Ionian Islands: Mountains and the Meltemia

If you know Greece, you’ll recognise that the 12 Ionian Islands scattered along the west coast of Greece are a world apart from the rest of the country – not by their location, but by their unique culture, architecture and cuisine.

These islands have been influenced by the occupation of the Venetians, British and French. Zakynthos, Ithaca, Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkada, and Paxos are the six large Ionian Islands. Antipaxi, Erikousa, Mathraki, Othoni, Meganisi and the uninhabited islets of Strofades complete the set. Their mild climate, deep waters (the deepest in the Mediterranean) and the famous meltemia: the soft, northwestern winds and sea breeze, make the Ionian Islands ideal cruising territory.

From Zakynthos in the south to Corfu in the north, the islands are all lush and green, with towering mountains at their spine and horseshoe beaches fringing the water. Windsurfing and diving are par for the course here, while the beaches are still the biggest draw. Except on Ithaca, which lacks sandy beaches but makes up for that by having far fewer tourists and some excellent hiking trails.


Kefalonia is perhaps the best known of the family, since the best-selling novel, and later film, Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Don’t miss Melissani Cave which was named after a nymph who, as the story goes, drowned herself here when she realized that the god Pan did not return her affections. The cave has two lake-filled chambers, one with a collapsed roof. When the light hits the water around midday, the colours are simply staggering.


Less touristy but offering up some of the most magical beaches, is low-key Lefkada. When the sun gets low, head inland to the mountain tavern, Panorama, in Athani. As the name suggests, the view alone makes it worth the journey, but they also serve a reliably good selection of Greek classics. If the beaches in popular Paxos are too busy, anchor in one of the quieter coves and settle in under the sun.


In Corfu Town make a beeline to the lively locals haunt Tsipouradiko, near the Old Port and visit the Moni Theotokou13th century monastery perched on the rocky promontory at the end of Paleokastritsa.


When to go:

April – end of October

High season:

July – August

Highlights

1

The beaches in the south of Zakynthos are a breeding ground for endangered Loggerhead turtles. You probably won’t see them because at night, the beaches are protected, but visit the Sea Turtle & Wildlife Information Centre at Gerakas

2

Take your tender to the jetty at taverna To Fagopotio in the bay of San Stefano, Corfu where the octopus is grilled to perfection

3

Wander around Lefkada where spectacular villas and Byzantine churches rub shoulders and the landscape is arguably the most beautiful in the islands

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