Chios is outstanding. Although the fifth largest island in Greece, it has never overly encouraged tourism and remains blissfully off the regular tourist trail. Those who do come will find an island with a rich history, a strong identity, a varied mountainous landscape and unique charms which inevitably draws people back. On Chios there is always something new to discover.
The capital, Chios Town, halfway down the east coast, faces Turkey just a few miles across the narrow straight. The location of this large, bustling modern island capital makes it the best place to stay if you want to explore the whole island. The expansive harbour has the perennial plethora of restaurants, cafes and bars around its length and is always lively. Little of the town survived the earthquake of 1881 but the old quarter within the fortified Kastro is worth a wander and home to several Ottoman monuments. Off the large main square there is a bustling market cum bazaar, there are various museums - the island has a long and often bloody history - and the town boasts some excellent tavernas.
Although there is a small shingle town beach a short walk from our hotel, for more than a quick dip most people hop onto one of the frequent buses that run south to sandy Karfas (see below) in just 15 minutes or north to the pebble coves of Vrontados. A daily boat takes 45 minutes to reach Cesme in Turkey, making a day trip to Asia Minor easy (a side trip to Izmir can be made from Cesme).
Karfas, 7 kms to the south of town, is the closest Chios has to a 'resort', thanks to its fine beach and ease of access from airport and town (there is a good bus service). Compared to almost any other island it is small beer, but has a number of hotels, apartments, tavernas and cafe-bars spread out behind the wide expanse of (mainly) sand. The vibe is laid back - although it can be busy at weekends and during Greek holidays - and the swimming excellent.
The south has rolling countryside and is known for its mastic production. Mastic trees can be found in many parts of the Aegean but only here, for reasons still not fully understood, do they produce the resin, valued for its healthy properties, which has been exported for centuries and was the base of the island's wealth in times of yore. The twenty 'mastichohoria' (mastic villages) here are one of Chios's unique attractions - medieval 14th century stone enclaves built in defensive fortified fashion, each one with its own character. The most impressive are Mesta, Olymbi and Pyrgi, the latter known for its unique external house decorations - geometric black and white patterns called 'xysta'.
The south is also home to a number of Chios' best beaches, including the volcanic black-pebble strands at Emporios. This small village has five decent tavernas and is a great base from which to explore the whole of the south, including the mastichohoria (Pyrgi is only 6 kms distant) and the impressive cave of Sykias Olymbon. Emporios has its own small archaeological site on the hilltop above the valley, and some good walking can be had in the area (keep an eye out for the Chios orchid in springtime).
North Chios is mountainous - peaks rise to 1297m - and craggy. Kardamyla on the north eastern tip is the largest settlement outside the capital. In fact Kardamyla is two villages - Ano Kardamyla above and Kato Kardamyla (now more commonly called Marmaro) on the coast below which has a functional port and some good fish tavernas. The shingle-pebble beach faces north so can be exposed when the meltemi blows - other more sheltered beaches, such as Nagos, can be found a little further along the coast.
On the north west coast a string of coves and beaches makes Limnos an appealing place to stay. This is a remote, quiet area over 40 kms from town, so largely avoids any weekend rush. Limnos has a couple of tavernas behind its sandy crescent of beach, and more can be found at the harbour of Limnia a 15 minute walk away. Between the two is the beach of Lefkathia. Limnia is the harbour for the attractive medieval hill village of Volissos 2 kms inland, topped by a crumbling Genoese fortress, which has tavernas of its own for a change of scene. There are some walking paths in the area.
Elsewhere on Chios there are monasteries (including UNESCO-listed Nea Moni with its wonderful mosaics ranked amongst the finest in Greece); many villages (64 in total); the beautifully fertile plain of Kampos, full of citrus trees and mansions; and much else to explore. However, as there are no organised tours, and the bus service (other than the beach runs from town) can be limited, we stress that car hire is the best way to make the most of this characterful, unique and beautiful island.