Arriving in the Mastic Village of Pyrgi

When I think of Chios – I think of Masticha – the alcoholic drink that is. Ever since tasting it years ago I’ve really become accustomed to the sweet, aromatic taste of it. For the last couple of years when travelling to Greece we’ve treated ourselves to Masticha in the special edition bottles. If you’ve seen these you’ll know that the bottles were decorated in the geometric ‘xysta’ design that is seen on the houses in the medieval village of Pyrgi. Mastic Tears is actually made in a distillery in Lesvos – but don’t let that detract from the fact that it is a great Masticha! Thankfully we’ve been able to pick this up at most duty free outlets in several of Greece’s airports. So it was because of the alcoholic drink that an interest in Chios, and more specifically Pyrgi began.

I’d mentioned previously that although Chios has been on my bucket list for some time, it was never close enough to include in previous island hopping trips in the Northern Aegean. I always seemed to be going in the opposite direction. This trip has Chios right at the heart of it.

I’d already decided before arriving on Chios that I wanted to stay in Pyrgi village as opposed to doing it as a day trip. The problem was finding accommodation. My initial searches only brought up two places in the whole village.

By pure luck I was able to book a place called The Pounti for three nights. It had excellent reviews and it was located right in the heart of the village. I had messed up a bit in the planning in the fact that I’d booked the room from the Saturday. The buses from the green bus station don’t run at the weekend. By the way, I used the word ‘planning’ very loosely as this trip has definitely been made up as I go along!

Once I’d checked out of the Aegean Sea Rooms, I walked to the main square in Chios town and then to the taxi station. I spoke to one of the drivers to ask how much it would cost to go to Pyrgi. He shook his head to say ‘what are you talking about’. I asked again pronouncing Pyrgi how I thought it should be said (as in turkey) and still no flicker of recognition. I got out my phone and thumbed in Google Maps and showed him on the map. “Aaaaagh, Pyrgeeeeee” he said with a very strong and loud emphasis on the final ‘i’. I repeated the name as he said it but with an embellished flourish of my arm ending up with me standing on tiptoes as I reach the ‘eeeeeeeee’! Oh well, it made him laugh!

35€ to Pyrgi which is great. We arranged for him to pick me up at Aegean Sea Rooms at 1pm.

As I have a bit of time to kill I go to one of my two favourite cafe’s in town for bougatsa and tea. I alternate between Presto and Anthill – both off the main street of Aplotarias. They both do great bougatsa and they both make me feel very welcome. They also both even know what I want before I ask for it! Such a creature of habit!

I also go to the Maritime Museum. It had been closed during the week for some reason but re-opened today. I’ll do separate post about the museums that I’ve visited whilst being here.

Apart from the Kastro quarter, I love going to look at the quirky little shops by Filoxenia Hotel in Chios town. There’s the discount shops that sell a mish mash of things, the fish seller with baskets and trays of every type of fish and seafood you can imagine – and the smell of the sea that goes with it. The fruit and veg shop that has brightly coloured fruit displayed creatively, inviting you to come in buy. The pet shop you can hear before you see it with the little cages of birds crammed so tightly that they fight for space. (no comment). This quarter has a lovely old fashioned charm and is bustling with life. Around every corner there is a different smell, such as incense from the shop that sells religious icons and then the smell of hair products from the hairdresser’s set up in the back of a dress shop. There’s also a little old man who sits on the corner of a street selling herbs. I buy a bag of oregano. He pushes onto me another bag which looks and smells like mountain tea – a type of sage. I don’t particularly like it but I bought it anyway.

I’ve developed a real fondness for Chios town. I thought it would be a great place to stay for access to the bus station and the villages, but actually besides that, it has the feel of a village itself where everyone knows everyone else and I feel very at home here.

The morning soon passes and I head back to the hotel where I sit outside in their little café. Whilst I’m waiting for the taxi I see my hosts from Oinousses Despoina and Captain Margaritis – or rather they see me! What a lovely surprise. They cross the road to have a chat. Captain Margaritis asks me if the crossing from Oinousses to Psara was bumpy. I told him that it was OK but the crossing from Psara to Chios was worse! “Ah yes – the famous wind!” he says.

