Islands, beaches, legends, food, Ouzo… what’s not to love about Greece. And we’re not complaining about the 300 days of guaranteed sunshine a year either.
Here are 10 reasons to visit the Ionian Islands of Greece.
1) The Ionian islands
The fourth largest island, Lefkada, is the wildest and most unspoilt, with splendid vistas of forested mountains tumbling into startling blue seas. At the foothills, Ai Nikitas is one of many pretty little resort villages.
Lefkada’s geological features are typical of the seven islands in Greece’s Ionian Sea – rocky cliffs, luxuriant vegetation, beguiling seascapes and the country’s most splendid beaches nestled in the rugged foothills on the west coast.
2) The best beaches in the world (maybe!)
Kathisma on the island of Lefkada is the best of a sublime bunch. Egremni, however, is not such a well-kept secret. Beach umbrellas dot the sand and hawkers sell drinks and counterfeit DVDs, while music pipes out from the bar by the beach wall.
Hazardous to swimmers, but the bomb for windsurfers, Vassiliki, the island’s southernmost resort, bustles with enthusiasts who revel in its northwesterly gales.
3) History and legend: The Greek gods
Visit the sun-stroked cape of Lefkada, where Aphrodite is said to have leapt into the deep blue to rid herself of the torment of unrequited love, encouraged by Apollo.
The cape was also an ancient site of human sacrifice, where criminals had feathers and birds tied to them to help their descent into the ocean depths. If the victims survived the plunge, their lives were spared.
4) Meet the friendly locals
The greenest island, Corfu dangles at the southern tip of Albania. The locals haven’t been hardened by the swathes of tourists who spill out of coaches into their gracious streets. In fact, they are astonishingly friendly.
5) Corfu Town
A beautiful city, Corfu Town was fortified in Byzantine times, developed by the Venetians, added to by the French, and then in the 18th century, the British unpacked civil engineering, cricket and ginger beer.
The town is defined by arcades, boulevards and squares, plus jutting up above rooftops are two fortifications, one of them, the Paleo Frourio, dating from the 6th century, is considered a masterpiece of military engineering.
6) Eating and drinking (Ouzo)
Sweet and savoury snacks are one of the distinctive pleasures of Greek food. Cheese and spinach pies, crispy pretzels (koulouria) and syrupy biscuits (voutimata) keep locals going in the hot sun. For something substantial, gyros made with thick doughy pita bread and lashings of tzatziki, are usually a given. For something lighter, tuck into a Greek salad.
There are two types of restaurant: the taverna and the estiatorio, the latter serves more hearty dishes, such as casseroles and stews.
For your ouzo fix, locate a kafenio, or coffee shop. Mix it with water until it turns milky white.
7) Melissani Cave
Hosting seaside resorts based around villages and ports, one of Kefalonia’s main attraction is the 30,000-year-old Melissani Cave. It’s a subterranean sea water lake that turns a brilliant turquoise when the sun pierces through an opening in the roof. You can take a boat through to an electrically lit chamber inside, where it is said there was once a shrine to Pan, the mythological companion of the nymphs.
8) Snorkelling in Antipaxi
For the clearest blue coves in the archipelago, the inimitable paradise of Antipaxi has some of the best snorkelling in Greece. Two coves collectively known as Agrapidhai provide the finest rock formations, and even during high season, there’s barely a soul around.
9) The Corfu trail
Ramblers will delight in a relatively new walking trail in Corfu, marking a 200km path traversing the entire island, starting from Cape Apsro Kavos in the south and ending at Agios Spyridon beach, next to Cape Agia Ekaterinis in the far north.
The marked path avoids roads and takes walkers across a variety of terrain, from beaches to peaks, giving a good taste of all Corfu has to offer.
10) Turtles, lizards, birds…
Corfu is also home to the 5km-long Korission lagoon, a playground of turtles, lizards and indigenous and migratory birds. Walk from the village of Linia via Issos beach, a largely deserted stretch of sand and dunes, to get there.
Essential information on the Ionian Islands
WHEN TO GO: In June and early September there’s fine weather minus the tourists.
GETTING THERE: Many charter flights land in Corfu, the nearest Greek island to the UK. Otherwise, fly to Athens and take internal flights to the islands’ airports. There are loads of package holiday options. Booking with smaller agencies will be more expensive but you’ll get better accommodation in the best areas.
GETTING AROUND: Island hopping isn’t as easy in the Ionian as it is in the Aegean, but regular ferries do circulate Lefkada and Kefalonia. Buses trundle up and down the islands: buy tickets on board.
VISAS: New Zealanders and Australians don’t need a visa. South Africans need a Schengen visa.
CURRENCY: Euro. 1 GBP = 1.15 EUR.
GOING OUT: A beer costs about €3-€5.
ACCOMMODATION: Privately let rooms, or dhomatia, cost €30-€40. A basic hotel room costs €26-€40 and camping costs €3.50-€5 per night.
FOR MORE INFO: www.visitgreece.gr
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Tags: Greece, Greek Islands, Ionian Islands, Lefkada, Kefalonia, Corfu, Greek food, Beaches, Snorkelling, Hiking, Accommodation