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The Ionian Islands

Ancient ruins on Ithaca

Area

The Ionian Islands - also known in Greece as the 'Eptanisa' (Seven Islands) - are seven main islands located on the western side of mainland Greece that are different from other Greek islands due to their fertile land (hillsides of olive groves) and clear blue waters.

To those who visualise a Greece of sunbaked rock dotted with dazzling whitewashed houses, the Ionian comes as a gentle surprise. This is not the Greece of the popular travel brochure but a shaded green country, sheltering red tiled Latin houses, an eccentric collection of Italian and French architecture and English tastes (in Corfu the locals play cricket and you can buy currant buns and ginger beer) welded together into a whole that is indubitably Greek.

Ever-green cypress, pine, elm, green fields, flowers even in height of summer, and everywhere the dull dark sheen of the olive, characterize the lower land while higher up the slopes are covered in pine and the tenacious Mediterranean maquis. If the wind is in the right direction you can smell the pungent herby aroma a mile out to sea. The green luxuriance of the islands is in direct contrast to the high eroded mountains of Albania and mainland Greece that form the eastern boundary to the Ionian.

What is more, the traits of the Ionian Islands are perfectly combined with a flawless tourism infrastructure, excellent hotel accommodation, restaurants, diving centers, sea sports, cultural events, and a multitude of sights, historic monuments and museums worth visiting. 

The Ionian islands can be divided into two clear sections: the north Ionian, starting base Corfu, and the south Ionian, starting from Lefkas or Preveza. Two weeks is required to properly explore both areas quite well, but a one week itinerary allows for a gentle exploration of each area by sea.


Corfu, Venetian fortress

History

The islands have been inhabited since prehistoric times and have since been occupied by an ever changing diversity of peoples. Homer, writer of The Iliad and The Odyssey, was born on the island of Ithaca. Later the islands belonged to the Kingdom of Macedonia, and then subsequently to the Romans, the Byzantines, the Venetians, the French and the British. The Ottomans strangely never managed to fully occupy these islands, even when they had control of the rest of Greece. The British finally transferred the islands to Greek rule in 1862 though they left a legacy of cultural influence (including tea and cricket) behind, especially in Corfu, where the present Queen's husband, the Duke of Edinburgh was born. In 1953 much of the Ionian, especially the island of Cephalonia (Kefallonia), was flattened by a powerful earthquake. This features in the novel and movie Captain Corelli's Mandolin which are set in Cephalonia. Another famous book that draws the crowds to Corfu (Kerkyra) is Gerald Durrell's evocative book My Family and Other Animals (1956), which describes his childhood on Kerkyra in the 1930s.

The idyllic clear waters of the Ionian

Wind and Sailing Conditions

The wind and sailing conditions in the Ionian Sea are ideal and predictable. From May to September the wind blows from North-West at Force 2-5. In Spring and Autumn the wind is less strong and blows usually from South-West. It arrives around noon, blows between force 3 to 6 (10 to 25 knots) and dies down at sunset. There may be strong gusts on the leeward side due to the high land (e.g Eastern side of Ithaka and Zakinthos).

The islands are therefore very popular with flotillas and it can get quite crowded in many ports, especially during August when the Greeks and Italians also take their vacations. Recommended for novice to competent sailors, and family groups, but offering something to everyone and with many itinerary options.

Shipwreck beach on Zakynthos

Travel Notes

North Ionian: An ideal starting point for your cruise is from Gouvia Marina, about 15 minutes from Corfu International Airport, or very close to the main ferry port for arrivals from Igoumenitsa on the mainland. From the heel of Italy most yachts cross the Otranto Strait to Corfu only 70 miles away. Corfu is the northern-most of the seven Ionian Islands. Proceeding south from Corfu you come to the islands of Paxi and Antipaxi, Lefkas, Ithaca, Kefalonia and Zakynthos, and the island of Kythira.

South Ionian: Starting points are Lefkas or Preveza. Flights are to Aktion (Preveza) Airport which is about a 20 minute drive away by taxi. Lefkas is connected to the mainland by a single iron bridge, which opens several times a day to allow entry to yachts from the north. Head south to discover the smaller islands of the south Ionian archipelago.

