. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

💠 Chios has so much to offer for visitors to do.

From the excellent food, romantic strolls in picturesque villages, enchanting beaches, historic churches, and monasteries to traditional customs you will see nowhere else in the world (like the famous rocket war in Easter). It's an island that whenever you choose to visit, it has plenty of unique experiences to offer.

So, if you ever consider Chios to be your next destination, I have for you 11 experiences you should definitely live in Chios!

1. The traditional food

Except for the famous mastic, Chios is also well known for its fantastic food, the traditional products but also its sweets.

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The mouthwatering masourakia. © funkycook.gr

The mouthwatering masourakia, the amygdalota (soft almond cookies), the mastic liqueur, the spoon sweets, the 'soumada' (almond juice), the tsikouda, the handmade pasta, the mastelo cheese, the 'kopanisti' (salty spicy cheese), the 'souma' (Chian tsipouro) are only some of the food you should definitely taste at least once. And if you can, carry back home as much as you can.

💎 If you ever find yourself in a Chian wedding or baptism, you will see that one of our customs is to treat guests with 'soumada', a traditional almond juice. We also wish at single people "stin soumada sou", which means "to your soumada".

💎 Chios is famous for its amygdalota (soft almond cookies). They are different from those you will find in other places in Greece. They are a little bigger, crispy outside and soft inside, and they are not covered in powdered sugar as usually. They're also served in weddings and baptisms as a treat.

💎 Masourakia: The traditional pipe-shaped sweet filled with mastic and almonds. Covered with relish almond or dark chocolate (also ideal for Lent) or powdered sugar. They are my favorite dessert and I promise you once to taste one of them, you won't be able to stop.

💎 Handmade pasta: They took their name from the fact that they are made entirely by hand. We use a little thin branch of 'spartos' plant (an aromatic bush you will see across Chios), or a skewer stick. The process is something that requires patience and 'meraki'. Their flavor is insanely tasty.

2. The paradise beaches

That is one long list! Chios has more than 90 beaches, most of them pristine and of all of them with crystal clear waters.

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Upper left photo and clockwise: Glaroi, Komi, Mirsinidi and Black Pebbles beaches.
© topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

The worldwide known Mavra Volia (Black Pebbles), the Magemena beach, Komi beach, Karfas, Nagos, Glaroi, Daskalopetra, Apothika, Mirsinidi, Agia Dynami, Vroulidia, Elida, Lefkathia are some of the best beaches on the island. Amazing blue waters, sandy shores, or pebbled or even both are waiting for you to enjoy some relaxing.

3. The fragrant mastic

A category on its own! You should taste it in every possible way. 

You will discover mastic as edible food in its natural shape (right from the tree), in mastic pies, in the famous 'ypovrihio' (submarine). Even in ouzo. Also, you would find it in many sweets as an aromatic touch. 

You could even taste it in your greek coffee. Furthermore, you would find mastic in all kinds of cosmetics, shampoos, toothpaste, face creams, etc.

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Mastic trees across the roads of southern Chios. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com 
© Upper left photo: Mary Theodoropoulou/flickr

💎 The famous tree that gives the unique mastic is called schinos. The mastic in its natural form offers many special beneficial and healing qualities. Many scientific pieces of research have proved that mastic benefits many stomach conditions. It even has an anticarcinogenic effect. 

If you want to know more about the benefits of mastic, click here!

4. The picturesque villages 

The options are quite many here too. There are more than 60 villages in Chios. You will discover medieval villages, painted villages, villages perched on the edge of a cliff. All of them with picturesque alleys, which, in some cases, they look like Cycladic Islands. 

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The 'painted' village of Pyrgi, known for its outstanding 'xista'. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

The painted village of Pyrgi, the medieval Mesta, the Cycladic Kalamoti, the amphitheatrically built Volissos, the cosmopolitical Lagada, the picturesque Avgonima, the imposing Anavatos will leave you speechless with their unique ambiance. 

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The cosmopolitical village of Lagada in north Chios. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

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The mystical and imposing village of Anavatos. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

The mastic villages (Mastichohoria) only deserve a special day. They are 24 all of them. They are the birthplaces of the renowned 'tear' of the island, the mastic. 

