Chios (Greek Island)

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Chios (KHEE-ohs) is where the wild things were: Orion hunted every last beast down, leaving the island’s mountainsides to pine and cypress trees, and to native son, Homer. Ever since, human occupants have cultivated and exported the trees’ masticha a bittersweet, gummy resin used in a number of things from chewing gum to color TVs. Medieval Genovese and Venetian Crusaders (among them Christopher Columbus) made themselves at home here, and in 1822 Chios hosted a
failed Greek nationalist rebellion. A military base and a center of Greek shipping, (’bios only recently opened its gates to tourist infiltrators. As its striking volcanic beaches and medieval villages become more accessible, Chios flashes back to the pre-Orion days, as tourists on their way Cesme do the Wild Thing all night long.

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CHIOS TOWN   

Shipping provides the lion’s share of Chios’s wealth, and tourists are the exception instead of the rule at the waterfront tavemas and trendy cafes. Inland, a crumbling medieval fortress keeps centuries of island history intact within its decayed bulk from the days of Byzantine occupation to the Nazi’s razing of the town during World War II. Today, tourists and townspeople invade the fallen fortifications daily, partaking of the markets and tavemas that now occupy the fortress.

ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Walking left from the ferry dock along the waterfront, you’ll pass a bevy of cafes and restaurants. A right on Kanari takes you inland to PI. Vounakio, the social center of town, where most services, buses, and taxis plant themselves on one side or another of the Municipal Gardens. Left of Vounakio lies the market street, where groceries and bakeries open for business weekday mornings and evenings.

Between the ferry dock and the Municipal Gardens, fortress walls hug the Old Town, a residential area with a few small shops and tavemas.

Ferries go to: Alexandroupolis (1 per week, €26.41); Kos (1 per week 6am, €17.61); Lesvos (3hr., 1 per week, €10.27); Limnos (2 per week, €16.14); Piraeus (8 hr., 1-2 per day, €18.49); Rhodes (1 per week); Samos (4hr., 1 per week, €9.68); and Cesme, Turkey (45min., 1 per day, €49.89).

KTEL buses (27 507 or 24 257) leave from both sides of PI. Vounakio, right off tire municipal gardens coming from the waterfront. Blue buses (23 086), in the plateia on Dimokratias, travel within the vicinity of Chios Town (9km), making 5-6 trips daily to Daskaiopetra, Kontari, Karfas, Karies, and Vrondados. Green buses, on the left side of the municipal gardens, make trips to Emborios Beach, Pyrgi, and Volissos. To reach the tourist office, Kanari 18, turn off the waterfront onto Kanari, walk toward the plateia and look for the “i” sign.

They provide maps and help with transportation and accommodations. (44 344 or 44 389. Open May-Oct. daily 7am-10pm.) The Ionian Bank, Kanari 16, is next to the tourist office and offers a 24hr. ATM and currency exchange, (a-23 522 or 23 434. Open M-Th 8am-2pm, F 8am-l:30pm.) A 24hr. hospital (44 303) is 2km north of Chios. Enter Internet Cafe, Aigeou 98, on the second floor of a waterfront building, charges €1.76 for 30min. (zr41 058. Open 9:30am-late.)

 ACCOMMODATIONS

Most of Chios Town’s accommodations are on the far end of the waterfront from the ferry dock, in high-ceilinged, turn-of-the century mansions. In high season, seek help from a tourist agency to get a room. In a yellow building at the far right end of the waterfront, the hospitable owners at Chios Rooms , Leofores 114, offer bright and breezy rooms with polished hard-wood floors, most with a sea view’ and some with bath. (20 198. In summer, doubles €23.48; triples €29.35, €35.22 with bath. Monthly rental available in winter.) One block behind Aigeou on the waterfront, Giannis Rooms to Let , M. Livanou 48, has rooms with baths, a common kitchen, and a lovely backyard garden. ( 27 433. Open May-Oct. Doubles €23.48-35.22.)

FOOD

 Myriad vendors set up shop near PI. Vounakio. For lunch on the cheap, bite into the fresh spanakopita or tyropita available in bakeries. Love is in the ruins at elegant Ouzeri Ikobou Plita, Ag. Giorgios 20, where open-air tables nestle into the tumbledown walls of the Byzantine fortress. To get there, walk past, Hatzc lenis on Aigeou and make the fourth right. There’s no menu; just eyeball the options and pick whatever looks good. Turning off the waterfront on the way to the Archaeology Museum brings you shortly to the Two Brothers, on Livanou, who serve good Greek grub in their garden restaurant. (21313.)

