19 Reasons to Visit the Ionian Islands

Strewn along Greece's west coast, the Ionian islands are renowned for their spectacular natural beauty, emerald seas, and rich, cultural traditions.


Zakynthos

Hidden fjords

Forget the extremely dangerous Shipwreck (Navagio) Beach and dive into the crystal-clear waters of the hidden fjord-beaches in the northwest instead. The most well-known is Limnionas, which attracts crowds, but every swim is worth it, and you can also enjoy well-prepared dishes at the nearby taverna Porto Limnionas (Tel. (+30) 26957.720.72). The small beach of Stenitis will take your breath away, nestled in a narrow fjord on the sea route from Porto Vromi to Navagio. Emerald waters, rocks all around, and a tiny sandy beach in the background. Stenitis is accessible by car from the village of Maries, though a sturdy vehicle is required.

Local cuisine at its best

Ampelostrates (Koilomenos, Tel. (+30) 694.695.8790) is the place for perhaps the best traditional food on the island, with regular evenings of live jazz. Try the “tsigaridopitakia” (twisted pan-cooked pies with Peinirli dough and filled with cheese or wild greens), the fried bird liver with spicy local cheese, any of the dishes with eggs (and tomato, sujuk, or pastourma), the traditional “skordostoubi” (eggplant with garlic sauce and tomatoes), and all the meat dishes. It also boasts a selection of good local wines.

Exploring medieval villages

The medieval, stone-built villages of Louha and Gyri are the only ones that have remained standing after the numerous earthquakes that have struck the island over the years. Inhabited and vibrant, they preserve intact the rural architecture of the Ionian islands. After your stroll, cool off with a cold beer and meze at Babis’ wooden kiosk-canteen, at the entrance of Louha village, under the shade of the trees as you admire the view of the forest that extends to the plateau.

Handmade mortar for the finest “aliada”

The Ionian aliada (traditional garlic dip) is a delicacy that requires patience, experience, and the correct stone mortar, called “mourtari,” carved from local stone. The women of the island swear that this mortar is the reason for its incomparable taste. Mortars in various sizes (from large ones for aliada to tiny ones for grinding spices) can be found at the workshop Viotexnia Petras Dionysis Kladis (Tel. (+30) 26950.273.58, 697.464.6563), in Aghios Leon.

ITHAKI (ITHACA)

Sea and land excursions

Test your skills in summer sports and experience the mythical island of Odysseus in an immersive way. At Odyssey Outdoor Activities (Tel. (+30) 694.818.2655), you can receive training in scuba diving (for beginners and advanced divers), go sea kayaking and snorkelling, hike, or participate in excursions with a 4×4 vehicle to the area of the archaeological site of Agios Athanasios, known as the School of Homer, and other parts of northern Ithaki.

The value of simplicity

A little goat meat in a clay pot, cheese pie with kataifi (string) pastry, and homemade desserts with your coffee: at the café-grocery store (Tel. (+30) 26740.335.00) in the tranquil village of Anogi, everything is simple, especially Mrs. Sofia’s dishes. If you come in the evening, it would be best to make a reservation.

CORFU

In the south

Arkoudila Beach is located at the southern tip of the island, and perhaps that’s why it doesn’t attract as many people, despite its wild beauty, long expanse of fine sand, and crystal-clear waters. Choose it when all the other beaches are crowded.

Fish by the waves

In Alykes, close to the town on the way to the north, there’s a taverna called Psaraki (Tel. (+300 697.872.2437) right by the sea, which serves good food at honest prices. From sardines, anchovies, and other seafood dishes, to well-grilled meats.

The view from Angelokastro

Many overlook the existence of Angelokastro, this Byzantine castle near Paleokastritsa. Perched on a steep slope, in a strategic position, it played an important role as it monitored the sea routes and any hostile movements. It’s not well-preserved, but the ten-minute ascent is worth it just for the view.

The most delicious meat dishes

Locals go to Giannitsis grillhouse (Kastania Virou, Tel. (+30) 26610.464.21) for freshly grilled meats and the specialty, spit-roasted lamb with crackling skin. They also serve kokoretsi, kontosouvli, ribs, and other grilled delights.

KEFALONIA

Natural sculptures

Kefalonia has a rich geological heritage and many caves. Apart from Melissani, which usually monopolizes the interest of visitors, it’s also worth exploring others as well, such as the Drogarati limestone cave in Haliotata. It has a depth of 95m, a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius, and humidity approaching 90%. The stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and helictites create an unparalleled sculptural composition.

Warm waters and family swims

At the southernmost tip of Kefalonia, on the narrow peninsula formed between Skala and Kato Katelios, you will find Mounda Beach with its dark-colored, fine sandy beach and warm waters, which is ideal for families with young children. During the afternoon hours, when a breeze picks up, you may see kite surfers arriving, as it is a favorite spot for them.

Inventive flavors at Alaties Beach

 

In the northern part of Kefalonia, on Alaties Beach, you will find Alati All-Day Bar & Restaurant (Tel. (+30) 26740.416.85), a restaurant that loves seafood and creatively crafted Mediterranean cuisine. Among other dishes try the hammerhead shark ceviche, pickled bonito tartare, or mackerel with hummus. The best time is when the sun begins to set.

Dinner at a rural mansion from 1790

Just outside Argostoli, Mrs. Katerina Dima has set up the small George Molfetas Museum Hotel (Marinaki, Faraklata, Tel. (+30) 693.701.4758), to honor her ancestor, the satirical poet Molfetas. In the evenings she sets up long rectangular tables with linen and lace cloths topped with old serving dishes, and organizes feasts that, depending on the season, begin with “bakalaopites” (cod pies) and “sofegades” (traditional dish with meat and onions), and end with a dessert made from medlar fruit. 

KYTHIRA

Signature cocktails and homemade sweets

For 19 years, the atmospheric island-style bar Arachtopoleio (Tel. (+30) 697.708.1023) has been operating in Avlemonas. Overlooking boats and fishing caiques, owner and musician Stavros Stavrakakis plays world and ethnic music, while serving drinks and signature cocktails. In the afternoons you can also find the homemade sweets of Mrs. Tasia, which are simply irresistible.

High dives

Everyone knows Kaladi, the wild pebbly beach on the eastern side, protected by sharp rocks. Yet what many don’t know is that its most beautiful part is the third and smallest section, which you can access by passing through a small cave. A postcard-like setting, the large rock in the sea is perfect for high dives. 

LEFKADA

Unexpected privacy

In Lefkada during August, where the roads to the famous beaches can get crowded, take your canoe and discover beaches just for you. Along the dramatic western coastline dotted with sheer cliffs, there are many small secluded sandy parts next to more cosmopolitan beaches like Kathisma. Just don’t attempt it if the sea is rough; this coastal area can be particularly dangerous.

In the mountains

Get away from the touristy beaches and explore mountainous Lefkada. Karya, the largest village on the island, has a large cool square where you will find Eleni’s great taverna (Tel. 6978-869630) with its home-cooked dishes: “karsaniki riganada” (toasted bread topped with tomatoes, onions, garlic, oregano, and olive oil) and cod, baby goat, and meatballs; all wonderfully delicious.

PAXI

Sunset at Erimitis

Erimitis Beach, located on the western side of the island, was formed in 2008 after a landslide. It is not serviced, so you’ll need to bring supplies. Avoid peak hours and prefer to watch the sunset from here, which paints the sea with incredible colors.



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