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Greek Islands: Chios
Introduction to Chios

Chios TownChios is an amazing island. Similar to Lesvos, it is one of those islands that you need a week or so to really explore, and then once you get to know it you will probably always want to go back. During my short visit to Chios I met people who spend every summer there, exploring the many walking trails and, remote beaches and villages. Compared to most of the Cyclades Islands, which are sort of one dimensional and interchangeable in that you see one, you have seen them all, Chios (and Lesvos) are islands where one village may be as different from the next as say an island in the Ionian is as different as one in the Aegean. I got off to a rough start and really was not happy with my first impression of Chios, at least until after a couple ouzos and I could see my experience with a sense of humor. More about that later. Someone who comes to Chios and does not get out of Chiostown may wonder why anyone would want to visit here, much less live here. But like any Greek town, or small city, no matter how much you may dislike it at first you always find some redeeming qualities. The traffic may be hell, the harbor may smell like sewage, and bad disco-rap-pop music may come pounding out of every bar, but you still can find a little place, a little corner of peace or beauty or maybe just good food and good people, that make all these other unpleasant things irrelevant.

Chios BeachBut before you book your holiday in Chios town in the hopes of finding these little islands of pleasantness, the truth is that Chios town is where you have to go through to get to the real Chios, just like Pireaus is where you have to go through to get a ferry to the beautiful Aegean islands. The best part of Chios is the rest of the island. Amazing beaches, many with water the color of the Caribbean, scattered all along every coast , you could spend a month here and go to a different beach every day. I had five days to see them all and probably saw twenty or thirty. Some were full of people spending their weekend or holiday, while others were empty, one solitary car at the end of a dirt road. Usually mine. With beaches facing all four directions you can choose the type of sea you want. The wind is blowing from the north and you don't like waves? Go south. You like to body surf. Go north. You like snorkling? The island is made for you. You like to be surrounded by people while you are at the beach, there is that too.

Vessa, Chios, GreeceThe most unique thing about Chios is the area known as the Masticahoria, or the mastic villages which for hundreds of years have cultivated mastica, the sap of the mastic trees which was to the people of the Mediterranean and medieval Europe and the Middle East, what ginseng is to the Chinese and more. A wondrous substance that cures illnesses and has been used for a variety of purposes since ancient times. These fortified towns are like living in the middle ages, though of course you can stay in rooms with air-conditioning and the latest in technology and comfort. Mostly agricultural, these masticahoria are introducing ecotourism to the island. They are an important part of the future of Greek tourism. Their appeal is to people who don't want to just lay out on a beach soaking up sun and going to a bar at night to get drunk. The masticahoria are for people who see tourism as a process of self-education and see learning as fun. That does not mean they don't sunbathe or drink wine, or better yet, the local souma. It means they come for the whole package. Sun, sand, culture, history, great food, and most importantly the people.

So come to Chios. Rent a car and base yourself in Mesta and/or Emporio and explore the masticahoria and the rest of the island. It will be more than a holiday. It will be an education and it may change the way you take your holidays forever.

Matt Barrett

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