I know, I know, you have been holding your breath wondering when I’m going to publish the final installment of my Greece series, right? Well your lucky day has arrived.
Chios is the fifth largest of the Greek islands, but for some reason it’s not as much of a tourist destination as other islands like Santorini, Crete and Mykonos. I was lucky enough to be invited to visit by my friend Stephanie. Stephanie is lucky enough to own an apartment in Komi, one of the numerous beach towns on the island.
The island is 31 miles long and 18 miles at its widest, but there is a lot to explore in this small area. You’ll find 100 beaches, medieval villages, a special liquor produced only on the island, castles, shopping, fantastic seafood, and friendly people. While Santorini is dry and volcanic, Chios is green. You’ll see olive trees and mastic trees (we’ll get to that later) everywhere. Chios is located only 4.3 miles off the Turkish coast and you can see Turkey in the distance from some of the coasts.
Getting To Chios
Chios is most easy to reach by plane. From Athens it’s a quick commuter flight that only takes about an hour. There are also flights from other islands depending on the time of year. There is also a ferry to Chios from the port of Piraeus in Athens. This takes about nine hours, though. It’s much less expensive and is popular with Greek natives who travel to Chios for longer periods of time in the summer. If you’re only going for a few days like I was, air is the way to travel.
Getting Around Chios
Arrange to pick up a rental car at the Chios airport—this is the easiest way to move between towns and beaches. Remember that for the most part European rental cars are manual transmission. Chios has a lot of hills, so if you’re not comfortable with driving a manual on uneven terrain, reserve a car early to be sure you can get an automatic. My friends and I did not do this and we had some rather thrilling gear-shifting adventures on steep slopes in busy towns.
Another note on getting around: because Chios is less of a tourist destination than some of the other Greek islands, there might not be as many English speakers and road signs. I was lucky to have a friend with a basic command of the Greek language to help us get around. If you are going sans Greek amigo, you should probably ensure you have cell service while you’re there so you can use GPS and Google translator. This doesn’t mean don’t go. It does mean you are going to need to put a little more effort into planning your days to get the most out of your visit.
As I mentioned, some say Chios has 100 different beaches. This article ranks the 27 best beaches on Chios island. I visited four.
This secluded, pure sand beach is a lovely spot for spending an afternoon. It is on the Southern tip of the island. The beach is at the bottom of a steep set of steps, but your reward for the walk is swimming in tropical blue waters with stunning views in every direction. There is also a small bar at the top of the steps—I didn’t eat or drink there, but internet searches report delicious drinks and fish specials.
Speaking of thrilling drives, this beach is located at the end of an extremely narrow, sometimes one-lane, twisty, turny road that winds along the tops of cliffs. There were moments where I looked out the passenger window, saw nothing but a downward slope, and hoped no cars came quickly flying around a bend. You’ll notice that in Greece things like guard rails just don’t seem to exist. As long as you drive cautiously, however, the drive is safe, and the beach at the end is worth the adventure.
You can only reach the actual beach by footpath. The water is clear and blue. You can rent kayaks to explore the water, caves and caverns along the coastline. Feeling in need of a drink after the drive? Head up the steps to Tortuga Cantina—a funky little café built around a tiny kitchen and bar in an old camper. I loved the bohemian vibe and selection of craft cocktails and snacks.
If you’re hungry, don’t miss the dakos salad—a flavorful blend of crunchy rye bread, tomatoes, feta, basil, capers and olive oil.
Also, maybe the best part, there is a pulley system so drinks can be sent from the cantina down to the beach.
This is the famous black beach. The beach is made of black pebbles—the result of volcanic activity. This beach has a small taverna as well, but the selection of food and snacks is very limited, so if you’re hungry or thirsty, you might want to stop in the town of Emporios you’ll pass through on your way there for refreshments. But, the beach is worth the visit for the once-in-a-lifetime views.
The closest you will find to a resort atmosphere on Chios, Komi beach is lined with bars and restaurants, most of which own a piece of beach filled with lounge chairs. Simply purchase a drink or snack and enjoy a chair for the day. We stayed at Komi beach on our visit and found it to be a great location—you have restaurants and shops close by and open nearly any time of day, plus it’s easy to hop to other parts of the island.