Although brief it was really nice to catch up with them again. It’s nice to be remembered in a strange place.

The taxi comes right on time and we head off in a Southerly direction to Pyrgi – or rather Pyrgeeeee! I had travelled this route before on the way to Mesta and had glimpsed Pyrgi through the window of a speeding bus. There is a supermarket and a pharmacy on the main road which is handy to know.

We arrive at the village and the taxi driver drops me in the main square. I have an address and Google Maps so thumb it into the phone. The directions take me down a side street from the square and tells me “You have arrived”. Well I’m outside what looks like a semi derelict house with no street name or house number. I don’t think this is it. I leave my suitcase in the street and have a wander about to see if there is a hidden alleyway somewhere. Well actually yes there are many hidden alleyways – many streets without street name and many houses without numbers. I need to ask for help.

I ask at what looks like the busiest cafe on the square, one that is populated by mainly young people. They haven’t heard of the place that I’m looking for and agree that Google Maps is pointing me to the house with the green door. I know this is wrong. I head around the other side of the square by the entrance to the church and ask in a cafe there – one that seems to be populated by mainly old men. Yes! A man in there knows exactly where it is and walks me to the street. We go to the left of the church and then take the second street on the left. Here the street has a name and the houses have numbers. Actually I wouldn’t call it a street. It’s more of an alleyway where the balconies of the houses almost touch each other. (a defensive strategy).

I don’t need to look for the number of the house because waiting in the street is my host Mr Costa. He greets me with an exuberant smile and handshake.

He opens the door to the house and I enter not really knowing what to expect. From the moment I walk through the doorway I’m just blown away. I honestly can’t believe what I’m seeing. The house is beautiful. Full of carefully curated antique pieces set against the stone walls and steps. It is clear that a lot of love and attention to detail has gone into turning this place into a beautiful boutique hotel.

To my left there are some stone steps leading down to a dining area which also has a small office space for the administration of the business. Office space is too grand a word for it. There is a small antique desk housed in a cave-like stone recess. At the back of this, is the kitchen where breakfast is usually prepared. Mr Costa’s wife Toula is currently in Athens. When I booked the room she messaged me to say that because she is away they won’t be able to provide me with breakfast – this really isn’t a problem at all. Mr Costa beckons me into the kitchen and says repeatedly “Papagalo”. I had an inkling what this means and sure enough sitting in a cage is a bright red and green parrot that he introduces me to as Fidelina. In Greek he tells me that she is named after Fidel Castro and Fidelina is his baby. He even shows me that he feeds her baby milk!

Up a couple of stones steps from the entrance is a small living area – again beautifully decorated and walls adorned with tasteful pieces of art. Up some more stones steps and through a wooden door I arrive at my room. There are just two rooms here and I am in room number one.

Mr Costa is a slight man but regardless, he insists on carrying my suitcase up to the room. This is a bit of a challenge as the walking space is all very tight. There are a couple of stone steps to navigate into the room. Ok they are stone steps but I’d describe them as rocks sticking out of the wall at various angles. “Siga Siga” Mr Costa tells me as we turn the tight corners. As I enter the room all I can say is “Wow!”

Again each of the antique pieces have been carefully chosen to complement this medieval old house. “Ela” Mr Costa beckons me and points up the steps. We climb the ancient stone staircase that spirals up towards a small covered terrace complete with hanging chair. A perfect place to come and relax. Mr Costa then leads me across the open terrace and climbs some wooden steps up onto another terrace that is covered in well tended plants and flowers. Mr Costa tells me in Greek and a little bit of French that he went to university in Thessaloniki to study agriculture. I think it’s clear that he has a talent and a love for gardening.

I think at this point that it is clear that Mr Costa speaks not much English and I not much Greek. Mr Costa speaks some French and I, un peu de school girl French. Between us with his Grench and my …… no that’s not going to work – anyway with the odd bit of Greek, marginally more French and gesticulation we have a good stab at communicating with each other.

