National Geographic Traveller (UK)

24 Greek mojitos

Beyond Chios’s famed mastic trees — their resin used to make the liqueur in a Greek mojito — the island is made for touring, its history everywhere to see


Greeks call the big, north-Aegean island of Chios ‘Myrovolos’ (‘fragrant’) for its citrus groves and wild herbs, but above all for the gum mastic trees that grow only here. Even on this island, they only flourish on the hills of the south; evergreen, with trunks that writhe like dancers at a bacchanali­a. In summer, the trees undergo the ‘needling’ that will make the trees weep ‘tears’ — the sweet resin that dries and hardens and has been prized since antiquity, used to treat stomach ailments, to make cosmetics, sweets and the liqueur in a Greek mojito, and as a varnish for paintings.

Mastic gum appears on UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity; its cultivatio­n supports around 5,000 families in the 24 Mastichoch­oria (‘mastic villages’), built by the island’s 14th-century Genoese rulers, who monopolise­d the mastic trade. Two of these are must-sees: Mesta, a walled, medieval time capsule, and spectacula­r Pyrgi, whose houses and churches are covered in black-and-white geometric designs. Near Pyrgi, you can visit the excellent indoor-outdoor Chios Mastic Museum and black Mavra Volia beach, near the ruins of the town of Emborios, which dates back to the eighth-century BC — the time of Homer. Islanders claim he was born here. Elsewhere on the island, the Genoese aristocrat­s generally lived in Kambos, which is another picturesqu­e corner.

Hire a bike to tour its narrow lanes, lined with centurieso­ld stone mansions, gardens, walled tangerine groves and wells with colourful water wheels. Some are now charming guesthouse­s, such as Mouzaliko (from £48, B&B) and Bella Cisterna (from £88, B&B).

Chios is made for touring. Don’t miss the Byzantine mosaics at 11th-century Nea Moni monastery (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the ghost town of Anavatos, abandoned since a massacre of the townsfolk by the Ottomans in 1822 (Eugène Delacroix’s famous painting of this, now in the Louvre Museum, rallied internatio­nal support for the Greek War of Independen­ce). ‘Craggy Chios’, as Homer called it, defines the north of the island — here, aim for the village of Volissos, with its medieval castle, high above beautiful Agia Markella Beach.

The lively capital, Chios Town, rebuilt after an earthquake in 1881, still has its Byzantine castle walls, as well as several museums and four seafront windmills. Just to the north, Vrontados is popular over Greek Easter, when rival churches bombard each other with homemade fireworks. mouzalikoh­ bellaciste­

 ?? ?? Mastic trees grow in a rocky area of southern Chios
Left: The unique mastic resin is used to make a liqueur for mojitos
Mastic trees grow in a rocky area of southern Chios Left: The unique mastic resin is used to make a liqueur for mojitos
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