Τhe moment I set foot on this island, I knew that it was full of secrets I needed to discover.
Exiting the small 68 passenger seat aeroplane, I was greeted by an effusion of fiery reds and bright oranges. The day was just beginning.
One small runway (1,800m in length) accommodating the thousands of tourists that visit this island each summer and one tiny baggage area that I would be surprised if it hasn’t been used as a movie set in the past.
Steps from the plane to the baggage claim? Maximum of 20.
I have written before about the importance of first impressions. Not that they should always be taken seriously. Not even that they are what your opinion will be afterwards. Just how first impressions usually set the tone for what will follow.
Mine was exceptional this time.
I looked around the single small runway; a vast, flat piece of land lay before me and a mountainous backdrop. Mountains?
In the shadows of the morning light, the mountain hills behind seemed vast, giant, and rugged.
My first thought was that I was in Queenstown, New Zealand.
Impossible, says you. Well, that is how I felt.
It didn’t last long though, I will give you that. That air was too warm, the smells were identifiably Greek.
The salty breeze coming from the Mediterranean sea only meters away reminded me of seafood taverns and ouzo.
A couple of soldiers stationed in the gates dressed in khaki, clear signs of the military history of the island.
No, this was Greece. No confusion whatsoever. Excitement build up as I stepped out of the airport.
Day 1: The Sights
Depending on which area of the island you decide to base yourself on, your first impressions might be widely different.
One of the first pieces of advice we were given when first planning our visit and which we now are passing on to you is to tackle the island in three fronts, the central part, the northern part and the southern part.
The reason behind this is that the size of the island sneaks up on you and if you are interested in seeing as much as this Aegean beauty has to offer then being strategic about driving times between destinations would be a good idea.
The port of Chios during sunset.
The Central Part Of The Island
The centre of the island, with it’s aptly named capital, Chios, sprawls around the bustling waterfront where luxury yachts and small fishing boats come in and out during the day.
The view should be both familiar and inviting for most visitors of island destinations.
Visitors are welcomed and there is no shortage of options to entertain themselves either through food, drink or activities, but the people you see in the streets are predominantly locals as well as young soldiers called to do their duty for the motherland. Life continues in normal rhythms whether winter or summer and you get the sense that tourism has not yet grabbed this little island.
In the embrace of the capital, there are a number of options you can choose to experience.
What To See in The Centre Of Chios
The castle, located a short 15min walk from the waterfront is worth visiting during day or night as well as the Ottoman baths within the castle walls.
If you happen to visit when the sun shines, stay and enjoy the peaceful dancing of the golden rays within the old stone walls.
Walking around the city streets, take the time to look up, sideways and down. The architecture is an aggregate of the multitude of conquerors that came into this island and left their distinctive mark.
Byzantine, Genoesian and Ottoman characteristics from previous eras can still be seen all around if one is careful enough to look.
Other places worth mentioning that one is bound to come across and chose to discover independently are the Library of Koraes and the Maritime Museum.
In terms of food and drinks the options that were available satisfied all our cravings. Ice cream, waffles and crepe shops in particular where in high demand, which was quite alright with us giving us the much-needed excuse of having to taste chocolate crepes accompanied by the traditional Mastiha flavoured ice-cream.
One of the many lookout stops on the way to the top.
What To See in West Chios
Travelling west from Chios capital you can follow a charming, narrow and windy route up to the mountains and back down to the other side of the island.
While it is the narrowest part of the whole island, estimate at least one hour for the drive and prepare to stop in a few locations for some panoramic shots of the bay below.
Following signs to the Monastery of Nea Moni, Avgonima or Lithi should all take you through the same route up and around the mountain range.
The Monastery of Nea Moni is a Byzantine treasure, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage monument and is rightly regarded as one of the most important Byzantine monuments in all the Aegean. It is always worth stopping and admiring the glittering mosaics against the bright gold backdrop.
Details of Avgonima village in Chios.
Hiking trail that leads to Lithi beach in Chios.
Villages Worth Visiting
Following on from the monastery you will approach a small village called Avgonima.
Similar to many villages in Chios, the drive leading to the village inspires feelings of eras long gone, with small glimpses of stone walls, towers and houses starting to appear as you get closer.
A short distance from Avgonima you will find Anavatos. This impressive medieval village remains deserted but intact after a number of natural disasters and wars forced residents away from their houses. Built to offer protection, the location of Anavatos will make sense, as it stands perched on the top of rugged cliffs.
Avgonima could also be used as a base for visitors. Apart from the charming stone-built accommodations, visitors can spend the evenings enjoying the sunset view over Lithi in the local taverns or walking around the lush pine forest surrounding the area.
During our time there, we had the pleasure of being invited to enjoy a walk of the surrounding area guided by Mr Misetzis George. Being the president of the island’s estimated 100 hotel owners, an avid fan of the islands hiking trails and the unique species of orchids it protects, our walk was enriched by a wealth of information regarding the islands history, and nature.
Every once in a while, we stopped along the side of the path to learn more about the plants that grow on Chios and how they are used either in cooking or as herbs for therapeutic reasons. The view as we approached Lithi was nothing short of spectacular. Standing on a rocky path carved thousands of years ago from people working on those jagged slopes, we followed the footsteps they would have as they returned home after a long day at work with their wives and animals.
Last steps before approaching the viewpoint over Lithi bay.
Beaches in Central and West Chios
The west coast of the island will also offer plenty of opportunities for swimming. The sandy beach of Lithi is situated amongst charming tavernas serving fresh fish and other delicacies while the water is warm and shallow, suitable for families with younger children or those that prefer calmer waters.
The surrounding bays can also be accessed by car and would be best enjoyed by those looking to escape any contact with other beach goers!
And so, with a camera full of photos and a rosy glow after spending a day in the sun, we made our way back to our accommodation.
The holiday has just begun, however, and there is so much more to discover