Now I return to the task of sorting out my bags. I’ve decided that I’m going to live from the suitcase for the next three days that I’m here. Mainly because space is tight and secondly – well I can’t face the task of a complete re-pack again. Thank heavens for packing cubes.

I have to get some boring stuff out of the way so go to the supermarket to buy washing powder. It seems fully stocked with most essentials and even has an upstairs which is where I find the washing powder. When travelling for a while you need to keep on top of your washing or organisation can just go pear-shaped.

When I return to the square I size up the eating opportunities. There are several cafe’s on the square that does food such as pizza and burgers but I want a restaurant rather than a cafe. Above the cafe’s on the corner is a a restaurant called Mastixaki. It looks empty but I climb the steps and am greeted warmly by the staff.

I place an order for the house salad and the locally made pasta and a small bottle of Retsina. At some point during the meal, the chef comes out onto the terrace for a cigarette and we fall into conversation. I immediately detect his American accent and he introduces himself as Gus. Gus spent most of his childhood in America but came back to Pyrgi to look after his mum. (or “Mom”). He tells me that almost every family in Pyrgi will have a connection to the the USA. From what I’ve seen and heard I think that may apply to the rest of the island also.

My seat in the restaurant overlooks the square – and it is lively. When I’d arrived in the square earlier in the afternoon it felt quite quiet with not many people about, but now it’s very busy. It isn’t full of tourists but local people. By the church is the taverna where the old men sit and one one side of the square several elderly ladies sit on chairs in a group chatting. Under the shade of the trees in the middle of the square there are people of all ages hanging out, eating and drinking and there is a really vibrant feel to the place.

Gus tells me that Christopher Columbus lived in Pyrgi and he points out the house to me. There is a crest above the door which identified it as his. I will check this out tomorrow. He also told me that when you look at the houses, next to the front door is a larger metal door. This is where the farm animals used to be kept. Gus recollects travelling out to their (masticha) farm by donkey when he was a child. He asks me if I’ve heard of healing properties associated with mastic. From drinking the alcohol I know that it is classed as a digestive and is usually drunk after a meal to help with digestion. Gus tells me that the mastic oil is good for a whole range of conditions but in particular things like acid reflux and that he drinks it all the time. “Here” he says “Try some” and fetches out a large bottle of water and pours me a glass. “The mastic oil made here is very good. You just add 1-2 drops into a large bottle of water and drink throughout the day” he says. Gus says that the best place to get it is from Manos who has the tourist shop on the way to the exit to the village. “His family make the oil and it is much better quality than the factory made oil”.

That was a very interesting chat and good to get some inside information from a local. The meal was great too.

Back to my new abode, I do the necessary task of washing clothes by hand in hand basin and then climb the stone stairs to the roof to hand out the washing. In this heat it should be dry by morning.

The room does have air conditioning but I notice that there is a good through draft between the window that opens out onto the street and the window in the door that opens out into the open roofed stairwell (pounti or atrium). Medieval air conditioning I guess.

I’d mentioned that the houses were built close together. The neighbours across the way – and by the way I mean I can practically touch their balcony through my window – talk rather loudly. In French. At first it sounds like they’re having an argument however, the conversation is interjected with laughter and it seems to be a discussion about – heaven knows what – but it adds to the atmosphere of the village and the whole experience of staying here.

The large church on the square chimes at regular intervals and there is no mistaking what time of day or morning it is. It tells me it’s way past bedtime – especially if I want to get up early and begin to explore these old streets!

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  1. What a great find and all your posts whilst being on Chios have been so interesting, sounds a very special island and well done for getting there at last. I have also thought it’s just way out on it’s own to get there . Maybe I’ll think again 🤔

    1. Yes it was very special. Honestly you could spend a month on Chios and always find a new village or a new thing to see and do. Although island hopping is in my blood I would definitely come here again as part of a 1 stop place to visit.

  2. Really enjoying following your journey to Chios! Fascinating islands and adventures…it’s inspiring me to head out that way soon.

Let me know what you think. ❤

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