The ionion islands Greece

Key locations

The seven islands are, from north to south:

  • Kerkyra (Κέρκυρα) usually known as Corfu in English and Corfù in Italian
  • Paxi (Παξοί) also known as Paxos in English
  • Lefkada (Λευκάδα) also known as Lefkas in English
  • Ithaki (Ιθάκη) usually known as Ithaca in English
  • Kefalonia (Κεφαλλονιά) often known as Kefalonia, Cephalonia and Kefallinia in English
  • Zakynthos (Ζάκυνθος) sometimes known as Zante in English and Italian
  • Kythira (Κύθηρα) usually known as Cythera in English and sometimes known as Cerigo in English and Italian

The six northern islands are off the west coast of Greece, in the Ionian Sea. The seventh island, Kythira, is off the southern tip of the Peloponnese, the southern part of the Greek mainland. Kythira is not part of the region of the Ionian Islands, as it is included in the region of Attica.

Below are some itinerary suggestions for one and two weeks starting from Corfu and Lefkas. In each case we have tried to present one relaxing, gentle sail and one more demanding. Take into account the prevailing weather conditions in addition to the competence / experience of your crew and how much time is available.

North Ionion

One week sailing itinerary from Corfu
1 Gouvia Marina check-in at 17:00
2 Corfu - Parga (38 nm) Corfu - Gaios, Paxos Island (33 nm)
3 Parga - Paxi, Mongonisi (11 nm) Gaios - Lefkas (32 nm)
4 Mongonisi - Antipaxi - Gaios, Paxi (5 nm) Lefkas - Nidri - Vathi, Meganissi island (10 nm)
5 Gaios - Svota (12 nm) Vathi - Lefkas (12 nm)
6 Svota - Petriti, Corfu (14 nm) Lefkas - Mourtos (41 nm)
7 Laka - Corfu (18 nm) Mourtos - Gouvia Marina (22 nm)
8 Check-out Gouva Marina at 9:00

  2 week sailing itinerary from Corfu
1 Gouvia Marina check-in at 17:00
2 Corfu - Mourtos (22 nm)
3 Mourtos - Gaios, Paxos (10 nm)
4 Gaios - Nidri, Lefkas (41 nm)
5 Nidri - Fiskardo, Kefalonia Island (19 nm)
6 Fiscardo - Zakynthos Island (43 nm)
7 Zakynthos - Agia Efthimia, Kefalonia (37 nm)
8 Agia Efthimia - Vathi, Ithaki (16 nm)
9 Vathi - Porto Leone, Kalamos (17nm)
10 Porto Leone - Vathi, Meganissi (11 nm)
11 Vathi - Lefkas (11 nm)
12 Lefkas - Parga, Epirus (30 nm)
13 Parga - Lakka, Paxos (13nm)
14 Lakka - Gouvia Marina (31 nm)
15 Check-out at 9:00

South Ionion

1 week itinerary from Lefkas
1 Lefkas Marina Check-in at 17:00
2 Lefkas - Vathi, Meganissi (11 nm) Lefkas - Vathi, Meganissi (11 nm)
3 Vathi, Meganissi - Vathi, Ithaki (22 nm) Vathi - Kalamos (13 nm)
4 Ithaki - Fiskardo, Kefalonia (14 nm) Kalamos -Vathi, Ithaca (18 nm)
5 Fiscardo - Vassiliki, Lefkas (10 nm) Vathi - Sami, Kefallonia (12 nm)
6 Lefkas - Nidri, Lefkas (14 nm) Sami - Sivota, Lefkas (13 nm)
7 Nidri - Lefkas Marina (9 nm) Sivota - Lefkas (16 nm)
8 Check-out at 9:00  


  2 week itinerary from Lefkas
1 Lefkas Marina Check-in at 17:00
2 Lefkas - Meganissi Port Spilia (8 nm)
3 Meganissi - Syvota (16 nm)
4 Syvota - Fiskardo, Kefalonia (12 nm)
5 Kioni, Ithaki (12 nm)
6 Ithaki - Atokos-Kastos-Kalamos (22 nm)
7 Kalamos - Syvota (17 nm)
8 Syvota - Agia Efthimia, Kefalonia (23 nm)
9 Kefalonia - Skinari, Zakynthos (32 nm)
10 Skinari - Zakynthos Main Port (14 nm)
11 Zakynthos - Poros, Zakynthos (26 nm)
12 Poros - Vathi, Ithaki (20 nm)
13 Vathi - Atherinos, Meganissi (12 nm)
14 Atherinos - Lefkas Marina (11 nm)
15 Check-out at 9:00

Download more intinerary suggestions and information about the area...




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