The Ionian Islands are among the most favorite of Greece’s 6,000 islands, famed as much for their startling beauty and year-round temperate climate as well as for their rich history. With their rugged shorelines, soaring mountains and deep Mediterranean blue waters, they owe their dramatic landscapes to the seismic activity that tore the islands from the mainland eons ago. Inhabited since the Paleolithic Era, the islands are filled with cultural attractions that let visitors peer into Greece’s historic and mythological past, and with such beautiful scenery, they’re also popular destinations for outdoor activities. Supported by a modern infrastructure, the Ionian Islands are ideal for those simply looking for rest and relaxation too.
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The northernmost and the most popular of the Ionian Islands, closely linked to the history and mythology of Ancient Greece. Also known as Kerkyra, Corfu has a tradition of tourism that dates back more than 130 years. The island where Odysseus stopped before returning to Ithaca is famed for its cultural institutions and for its picturesque beaches like the ones in Paleokastritsa. Corfu also reflects the diverse cultural and architectural influences of the many foreign empires that ruled it down through the centuries from Roman to Byzantine, Venetian, British and French. The Old Town of Corfu has some of the best historic sights, including the 15th-century Old Fortress and Spianada, a huge parade ground and park surrounded by stunning 19th-century architecture, such as the Saint Michael and George Palace.
Paxos and Antipaxos
Two of the smallest Ionian islands can be reached only by boat, which makes them a popular stopping point for yachts. In Paxos there are many gorgeous beaches to enjoy and the south coast features around 40 sea caves to explore. In the north is situated the classic Greek village of Lakka with its typical atmosphere. Gaios, the capital, is a nice village with shops and restaurants at the end of a stunning fiord. Just in front of Gaios it is worth to visit the ancient Venetian fortress on the small island of Agios Nikolaos. Antipaxos is a pristine island just few miles south of Paxos, the crystal waters and the wild nature resemble the Carribean!
This beautiful island is connected to the Mainland of Greece by a swing bridge and a long causeway. Following the channel, which is only 30 mt wide, it is possible to reach the town of Lefkada, where the island’s most interesting cultural institutions are situated, for example the 12th-century fort Agia Mavra and the Charamogleious Eidiki Lefkadiaki Library. In the bays of Sivota, Katsiki, Kalamitsi, Vasilliki, Aghio Nikitas, there are beautiful points where to stop and enjoy the clean beaches and the cute villages. In the “Internal Sea” we will explore the exclusive islands of Meganisi, Kalamos, Atokos, Skorpios, Kastos and many others.
This is a small island with lush greenery and blue green waters. It is located just opposite the port of Nydri in Lefkada. There are many small and magnificent beaches. Agios Ioannis, Spilia, Barbarezou and Fanari are the most frequented, while many other crystal coves around the island can be reached only by boat. The most picturesque villages of Meganisi are Vathy and Spartachori, nice port villages lined up with fish taverns and cafeterias. Some private yachts moor in Vathy in summer, giving to the place a cosmopolitan feeling. There are nice chapels and windmills scattered here and there, perfect for a lazy walk and taking beautiful photos.
Parga and Mourtos
Parga is a lovely town on the mainland with vivid island style. Lovely two-storey mansions with colorful walls are built on the slopes of the hill around the port and they create a picturesque atmosphere. On top of the hill above the port are the ruins of an old Venetian Castle. Valtos and Lichnos are the most beautiful beaches in the region. Mourtos and the small islands just in is front of the port make for a nice stop over after a visit of Parga going north. There is a nice anchorage and the possibility to visit the village for an exquisite dining.
Forever linked to Homer’s tale of Odysseus, Ithaka is considered the home island of the famous Greek hero. Some of the sights mentioned in the ancient folklore, including the Arethoussa Spring and Cave of the Nymphs, are within walking distance of the capital city of Vathy. The picturesque Vathy is also home to most of the island’s best cultural attractions too, including the Folklore and Maritime Museum, the Archaeological Museum and the cathedral of Panaghia, which boasts a Crucifixion icon believed to have been crafted by Spanish Renaissance painter El Greco. The rocky beaches around the island with turquise clear water are perfect for a swim .
Is the largest of the Ionians and one of the most scenic. Argostoli, the capital, stands like an amphitheater overlooking the Koutavous lagoon, a nature reserve that is both a stopping point for migratory birds and Loggerhead turtles. The Melissani Lake cavern (160 mt long) near the island’s main port, Sami, is a must-see natural attraction. Once a place of worship for the god Pan, the lake is fed by seawater flowing in underground from the opposite side of the island. Enclosed by mountains, Sami Beach is worth a visit as well as Myrtos Beach on the island’s west coast and Xi with its famous red send. In the north, Fiskardo is a lively port village, with a buzzing night life and lots of great restaurants.
The third largest of the Ionian islands is also known as Zante, it is renowned for its varied coastline, which ranges from rugged cliffs on the west coast and caves to the north to sheltered sandy beaches to the south and east. Beaches along the southern Vassilikos peninsula are some of the island’s most popular destinations, with the place where the turtles go to nest. A boat trip to view the Blue Caves on the northern tip of Cape Skinari is a can’t-miss activity. In the early morning the blue color of the sea is reflected in the cave’s overhanging arches.