Ionian islands: The isles where emerald-green meets paradise-blue
Exploring the Ionian Islands in the months either side of high summer gives you the opportunity to enjoy every one of those incredible colours in ways you’ve never imagined.
Getting active on Zakynthos
You might have seen the Blue Caves or the shipwreck of Zakynthos… but we bet you’ve never approached them from a kayak! Exploring Zante in the months either side of summer is the perfect excuse to get active on holiday, whether that means exploring the coastline, strapping on a set of aqualungs (the caves of Lake Keri are a must for divers!), or hiring a mountain bike and heading for the hills. But possibly the most rewarding activity is on foot, hiking to the top of Vrachionas, 756 metres above sea level. You’ll love the sleepy village of Gyri two-thirds of the way up, but the real treat is the 360-degree view at the top.
Village hopping on Corfu
You hardly need an excuse for an early- or late-summer island break to Corfu, but beyond the plethora of beaches and the culturally fascinating Old Town, we have another suggestion: village hopping. Spread across the island are dozens of villages… some mountainous, some coastal, and all charming beyond words.
From the cluster of stone houses (and eight churches!) of Palia Perithia in the northeast, to Agios Matheos in the southwest (just a short stroll from the Pantokratoros Monastery), the opportunities are endless.
Lakones (in the northwest) offers mountain views of the beaches and bays of Palaiokastritsa, and Sinarades (in the centre) is the island’s principal wine producer. Nearby is Pelekas, from where you can hike to the Kaisar Observatory and enjoy panoramic views.
The villages go on and on… Ano Garouna and Varypatades are remote (and therefore less visited), while Gastouri (on the east coast) is notable for the nearby Achilleion Palace, built at the end of the 19th century by Austrian Empress Elizabeth of Bavaria.
A taste of Kefalonia
When it comes to eating out in Kefalonia, it doesn’t take long before the conversation turns to wine. The island has a proud tradition of food and drink. Its cheeses (piquant feta, white-smooth manouri and yellow-hard kefalotiri) are rightly celebrated. And you’ll love the olive oil.
But you should definitely dedicate time to getting to know the island’s wines. Mavrodaphne is red, strong and sweet, Muscat is white and sweet… and the king of wines on Kefalonia is, without doubt, the dry, white Robola. Native to the island, it is perfectly adapted to the slopes where the vines grow. A visit to a Robola winery is a must.
Beyond Lefkada… uncovering the magic of Meganisi
No holiday is complete without a new discovery. So as well as visiting Lefkada, you should head to the islands east of its shores… Meganisi, Kalamos and Kastos. A 25-minute boat trip away, Meganisi is an isle of only three villages and a population of little more than 1,000… but you’ll hardly know where to start.
The beaches, mostly reached by foot or boat, compete with each other for other-worldly beauty - Agios Ioannis, Fanari, Spilia, Barbarezou and Limonari… And of its three villages, Katomeri is the biggest, without being in any way busy. Vathi is the perhaps most picturesque, and you’ll be bewitched by the olive and walnut groves around by Spartochori.
Your own private odyssey on Ithaca
Ithaca is, of course, Homer territory… home of Odysseus and the second smallest of the seven main Ionian islands. So while you’re here, take an Odyssey Tour. With its view of Polis beach, the ancient harbour at the time of king Odysseus, Stavros village houses a scale model of Odysseus’ palace (known as the School of Homer), designed by the famous Italian architect Bruno Mazali. And surely we can tempt you with a visit to the Cave of the Nymphs (or Marmarospilia, according to its more prosaic name). LLegend has it that this is where Odysseus hid the gifts he received from King Alkinoos of the Phaeacians. And to top it all, head up to Piso Aetos and the ancient acropolis of the city of Alalkomenes. The boulders that make up the walls are so big they are known locally as Cyclopean. If that send your imagination into overdrive nothing will.
Sailing to Paxos and Antipaxos
Our final adventure is unashamedly about luxuriating in the irresistible colours of the Ionian Sea. We’re off sailing to the dreamy islands of Paxos and Antipaxos, collectively known as Paxi. Gaios, the principal harbour of Paxos, is an obvious first port of call, but you should definitely head for the picturesque little harbours of Lakka and Loggos to the north, and down the length of the western shoreline, which is inaccessible to cars. And then on to twin isle of Antipaxos, just a mile off the southern coast, where exotic beaches do battle with sea caves for your attention.
Quite a tour! Now imagine the beautiful light that radiates in the months of May and September-October in Greece, and the thrill of so many new stories to discover.
The question is: can you have too much of a good thing?