Chios, the scented island
Chios is the fifth largest island of Greece, situated in the Northeastern Aegean region, within reach of the Asian Minor coastline. There are daily scheduled boat connections from Chios’s port to Çeşme , a seaside city on the west point of Turkey, in the Smyrna province.
It is considered an ideal destination for family vacations, given the fact that apart from its magnificent beaches, the luscious nature and the unique flavors, invites all age groups to take a stroll in its traditional alleys, to admire the medieval settlements, to go off for a bike ride through the “one of a kind” Kambos and most of all, to live for a little while in a different, more carefree and rejuvenating rhythm of life.
It claims the title of being the birthplace of Homer, the Great historian of Ancient Greece and creator of the epic poems Iliad and Odyssey. In fact, at the north point only 7 kilometers from the center of Chios, there is a place by the sea, named Daskalopetra or Daskalios (Teacher’s stone), where one can find “Homer’s Stone”. It is said that, that is the stone on which Homer sat and taught.
In the same location also existed the outdoor sanctuary of Cybele, the goddess of nature and of creative powers of Earth and fertility.
There are a lot of myths in regard to the origin of Chios’s name. One of the most prevailing is that the island took its name from the nymph Chione, daughter of Inopion, the first inhabitant and king of the island, who was the offspring of Dionysos and Ariadne. Another myth mentions that the name comes from Khios, the son of Poseidon or of the Ocean, during whose birth there was a tremendous snowfall.
Known throughout the world for the production of mastic, the first natural gum of the ancient world, Chios is an island that can only be loved by any visitor. Only few people know that this aromatic resin, extracted from the trunk of the mastic tree or else “schinos”, as the locals call it, is excreted exclusively from these trees and only on the southern part of Chios and thus the villages, where it is cultivated, are called mastic-villages. Mastic is a Protected Designation of Origin (P.D.O.) product. There have been lots of efforts to cultivate mastic trees in other parts of the island, but the resin coming out of the tree does not become thick and does not turn into mastic. These efforts have been extended to the rest of the world, from Turkey to China, but mastic is unique and so is Chios. Christian tradition attributes this uniqueness to Saint Isidor, who while being pursued by the Romans, found shelter in the villages of South Chios and sat beneath a mastic tree, severely injured. Then, he started to cry and the tree also began shedding tears.
The cultivation of mastic stays the same during the ages, that is in a totally natural way. The preparation of the mastic trees begins in May (15-20/5) by cleaning and de-weeding the area beneath the tree, which is called “table”. The “tables” are also cleaned from rocks and leaves, followed by the blowing and sweeping, so that they are as clean as can be in order to lay the white powder on which the resin of the tree will fall. The cleaning procedure is finished in June and from July 7th and on begins the “kentima”. The “kentima” or “kentos” (tr. embroidery) is the process during which the trunk and the thicker branches of the tree are slashed with special tools, so that the “tearing” of the tree is feasible. All trees are slashed in different points every 8 days and this procedure takes place 6 to 7 times in total, «hands» as the locals call them. This is an experience worth having, bending beneath the mastic trees and breathing the fragrance of mastic as it runs down the trunk of the tree.
After a long cleaning procedure lasting several months, the finished product is handed in to the Chios Mastiha Growers Association.
One should also visit the Mastic Museum, situated in the Pirgi village area, the famous painted village of Chios. It is an outstanding learning experience for you and your kids, who will discover a totally different product that nature has to offer and even taste it.
The mastic villages
The mastic villages, 22 in total, are medieval settlements, which were founded during the Byzantine period and maintained until today their medieval character.
Walking through the narrow streets, you will see children running carefree and playing, old ladies cleaning mastic or stitching together by the stem, small anhydrous tomatoes in “restes”, which you will see hanging on the outside of the houses, waiting to be used in meals during winter.
