Three Days in Chios, My Favourite Greek Island
I only spent three days in Chios but they were enough to blow my mind. I often find it hard to talk about my favourite countries; it’s just too hard to pick genuine favourites after visiting so many. Picking favourite places is a lot easier; and Chios is one of my new favourite places in the world.
Located in the Aegean Sea, right next to Turkey, the island of Chios isn’t as touristy or as popular as the Cyclades. In fact, the only reason I ended up on the island to begin with is that my Yia Yia (my Greek grandmother) was born in Chios and I really wanted to visit it for her.
What made my trip to Chios even more special was that I took my grandmother from the other side of the family along with me for my visit. My Yia Yia couldn’t be there, but I’m sure if she were still alive she would have liked the idea of my other grandmother being with me. And Nan was just as amazed at the island as I was.
Chios is a huge island, there is so much to do and I could have easily spent a week there. But with just three days we had to be very careful about our schedule. In Chios you absolutely need to hire a car to get around, it would be very difficult on public transport as it’s pretty much non-existent.
The driving distances can also be long, so we decided to pick a certain geographical area of the island each day to tackle. Unlike Athens when we spent the majority of the hot afternoons in our hotel, we spent full days exploring Chios. The air-conditioning of the car and the sea breeze definitely helped.
Day 1 in Chios- Nea Monis Monastery, Anavatos, Lithi Beach and Karfas Beach
We arrived at around 6am on the ferry from Athens. There are flights to Chios from Athens everyday, but the ferry was definitely the cheapest, easiest and best way to arrive on Chios. We only paid €120 for two people in our very own cabin that included a bathroom. We got a great night’s sleep, saved money on accommodation and arrived in Chios nice and early.
The only problem was that we couldn’t pick up the car until the office opened at 9am. Luckily almost all of the cafes at the ferry port are open 24/7, so we found somewhere with a great internet connection and grabbed some hot drinks and breakfast. Lucky for us the car rental place opened early at around 7.30-8am so we were able to pick up our car slightly early.
We immediately headed to Karfas Beach which was our base for our time in Chios. Chios Town itself is less than charming, and given we had a car it was easier (parking wise) and nicer to pick somewhere on the beach. Karfas Beach is perhaps the most ‘touristy’ and commercialised part of Chios, but even then it wasn’t overcrowded or overly expensive.
Unfortunately when we arrived at the apartments there was no one around, so we instead chose to head to our next destination. I had the offline map on Google Maps downloaded for the whole of Chios island, so we relied on this to get us to most places.
We had our first fail of the day, when we missed a turn. The app must have just redirected us instead of telling us to turn around. Because instead of the nice paved road to Nea Monis Monastery, we found ourselves on a dirt track and bogged. My Nan had to get out and help me turn around so we could get ourselves out of there. It wasn’t the most pleasant first experience of driving in Chios.
Nea Monis Monastery
Eventually we found ourselves at Nea Monis Monastery, Chios’ only UNESCO World Heritage Site. Much like most of the amazing churches and buildings on the island of Chios, the Nea Monis Monastery was built by the Byzantines in the 11th century.
It’s a beautiful old building, the frescos inside the church of the Monastery were not in the greatest repair but I think this makes the whole experience more authentic. What I loved most about our visit was wandering the old ruins of monastery houses and bunks, and realising that even up here surrounded by other monks, each individual sought a solitary existence.
But the most gruesome part of the Monastery had to be the memorial which was basically a room full of skulls from the Chios Massacre. The Ottomans came over and slaughtered and enslaved the whole island, and Nea Monis was the scene of one of those slaughters.
Our next stop was the abandoned village of Anavatos. I had found this place on a list of must-sees on Chios, and given it was only about a half hour drive from Nea Monis I decided that heading there would make the most sense. But I didn’t realise at the time what abandoned really meant. It was like walking through a ghost town. Not only was there no one there, but we were also the only tourists.
We parked our car and walked up to the old abandoned buildings. But on the way we passed a restaurant that wasn’t open, a dilapidated bus stop and a shop that was meant to be opened but wasn’t. The whole town felt very eerie. The old abandoned buildings were incredible, and we walked pretty high up the hill to explore the buildings at the top.
But when I entered the final set of buildings at the very top of the hill I felt a very heavy feeling. For sure, this place was haunted. Some research later told me that this was also a place of mass murder during the Chios massacre. I was more than a little freaked out.
The West Coast Beaches- Elinda Bay and Lithi Beach
From Anavatos it was an easy drive to the west coast. During the whole time we were in Chios, this was the most scenic drive we took. It seemed like we stopped every five minutes or so to take a snap of another amazing view.
We had planned to go for a swim at Elinda Bay, a beautiful spot on the west coast. Unfortunately it as only accessible by an old dirt road and we didn’t want to risk the rental car.
Instead we headed to the more commercialised beach on the West Coast; Lithi Beach. But don’t get me wrong; by commercialised I mean there were maybe 20 people on the beach, the local restaurants let us use their umbrellas just by buying a bottle of water and we found ourselves large patches of the beach to yourself.
Cooling off in this water was incredible after the hot walk through Anavatos. We then grabbed a delicious and super affordable seafood meal from Taverna Galera, one of the best places that we ate on the whole island. This was just a glimpse of the amazing food we would eat over the next couple of days.
After lunch there was only one thing to do; trade Lithi beach for another one closer to where we were staying. It was about a 45 minute drive back to Karfas Beach where we checked in and had a lazy afternoon on the beach.