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The medieval village of Mesta with the labyrinthine alleys and colorful corners.
© topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

The largest village of Mastichohoria is Pyrgi and is also one of the largest in Chios. Pyrgi is known as 'the painted village', due to its unique geometric patterns in all of its buildings, also known as 'xista'. 

5. The impressive caves 

Chios is considered a geological treasure, as the island is home for sone of the most ancient and impressive caves in Greece. You will discover many interesting caves around the island, but the two most significant are the caves of Olympoi and the cave of Agio Galas

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The impressive cave of Olympi © @ozgurakman/unsplash

💎 The cave of Olympoi is about 35 km from the city of Chios, on the south of the island, and 5 km from the village of the same name. It's a relatively small cave with an amazingly impressive interior. 

Visiting months: May to September 

💎 The cave of Agio Galas is located about 65 km from the city of Chios, on the northwest endpoint of the island. It is considered one of the most ancient caves in Greece, while the village of the same name is the most remote village of Chios. 

It owns its name to the white stalactite liquid, similar to milk, that flows from a rock in the depths of the cave. 

The cave consists of a three-part complex. Aside from the impressive cave, there is also the small Byzantine church of Panagia Agiogalousaina (Mary Virgin of Holy Milk). The little church is perched on the edge of a cliff and the beautiful woodcut iconostasis inside the church is one of a kind

The route for the cave is a little tiring, but the natural beauty of the landscapes and the cave itself is making it worth visiting. 

Visiting months: May to September 

6. The spectacular rouketopolemos (rocket war) 

Well, if the first word that comes in your mind, when you hear Chios, is mastic, the second would be Rocketwar. If you don't spend your Easter in Chios, you haven't really seen it. 

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Rocket war at the night of Resurrection. © Tan Yilmaz/flickr

Two churches: Saint Mark vs Panagia Erithiani. Thousands of handmade rockets rip through the air from both directions. Each side aims the bell tower of the other church. The impressive custom in the village of Vrontados is taking place for centuries. The preparation by the rouketatzides (the people who make the rockets) takes all year. 

💎 Even though the rocket war had been canceled for two years (in 2016 due to court conflict and 2020 due to coronavirus), it is still considered the Easter must-see of Chios. 

7. The historic churches and monasteries 

Chios depicts more than 30 monasteries and hundreds of churches, each one with a unique story. Some of the monasteries distinguish due to their historical significance. One of them is Nea Moni which is considered a UNESCO heritage site since 1990. 

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The churchyard of Saint Markella in Volissos. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

Nea Moni was founded in the 11th century and is located about 11 km from the city of Chios. The monastery is famous for the outstanding mosaics and its architecture, which is considered one of the finest samples of Christian Orthodox temple architecture. 

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The historical monastery of Nea Moni. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

The majestic church of Taxiarchis in Mesta, Panagia Erithiani in Vrontados with the pebbled churchyards, Panagia Agiogalousaina, which was mentioned above, but also the magnificent church of Saint Markella in the village of Volissos with the blood covered holy place, just a few meters from the church, are only some of them. 

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The pebbled yard of the church of Taxiarchis in Mesta. The pebbled floor can be noticed in many spots of the island even inside the city. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

💎 If you follow the path on the beach, just some meters near the church of Saint Markella, you will reach in the holy place of Saint Markella. It is the place where she suffered and murdered by her own father because she wanted to remain Christian Orthodox. 

💎 In many different spots on the rocks, even on the pebbles in the sea, you would see the blood of Saint Markella. 

💎 Saint Markella is one of the most miraculous saints of the Orthodox Church and the patron saint of Chios. Every year on July 22th, Chians honor her with glory. 

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In the place where Saint Markella died. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

💎 Indeed, many believers keep the annual 'tama' (holy promise) and make the journey from the village of Volissos to the holy place on foot (about two hours). 

8. The Mastic Museum 

There are many museums, most of them in the city of Chios, but I would suggest you to not skip the Museum of Mastic. If you want to learn more about mastic and contemplate from a very close distance the schinos trees, the museum offers a beautiful, interesting journey through history. 

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Schinos tree outside the Museum of Mastic. © Dan Fawcett/flickr

💎 The ticket costs only 3€. I suggest if you want to take your time to explore the museum, try to visit it at least two hours before its closing time. It's totally worth it to explore the whole area inside and outside of the museum. 

