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A Day Trip to the Mastic Villages: Piryi, Mesta & Olimbi

The most interesting day trip on Hios is the excursion to the mastic villages in the southern part of the island, which offer some of the best examples of medieval town architecture in all of Greece. Mastic is a gum derived from the resin of the mastic tree, used in candies, paints, perfumes, and medicines. It was a source of great wealth for these towns in the Middle Ages, and it is still produced in small quantities. All the towns were originally fortified, with an outer wall formed by an unbroken line of houses with no doors and few windows facing out. You can see this distinctive plan at all three towns, although in Piryi and Olimbi, the original medieval village has been engulfed by more recent construction.

Piryi is known for a rare technique of geometric decoration used on buildings, known as ksisti. In the main square, this technique reaches a level of extraordinary virtuosity. The beautiful Ayioi Apostoli church and every available surface of every building are banded with horizontal decorations in a variety of motifs. At the town center is the tower for which the village was named, now mostly in ruins. It was originally the heart of the city's defenses, and a final place of refuge during sieges.

Mesta is the best-preserved medieval village on Hios, a maze of narrow streets and dark covered passages. The town has two fine churches, each unique on the island. Megas Taxiarchis, built in the 19th century, is one of the largest churches in Greece, and it was clearly built to impress. The arcaded porch, with its fine pebble terrace and bell tower, create a solemn and harmonious transition to the cathedral precinct. The other church in town, Paleos Taxiarchis, is located a few blocks below the main square. As the name suggests, this is the older of the two, built in the 14th century. The most notable feature here is the carved wooden iconostasis, whose surface is incised with miniature designs of unbelievable intricacy. If either church is closed, you can ask for the gatekeeper in the central square.

Olimbi is the least well known of the three. Though not as spectacular as Piryi, nor as intact as Mesta, it contains many medieval buildings. It has a central tower similar to that of Piryi, and stone vaults connect the houses.

Piryi is the closest of the three villages to Hios town, at 26km (16 miles); Olimbi and Mesta are within 10km (6 miles) of Piryi. The easiest way to see all three is by car. Taxis from Hios to Piryi cost about 25€. KTEL buses travel from Hios to Piryi eight times a day, and to Mesta five times a day. The bus to Piryi is 6€, and to Mesta 7€.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.