Fishing boat off a jetty, Greece

The Ionian Islands - Greece's Westerly Paradise

Author: Sue Rogers
Date: 8th June 2005

The Ionian Islands

The Ionian Islands are a group of seven gorgeous islands in Greece - the Heptanese (plus numerous small islets). From north to south they are Kerkyra, usually known as Corfu in English, Paxi (Paxos), Lefkada (Lefkas), Ithaki ( Ithaca, home of Odysseus it is alleged), Kefalonia (Cephalonia), Zakynthos (Zante in English) and Kythira (Cythera or Cerigo). The islands are named after the Ionian Sea, in which they sit. The sea was named after Io, who swam across it, after she was tormented by Hera.

The islands have a long and rich history. After being settled by the ancient Greeks they were rules by Macedonia, Rome the Byzantines, the Venetians, the French and the British in turn. The Treaty of Paris in 1815 turned the islands into the "United States of the Ionian Islands". Apparently this is why the islanders enjoy afternoon tea and cricket. Not so much that they didn't press for independence. The Ionian Islands became a province of the new Kingdom of Greece in 1864.

I didn't do enough research before this trip to Corfu and we stayed in Kavos. It was the Ayia Napa of its time, all beach bars and young people drinking. It made me feel very staid.

There were still plenty of olive groves, honey and yogurt and the pervading smell of wild thyme.

Corfu may be a tourist favourite and resort studded, but the scenery is stunning, with rugged mountains and tall cypress trees.

Corfu Town, is full of character and clearly reflects the islands mixed cultural heritage. It was ruled by the Venetians, French and British before it was united with Greece in 1864. There two imposing Venetian fortresses, winding medieval lanes, a French-style arcade and the Grand Palace of St. Michael and St. George to admire.

Cephalonia

  • Kefalonia (or Caphalonia) of the Ionian islands. It's marked by sandy coves and dry rugged landscapes and is stunningly beautiful, with sapphire seas.
  • The capital, Argostoli, is picturesque , spreading up a hillside overlooking a narrow harbour.
  • Captain Corelli hadn’t been written then, but there was a great deal of earthquake damage evident still and the earth shook while we were in bed one day (it was a tremor).
  • The coastline is made up of limestone cliffs, bays and short strips of white sand, like Myrtos Beach in the north. Many beaches are only accessible on foot or via narrow twisting roads, so we rented a scooter, which proved to be much too exciting. We went over on a mountain bend, with my leg stuck underneath. (I hadn’t read the stories about Mafia extortion and scooter rental at that point)
  • Nevertheless, there were enough deserted beaches for us to find a different one for each day of our stay
  • The fishing village of Fiskardo was vividly enchanting
  • We made side trips to Ithaca, Zante and Olympia. There are amazing beaches on Zante.
  • And there were hundreds more olive groves

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