Four Greek islands not to miss
With so many idyllic islands to choose from in Greece, why limit yourself to just one? Whether you fancy lazy beach days or buzzy evenings at cosy tavernas, the Ionian Sea has a picture-perfect isle for every taste. Here are four gems that deserve further exploration…
Best for… exploration
As the second largest of the Ionian islands, emerald-green Corfu has plenty to keep you busy. After a cooling dip in transparent waters, hike or mountain bike down to remote Rovinia beach, where you can lay your towel on fine white pebbles backed by pine forest, then slip into aquamarine surf. Tummy rumbling? Hop between family-run village tavernas serving hearty stews, casual seafood eateries grilling just-landed fish, or gourmet restaurants, where crafted tasting menus wouldn’t be out of place in London. After a cosmopolitan capital to explore? Take a wander through Corfu Old Town, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and you’ll pass by the 15th-century Venetian fortress, sprawling Spianada Square – said to be the largest in the Balkans – and the pedestrian street of Liston – great for sipping coffees. Outside the capital, historic monasteries clutter the hills, ready for discovery: visit Vlacherna, perched on the water and connected to the island by a small boardwalk.
Best for… romance
It’s not just the fact that Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, the evocative book, was set on the island (and the film shot here). Kefalonia seems to ooze an old-world romance, from its soaring mountains – try scaling Mount Athos – to sleepy inland villages and a seaside Doric-style lighthouse, Fanari. The largest of the Ionian islands, there are plenty of places here to escape the crowds and find adventure à deux – whether that’s exploring haunting stalagmite caves or hiking through the national park. But your holiday doesn’t have to be all about rustic joys. There’s plenty to draw modern couples, from a lively nightlife scene in the capital, Argostoli, to the seaside restaurants in northerly Fiscardo, where you can practically dip a toe in the water from your gingham-dressed table. Feast on grilled seafood, washed down with citrussy white wine from Kefalonia’s Robola grape, and you’ll fall instantly in love with this island.
Best for… watersports
This Ionian jewel is unique in that it’s connected to the mainland by a causeway – you can drive right to the island from Athens, which is handy for travellers who might be considering a multi-centre holiday. But once you’ve settled into Lefkada, you might not want to leave, especially if you like watersports. Sandy Vasiliki Bay draws world-class surfers and windsurfers for its cocktail of robust breezes and curling cobalt waves, Myli, near Lefkada Town, is a haven for kitesurfers and Petroula for cliff-divers. Over on Fanari beach, sea-kayakers paddle out from golden sands, while sailors take to the waters from the island’s multiple ports to enjoy cruises past the picturesque coastline. Of course, if your idea of watersports is simply a relaxed dip, Lefkada can oblige, too. One visit to Porto Katsiki, a curve of cream backed by dramatic cliffs, will convince you that a laidback beach day is all the activity that’s needed.
Best for… beach-based relaxation
Every one of these islands has spectacular beaches, but there’s something magical about kicking back on the coast of verdant Zakynthos (aka Zante), whose bountiful strips of powdered sugar sands fronted by curls of aquamarine surf are perfect for working on a tan. The undisputed highlight is Navagio, or Shipwreck beach, accessed by boat under soaring archways formed by sea water erosion. But the seashore drama doesn’t stop there. Where there aren’t soft sands, there’s rather the opposite: dramatic, plunging limestone cliffs, white as snow, cascade down into the jewelled Ionian waters. Don’t miss the Marathonisi islet – part of the south coast’s National Marine Park – a conservation project supporting endangered loggerhead sea turtles and Mediterranean monk seals. A nesting ground for the turtles in summer, this uninhabited strip can be visited for a serene snorkel or swim, or even on a ray-tickled, glass-bottomed boat ride.
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