If you haven’t yet tried Greek Island hopping then I can suggest no better way than hiring a boat and sailing the Ionian. If you’re an ex-literature student in love with Greek mythology then this area makes those days of burying your head in The Iliad and The Odyssey a reality. (Queue link to my favourite poem ever because you need something to read when you’re sailing idyllically through opal waters with the sun on your back and the wind in your hair.)
The Greek Islands are the epitome of paradise and this itinerary barely scrapes the surface of the 6000 of them available for exploration. But, if you’re limited to a short stay amongst this little slice of heaven then this route definitely gave me a pretty good indication that I could see the rest of my life out there and be perfectly content – which is a big commitment for someone who is as restless as myself.
This route starts and ends on the island of Lefkas (Lefkada), a beautiful isle with easy access to the mainland. In combination with this, the options to sail to Corfu in the North and Odysseus’s paradise to the South makes this a popular starting location for avid yachtsmen. Lefkada town itself is on the North-East coast of the island and boasts a decent sized marina and a bustling waterfront for you to have as a start before retreating to more secluded locations. If you have the opportunity before you get going head towards Nidri, in particular the mill-pond like bay of Nidri, to find isolated family run tavernas sitting on the water serving up mean souvlaki.
Top tip: DO NOT leave Lefkas without grabbing a pot of their famous honey (made with thyme). Forget crystal blue waters, stargazing into clear skies and empty bays for you to crack out your snorkel in, this honey is the real life changer of the trip. You can wack it in your Greek yogurt in the morning or pick up my bad habit of just spooning it straight.
So your first sail will see you taking a short sail over to Vathi on the island of Meganisi. Get in the swing of things you know- have a play around. On the way over you’ll be passing the private islands of Skorpidhi and Skorpios owned by the billionaire Onassis family.
Sivota – Lefkada
Our next stop saw us sail the Meganisi channel back to the south of Lefkada island due to an approaching storm. It’s a sheltered and very deep bay, again with an abundance of local tavernas for you to treat your tastebuds with the local cuisine. Be aware that if there is a storm, this place is a popular one, so get there early. If there’s no storm, you might want to try and spend a night at anchor somewhere along the south of Meganisi or Lefkada – those nights are unbeatable.
On your next day of sailing make time for stop and a swim on a bay along Ithaca – there will be plenty for you to claim as your own despite its famed reputation for being the home of Odysseus. Grab some lunch, have a dip, crack out your beloved snorkel gear.
Sailing out of the Meganisi channel into more open water, looking south to Ithaca and Cephalonia, is a pretty breathtaking moment, and this is the point when you should be on a leisurely sail with your book out and your feet up and hopefully have dolphins chasing your boat. Sounds like the worst thing in the world, I’m aware.
Next stop for the night is Fiskardo on the island of Cephalonia, just 2km North-East of Ithaca.
This channel is pretty much the roughest I have had the pleasure of sailing but only because the swell was huge after a storm the night before. We’re talking being faced with walls of water – incredibly I did not get seasick, but did frequently roll around a bit given my incredible ability to fall over on a regular basis.
Top tip: If you’re new to sailing and you hit some big swell, best thing to do for your seasickness is take the helm. Disclaimer is that you’re also pretty much fully responsible for making sure everyone arrives safely which is responsibility I would always always always deny.
Fiskardo is is a harbour village on the North of Cephalonia – I have very vivid memories of it smelling like pine. The front is largely older buildings than the rest of Cephalonia since it was mostly left unspoilt after the 1953 earthquake. There are small beaches dotted around only a short walk away from the front, not to mention a lot of fresh fish for you to feast upon since most of the residents are in the fishing business.
Top tip: Cephalonia is a popular island for holiday makers, though still unspoilt, so it would be wise to make sure you call well in advance to marinas to book a space or make sure there is space – particularly if you’re going in the high season. Otherwise you might have to do as we did and sweet talk your way into being allowed to use the police spot for the night. Being super charming and witty will get you quite far in life.
Ithaca – Frikes is a port village on the North of the island and boasts a short line of restaurants and tavernas and pretty much nothing else. It’s a great place to moor up, grab a drink and watch the many boats coming and going. The harbour area can get very full and may well end with you making a large raft formation, and hopping over multiple other yachts to reach the shore. (Also a brilliant way to make friends). If you’re here in the summer, a lot of flotilla holidays will stop here and it might be a bit noisy but well worth the stop.
The mooring area has extremely cold water springs beneath the surface which nobody will tell you about until you jump in right on top of one. (except me) I advise that you jump in anyways.
One of the only dangers of a sailing trip is that it is very easy to explore a location no further than the waterfront. I’d highly recommend breaking that habit and getting up super early, we’re talking whilst it’s still dark, whilst staying here to hike up the hill to Stavros for sunrise. From here you can look to the other side of the island at Port Polis and find a much more local joint for your breakfast.
Next stop: Kastos – my personal favourite of this little trip.
The island itself boasts few more than 50 permanent residents and is only 7km in length. There are no cars and instead low lying hills covered with century old olive trees and the occasional path weaving through to get your hike on. The village of Kastos is located on the east of the Island and is quite the charmer in itself. Given how few people live here, there are only a few places for you to grab some food, but they all offer some yummy seafood dishes, fresh from the water that day. Then head to the Traverso bar for some coffee and ice cream, or alcohol, which will make rowing back to your boat later on so much more entertaining.
This harbour requires you to get your long lines ready, which is a highly entertaining activity, and rather than the quayside we ended up tying our boat to a lamp-post for the night.
Next stop is a sail to the mainland of Western Greece. Despite it’s mainland location, Palairos is still a fishing town and has the lethargic pace of the Greek Islands with a marginally larger marina.
So, you’re back on the north of the island of Meganisi for your last night in paradise, a cute little hilltop village with stone cottages and courtyards littered with potted plants. It’s a charming place to be spending your last night. Your last days sail will see you heading back across to Lefkada as most charters require the boat back by lunchtime.
Make sure you munch on:
No, but seriously, any Greek food is delicious. Baklava, honey, souvlaki, moussaka, honey, yogurt, fresh fruits, tzatsiki, honey (think I’ve already mentioned that one) – add it all to your list. Your tastebuds will thank you. The Ionian islands have a lot of Venetian influences so you’ll also quite easily get your hands on some delectable Italian food.