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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 18 July 2015
16 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 18 JULY 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM The mesmerising c Exploring the north-eastern part of the Aegean GEORGIOS HATZIMANOLIS Beautiful beaches, fantastic food, great wines and its rich history and architecture are making Chios an attractive destination for those that want an alternative to the Aegean's more popular islands. Recent stories in The Huffington Post and The Daily Telegraph describe Chios as “magical” and “amazing” yet label it the least-known of the Greek islands. That may be true for some, but not me, because I have spent almost every summer I've ever had in Chios. My father is from a tiny village in the island's north and would bring us to Chios every July and drive us up and down this island as he bragged about its history and beauty. Which means I know the island like the back of my hand. I've spent many summers and winters exploring the island with family and friends and still get excited about each visit. Next week will be my third visit this year and I will stay for a month. Capital city Chios is the administrative, economic, and cultural centre of the island of Chios. It has a population of 32,000 and it is situated on the east coast of the island. It has a bustling port and is not obviously picturesque and not especially geared for foreign tourists, but a city that offers several diversions to those who like to truly visit a foreign locale. Leaving the city and heading south you will drive through the distinctive area of Kampos, where the natural environment is in total harmony with the local architecture. Kampos, like many spots on Chios, is as beautiful in the winter as in the summer. Known for its impressive mansions with citrus fruit gardens, the area is protected by the Greek Ministry of Culture as a historic site and traditional settlement. The high walls made of the local reddish stone from Thimiana village protect the famous gardens from extreme weather conditions and also from prying eyes. The Genoese and local Chios aristocracy started building their mansions in the area in the 14th century. As you head further south you will come across Nea Moni, an 11th-century monastery recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It holds further significance because of the massacre of 4,100 people mostly women, children and monks, at the hands of the Turks in 1822. Further south you will pass through the seaside village of Emporios with its many fish tavernas before arriving at one of Chios' most famous beaches, the picturesque Mavra Volia. I've always enjoyed swimming at this beach. The combination of black pebbles and wild cliff-edge backdrop with the pristine deep dark blue waters makes swimming at Mavra Volia an experience not to be missed. Not far from Mavra Volia is another of my favourite Chios beaches and one which I only discovered relatively recently, in 2010. Having spent many summers in Chios for over three decades and explored the island extensively it came as a surprise when a cousin of mine suggested I check out Vroulidia, another beach in south Chios, but one I had never heard of. From my very first visit I fell in love. As you descend the steps from the small parking lot down the cliff towards the beach you will be mesmerised by colours: the yellowrock of the cliffs, the white pebbles, and the gorgeous blues of the water make Vroulidia a truly postcard-worthy spot in Chios. In fact when I post images from this beach on Instagram they tend to get the most likes. Heading north-west from Vroulidia you will encounter the medieval villages of Chios, also the centre point of the Mastiha-growing region. Growing up I used to hate Mastiha gum, way before it became fashionable my father would bring home boxes of the stuff, but it always felt like the flavour would just disappear after two seconds of chewing. However, to this day I remain fascinated by the mastiha tree and how the gum is produced. The fact that it only grows in this one small region of the world makes mastiha very special to the Chiotes. No visit to the island is complete without stopping at one of the many mastiha trees dotted around southern Chios to inspect up close. The most famous of the Mastic Villages, or Mastihohoria, is the village of Mesta. It is also the most well-preserved, giving visitors the chance to marvel at its unique architecture. Mesta is always a great spot to stop for a coffee or icecream. I've spent many lazy afternoons at the plateia conversing with locals or walking through the narrow alleys. The oldest monument of Mesta is the church of Palaios Taxiarchis. Originally a vaulted one-nave basilica, dating from the Byzantine period, in 1794 it was extended to feature two aisles. Inside you will marvel at some of the wall paintings and the iconostasis of The road to Aghios Isidoros chapel. Mediaeval alleyways and amazing architecture highlight the historical importance of this Aegean gem.
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