A trip to the Ionian Islands: my travel guide

Far from the madding crowds, preserved from mass-tourism, green and wild, the Ionian islands on the west coast of Greece (Aegean sea) are much less famous than the Cyclades but definitely worth the visit.

Wild, unpolished and full of charm, it attracts a very different kind of tourism, more eco-friendly, willing to get off the beaten tracks.

These seven islands (Corfu, Cephalonia, Lefkada, Zante, Thanka, Kythira and Paxos.), which run from the bottom of the Adriatic to the Peloponnese, are amongst the greenest in Greece, studded with olive groves and vineyards. On this side of the sea, you won’t find the usual « postcard » image of white and blue greek houses, the influence is mainly Italian, the archipelago was a under Venetian rule for centuries, and even under British protectorate during the 19th century.

Kephalonia, which was the setting for the novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, is the largest Ionian island and attracts numerous tourists each year, mostly familes and a young party crowd.

Corfu is the 2nd largest of them, the island has been described since the ancient greeks as the Emerald Isle, a beautiful and rich land all this is due to the lush green hills, towering mountains, clear blue seas, pure white sands, endless olive groves and colourful wild flowers. I loved exploring Corfu Town, is the perfect 1 day-trip: the enchanting pastel-hued Venetian-era mansions, the medieval fortress, the excellent cheap local cuisine … It has a feel of Paris and Venice, with a mediterranean chaotic charm.

Corfu in pictures:

 

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Lefkada is much less touristy, perhaps because it sometimes feels like part of the mainland (it is connected by a bridge). It still manages to sport great beaches – some claim they are the Ionian’s best.

Ithaka lacks the stunning sands of some of the other Ionian islands. The upside of this is that it also lacks the overdevelopment. The island does boast some great hiking trails, and the association with Homer’s Odyssey adds to the romance.

Zante is the most southerly of all the Ionians Island and is home to one the world’s most iconic beach: the Shipwreck Beach.

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Zante’s island Shipwreck beach

 

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the original Greek salad!

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Chilling out after the beach with a cocktail

 

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Kitties are always around in Greece🙂

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I stayed in Paxos, the smallest of the Ionian Islands, lying just 11 km from the southernmost tip of Corfu. Paxos is reachable by a 50 mns ferry boat journey from Corfu. It’s tiny, but surely has a taste of Paradise: the island is covered by centuries old olive grove, small vineyards and a multitude of wild flowers and bushes. In spring, the air smells of Jasmine and Neroli… In Paxos there are no resorts, not even an hotel, you have to rent a house/ appartment ( Airbnb is a very popular option). Given it’s small superficy, the island is easily explored in 1 day but its surreal beauty and the friendlisness of the locals make you want to stay much longer and Paxos boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece, some of them are pebbles but all of the most incredibly clear waters…

Serenity is the word that comes to mind instantly when thinking of Paxos, and is surely the reason why tourists always come back!

Paxos in pictures:

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Lunch behind the jasmine trees…

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All above: pictures of the pretty port of Loggos in Paxos

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The crystal clear waters in Paxos and sister siland Anti Paxos

 

Where to stay:

Corfu: hotel Siorria Vittoria

Kefalonia: Hotel thalassa: http://www.thalassahotel.gr/

Lefkada: hotel  San Nicolas http://sannicolas.gr/ or hotel Aigli: http://www.theaigli.gr/

Ithaca: hotel Emelisse www.mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/emelisse-hotel

Zante:  hotel Pension Limni pansionlimni.com,

Since tourism is not so developped in the Ionian Islands, a safe choice is to rent a  house or flat:

For appartment or house rentals in the Ionian Islands : ionian-villas.co.uk or thethinkingtraveller (more chic and much more expensive but very stylish) and Airbnb for cheaper rentals

 

Where to eat:

Paxos and Anti Paxos : La Rosa di Corfu: excellent fresh fish and sea food, adorable staff. Bella Vista: tavern on the Carribean like Vrika beach

Corfu: Taverna Ninos /Cavalieri Hotel’s Roof GardenEtrusco/ Taverna Tripa

Kefalonia: Kiani Akti restaurant / Il Famiglia

Lefkada: Panorama restaurant

Zante:  Arekia / Nobelos Bio

What to do:

  • snorkelling
  • scuba diving
  • sailing
  • water caves
  • hiking
  • trekking and hikking especially in Ithaka
  • birds watching

How to get there:

Corfu airport has connections with most international airports in Europe. Flights from Athens to Corfu run every day on Aegean Airlines.

Corfu, Kefalonia and Lefkada have their own airport, getting to Paxos by ferry boat from Corfu port. (Kamelia Lines ferries / approx. 90 mns/ 15€)