283km (153 nautical miles) NE of Piraeus

"Craggy Hios," as Homer dubbed it -- and he should know, as this is said to be his native home -- remains relatively unspoiled, and that's why I continue to recommend it. Those seeking just to relax will find the black-pebble beaches on the southeast coast of the island well attended, but white-sand beaches on the west coast see far fewer people. The majestic mountain setting of Nea Moni -- an 11th-century Byzantine monastery in the center of the island -- and the extraordinary mosaics of its chapel make for an unforgettable visit. The mastic villages on the island's south side are among the most unusual medieval towns in Greece; the towns get their names from tree resin used in chewing gum, paints, and perfumes that grow nowhere else in the world.

The paralia of Hios town is likely to be your first glimpse of the island, and admittedly, it isn't an especially appealing sight -- modern buildings and generic cafes have taken over what must once have been a fine harbor. Thankfully, a few pockets of the original town farther inland have survived earthquakes, wars, and neglect. The kastro, the mosque on the main square, the mansions of Kampos, and the occasional grand gateway (often leading nowhere) are among the signs of a more prosperous and architecturally harmonious past.