What to Eat in Chios
You will notice that many of the restaurants around Chios feature similar menus. Expect lots of seafood simply grilled or served with pasta. Food tends to be served family style, so plan to share. If you arrive at a restaurant and the menu is written in Greek, you can generally request an English menu. Most restaurants also generally have at least one English-speaking server.
There are a few dishes that are special to Chios that you should make a point to try. Mastelo is a special cheese produced in Chios. It’s served in a variety of ways, but I particularly enjoyed it simply grilled. You’ll also notice lots of grilled squid and octopus—order it. On this island, the fried calamari is generally served in entire fried tubes and it’s amazingly delicious. For casual meals, go for souvlaki—almost every town seems to have a small shop with delicious, inexpensive and filling little sandwiches.
With your meal, you can generally order carafes of house red or white wine that are flavorful and affordable. Ouzo or mastica (to be explained later) are also available by glass or bottle.
Dinner Restaurants in Chios
http://whiteearthdesign.co.uk/shop/?product_sort=desc Nostos: This restaurant is lovely and located outside central city, making parking easy. Enjoy lovely seaside views while you dine outside. Order the grilled octopus and the fried squid.
http://peanutbutterplayers.com/subscribe/ Hotza’s: One of the oldest tavernas in Chios, this restaurant has a relaxed, family vibe. If you dine outside, there are pretty lights and lots of trees, making it feel like a big, fun garden party. The menu is huge with just about any Greek specialty you could want, particularly anything with lamb or pork.
http://stivesarchive.co.uk/silagra-order-canada-silagra-shipped-from-canada-category-silagra/ Karavela: Located on Komi beach, this is where to dine after a day in the sun. Order seafood here, along with mastelo cheese, fava bean salad, and zucchini fritters.
Meltemaki: This restaurant is a bit of a drive, particularly at night, but it’s situated right on the water and serves wonderfully fresh seafood. Try fresh lobster with spaghetti, tiny fried fish with onion, whole grilled fish, Greek salad, and other fresh seafood dishes.
Grill Kamarias: Affordable and delicious homemade chicken and pork souvlakis and hand-cut fries in the town of Kalamoti. You can grab them to-go or sit in the town square and enjoy the people watching.
Lunch and Breakfast in Chios
You’ll notice Greek people aren’t big on breakfast, mostly because none of them are awake! No one goes to dinner until 9 at the earliest, people are at coffee shops at 11 p.m., and in the summer, people seem to just lounge by the beach with a frappe in the morning. For breakfast in Komi, go to Pandaisia. Freshly made waffles are topped with your choice of fruit, yogurt, or ice cream.
At lunch, Pandaisia also serves freshly made pizzas with a variety of toppings. You can also find the dakos salad at many of the restaurants on Komi beach. On weekends in Greece, look for loukoumades, delicious freshly made Greek donuts. Another great spot for a casual lunch is Komi Plaza, which serves souvlakis, ice cream, and other casual café items.
What to Drink in Chios: Mastica!
Mastica is a special liquor made from resin gathered from the mastic tree. This resin is believed to aid digestion, cure ulcers and gingivitis, and the list goes on. While mastic trees grow throughout the Mediterranean, the trees that produce the golden resin that is used to make mastica liquor, as well as gum, beauty products, candy, and an array of other products, only grow in Chios. The liquor has a flavor that’s similar to ouzo but more herbal, and it turns white when it’s poured over ice. You can drink it before, after or with dinner. Or my favorite way—in a mastica mojito.
While you’re in Chios, you should make sure to try mastica and to visit the Chios Mastic Museum. Here you can learn all about how mastica is made and about the history of Chios and shop in the gift shop with all kinds of mastic products. Along with the liquor, you’ll also notice Mastiqua being sold all over the island—this is water combined with mastica that is believed to aid digestion. Since it has no calories and tastes quite refreshing, I drank it every chance I got while in Chios. And, recently I noticed it at Stella’s Grocery. Hooray!!
Souma and Raki
While perusing souvenir shops, you might also see Souma and Raki for sale. Souma is a sweet moonshine made from figs. I picked some up in a souvenir shop in the square in Mesta, then read online that Mesta is a favorite place to find it. Some of my friends thought it tasted like lighter fluid, but I actually enjoyed sipping it. Raki is a grape brandy flavored with anise. Think of it as a stronger form of ouzo. You’ll also find this in small shops, generally in unlabeled bottles like souma, as well as for sale in bars and restaurants.
