If you are looking for a group of islands on a trip to Greece which is not only outstandingly scenic but also has a character of its own that sets it apart from other Greek islands, then look no further than the Ionian Islands.
First of all, let’s identify where the Ionian Islands are located. You will find them in the Adriatic Sea off the west coast of mainland Greece. The major difference from other Greek islands is that this group of islands is much lusher and greener than most of the other islands. They also are ideal in both summer and winter weather-wise on Greece travel, as they have a mild and temperate climate. They are protected from cold northern winds in winter by the mountains of Central Greece and in summer, the heat is tempered by north-westerly winds and sea breezes. The Ionian Islands have been through many invasions over time and have been influenced by a variety of cultures including the Romans, the Ottoman Empire, the Venetians, the French, and the British. A few interesting facts about these islands – Gerald Durrell, the British novelist, wrote about them in his humorous book, My Family and Other Animals. The novel and movie, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was set here as were some scenes from the James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only. Also, Homer’s Odyssey is associated with the Ionian Islands.
What Are the 6 Major Ionian Islands?
There is no doubt Corfu is the best-known island and for good reasons. The main centre, historic Corfu Town is known for its Parisian-style arcades, Venetian alleyways, and its imposing city mansions. The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a maze of winding lanes, many fine restaurants, lively bars, and fascinating boutique shops, plus no fewer than 39 churches. The island also boasts an old fort built in the 16th century and the Palace of St. Michael and St. George, an elegant Regency palace which now houses the Museum of Asian Art, containing interesting collections of porcelain, Japanese prints, Indian sculptures, and Tibetan art.
All over the island, you will find villages with fascinating old mansions, palaces, and monasteries, all reflecting the historical occupation by diverse cultures. One village, Perithia, is Corfu’s oldest village and designated as a place of natural beauty. It is located 400 metres/1560 feet above the sea and contains 8 churches and 130 houses, many displaying influences by the Venetians. Another special building is the Achillion Palace just outside Corfu Town, built in the 1890s and which was the summer palace of Austria’s Empress Elizabeth.
When it comes to beaches on trips to Greece, there are an endless number of them here, in fact, 57 all told. They vary from secluded and scenic to large and busy. The best known and possibly the most picturesque is Paleokastritsa with its green cliffs and a number of sea caves. One interesting beach is Sidari where you will find the Canal de l’Amour. It is said that if you swim in it, you will find your soul mate.
The most visited island on Greece vacations after Corfu in the Ionian Islands is Zakynthos, which was known by the Venetians as the “Flower of the East.” It is a lush island and along the coastline are sandy beaches in secluded coves, deep blue waters, rugged cliffs, and an underwater world waiting for snorkellers and scuba divers. There are two major attractions. One is the Blue Caves, which can be visited on a boat tour. You will see different shades of blue reflected on the walls of the caves. The other is Navagio Beach, with its white pebbles and turquoise waters and one of the most photographed beaches anywhere. It is only accessible by boat, and once there, you will see the wreck of a stranded ship.
Zante Town is the main centre of the island. The houses and other buildings were rebuilt in the traditional Venetian style after an earthquake in 1953. The town contains the Byzantine Museum as well as the Solomos Museum which is dedicated to the ancient Greek poet, Dionysios Solomos. From the town, you can enjoy breathtaking views and glorious sunsets. The best-known resort is Laganas, with its 9 kilometre/ 5 mile-long beach where you can see the endangered species of sea turtle called Caretta-Caretta.
The best way to describe this island, the largest of the Ionian group, is that it is breathtakingly beautiful because of its excellent beaches, greenish-blue crystal clear waters, mountainous interior, and vineyards. Myrtos is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The largest town on the island is Argostoli, built on a hill but close to the beach. Kefalonia is also an island with much history. One of the best sites is the ancient city of Sami near the modern city of the same name. The site was mentioned in the writings of Homer. There are ruins from the Roman occupations plus every historical period until today. Check out the remains of a Roman theatre, baths, and an acropolis. Kefalonia is a haven for walkers and hikers and a popular trek is up to Mount Ainos National Park, which is covered in pine and fir tree forests. Watch out for semi-wild horses. Add to this, numerous pretty villages, monasteries, and museums, and Kefalonia deserves all the accolades on trips to Greece.
Lefkada is a non-touristy and unspoilt island connected to the mainland of Greece by a bridge. Just like the other islands, there are many impressive beaches which again are exceptionally beautiful. Apart from its beaches, there is Lefkada Town, with its old houses and cobblestone streets. There is a harbour and a marina lined with restaurants, cafes, and bars. Other attractions include the well-preserved Castle of Agia Mavra, built in the 14th century, and the cascading Dimossari Waterfalls which end in a lake, perfect for a dip.
Ithaca is the island famous for being the home of Odysseus, and from where he set off on his odyssey. It is a quiet and tranquil island full of mountainous terrain suitable for hiking. Beach lovers on Greek Island holidays are catered to with a whole number of beaches for all tastes, from sand to pebbles from rocky to lush backgrounds. The first of two highlights is the Nymphs Cave, which according to Greek mythology, was used by the gods and is also the place where Odysseus had hidden gifts from the Phoenicians. The second is the Monastery of Katharoi, built on top of a small mountain from where you can have wonderful views of the island and the coastline.
Paxos is a tiny island known especially for its excellent beaches. Although small, it has 12 to choose from. It is a sophisticated island in many respects as it attracts expensive sailboats which are moored in its ports. Unspoilt coves at the bottom of sheer cliffs can be reached by boat, as well as some beaches. The island has 3 villages which can be visited, where time appears to have stood still.
In summary, the Ionian Islands are all perfect paradises for Greece vacations and offer that excellent combination of outstanding beaches, interesting history, and fantastic scenery.