💎 Traveling to southern villages, you will notice across the roads a lot of the famous schinos trees. Depends on the season, you will witness a different landscape each time. For example, if you visit the area in late August or early September, you would even spot them from distance, due to the white powder under the trees. 

This powder is used to collect the transparent resin of mastic, as at that time of the year is the 'kentima' season. Kentima, which is Greek for embroidery, is when the schinos trees are 'wounded' with tools to let the mastic resin flow slowly from the trunk. 

9. Noble Kampos 

As a huge amount of water flows underground, the valley of Kampos is the most fertile territory of Chios. Kampos is filled with citrus groves. Vast groves of oranges, tangerines, and lemons surrounded by towering stone walls and picturesque alleys, where you can easily get lost, if you don't know them, and also so many beautiful fragrances. Fragrances of oranges, tangerines, lemons, and not only. 

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Inside the beautiful yard of Perivoli mansion, in the Kampos of Chios, you can enjoy your coffee or a fresh glass of juice right from the trees of the grounds of the mansion. 
© topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

💎 Kampos of Chios is also known for its magnificent mansions with their ornated doors. The mansions have been built with the characteristic reddish stone from the village of Thymiana and they are considered a true gem of the island. 

💎 Nowadays, Kampos is designated as a historic place from the Greek Ministry of Culture. 

💎 A unique mansion that was built in 1742 hosts Citrus Museum, an exhibition hall, which was formed properly to showcase the history of the citrus of Kampos. 

💎 Inside the beautiful yard of Perivoli cafe mansion, in the Kampos of Chios, you can enjoy your coffee or a fresh glass of juice right from the trees of the grounds of the mansion. 

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Beautiful corners in the mansions of Kampos. Right photo: The 'maganopigado' was used to pump water. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

💎 If you decide to visit Chios at Christmas, don't miss to visit the Argentiko. One of the most famous luxury hotels in the world, every Christmas is being transformed with thousands of colorful lights and welcome little (and big) children to a fantastic spectacle consisting of snowmen, nativity scenes, and of course Santa Claus. 

💎 Argentiko is also known as the most decorated house in Greece.

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Every Christmas Argentiko is being transformed to the most decorated house in Greece.
© topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

10. The majestic castles 

Across the island of Chios, you will discover some impressive castles and quite many 'vigles' (small towers). Some of the most famous are the castle in the city of Chios, and the castles in the villages of Volissos, Amorlia, and Kampia. Moreover, in many spots around the city, you will notice many towers. Some of them have been renovated while others are half destroyed. 

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Entering the Castle of Chios. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

💎 The castle of Chios is located just a few meters from the port, on the north side. You can visit it at any time of the day and is accessible from two sides. There is the south - and main - portal (Porta Maggiore) and the - destroyed now - upper portal (Portello) on the northwest side. 

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Exploring the Castle of Chios. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

💎 The area of the Chian Castle covers a stretch of 180.000 s.m. and is home to 650 inhabitants. It is considered one of the most beautiful and picturesque neighborhoods of Chios

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The Castle of Chios is one of the most picturesque neighborhoods of Chios.
© topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

💎 Inside the castle, there are many historical monuments, such as Krya Vrysi, a semi-underground reservoir, the Dark Prison, a two-store building built in the 15th century, also known as Ioustiniani Palace. Also, the ottomans graves with the grave of the captain of the Turkish navy, Kara Ali, who was killed when Konstantinos Kanaris blew up the Turkish flagship in 1822, the Ottoman baths, the church of Saint George and many more. 

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The ottoman graves inside the Chian Castle. © topiatoukosmou.blogspot.com

💎 While driving the seaside, mostly on the west side of Chios, but also north, you will notice many small towers on the top of mountains and hills. They are called 'vigles' and they were utilized as observation points in case of pirate or Turkish invasion. 

11. Ideal for Island-hopping 

The geographical location of Chios, almost in the middle of East Aegean Sea, makes it perfect for nearby excursions. The closest islands to Chios are Oinousses and Psara. 

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Beautiful Oinousses. © provas1/flickr

Moreover, there is frequent sea connection with the islands of Ikaria, Samos, Lesvos, Lemnos, Saint Efstratios, and occasionally with Patmos, Naxos, Paros. You could also take the boat and visit Tsesme of Turkey, which is located right across the port of Chios.

Have you ever visited Chios? If not, I hope I inspired you enough to visit it soon.

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