The temperate climate; the deep and cool sea waters; the mountains; the lush vegetation; the cultural heritage; and the cheerfulness of the inhabitants, make the Ionian Islands the ideal place for a holiday as well as rest and relaxation.
What is more, the traits of the Ionian Islands are perfectly combined with a flawless tourism infrastructure, excellent hotel accommodations, restaurants, diving centers, sea sports, cultural events, and a multitude of sights, historic monuments and museums worth visiting.
Scattered along the western coastline of Central Greece, the Ionian Islands as they are known, are an island cluster comprising twelve small and large islands whose total surface area comes to 2,200 square kilometers. Zakynthos, Ithaca, Corfu (Kerkyra), Kefalonia, Lefkada, and Paxi are the six, large Ionian Islands. Antipaxi, Erikousa, Mathraki, Othoni, Meganisi and the deserted islets of Strofades south of Zakynthos are the smaller Ionian Islands.
Together with the island of Kythira and the neighboring Antikythira the islands form the island cluster of Eptanisa. Nevertheless it should be noted that Kythira and Antikythira are completely cut off from the rest of the Ionian islands situated as they are across southern Peloponnese and the coast of Laconia.
Once, the Ionian Islands were part of Central Greece but were torn apart when the terrain sank due to the seismic activity along the great coastline fault of the Ionian Sea. This accounts not only for the ragged shores and hauntingly beautiful beaches but it also accounts for the islands’ tall mountains, once part of the Pindos mountain range which crosses Central Greece. It also accounts for the great depth of the waters in the area which, at 4,406 meters, is the greatest in the Mediterranean.
The Ionian islands have a mild and temperate climate which makes them the ideal location for vacation or residence. In winter, the mountains of Central Greece stop the cold northern winds from reaching the islands while, in summer, the heat is tempered by the meltemia, the soft, northwestern winds, and the sea breezes. Due to the air currents prevalent on the Ionian islands, many of the island beaches have developed into internationally acclaimed windsurfing centers.
The Ionian Islands have been inhabited since Paleolithic times, have been through many invasions, and have received the influence of a variety of cultures.
The Ionian Islands were part of the Byzantine Empire until1204 when the Franks took over Constantinople and the Ionian Islands were eventually ceded to the Venetians. Under Venetian rule, the Ionian Islands formed their own local nobility whose register survived as late as the 19th century.
From the time of Frankish rule until 1864 when they were joined with Greece, the Ionian Islands were also ruled by a number of foreign conquerors. The presence of the Europeans on the Ionian Islands at a time when Greece was still under Ottoman rule gave rise to significant intellectual activity something that is still visible today both in the islands’ architectural tradition as well as their charming cultural traits.
“Keep Ithaca always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for” Cavafy, Ithaca, translated by Edmund Keely/Philip Sherrard
When Odysseus set off for glorious days in Troy, his beloved wife, Penelope, was left alone to unwittingly excite the appetite of men for a gorgeous queen. Before long, the palace was brimful of odious suitors who would flirt with the queen persistently. What is more, they made Penelope promise she would marry one of them. To keep them at bay, she came up with a devise: she promised she would come to a wedding with the best of them when she would have finished weaving a shroud. So, she spent the daytime weaving it and the nighttime unweaving it. Thus doing, she managed to stay clear of the suitors for 20 whole years, until Odysseus returned to Ithaca.
“Keep Ithaca always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for” Cavafy, Ithaca, translated by Edmund Keely/Philip Sherrard
Worldwide famous as the home of Odysseus, Ithaca symbolises the return to the haven, the discovery and the fulfillment. Despite its proximity to Kefalonia (Cephalonia) (2km northeast) it is much more peaceful, quiet and undiscovered from it, thus being an ideal place for alternative activities and a holiday living up to the standards of the most demanding ones amongst us. With its 27-kilometre long and 6.5-kilometre large mountainous surface, it boasts plenty of hiking as well as mountain bike trails in a sequence of blue and green alongside the coast and through olive, cypress, pine, oak, arbutus and carob trees up on the hills. Scuba diving and sea kayaking are some of the options too, while the Cave of the Nymph will give you the chance to combine an exciting visit with a myth: Odysseus had hidden there the gifts he had brought along from the land of the Phaeacians.