All the villages were built in a distance from the sea, so that they were not visible and had characteristics of forts, in order to be protected from the intruders – pirates of the medieval period. One can see distinctive towers in the entrances and exits of many villages and also scattered all over the island. The towers were built at points with a view to the sea and their purpose was to notify the villages in case a ship was coming, so that the villagers were alert in case of an attack. There were guards, who signaled one another from tower to tower and thus the news of the imminent attack reached the villagers on time.
Most of the houses of the village have various patterns of rhombus, squares, triangles, vases with flowers, crosses and other shapes, engraved on their outside walls, forming an astonishing combination. These remarkable patterns, which have a roughcast of black sand, are called “xista”, due to the technique used for their formation.
A stroll in the village’s alleys can awaken in the little visitors the will to create, since seeing what one can do with their hands is an easy way to get the artist “bug”.
No one can say enough for the village of Mesta. It is a fortress-village, full of life even during the winter months and the visitor can only surrender to its medieval magic.
The village square located in its center, is filled with many stores where you can taste traditional delicacies and enjoy a drink of souma (made by fig distillation) or soumada (a drink made by almonds), as your children will play all around. You will also find stores with handmade creations like jewelry, decorations made from clay, traditional embroidery and local products.
You may also come across various events, like outdoor painting or photography exhibitions and other cultural happenings.
In Mesta you can find a company called “Katsikodromi” (Goat Trails), founded by four friends and which offers activities you can enjoy in the nature of Chios, from bike rides to hiking trips.
This village is mostly known for its pottery, with a long tradition dated back to ancient times. Upon entering the village you will encounter a lot of workshops, where you can see how the clay vessels and various decorations are made and painted with beautiful patterns and colors.
There are a lot of festivals and events taking place in this village, one of which is the Monday of Lent festival, during which there is a reenactment of the Agas (Ottoman empire’s military official) custom, making fun of the trials officiated by Turkish judges during the Ottoman period. Τhe same reenactment also takes place in the village Elata, which is near Pirgi. A unique festival you will never forget is also one which takes place annually in the small island of Saint Stefanos, across the beach of Elata, Saint Irene. On the 1st of August, residents from all over Chios take boats from the beach of Saint Irene and gathered on the island of Saint Stefanos, which is named after the church situated on its highest point. There, there is a feast which lasts the whole night and then in the morning, after the service, the visitors return to the mainland.
Not far away from the village of Olympoi, there is a cave filled with stalagmites and stalactites, which definitely is worth a visit.
Other villages in the south of Chios worth visiting are Kalamoti, Kallimasia, Emporios, where there is the famous beach called Mavra volia by the black stones it is filled with, Lithi, a famous, sea village, where you can enjoy fresh fish and many more. In the northern part of the island, there are gorgeous villages like Lagada and Kardamila and on the northwest Volissos, Nenitouria, Agio Galas and many more. In fact Chios has 66 beautiful villages, waiting for you to discover them.
The Chora of Chios
In Chora you can find the renowned Castle of Chios, built for the protection of the residents since the Genoese period. Inside the Castle there are various shops, ottoman type houses, an ottoman cemetery and a Turkish bath.
In Chora you will come across Aplotaria street, filled with shops with traditional products and more, the Homerion Cultural Center, a venue for theatrical and cultural workshops, the Municipal Garden, a place to relax and play, the Metropolis, The Byzantine museum, the Adamantios Korais library and a lot of other noticeable buildings.
For your entertainment there are a lot of cafeterias, taverns and all kinds of restaurants in the port area.
One of the experiences you must share with your kids is a walk at Kambos, one of the most beautiful areas of the island, filled with citrus orchards and old mansions. In Chora you can have fun in a lot of ways with the whole family, like for example by participating in the MINDTRAP, a live escape room game. There are 7 different rooms, from which you can choose depending on the experience you wish to share with your loved ones. (http://www.themindtrap.com).
Chios is filled with marvelous beaches for all ages and tastes. You will find organized beaches, offering various sea activities, but also remote ones, where you can take pleasure in the serenity of nature.