Have you ever heard of mastichocoria or its resin? This plant, or more to trees, is actually scattered around the Mediterranean. However, the one kind that produces mastic resin grows only on the southern part of Chios, a Greek Island where some villages produce mastic.
I’ve never heard of mastic
So had I, but apparently this resin goes way, way back that it was mentioned by Herodotus in the fifth century B.C. The Romans chewed it to clean their teeth and freshen their breath, and the Ottomans exalted it as a spice. Furthermore, mastic has been the economic force and source of identity for this island for a long, long time.
Mastic cultivation began with the 14th-century arrival of the Genoese. They monopolized its trade and they built mastichochoria in a way that eventually became a maze of streets in order to fool raiders and signal attacks. Also, stealing mastic was considered a serious crime and to prevent that, the Genoese instituted night curfews for villagers.
The monopoly carried on as the Ottomans took over in the 16th century. It was centuries later in 1840 that mastic producers were finally allowed to trade independently. Less than a century later they joined forces to create the Chios Mastiha Growers Association (CMGA), a cooperative active to this day.
With changes that more often than not happen around us, mastic cultivation and production haven’t changed much after all these years. They both are still done around the 24 villages, beginning with tending to the soil, making shallow cuts in the bark for the mastic to seep from, and then it’s harvesting and cleaning.
Visiting Chios Island
In order to go here, it’s better if you take a short flight east from Athens on Olympic Air or take an overnight ferry from Piraeus to Chios town. To experience mastic production and cultivation fully, including witnessing the tree carving process and seeing mastic being cleaned, visit Chios from August to September and October to March.
If you want to see the historic part of mastic cultivation, start your trip with the Chios Mastic Museum, which offers an excellent overview of the mastic cultivation and production process. You can also look around the mastic trees and see the resin seeping out with your own eyes.
Once you’re done, you can go to Olympi, Mesta, and other villages to wander the streets and admire the churches. History, art, and architecture enthusiasts should go to Agioi Apostoli to see an example of a 13th century Byzantine architecture that features well-preserved 17th century frescos.
Feeling a little bit fancy? You should stay in a guesthouse in Kampos in order to get a feel for what aristocratic life was like on Chios during the Genoese period and beyond. This area is known for its high stone walls, mansions, and citrus gardens.
Now, once you’ve gone through a tour of this healing plant, it doesn’t hurt to visit underrated places in Greece. Forget Santorini and Mykonos, although it is undeniably pretty. Here are some places that are quite undervalued and you should definitely give them a try.
So have you been trying to find a place that’s just as beautiful and let’s say, Instagrammable, as Santorini but not as crowded? Then you should go to Kythnos. This island is the first stop on the Western Cyclades ferry route after you depart from Piraeus.
You can walk around by yourself, but it’s recommended to hire a guide for a leisurely tour that takes in the island’s healing thermal springs in the village of Loutra before checking out the whitewashed village of Messaria. The village is rife with stately mansions and domed cave houses.
Looking for a drink? Then you should stop by any one of the seaside tavernas around the island. Love beaches? Well you’re in luck, because Kythnos is home to wonderful beaches, including the long, sandy stretch known as Agios Dimitrios on the island’s south side.
Now, if you’re quite tired of Greece’s sea islands, then you should go to Lake Pamvotida and the town of Ioannina, which are about five hours northwest of Athens. This town is known for its amazing silversmiths and magnificent castle. Moreover, it has never ceased to be the oldest Byzantine fortress in all of Greece since 528 B.C.
Within a short walk of the lake, you can find Hotel Antique that’s decorated with Persian rugs and works by local artists. If you’re hungry and looking for a place to dine in, you can go to its popular restaurant called Mpoukia Mpoukia.
Located on a headland that stretches over the beautiful Lake Orestiada and surrounded by gorgeous limestone mountains, this city is probably one of the most underrated destinations in Greece.
Other than its location, this city is well-known for its amazing food, historic Byzantine churches, and nightlife. Usually those things attract visitors like a magnet, right? It’s quite baffling that international travelers rarely pay Kastoria a visit.
History lovers should definitely go to the Cave of the Dragon and Byzantine Museum of Kastoria in order to learn about the city’s history and culture. If you’ve tried ouzo, a type of Greek liquor, then you should try the local version called tsipouro.
Folegandros or Pholegandros
The landscape on the island is varied, including tall cliffs and a large cave. Interestingly, the capital of this island is built on the edge of a 200 meter high cliff. You can imagine the view that you’ll get.
There is a village called Chora, which is just northeast of Santorini, that has been referred to as the most beautiful town in the Cyclades. Moreover, this small island has also been called the most Greek of all of Cyclades’ southern part.
The catch is that most of the island’s beaches are accessible only by boat, but it’s going to be worth it, and there are local companies which offer tours to shuttle you to remote caves and coves. Perfect for people who don’t like mainstream holidays.
When you have extra money with you, stay in a luxe hotel called Anemi Hotel, which is only a short walk from gorgeous pebbled beach. There are also gorgeous infinity pool and high-design suites with private pools overlooking the sea. But if you’re on a budget, don’t sweat it! Folegandros is the home of some of the best beaches in Greece, and many of them are secluded or at least not that crowded.
For those of you who love hiking, then you can go to Katergo Beach and hike around there. Galifos Beach crystal clear water is going to take your breath away, and if you are looking for a beach with more humans, then you should go to Angali Beach (but be warned, summer months are busy here).