The beach lovers will take pleasure in a multitude of choices covering all tastes, from sand to pebbles, from rocky to green-clad backgrounds, from peaceful to busy ones. Some of them are: Lootsa, Filiatró, Sarakínniko, Dexá, Minnímata, Yidáki, Aetós, Áspros Yalós, Afáles, Kourvoólia.
The 3.000-odd inhabitants of the island reside in some of the following villages:
Vathý: Marked by the features of the local architecture, it is the capital of the island and home to the Maritime and Folkloric Museum as well as to the Archaeological Museum of Ithaca. Vathý is built on a bay the center of which is decorated by the tiny little island of Lazarétto, a former sanatorium and prison. Perahóri: A gorgeous scenic little village with a breathtaking view over the island. Built at the edge of the Afentikós Lógos forest, it is the perfect starting point for walks by medieval ruins in the oaks. Stavrós: Situated on the north of the island, this village hosts another Archaeological Museum, known for the clay mask of the 1st century A.C. writing “ΕΥΧΗΝ ΟΔΥΣΣΕΙ” (= “a wish for Odysseus” in Ancient Greek). Anoyí: A must of a visit thanks to the upright stones of the area (menhirs) the tallest of which goes as high as 8 metres.
This lush green island with breathtaking beaches and crystal clear waters of greenish-blue colours will leave you speechless. Kefalonia glows in the Ionian Sea and carries a rich history in cultural tradition. It’s the biggest Ionian Island and the green of its mountains blend with the blue of the water making it truly unique and a beloved destination. Pine, cypress and olive trees cover Mt. Ainos’ peak, while at its foot you’ll encounter vineyards where the popular Kefalonian Robolawine variety is produced.
If you happen to love snorkeling or diving then the island’s amazing seabed will definitely satisfy you. You might even get the chance to encounter the rare, caretta caretta, sea turtles that take refuge here, as well as the monk seals monachus monachus. Kefalonia’s culinary tradition, history, picturesque villages, upbeat nightlife and pristine beaches will make you fall in love with the island.
The biggest town of the island and the live capital of the island is Argostoli, a town built amphitheatrically, with intense city life and active, full of various types of entertainment: shops for every taste, coffee to relax, bars and beaches nearby. Although Argostoli was totally ruined by the earthquake dated since 1953, there are still sites that depict the old venetian architecture. You can see the oldtownKrani with the CyclopeanWalls, you can walk on the pedestrian street, where if you have the opportunity you may encounter the localphilharmonicorchestraplaying traditional ioniansongs; you can complete your promenade strolling through the dock. The Archaeological Museum with findings from areas of the island and the Korgialeneios Library with a rare collection of books and manuscripts that operates as folklore museum are of great interest. If you enjoy night life, you can find clubs where you can stay until dawn.
The westernmost of the two peninsulas of Kefalonia is the one of Paliki; the peninsula of Paliki is situated there that despite the great shock since the earthquake of 1953 it was rebuilt, taking into account traditional architecture. It is the second greatest town of the island, however it is a peaceful town that is offered for relaxation.You can enjoy your coffee, your pastry sweets and the local cuisine at the port, at the square with the famous ficus plant and whatever site draws your attention. Pass by the manor of the Typaldon-Iakovaton brothers built in 1866, which use to house the Iakovateio Library, but due to the 2014 eathquake the building suffered damage and is for the moment closed. It use to be home to 25,000 books and a small museum at the 1st floor where three Christian parchments of the 10th, 14th and 15th century, old furniture, sacred vessels and vestments were on display. Visit the KipouriaMonastery where you can enjoy one of the most breathtakingsunsets on the island.
Fiscardo survived the destructive earthquake of 1953. Most of the buildings preserve their traditional local colour that travels you back in time: Grand mansions with elegant balconies, old two-storey houses, the dark red of roof tiles, the greenish of mountainsides, the blue of the sea and the overall scenery is enchanting. The Greek poet that wrote poetry about the sea, Nikos Kavvadias, comes from this picturesque residential area.
