My friend and I booked a last-minute Black Sea cruise with Princess Cruise Lines and worked feverishly on booking our excursions. We were a bit worried when our options for the cruise port in Khios, Greece, only returned three choices. Not being familiar with it made it hard to narrow down a tour. Fortunately, we picked a good one. We chose the Nea Moni Monastery & Avgonima four-hour tour that took us to see the most picturesque scenery imaginable.
Along with our tour group, Jo and I boarded a motorcoach for the 35-minute drive from the port to the semi-fortified Medieval hillside village of Avgonima. We snaked our way up, windy hills with roads that were surprisingly in good condition. The most interesting terrain was partially dead from a devastating fire but held hundreds of years of history. White dusted mountain tops were dotted with thick pine trees, olive trees, and jagged rocks.
As we arrived in Avgonima, one single resident population, we exited the bus and climbed the rocky platforms. Our view was the hillside village’s deserted remains, with each house offering one tiny window and a small door. The views of the canyons and roads below seemed miles apart. They were a visual delight amidst a vast pine forest.
The Aegean Sea could be seen from the Western side. A local artist sold paintings to tourists. A small coffee shop was open, where we purchased drinks and sweets. Avgonima was so old!
Monasteries and UNESCO Sites
The bus stopped for another photo-op at a second village, Anavatos, built entirely of local stone. Our tour guide encouraged us to eat from the pomegranate and fig trees as it is acceptable here. We did not hesitate.
Back on the bus, we continued to twist and turn around the mountains another 15 minutes to arrive at the Nea Moni Monastery. Nea Moni is a UNESCO World Heritage Site from the 11th century.
This most interesting monastery could be recognized by its examples of Byzantine Renaissance Art, the red and gold mosaics. The church was adorned with scenes from the Bible as well as portraits of saints.
We learned that the earthquake of 1881 damned many. A startling fact was that after siding against the Ottomans, forces were sent into Khios to make examples of them, and slaughtered nearly all of the population. Thinking they were safe in the monastery, the monks did not prepare for invasion. The Ottomans entered and massacred the majority of its dwellers. A glass front bookcase stood in the church holding the skulls of many of the fallen, a sad reminder and frightful heirloom.
A Little Bit About Khios
Khios (often spelled Chios) is pronounced with a silent “k” and is located only 5 miles off Turkey’s coast. It is a place known for excellence in metalworking, mastic gum, and figs, and claims to be the birthplace of the famous poet, Homer.
The process of tending to the mastic trees (Lentisk trees) was described on our tour and how expensive an export it is. Mastic is one of the prime ingredients in chewing gum, but also widespread in stomach digestion aids and face tightening and whitening skin creams. We sampled mastic at an herb store in Athens. I found it to be like chewing wax, flavorless and a bit hard to chew.
An Amazing Cruise Port
Our tour guide, Stevie, was incredibly knowledgeable about Khios. She offered fun facts, as well as a valuable history lesson. Stevie did not just fill space talking about worthless information, and her voice was clear and concise, which was much appreciated by her audience. Princess Cruise Lines did an excellent job organizing this tour as it provided was much more unique than other tours on this itinerary.
Slightly outside of the cruise port (you must be tendered over to the shore in smaller boats) was 1/2 mile strip of shopping and dining establishments. The water was extremely rough on the tender, and many passengers looked ill.
Note: Though the Khios excursion says there are uneven steps to the monastery, the hikes up the hills at both villages were far more strenuous than the climb up to the monastery. I recommend wearing tennis shoes. Even though no photography signs were posted, our tour guide permitted us to take pictures inside without a flash.
Khios is a place that I am glad I visited and loved learning about It isn’t often that you get to see something or someplace so special as this historic region. This Black Sea cruise is turning out to be one of my favorites ever.