Chios does, in fact, have its own Microbrewery called Chios Beer that mainly makes two varieties. Fresh Chios Beer is an unfiltered and unpasteurized ale with a fruity start and a hoppy finish that makes it perfect for beach sipping. The Smoked Robust Porter has a richer, toastier flavor with lots of coffee notes.
Nightlife in Chios
While this island may feel like a step back in time in some ways, there is still an active nightlife scene. If you want modern mixology, head to Oz Cocktail Bar. Tucked in a tiny alley, this hip establishment features dim lighting, a menu designed around a Monopoly board, and trendy concoctions that are the closest thing I found to United States craft cocktails in Greece.
For a truly unique experience, head to the walled town of Mesta and seek out Kellari Bar. Housed in an underground cellar, the bar manages to feel both historic and modern with high stone walls and funky chandeliers on the ceiling.
There’s a lovely selection of Greek wines and craft cocktails to choose from. Two of the signature mastic cocktails on the menu were actually designed by Oz cocktail bar. I tried the Chios Garden, which was a delightful combination of mastica, lemon juice, lime juice, mint and Angostura bitters served with a little spoonful of mandarin spread on the side. If you go to Mesta, head there early as the little downtown has several other restaurants and bars in the center of the town—you can sit outside and eat and drink. There’s also a spot that’s only open on the weekends and is famous for loukoumades—delicious little Greek donuts.
If you want clubbing, head to After Club. It doesn’t really get going until midnight and the tunes spin until dawn. You can get your choice of drinks, but if you want to party in high style, go for bottle service.
If you’re looking for something a bit more low key, particularly afternoon or early evening drinks, seek out Viri Carpe Diem. This cocktail bar is located right on the beach so you can walk down to the water or simply relax under the awning with beautiful views. The mastica mojitos here are delicious and the bartender also presented my friends and I with a carved melon full of fruit to go with our drinks. The relaxed and calm atmosphere made for a perfectly tranquil end to our beach day.
Go in Summer for a Panigiri
Throughout the summer, particularly in August, each town in Chios hosts a panigiri, or a festival honoring a saint. During the festival, one inhabitant who has had the honor to carry the icon of the saint to his home, brings it back for a blessing and celebration. There is praying, music, dancing, eating, and drinking.
I happened to be in Chios on August 15, the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, when the largest panigiri of the summer is held in Pyrgi. Pyrgi is one of the villages where mastica is produced. The buildings painted with distinctive black patterns signify mastica villages. During this festival, families reserve tables in the center of town and arrive to eat and drink all night.
A band plays in the center of the town and people literally dance, celebrate, and drink until dawn. Once the sun comes up, the band walks through the town to wake anyone who is sleeping and then families eat soup together to celebrate. Attending a panigiri is like no other experience—if you have the opportunity to do this while you are in Chios, don’t miss it. Hotels often have schedules of which towns are hosting the celebrations when.
Shopping in Chios
One of the confusing things about going to Chios as a foreigner is that the island is called Chios, but the main town is also called Chios Town or Chora. The most mall-like shopping is located here. Because Chora is also where most of the island residents go to do business, it gets crowded during the day. If you drive, park on the edge of the city and walk in. If you’re in a taxi, ask to be dropped near Aplotaria and wander from there. You can spend hours walking the side streets and browsing clothing, shoes, gourmet goods, and popping into bakeries for snacks. Don’t miss Dust + Cream for inexpensive beauty products that work well and are made with high quality ingredients. I love the Lovely Magic Brilliance Pen and Lovely Magic Anti-Redness Pens I brought back with me—each was under 3 euros.
For more unique to Chios shopping, you won’t want to miss the ceramics in Armolia. This little village has several pottery stores side by side. The owners in the shops make and paint the pottery themselves, so you can browse and bargain as you like. My friends and I weren’t planning to purchase much, but we all found something we loved. In fact, we ended up needing to check extra bags! I brought back a pretty chip and dip platter as well as some Greek evil eyes as gifts for friends.
You’ll also find lots of pretty bracelets and jewelry in shops around the island. I particularly liked the selections at Voyager Komi, a beach shop in Komi. The owner there makes dangly earrings, crocheted bracelets, and necklaces by hand.
Keep Discovering Chios and the Rest of Greece
This is only a slice of what there is to find in Chios, let alone throughout the many Greek Islands. If you are considering a visit, make sure to read my other posts about Santorini and Santorini Wine Tours.