The cave lake of Melissani
The cave lake of Melissani is one of the most impressive sights of Kefalonia, a unique moment of nature, a fascinating heavenly scenery. It is situated in Karavomylos, an area close to Sami town. Melissani was discovered in 1951 and after certain constructions in order to be accessible has become one of the most famous tourist destinations. The uniqueness of the landscape is owed to a great part of the roof that has collapsed; during the day when the sun is high and the sunshine drops on the lake it makes the light blue waters shine giving a calming feeling.
At the north part of the island, picturesque Assos is built alongside of the cliffs of the same peninsula, among pine trees and cypresses. Sparsely built with traditional color, in an impressive landscape, Assos fascinates with the peace and simplicity it depicts. Apart from the wonderful waters of Assos peninsula, nearby lies Myrtos beach (awarded with the blue flag) and many small bays that wait for you to discover them.
The most passionate mention it as the most wonderful village of the Balkan area. The vilage is called Kourkoumelata and lies at the southwest part of the island. The earthquake of 1953 ruined Kourkoumelata, as it ruined most areas of the island, however, the way that this residential area was rebuilt is the feature that makes it stand out. This resettlement has occurred abiding by both to modern rules of city planning, and to the preservation of neo-classic features.
The mountain that prevails in Kefalonia is Ainos, whose peak reaches 1628 meters, and is the only national park situated on a Greek Island. In this area grows the tree fir that is native in Kefalonia with its black leaves that gives an impressive and particular black color to the mountain. In the cliffs of the mountain you will also see small wild horses. The mountain is ideal for excursions in the verdant nature and for hiking with paths of various levels of difficulty.
Kefalonian cuisine is renowned and familiar. The island produces yellow cheeses, feta cheese, olive oil, honey and processed local meats. It also holds a large number of delicious local recipes; native “recettes”, cookbooks that were given from one generation to the next. You must try the famous meat pie, the lagoto dish that is cooked with rabbit and sofigado dish with goat. You should not miss the cod pie filled with salted cod fish and skordalia (a garlic sauce) made of boiled potatoes in cod’s broth with lemon or vinegar. You must also taste strapatsada (scrambled cooked eggs with tomatoes) and tsigaridia (greens cooked with tomato sauce), and traditional sweets, such as mandoles (almonds assorted with sugar) and pastokydono (a sweet made of quince puree). You should not fail to try Robola, the famous wine of Kefalonia, a dry wine that you can easily enjoy.
Zákynthos (Zante) is a verdant island endowed with fertile valleys and a temperate climate (area: 406 sq. km; coastline: 123 km). Its landscape diversity has resulted in different types of beaches: there are sandy beaches in secluded coves where the tranquil waters are deep blue on the island’s southeastern part; yet, if rugged cliffs and an interesting underwater world are to your liking, try the western part of the island.
The Venetians, who ruled Zákynthos from 1484 to 1797, called the island “Fioro di Levante” (flower of the East) as there are over 7,000 species of flowers on Zákynthos. The third largest island of the Ionian Sea, after Corfu and Kefaloniá, is internationally known as “Zante”. Zákynthos is said to have been the island’s first inhabitant and the ancient acropolis is attributed to him. He was the son of Dardanos who ruled the ancient kingdom of Frigia. A Venetian fort was built at later times on the site.
The Venetian architectural influence has left its stamp on Zante despite the damage sustained due to the seismic activity in the area. After the ravaging 1953 earthquake and the ensuing fire, a number of historical buildings and churches burned to the ground. Consequently, the significant treasures these buildings were housing perished. The town was rebuilt according to a plan where strict anti-seismic specifications applied and, to a large extent, respecting the town’s former architectural structure.
On Zante, great care is taken to protect two endangered animal species, namely the caretta aretta sea turtle and the monachus monachus seal.
The city of Zakynthos is the capital of the island and at the same time the island’s port.
Take a tour around the city and visit:
– The Solomos Square surrounded by buildings with characteristic traditional architectural features of the island, arch-shaped windows and arcades. The bust of D. Solomos national poet of Greece dominates in the centre. Here you can also find the Public Library (with 55.000 volumes), the Post-Byzantine Museum of Zante exhibiting treasures such as statues trimmed with gold, icons and art woodcuts.
