If you’ve been following along on our Greece 18′ journey you’d be happy to know that WE LOVED THE IONIAN ISLANDS. Like, we’re utterly obsessed and already planning to go back ASAP.
Bec and I have previously visited Kefalonia and Zakynthos in 2016, but this year ventured out into areas we hadn’t been before, in addition to visiting the island of Lefakada (or Lefkas) which is one of the largest of the Ionion islands.
If you’re a Greek island rookie like we were, and think that all Greek islands are white with blue rooftops and have cute little beaches – you’d be mad wrong. The Ionian islands are the complete opposite. The islands which make up the Ionian Islands (traditionally called the Heptanese or ‘the Seven Islands’) are, you guessed it, seven islands on the west coast of Greece which are, from top to bottom, Corfu, Paxi, Lefkada, Ithaki, Kefalonia, Zakynthos and Kythira.
The Ionians islands are well known for being luscious, green and very dramatic in landscape. And by green we mean, forrest full of Evergreen trees kind of green. It’s a stark difference from the Agean Islands and something you would definitely not expect from a Greek island. I think that’s why we love them so much because they’re so unique, with every corner of the landscape providing a different picture of what a Greek island can look like! A drawcard of these islands however, are that they are SO large that you will definitely either need a car or a moped because travelling from beach-to-beach can be anywhere from 30minutes to over an hour!
We’ve done the scouring for you to give you some of the best tips and places to go in the Ionian islands.
If you’re travelling to Lefkada from Athens the first thing to note is that the only way to reach the island is by driving yourself in a car or getting the coach bus from Kifisos Bus Terminal. The information online is a little confusing for the buses, but we travelled this way to Lefkada this year and here’s what you should know
– As soon as you get to Athens, you should get a taxi to Kifisos Bus station to book your bus journey to Lefkada as during peak season the buses tend to book out quite quickly. It’s about 10 minutes out of town, so should only be between €7-€14 from Monestiraki area in Athens.
– The tickets themselves are approx €36 per person and the journey takes 5 1/2 hours from Kifisos Bus station to Lefkada town. From there (depending on where you’re staying in Lefkada), you’ll need to grab a taxi or hire a car to your accomodation.
– Everything is on ‘Greek time’ so, although the bus leaves on-the-dot, you only need to arrive 10 minutes before the bus leaves – rather than half an hour or so before
– There are no toilets on the bus so go before you get on (lol), although it does make one stop for about 20 minutes half way through where you can nip to the bathroom quickly and get some snacks from the Bakery.
Once you get to Lefkada, settle into your accomodation and realise “Wow, this island is epic”, here are some things you should definitely add on your list to do:
ONE: Porto Katsiki Beach is probably by far the best beach we have ever experienced in our lives. No joke, no exaggeration, seriously the most breathtaking and stunning beach in the world. Just driving up and seeing the beach from above the mountaintop is so stunning that it doesn’t look real. The bright blue water contrasts so beautifully against the pure white stone store, steep cliff-face and the dark green trees and you’ll think that you’re looking at a postcard! A big tip is make sure you wear either rubber pool slides or those ugly ‘rock shoes’ because the rocks do hurt your feet whilst walking into the water. Our parents had their rock shoes and we didn’t and we looked like fools trying to delicately walk back to our deck chairs from the ocean *fail*.
TWO:Taverna Oasis, Porto Katsikiis also a must if you’re visiting Lefkada (and are driving down to Porto Katsiki Beach). We actually heard about this family-run tavern from a server in Athens we met on our last night there. His parents own the restaurant and (admitting that he was completely biased) said it was one of the best restaurants on the island. I don’t know about the best place to eat on the island, but it was pretty freaking good and the views of the beach we’re just superb!
THREE: Sivota, Lefkada for beautiful bay views or sunrises. Granted, we were staying on a little hill in Sivota which gave us perfect views of the bay and seriously the most breathtaking sunrises ever – but if you’re staying in the area its well worth getting up a little earlier to take it all in! They also do delish crayfish in the little town along the bay and have some cute boutique shops too.
FOUR: Vasiliki Town for shopping feels like a mini-Mykonos in terms of the way it’s set up. The streets are small and narrow, cobblestoned and filled with cute boutique clothing, accessories and tourists shops which are far better than your standard ‘tourist’ stores you’ll find everywhere else. The prices are also a little higher, but we found it was worthwhile for the quality and style of products you can find here.