Day 2- Pyrgi, Olympi, Mesta, Emporios and Mavra Volia
On our second day we focused on the south part of the island. It was an easy drive down to the mastic villages of Chios. These old Genovese style villages sprung up as a result of the mastic trade in the area back in 14th century. Mastic is a sap, honey like substance that I find absolutely disgusting. But it is a huge part of the island of Chios.
The three villages of Pyrgi, Olympi and Mesta were all incredible and different in their own ways. But Pyrgi, with its unique patterned buildings was the highlight of my day.
When we arrived it took a while to make our way into town from where we had parked and we passed many older Greek people hanging out together in the street. We greeted them with ‘Kalimera’ and they responded with a joyful chorus of ‘Kalimera, Kalimera, Kalimera’ and pointed us towards the centre of town.
What greeted us was an amazing array of black and white patterned buildings. I took over a hundred photos of this one village because every corner meant another beautiful street.
Olympi and Mesta
Olympi and Mesta were very different to Pyrgi, the buildings were a plainer stone colour.
What I loved most about Olympi was that all the streets were full of flowers, the locals seemed to have their own personal town garden made up of an abundance of pot plants.
Mesta had beautiful narrow streets and an amazing cathedral. I surely didn’t get bored of exploring these villages.
Our next stop was Emporios. It made geographic sense to leave this one for after the villages, but I do regret not doing it earlier in the day when it might have been a little cooler.
Emporios is Chios’ answer to the Acropolis. Archelogical excavations only started here in the early 2000s. Most of the settlement was built back in the 8th century BCE and it’s not nearly as well preserved as the Acropolis. Instead it’s a bit more like Delos near Mykonos, where you are exploring the outlines of old buildings.
Getting up to the Acropolis of Emporios is a bit of a steep climb, especially in the heat. My Nan did the smart thing of waiting for me at the bottom, while I sweated up the hill. I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot in my life, I was seriously ready to pass out by the time I hit the top and managed to catch some of the sea breeze.
One of the other reasons to visit Emporios is because of the stunning view over the south coast of Chios, that you can really only get from the top of this hill.
Our last stop of the day was also our first beach of the day, and god was I ready to jump into the cool of some water. Mavra Volia is unique compared to Chios’ other beaches as it’s characteristed by the black volcanic pebbles that line the beach. It was especially good for swimming because it got very deep very quickly, so it was easy enough just to jump into the water.
It’s a stunning beach, and a good swimming spot but the large pebbles mean its not the most comfortable beach for spending a lazy afternoon. After hopping into the water twice, we once again headed back to the comfortable sand of Karfas Beach.
Meltemaki Fish Tavern
I have to make a special mention of this particular restaurant because it was easily one of the best meals I’ve eaten on my whole trip. After reading some rave reviews on the internet, we decided to jump in the car and drive half an hour to this little seaside village where the main attraction is their fish tavern.
We ordered a seafood feast of prawns saganaki (prawns with tomatoes and feta), stuffed squid and crumbed mussels. It’s the freshest seafood I’ve found outside of Australia and everything was cooked to perfection. We enjoyed it right on the beach with a stunning view of the sunset.
At the end of it the whole bill came to €15! It was such a highlight of our time on Chios.
Day 3- Volissos and Agios Galas
We left the Northern part of Chios for our last day on the island. Getting to the North requires the most driving, as it’s more than an hour and a half to get there in the first place and there aren’t a great lot of connecting roads between places either.
We had to tackle the busier roads of Chios Town in order to get onto the road to Volissos, as there is no detour. We also found ourselves going up a very windy, very steep hill; I don’t think I left second gear for the whole time.
But despite the effort to get there the town of Volissos was well worth it. When we arrived we made the mistake of entering from the bottom of the town, which meant we didn’t see a hell of a lot and Nan wasn’t really prepared to hike up to the top of the town where we could see the ruins of a castle and a church.
It was only after we were in the car on the way to somewhere else that we realised there was a way to access the top of Volissos by car. From here we were able to explore the old ruins of the castle, and the more interesting parts of the town. It was pretty, but I preferred the Mastic Villages from the day before.
The drive to Agios Galas ended up being twice as long as it needed to be because we took the wrong turn and ended up on a more remote winding road on the North Coast. Luckily the view was stunning!
We didn’t expect to find much in Agios Galas, but were pleasantly surprised to find a garden café attached to the complex. Having a popular tourist attraction to ourselves seemed to becoming a theme for our time in Chios, as once again we were the only ones.
That didn’t stop the staff from greeting us with a warm welcome and serving us a delicious Greek salad made from organic vegetables from their garden and stuffed vine leaves, also from their garden. I didn’t expect to find such a good meal in such a remote part of the island!
After lunch it was time to explore the cave of Agios Galas. The first people to arrive on Chios, more than 5000 years ago lived in these caves. Various artefacts have been excavated from them, although they unfortunately aren’t on display anymore. We got an awesome guided tour of all three levels of the cave, which ended with two churches that exist in the cave (that were obviously put there later than Neolithic times).
A Final Note on Chios
What I loved most about Chios is its diversity. In three days we explored the history of the island through thousands of years; from the 5000 year old Neolithic caves to the 8th century BC acropolis and the 11th century monastery. But we also got to swim in some amazing beaches and experience some delicious food. It was basically all of my favourite things wrapped into one package!
As we boarded our late ferry back to Athens, I really hoped that one day I’d return. Maybe next time with my Mum and my sisters.