– The Post- Byzantine Museum of Zante in Solomos square, exhibits treasures such as statues trimmed with gold, icons and art woodcuts.
– The coastal road known as Strata Marina (K. Lomvardou street), which is one of the most frequented part of the city, with cafes, bars and restaurants, from the Solomos Square up to the church of the patron-saint Aghios Dionysios.
– The Aghios Markos square. Here, in 1797, the revolutionaries (popolaroi) burnt the Libro d’ Oro and planted the tree of freedom. This paved square is the main meeting point for locals and visitors. Here, you will find the Museum of Solomos, Kalvos and Eminent Zakynthians which also hosts the bust of the Greek national poet, created by Georgios Broutos in 1902.
– Rouga: Its name is Alexandros Romas street, starting at Aghios Markos Square crossing almost the whole town. This street with the impressive arcades has been the main commercial center of the city for centuries.
– The Venetian Castle situated on a hill overhanging the town in the place of the old acropolis named Psofis.
– The Stranis hill, 2 km away from the town, offering a great view. Here, the poet Dionysios Solomos inspired the ‘Hymn to Liberty’ (later the Greek national anthem) and the “Free Besieged” attending the siege of the city of Messolonghi.
Visit also the remarkable churches of Zakynthos
– Aghios Nikolaos tou Molou (Solomou Square): a church of Renaissance order (17th century) with a belfry dating back to the Byzantine period. Aghios Dionysios lived here in 1853.
– Aghios Dionysios (at the new pier of the port): where the relic of the patron-saint of the island is kept in a silver larnax.
– Aghios Markos (1516): The belfry of this catholic church situated at the Aghiou Markou Square is a copy of the one of Saint Mark’s basilica in Venice.
– Aghios Georgios: The army commanders Kolokotronis, Nikitaras, Fotomaras as well as other fighters of the 1821 Revolution took their vows on the icon which is kept in this church.
– Panaghia Pikardiotissa at the outskirts of the castle.
Zakynthos is famous for its cultural life.
Some of the famous cultural Events are:
Carnival: A traditional town crier goes around the island proclaiming the program of the Carnival festivities. On the last Sunday of the Carnival is the procession of the Carnival King. The festivities end with the “Mask Funeral”.
Litany and artistic events in the memory of Aghios Dionysios on August 24th and December 17th.
Easter: The Holy Week in Zakynthos has its own character with ancient customs and an exceptional rite as far as the religious ceremonies are concerned.
The celebration of Holy Week on Zakynthos Island is considered to be unique and unforgettable both for locals and visitors to the island. At noon, on Good Friday, crowds of worshippers take part in the procession of the Crucified through the town.
In the early hours of Holy Saturday morning and starting from the “Saint Nicolas” Cathedral Church the epitaph procession takes place in accordance with the local ancient custom, while the Bishop announces the Resurrection at sunrise.
At the first chime of the bell, the Bishop lets white doves free while from the bell tower clay vessels are thrown onto the road just as is done by all the inhabitants of the island out of their windows.
Cultural village of Europe for the year 2004, Paxi (or Paxoi) is the ideal island for a peaceful holiday. Fjord-shaped beaches, underwater caves, small bays and green hills welcome the lucky visitors. According to the legend, the island would be the southernmost tip of Corfu, if the God of the Sea, Poseidon, had not broken it off with his trident when he needed a god-deserving place to live his love with the Nereid Amphitrite.
Its capital and main port, Gaios (Gáios), is separated from its natural breakwater, the tiny island of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas), by a narrow channel, displaying one of the most beautiful port sceneries in Greece.
Not to be missed:
• the Venetian fortress of Agios Nikolaos • the English Governor’s House • the Paxi Museum and the churches and chapels of the area.
Visit the picturesque villages of Lóggos, Lákka and Oziás, tucked away in pine and olive trees. In the areas of Oziás, Yaná and Glyfáda, sulphur thermal springs offer an alternative treatment for rheumatics and other health conditions. Innumerable ravishing beaches await the fitter ones as a starting point for scuba diving into underwater caves and shipwrecks, and for top-notch windsurfing.
