How very Greek of me for never taking the most straightforward option: of all the times I’d visited the Ionian, I’d never made a stop in Lefkada until a few weeks ago. In recent years the photos of Porto Katsiki and Egremni beaches definitely made me realise I was the one missing out. Could anything really be that ‘blind yourself’ blue?
It turns out that Lefkada really is the idyllic beach paradise that the brochures rave about. Like its sister islands in the Ionian sea, it is a green and fertile land surrounded by an almost unbelievably luminescent sea of turquoise, blue and aqua-marine which, on its West coast, laps the shores of some of the finest beaches Greece has to offer.
Hugging the coast of Western Greece, Lefkada has been identified as the most likely candidate for Homer’s mythical Ithaca, an island that was ‘reachable by foot’. Once a part of the Greek mainland, Lefkada became an island in the 8th century BC when invading Corinthians dug a canal through the narrow isthmus that connected it to the mainland. Today a narrow causeway provides easy access to the island making Lefkada very popular with RV enthusiasts and visitors from neighbouring countries, while the recent opening of nearby Aktion airbase in Preveza as a commercial airport means that it’s now easier than ever to visit this Homeric retreat. Direct flights from all over Europe make this the perfect starting point to explore both this group of islands and the amazing mainland coastline in this part of Greece.
The Ionian sea also offers far safer sailing conditions than the Aegean in the summer months, so Lefkada is a go-to choice for the yachting crowd. The port towns of Lefkada in the North and Vassiliki in the South become a forest of yacht masts in July and August. Every conceivable form of water activity is also available here, from skippered cruises around the coast to nearby islands and islets, to windsurfing, kite surfing and waterskiing; for those seeking an active holiday, Lefkada won’t disappoint. There are also options for hikers as a lot of the beaches can be reached through walking trails and some serious numbers of steps, which aren’t for the faint hearted!
Lets be honest though, Lefkada really is about those stunning beaches. Although most of the resort towns are peppered along the Eastern coast, it is its West coast that has all of the best beaches. Nydri in the East remains the main port for cruises and boat hire though so it’s worth checking out the schedules a few days before as departures change depending on the time of the year and boats do tend to set off early in the morning.
Porto Katsiki in the South, perhaps the best known and most photographed, could easily be twinned with Navagio in Zakynthos; a narrow stretch of fine white sand flanked on one side by an impressive cliff face and on the other by crystal clear turquoise waters. A few kilometres North, you’ll find breathtaking Egremni beach and then Kathisma, which is probably one of the easiest ones to access by car and therefore very busy. Younger crowds also love Vassiliki both as a resort /beach / water sport hub but also as a starting point for cruises to other beaches and islands. We could go on and on: The bays at Kalamitsi, Pefkoulia, Aghiofili and so many others. You’ll never run out of swimming options here.
We based ourselves in the quaint fishing village of Agios Nikitas, which lies 13kms South of Lefkada town on its West coast. This is what a Greek holiday should be about. Despite there being a wide range of budget accommodation options here, Agios Nikitas retains all of its small village character. Be prepared though as the secret is out, and you may have to book early to ensure a room here in high season. The village has its own cute beach, set in front of a collection of laid-back bars and tavernas, very popular with families. Nearby Mylos beach, just around the headland and accessible either on foot or via one of the boats from Agios Nikitas harbour, gives you that castaway feeling. Beautiful waters, no sun loungers or beach bars in sight: pure bliss. It’s worth trying to be on a beach or boat when the sun sets on the Western part of the island; the colours have to be seen to be believed.
With all this talk of beaches, I haven’t even got round to mentioning the food. Meat lovers, you must make a point of stopping at the Delimaris outlet in Lefkada town. Amazing salami and sausages, which are available in Athens, but the fact that you can buy them freshly made opens up a whole other level of foodie heaven. Another must visit is Rachi restaurant in Exanthia village: known as the restaurant above the clouds, it is the most unexpected place I’ve ever visited on a Greek island. Tucked away in a small village alleyway, this place is a gem. Great décor, soundtrack and views matched by some equally great dishes using local ingredients.
Have your camera at the ready, you won’t even believe the colours right in front of you and it really isn’t a holiday unless you can make your friends jealous, right?
This article was first published in Australian newspaper Neos Kosmos’s travel supplement on 25th July 2015. Reproduced with kind permission, all rights reserved.