Though strung out along the turquoise-blue waters of the seas on the other side of Greece from where LBW sail away on our bucket-list-busting YachtLife Med trips, the Ionian islands remain one of the most beautiful archipelagos going. Lands of sparkling white sands and olive-dressed backcountry, whitewashed fishing towns and craggy cliffs punctuated by shipwrecks of centuries gone by, there’s little wonder so many travelers make a beeline to their shores each year. Perhaps you’d like to extend your time in the land of ancient temples and sun-splashed beaches for a jaunt through one of these gems…
Big and brilliant Kefalonia is a real Greek dream. Ringed by seas of aquamarine and sapphire, its rugged limestone cliffs soar to the clouds all around the coast, glimmering and glistening in a white that’s beaten only by the beaches of Lourdas, Myrtos and Sami below. Inland, and the rugged country rises to earthquake-cracked peaks at Mount Ainos, surrounded by clusters of the curious Kefalonian fir tree and sweet-smelling groves of eucalyptus. And then there are the villages: Poros with its charming Venetian homes; Fiskardo the pretty fishing town; Skala, where the mythical Melissani Cave echoes and glows in one thousand shades of blue. Sold yet?
You might know it as the party-mad 18-30s center of the Ionian isles. You may know it as the home of the much-photographed Navagio Beach (you know, the one with the awesome shipwreck right in the middle?). Or perhaps you know it as Zante, the onetime Italian exclave, where Venetian lighthouses punctuate the strips of tavernas and bars, and pizzas are just as ubiquitous as feta salads. Either way Zakynthos is likely to impress. The third-largest of the Ionian archipelago, it’s got coastal caves and hedonistic clubs, sleepy mountain towns and historic monasteries. Oh yea, and it’s one of the most accessible spots in the Greek islands, with oodles of budget carriers hitting the local airport.
With its sun-splashed beaches and sandbars around quiet Messonghi, the rugged, scrub-dressed northern hills, the azure bays and bobbing fishing boats of Benitses, the clifftop, fig-shrouded Old Perithia village, and the mountain peaks around Pantokrator, it’s hardly surprising that this dog-leg of an island in the northern Ionian continues to draw travelers of all shapes and sizes. Multicultural and multifaceted, this one’s bars burst with local ginger beer, pizzas influenced by Lecce issue from the taverna kitchens, luxury hotels but right up to the waters of the Med, walkers hit the trials of Aghii Deka, and shoppers search for olive oils and Greek trinkets amidst pretty little Gouvia. Nice.
Lefkada is a lesson in Greece’s favourite color scheme: white and blue (okay, and a dash of olive green for good measure). From the cliff-backed, chalk-white sands and stones of Porto Katsiki in the south (best accessed by boat) to the sky-blue bell towers of Agios Ilias deep in the heart of the inland mountains, the historic churches of Lefkada town to the bobbing yachts of Nydri, this one’s a true looker if there ever was one. And for those who want to rent a boat and take to the shimmering blue waters, everything from rugged Ithaka to wild Meganisi are in reach.
Kefalonia’s little brother remains something of an off-the-beaten-track enclave of the Ionian Sea. Famed as the mythical home of one hero Odysseus, the island of two halves, connected by the thin Aethos isthmus, comes covered in swathes of lemon and fig and olive trees (some said to be more than 1,500 years old!). The capital, Vathy, occupies a beautiful position around its very own horseshoe bay, while Stavros commands the inland hills of the north – a picture of rustic Greek island life. Hiking the coastal paths offers breathtaking views of the surrounding Ionian swells, while beach hopping is best done by boat (the best bays – cliff-backed Afales, shimmering white Gidaki – can only be reached over the waves!).
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"Rich is a traveler, writer and filmmaker who's always after somewhere new to go. He's been hopping around the globe since 2011, from Poland to Paris, Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh. He runs several travel sites of his own, from Ski Eastern to Live Krakow to Crabs Move Sideways. When he's not planning his next trip, he's usually listening to 50s jazz, surfing in Wales, skiing in the Alps, or just swigging (too much) great craft beer."
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