If you’re travelling to Kefalonia from Lefkada (or another Ionian Island) you can catch the ferry that runs every day from any of the ports, or fly a quick 45 minutes direct from Athens. Kefalonia definitely feels like the largest island to us, mostly because all the great spots to go to are really spread out and not close together (at all!). If you want to experience the island like a true Greek, you have to spend at least 4 full days here and get a car to drive around to the best spots on the island.
Depending on where you land (ferry or plane), you can definitely combine some of our suggestions below into one or two trips, which is what we did!
ONE: Explore Fiskardo Old Town. One of the only areas of Kefalonia which wasn’t flattened in the Ionian Islands 1953 earthquakes which hit Kefalonia on four seperate occasions and essentially flattened every house on the island. Over 600 people died in the disaster and 100,000 residents left the island to live elsewhere – so it’s pretty special to see a place on the island that looks older and has more ‘island quirk’, as the remainder of Kefalonia is more modern. Fiskardo has beautifully painted homes in different pastel colours, bouhgianvillias as far as the eye can see and little fishing boats scattered all along the port. There are beautiful little boutiques offering handmade Greek jewellery, hats and souvenirs perfect for gifts (or if you’re like us) for yourself!
TWO: Drive down to Argostoli through the ocean route and stop at all the viewpoints as you twist and turn through the mountains. Our dad was driving and we literally stopped at least 6 times on the way down to Argostoli (where we were staying). He is a sucker for a good view and by the end of it we were all whipping out our cameras to snap the beautiful coastline. What shocked us the most was how contrasting the landscapes are; while you’re driving through forrest and mountains (where, by the way there are thousands of mountain goats climbing up the steep cliffs) you turn to your right and see steep cliff-faces that drop into the brightest, bluest water you have ever seen. It’s one of those things that you cannot fully comprehend until you see it for yourself! Utterly breathtaking.
THREE: While you’re driving the above route, one of your view-point stops will be the Myrtos Beach view point. WOW, it’s just amazing. Second best view (after Porto Katsiki – although I’d say they’re more tied for first spot) and a MUST for a quick photo-opp.
FOUR: Myrtos Beach is a non-negotiable visit whilst you’re in Kefalonia. Similar to Porto Katsiki in Lefkada, the water is just SO blue that you think it’s not real. It honestly looks like someone has just flattened a piece of blue paper onto the ocean and called it a day. Get there early as it packs out quite quickly and make sure to bring your own beach equipment as there are no deck chairs and organised beach people there. The beach itself is very long and the water gets pretty deep fast so we bought ourselves some pool noodles which made floating in the ocean that much better.
FIVE: For a little bit of untouched perfection, head to Pesada Beach which is located 15 minutes from Argostoli town. It’s a 15meter piece of coastline enveloped between lush trees and large boulders. The water itself is so crystal clear and stunning and really is one of the cutest little beaches to nip down to. It’s a must to get there early in the morning (before 10am) as it’s small and packs out quiiiiickkkk. There are 131 steps to walk down to get to the beach too, so you can look at it as your ‘leg day’ too!
SIX: A beach that was completely different and great for families, head to Xi Beach in Lixouri. It’s about an hour away from Argostoli but definitely worthwhile if you hang around all day. The beach itself is a clay beach with burnt orange sand and crystal clear (sensing a theme here with Greek beaches?) shallow water. It’s a really great beach to just chill out at all day, read a book and get an epic tan. Also really great for photo’s if you’re on the ‘gram like us!
SEVEN: Argostoli town for evening dinner by the bay (and turtle watching). The main town of Kefalonia has so much to do and see with a large variety of boutiques, jewellery stores and more commercial ‘tourist’ shops down the main strip, as well as some amazing ‘Hamptons’ style bars and restaurants. It’s situated on the bay area of the island and has been known to have some frequent turtle visitors. Kefalonia is well-known for their turtles and we were blessed enough to spot one saying ‘hello’ to all the tourists whilst we were out for dinner. It was humungous and was probably around 100 years old!
What are some of your favourite spots in the Ionian Islands? Comment below and let us know!