Imagine a palette of ever-changing blues and greens, dotted with jewels of emerald and sapphire. Welcome to the Ionian Islands, a chain of isles off the west coast of Greece that combines Italian flair, Parisian style and unmistakably Greek hospitality.
From cosmopolitan Corfu to beach-blessed Zakynthos and Kefalonia, destinations whose glowing reputations precede them but with stories still untold: film-set architecture, the nesting site of the caretta caretta sea turtle and award-winning wine-makers. And then on to the hidden gems of Paxi and Meganisi, the watersports of Lefkada and the poetic beauty of Ithaca.
Embarkation in Athens. Swimming in Aegina & overnight to Epidavros ancient city. Passage through unique Corinth Canal – Galaxidi beach – Zakynthos – Fiscardo in Kefalonia – Ithaki – Lefkada – Meganisi ‐ Preveza –Antipaxoi – Paxoi – Corfu.
The southernmost island of the Ionian, almost triangular in shape, owes its name to the son of Dardanos, the King of Troy who according to myth built the first city there (Homer’s Iliad). The endangered sea turtle “Caretta ‐ Caretta” has chosen the sandy beaches of Laganas, Vassilikos and Gerakas to lay her eggs there. It is not easy to forget the emerald sea, the pine covered hills, or the hospitable and openhearted inhabitants of Zante, as it is otherwise called. Churches are everywhere in the city of St. Dionysus, the island’s patron saint. Small coffee shops and picturesque villages are to be found among the olive and almond trees, in or around fields planted with vines and vegetables.
Zakinthos has many fine sandy beaches with calm and clear waters but Laganas is the most famous. At night, there’s bound to be a “mandinades” session ‐ folk songs with local accompanied by local music ‐ underneath a typical balcony.
The largest of the Ionian Islands. Green rocks plunge suddenly into the deep blue waters. Kefalonia has been justly called the island of contrasts: Romans, Venetian and Byzantize ruins, side by side with famous beaches. The capital Argostoli is where the sea pours into spectacular swallow holes (Katavothres) and disappears endlessly into subterranean tunnels forming a rare geological phenomenon.
The water reappears at Lake Melissani, an incredible semi‐underground lake of clear turquoise and indigo water. Nearby is the Drogarati cave, a large stalagmitic cavern of rare beauty. To the north is located the small village of Fiskardo, and its pretty harbour, that has escaped the earthquakes and retains the old style buildings. On the east side of the island are Poros, Sami and Agia Efimia with its pebbled beach.
The eastern side of the island has dense vegetation and smooth shores. On the west, the coast is steep though there are many long sandy beaches. But the sea everywhere is that deep blue. Lefkas is a distinguished island with its impressive Venetian Castle and the Monastery of Phaneromeni. The capital town is a picturesque and quiet place with its characteristic multi‐coloured wooden houses. Villages built next to the sea. Excursions through the forests to the many sights, such as the ruins of the prehistoric city and the circular tombs. Scenic fishing villages on the western‐ pebbled shores lapped by the crystal clear sea.
Preveza is a commercial port, which “guards” the entrance to the Amvrakic Gulf. This uniquely beautiful town is close to ancient Nikopolis (1st century B.C.) built by Octavian to commemorate his victory over Antony in the Battle of Actium. The ruins are well worth a visit: a large theatre, a villa and the city walls are well preserved and a small museum houses an interesting collection of artifacts.
It is 12 nautical miles southeast of Lefkas. According to historians, Meganissi has been settled since Homer’s time. It has three villages, sea caves, wonderful sandy beaches and clean waters.
Ithaca is known to the world as being Odysseys’ homeland. Its enchanting coves turn it into paradise on earth despite its small size and mountainous nature. The west side of the island is steep and bare in contrast with the east, which is verdant and slopes gently down to the sea. The island is open to strolls and explorations: remains of the Venetian prisons, right at the entrance of the harbour and historical monuments, which survived the earthquake of 1953.
The visitor can visit the medieval Monastery of the Archangels (Taxiarhon) and the wonderful caves (the cave of the Nymphs) of the island that are just begging to be explored. Green Ithaca is a much‐loved place, with scenic beaches, sleepy little villages, and an ideal spot for an unforgettable vacation.