SIGHTS

The Archaeology Museum, Michalon 10, inland toward the left end of the waterfront, dissects Chios’s role in the ancient Aegean world, with an extensive collection of artifacts and detailed explanatory placards. Don’t miss the 3rd- century AD statue of Leda and the Swan, with just enough limbs left on both parties to suggest how the dirty deed was done. (82 100. Open Tu-Su 8:30am-3pm. €1.47, students €0.88, EC students free.) Relics of the town’s past encircle PI. Vounakio. To the right of the plateia, the walls of the Byzantine Castro, reconstructed by the Genovese, enclose the narrow streets of the Old Town. The castle houses a handful of well-restored 14th-century Byzantine wall paintings in the Justinian Palace as you enter from Vounakio. (26 866. Open Tu-Su 9am-3pm. €1.47, students €0.88.)

The minaret of the nearby Ottoman Mosque is visible from far away, though almost every surface has a storefront built in front of it. The main room contains a Byzantine collection, including a short hallway of paintings and a small courtyard of Venetian, Genovese, and Ottoman sculptural pieces. (Open Tu- Sa 10am-lpm, Su 10am-3pm. €1.47, students €0.88.) The Folklore Museum, on the first floor of the Korais Library, is next to the Mitropolis, Chios Town’s cathedral. The collection is extensive, but there are no explanatory placards. (Open M-Th 8am-2pm, F 8am-2pm and 5-7:30pm, Sa 8am-12:30pm.)

DAYTRIPS FROM CHIOS TOWN

On the eastern half of the island, several sites silently recall the invasion of the island by the Ottoman Turks in 1822, among them Nea Moni and Anavatos. Built in the 11th century, the Nea Moni (New Monastery), 16km west of Chios Town, was inspired by the miraculous appearance of an icon of the Virgin Mary to three hermits. Before entering the main chapel, you’ll pass through the inner narthcx, featuring stunning 11th-century gold mosaics; their artists are also responsible for the mosaics of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. An adjoining chapel beside the entrance to the complex houses a memorial to monks and villagers massacred by the Turks in 1822, when the island’s population was reduced from 118,000 to 18,000. Elsewhere on the island, 23,000 residents were killed and 47,000 sold into slavery. (Open 9am-lpm and 4-8pm. Free. Dress modestly. An on-site museum displays church garments and religious items. Open 8:30am-lpm. €1.47. Free Su.)

Anavatos, 15km west of Nea Moni, is a beautiful, abandoned village built into the hillside. The village’s women and children flung themselves from these cliffs in resistance to the 1822 invasion. A walk among the ruins of these fortifications provides amazing view’s of the hills. Stop into the church to the right of the site’s entrance to see a spectacular folk-art rendition of the massacre of 1822. (Check with the tourist office or the green bus terminal in Chios for information on excursions to both sites. Taxi drivers may agree to drive you to the site, wait 30min., and bring you back; a taxi-tour of Nea Moni and Anavatos costs around €23.48.)

The villages in the southern half of the island, called Mast ¡chochoria, arc home to Chios’s famous resin, produced by squat mastic or lentisk frees. Pyrgi, high in the hills 25km from Chios, is one of Greece’s most beautiful villages, thanks to the black and white geometric designs tattooing its buildings, l’yrgl Is also home to the 12th-century Agioi Apostoloi Church, a replica of I he Nea Mom. Thirteenth-century frescoes and paintings from a Cretan iconography school cover almost every inch of the interior. (Open M-F 9am-3pm.) The caretaker can unlock the front gate for you; ask across from the OTE. Access Pyrgi via bus from bios.

BEACHES

6km south of Chios Town lies popular, sandy Karfas, victim of Chios’s latest burst of development. Convenient to both the beach and the amenities of Chios Town, many tourists take up temporary residence here. Blue buses run from PI. Vournakio in Chios. Hatzelenis Tours in Chios Town can set you up with a double with bath and kitchen by the beach at Villa Anatoli (20 002 or 32 235. Doubles €35.22). Farther south lies pristine Emborio, where beige volcanic cliffs contrast with black stones and deep-blue water below. The green bus from (‘bios Town drops off at the harbor; the first beach is up the only road to the right (facing the water), and a smaller, less crowded shore is up the stairs to your right.

Nine kilometers north of Chios Town, you’ll find the pleasant, pebbly shores of Vrondados and Daskalopetra. Blue buses from PI. Vournakio in Chios Town sendee both. A 2min. walk from Daskolopetra beach takes you to the Sanctuary of Cybele. I lore, sitting on the Stone of Homer, the bard is rumored to have mentored students. After Daskalopetra, the main roads wind northwest along the coast past Marmaron to Nagos, with its gray stone beach perhaps a popular spot to play hooky from Homer’s classes. High in the hills toward the center of the island, the village of Volissos, Homer’s legendary birthplace, is crowned by a Byzantine fort with a handful of modern-day habitations scattered around it. Buses run here from Chios.

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