The Ionian islands in Greece are likely to come as a welcome surprise to those familiar with the starkness of the Aegean. They are lush green in colour with forested mountains covered in pine, cypress and olive trees and are encircled by a sea that turns from a milky turquoise to a deeper darker azure. With some of the most picturesque of cliff-backed beaches and colourful fields of flowers these islands are so very pretty. Influenced by the Venetians, the French and the British the architecture, culture and cuisine is also a rich mix. Here are five islands that we recommend:
Corfu, or Kerkyra (ker-kih-rah) in Greek, is a luxuriant green island with over 200km of gorgeous coastline with the impressive Mt Pandokrator in the north sloping down to green valleys and grassy fields in the south. The old quarters of the east-coast capital, Corfu Town, designated a UNESCO heritage site, is a cultured, cosmopolitan gem of a city shining with an abundance of attractive reminders of its multicultural past. There are some areas of heavy tourist development but these are in pockets that leave most of the island untouched and charming.
There are some delightful seaside villages that are great to visit while on your luxury yacht from Kouloura in the north west with a single taverna overlooking the brightly coloured fishing boats in the tiny harbour to Nissaki, where the mountains drop steeply into the sea and the village sprawls down the hillside to yet another tiny harbour. While Kassiopi has a romantic ruined castle and pastel-coloured buildings and is one of the best diving centres on the island.
Only an island because of a canal which separates it from the mainland dating back to the 7th Century BC Lefkada is less touristy than Corfu but has some of the best turquoise-lapped beaches in Greece. The most impressive beaches are on the west coast such as Egremni and Porto Katsiki featuring imposing white cliffs with water that is a transparent aquamarine. While Vassiliki in the south and Ai Yiannis, Mili in the north are both beloved by kite and windsurfers.
However this welcoming Ionian island is a destination that has a lot more to offer than just beaches with spectacular mountains, amazing waterfalls, a rich culture, ancient monastries and charming traditional villages. It is also surrounded by nine smaller satellite islands, including Meganisi, Kalamos, and Skorpios, owned by the Onassis family, which are a treat to visit while on charter.
While lacking some of the beautiful beaches of the rest of the Ionian Ithaca offers an enchanting, laidback charm. With very little tourist development and a slower pace of life the island boasts ancient ruins, tiny harbours, lush greenery and a rugged coast fringed in turquoise waters. There are some great hiking trails as well as stunning and secluded coves that make perfect anchorages.
Ithaca is, of course, the mythical home of Homer's Odysseus which certainly adds to the romance of this somewhat sleepy but very special island. The island is butterfly-shaped, consisting of two peninsulas connected by a narrow isthmus. A place of authentic natural beauty, a strong seafaring tradition and an interesting history with charming seaside villages perched on stone jetties and majestic mountain villages with breathtaking views of the Ionian.
Located across a narrow sea strait from Ithaca Kefalonia or Cephalonia is the largest island in the Ionian sea. It was largely underdeveloped until very recently and even now never feels crowded here. The setting for Louis de Bernières' fabulous novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin the subsequent film adaption was also filmed here. Despite this it remains a quiet, peaceful place unspoilt by mass tourism.
It has some very lovely beaches including the much photographed Myrtos but more than this the island's appeal lies in her soaring mountains, warm friendly people and a sense of stepping back in.
Zakynthos, or Zante as it is known in Italian, is another beautiful Ionian island and one of the most popular in Greece. Most of the tourism is focused on the eastern and southeast coasts but beyond that there is a magnificent natural landscape with forested mountains plummeting down to sparkling turquoise waters; stunning beaches and green hillsides covered with flowers in spring and early summer. It's no wonder the Italians called this island "the Flower of the East".
The Bay of Laganas on Zakynthos is also the nesting area for the Careta-Careta or loggerhead sea turtle and the beaches here are protected in the hope that this near-extinct species has a hope of survival. Should you wish to learn more then your yacht Captain can arrange a guide for here.
The harbor city of Zakynthos is the capital and major hub, with spacious boulevards, multi-coloured bougainvillea and a central waterfront square flanked by imposing buidlings. It also offers sizzling nightlife!
The Ionians Islands are a lighter, greener version of Greece offering something for everyone ... scenery, adventure, beaches, food, culture ...
For further information about the idyllic Ionian and the luxury charter yachts that can take you here please contact your luxury charter yacht expert at the Luxury Charter Group.