The Ionian Islands

What an undiscovered secret tucked away on the West Coast of Greece. The Ionian Islands of Corfu, Paxos, Lefkada and Kefalonia are very Venetian, not surprising since they were ruled by the Venetians from the 15th Century until the French and then the British took control of them in the 1800’s.

The Ionians are made up of lush green islands, dotted with remnants of forts and churches, edged with beaches and tucked into sheltered bays colourful little fishing villages. From the sea your view into harbours is of a row of pretty buildings hugging the shoreline with rows of boats seemingly on top of them. Up close you see the buildings are mostly tavernas with tables, chairs and umbrellas lining the edge of the waterfront and beside them rows of brightly coloured fishing boats, rent-a-boats and charter yachts all tied up side by side. The local men and boys sit on small boxes fishing for small fish or repairing nets whilst chatting non-stop with each other. Heaps of photos to choose from…

Chris sails the Ionians…  With four friends we chartered a 46 foot yacht and had two weeks to discover these islands. We were delighted at how warm and clear the sea was and as the temperature is in the low 30’s each day we swim off the boat every few hours. Evenings are very warm and still in the mid 20’s. Each day we head off to another island or village, spend some time exploring, a touch of shopping, drinks in a taverna, some people watching and if it cools we fit in a walk. Most of the time we free anchor and take our tender to the town and tie up in the centre of the village. Locals are out fishing, others are quietly sitting around the tavernas or if your timing is right, they will be shouting at the TV as they watch their soccer team play. Some days we rent a scooter and head off to explore the islands interiors.

Each day we visit the local stores and buy our supplies for the day – still warm loaves of bread, bunches of tasty tomatoes, dark purple aubergines, melons, big fat olives and other goodies. The deli section is entertaining as tasting is encouraged and sign language essential with little English spoken in the stores. You will find an excellent range of cheeses and dried meats. Proscuitto is thinly sliced while you wait and huge slabs of feta are stabbed out of tins and chopped into big chunks for you.

Eating out is good value with tavernas offering a mix of traditional Greek and Italian fare with pizzas, pasta and fresh seafood, especially fried calamari very popular. Gelato shops are everywhere as are bakeries with exquisite freshly baked desserts to tempt.

A few of our favourite spots…

Parga – on the Greek mainland, this village has an excellent long beach lined with tavernas and umbrellas and over the hill a small town hugs the harbour. A good spot for some shopping as the narrow streets are lined with delightful little boutiques and bars. In the middle of the harbour is the tiny picture perfect island of Panagia, famous for its white church with its high white bell tower. Photo of wee island with white church on it.

Paxos – this island was a real favourite with its three different villages. Lakka and Longos have lovely bays with waterfronts lined with excellent tavernas and cute boutiques. Gaios is a larger village in a very pretty and safe harbour – it does get busier when the Corfu ferry drops in, but there are plenty of places to explore. Expect to see lanes smothered in bougainvillea winding through the town, boutiques and the odd black clad Greek Orthodox Priest sitting drinking coffee. Make sure you enjoy some olive oil tasting as this island is famous for its olive groves.

Fiskardo – this chic and upmarket village on the island of Kefalonia is truly gorgeous with its beautiful pastel painted buildings all covered in bougainvillea and its waterfront lined with tables and chairs just tempting you to sit down, order a wine and drink in the perfect scene. A very popular stop for the yachting fraternity, Fiskardo has an exquisite bay with plenty of room for yachts to moor up so guests can wander straight from the yacht into the village.

Getting around the Islands…

The narrow local roads link the villages which are generally only a few kilometres apart so stretch your legs and head off for a walk – just remember to always take your camera as the views are stunning. If you like faster transport, join the locals and rent a scooter, these are very cheap, around 10Euros and you will find the traffic very light, slow and courteous – they will toot you if they intend overtaking you. Some of the bigger villages will have small cars for rent also. There are local buses as well which are very cheap and pretty much stop wherever you want.

How to enjoy the Ionians…

Sailing Holidays – for those keen sailors this is a perfect way to discover the Ionians at your own pace. You need a Boatmasters Certificate to bareboat charter a yacht, or you can join a Sailing Flotilla or rent a yacht with your own skipper.

Island Hopping – much like a traditional Greek Island holiday you can use the local ferries to get from island to island with accommodation in locally owned hotels and apartments.

Stayput Holiday – Paxos is an excellent island for a week long holiday. With three delightful and different villages and loads of beaches to explore, you will find renting a scooter or small car the perfect way to get around.

Cycle & Sail – A great option for a more active holiday. This is a one-week holiday that has guided cycle rides through the islands and villages whilst staying on board a traditional caique boat in the evenings. Still lots of time for swimming, relaxing and enjoying the village tavernas.