Chios, the fifth largest island in Greece, can be a visitor’s paradise. It was never really on the tourist map because its shipowner families didn’t need tourism, a reality emboldened by its production of mastic gum products and citrus fruits, including the most delicious mandarins. For these reasons alone, Chios boasts numerous “secrets” and fabulous experiences, along with fascinating history and superlative gastronomy that has been enriched by Greeks who originally came from Anatolia and settled here.
Today the island’s main town is relatively modern with all of civilization’s comforts, yet still boasting some neoclassical and medieval gems from its recent history, along with classical windmills, a medieval castle from the 16th century and an archeological museum. For a more traditional feel, head inland to Mesta and Pyrgi, two gorgeous stone-built villages with their beautiful homes, flowered balconies, tasty tavernas and a more relaxed way of life. Also inland is the village of Volissos, built on a sloping hill with the remains of a Byzantine castle on the summit, and possible birthplace of the poet Homer.
Once in Chios, you must acquaint yourself with Mastiha, the gum that grows only here and is used to prepare many desserts. This is an acquired oriental taste, considered a gourmet ingredient for discerning palates, protected by Unesco designation as part of the island’s indigenous heritage and culture. There are several areas, all on one blessed side of the island where Mastiha is grown, although you can find the final products and goodies all over. Beyond the Mastiha culture, attractions on Chios include the Citrus Museum and Naval museum in the main town, Olympi Cave with its stalactites and stalagmites, the monasteries of Agios Markos and Agia Markella (spiritual protector of the island), the Genoese tower of Dotia from the 15th century, and the Folklore Museum in Pyrgi.
For those who like adventures below sea level, a young scuba diving scene exists in Chios, while more land-prone types will revel in the 50-odd hiking paths crisscrossing the island. Stark rocky landscapes, numerous Mediterranean herbs, endemic plants and surreal landscapes overlooking the sea will greet you on these hikes, which are best enjoyed during spring or autumn when the weather is milder. Sailing around Chios is also enjoyable as there’s the Oinousses group of islands just near there. In sum, if you’re not into mass tourism and are looking for an authentic island with a rich culture, Chios will be a pleasant surprise.