It sounds pretty interesting to walk through the vast olive groves inland. In the area of Magaziá, don’t forget to drop by the Olive Museum, once a traditional olive press. In the areas of Agia Eleoussa, Vlahopouliátika and Boycática look for the clusters of stone cisterns, carved on the rocks as rainwater collectors.
• caique-sailing around the island • exploring the islets around Paxi (Antipaxi) • visiting the extraordinary 40-odd sea caves with the majestic domes on the south coast of the island • hiking the old trails, among which we suggest the Mousmoúli-Porto Oziás and the Manessátika-Ypapantí ones.
To host a classical music festival runs in the family of the Ionian Islands, but Paxi take great pride in organising the following two. At the beginning and at the end of summer the island hosts internationally famous Greek and foreigner soloists, whereas in July the traditional festival of “Water and Oil” is held dedicated to folk music. To fully enjoy the celebration, visitors will sample here bread soaked in water, olives, onions, boiled potatoes and local wine.
Although a small island, it is endowed with outstanding beauty. The island of Antipaxoi (literally meaning “opposite Paxi”) lies at just 3 nautical miles from the port of Gaios.
Antipaxoi is famous for its renowned beaches, among which Voutoúmi, with its exotic turquoise waters, is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the world. But travellers will cherish the place as much as the wine. Apart from the traditional methods of producing wine of fine quality and other Greek varietals (the worldwide famous “mavrodáfni” is one of them), enhanced, biological cultivations transform the local wine into a product of high nutritional value.
Surrounded by two dozen islets, Lefkada connects to the Mainland of Greece by a floating pontoon bridge and a long causeway. The easily accessible island is a popular vacation destination, offering visitors an array of recreational, natural and cultural attractions.
The island’s west side has the best beaches while the windy south is a favorite spot for kite surfing and paragliding. The town of Lefkada features the island’s most interesting cultural institutions, which include the 12th-century fort Agia Mavra and the Charamogleious Eidiki Lefkadiaki Library.
The Archeological Museum features an impressive collection of artifacts dating from the Paleolithic Era to the 4th century A.D.
The best way to get around Corfu depends on where you spend most of your time. If you plan on staying in Corfu Town, your own two feet should suffice; although public buses are available should you grow weary. For those of you itching to explore, the most convenient way to get around will be by car or by moped. Although KTEL buses service most of the island, their schedules are often sporadic. They also don’t operate routes to the Corfu International Airport (CFU), so you’ll have to spend about €12 EUR ($16 USD) on a taxi. Once you’re in Corfu Town, you should have no trouble tracking down a car rental agency
A car will come in handy to spend time away from the main town. Rental agencies are located all over the island, with the majority congregated in Corfu Town. Although U.S. driver’s licenses have been known to work in the past, travel writers highly recommend obtaining an International Driver’s License, which can be acquired online before your trip.
This is another popular way to explore Corfu. But this option is really only advised for experienced riders; the island is notorious for its curvy narrow roads. Rental rates are reasonable — about €15 to €20 EUR ($20 to $26 USD) per day — but make sure the agency throws in a helmet.
Once you reach your destination, find a parking spot and leave the car behind. Village streets are often narrow and can be difficult to navigate. Plus, Corfu’s major towns and resort areas are relatively compact, making them easy (and enjoyable) to explore on foot.
When it comes to getting around Corfu Town — and into town from the airport or the harbor — a taxi is often your best bet. They can easily be hailed from the street. However, be aware that many drivers do not use their meter, so it’s a good idea to agree on a price before hopping into the cab. You can expect to pay around €15 EUR ($20 USD) for a ride into Corfu Town from the airport. Also, consider writing down the address of your destination to avoid any miscommunication.
Corfu Town is crawling with public buses that provide transport around town and its surrounding neighborhoods. Green and cream-colored KTEL buses offer transport from Corfu Town to destinations all over the island. However, experts say that bus services are often sporadic and that your best bet for getting around is by car or taxicab.