Updated: Jul 29
Fertile, green and delightfully uncrowded, the Ionian Islands are on the western side of Greece, closer to Italy than Athens. These islands were formed by the shifting of tectonic plates. From thousands of years of erosion, they have been shaped into the stunning beauties they are today. The best way to enjoy the gorgeous beaches both pebble and sand, the numerous coves and caves, and the intriguing history is by chartering a Sailing Vessel or Motor Yacht.
Using our reciprocal benefits with The Moorings yacht ownership program, we recently spent 3 weeks exploring the Ionian Islands with 7 days of that exploration by motor yacht. If you are interested in or have questions about yacht ownership, please email me. We are in our second contract with The Moorings and absolutely love small yacht cruising as a way to explore the the world.
Day One - Gouvia Marina
The largest island and center of commerce and tourism for the Ionian Islands is Corfu. We met my sister and her husband in Athens and flew into Corfu from the Athens airport. Our 43 foot, 3 stateroom yacht was waiting for us at Gouvia Marina, just outside Corfu Town. Gouvia is a full service marina with a grocery store, other shops, several restaurants, showers, laundry services, children's playground and a swimming pool. After stocking up on a few provisions and talking over logistics with our Skipper Yiannis, we headed out to explore the Ionian Sea.
Just a note about Charter Skippers.... the Mediterranean requires an International Competency Certificate to Captain a vessel in the their waters. CaptK does not have that certification, therefore we have used Local Captains in three Mediterranean destinations. Each skipper had his own personality, and all three were outstanding. The local captains know the best places to overnight, they are experienced with the "med-moor" method of docking, they know the best restaurants, and the best places to snorkel, dive, hike and sights to see! I highly recommend Local Captains in a Mediterranean Destination.
Day One - Cruising from Gouvia, Corfu to Lakka, Paxos
I have to admit, I am a geography nerd. I love maps. I love understanding how history, culture and food is impacted by geography. It is interesting to note that architecture and food in the Ionian Islands are significantly impacted by their proximity to Italy. As we were leaving Gouvia Marina, Yiannis pointed out the snow capped mountains pictured in the first photograph above. Those mountains are on mainland Albania. I am embarrassed to say, I did not realize Albania so close to Corfu. We sailed around the eastern point of Corfu Town and took some great pictures of the old Fortress, part of which dates back to the Roman Empire.
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Day 1 - Lakka, Paxos
Our first overnight was on the quay in Lakka, on the northern tip of Paxos. This is a delightful coastal village with a protected harbor, nice shops, restaurants and a pretty, pebble beach for swimming. After a morning filled with travel and logistics, we put on our hiking shoes and headed out to stretch our legs and explore.
Day 1 - Hike to the Lighthouse
Our skipper Yiannis sent us in the direction of a lighthouse on the northwest shore of Paxos. It lights the way for sailors making the passage between Corfu and Paxos. This lighthouse was established in 1825 during the British rule of the Ionian Islands. Once you get to the top of the hill, it is easy to find the lighthouse by walking south along the road. the entrance to the light is locked, however you can walk all around it. There are trails that take you out to sweeping views of the coast.
Day 1 - Dinner at Alexandros
One of the best meals we ate on the trip was at the family owned and operated Alexandro's just off the main square in Lakka. We were invited into the kitchen to see what had been prepared for that evenings menu. The family was warm, welcoming and so proud of the heritage. The meal was prepared by family recipes handed down from previous generations. The food was made with fresh ingredients and was delicious.
Day Two - Cruising to Preveza, Mainland Greece for a Lunch Stop, Overnight on Meganisi
Once we enjoyed a morning coffee and a pastry in Lakka, we sailed off to our next stop, Preveza on Mainland Greece to the southeast of Paxos. It was a beautiful Sunday in May, with a cool breeze from the northwest. There were lots of others boats out sailing that morning keeping us entertained on our 36 mile voyage to Preveza.
Day 2 - Preveza, Mainland Lunch Stop
As quaint and charming as Lakka was, Preveza is modern and lively. The quay is long and wide with many boats moored there. The options for dining, shopping and provisioning are plentiful. The stores are well stocked and have anything you may need. If you are looking to stretch your legs, it is an interesting walk from one end of the quay to the other.
Day 2 - Lunch at Treli Gaida (The Crazy Shrimp)
Sunday lunch is a relaxing family meal in most parts of Greece. We were able to get a table at Treli Gaida, one block inland from the quay, and join other Greek families in the Sunday Lunch tradition. Treli Gaida is known for their Shrimp Saganaki, shrimp cooked in tomato sauce and feta cheese. It was outstanding as was the grilled shrimp. Both were nicely paired with the house white wine.
Day 2 - Sailing to Meganisi through the Lefkas Canal
After filling our stomaches and stretching our legs, we ere back on the boat and heading to the mostly rural island in the Ionian chain, Meganisi to overnight. Meganisi is about 18 miles south of Preveza. It is an interesting sail because you pass through a swing bridge that connects Lefkas to the mainland. Then you take the 3.5 mile long canal past the Lefkas Marina, past the island of Skorpios, once owned by Aristotle Onassis and on to the quiet port on Meganisi.
Day 2 - Porto Spiglia, Meganisi - Overnight
Mooring quayside, we spent some time enjoying the pebbly beach. In May the water is quite chilly but refreshing after our sail. The interesting thing about some of these smaller Marinas is that they provide quayside docking, water, and electricity at no charge as long as you eat in their restaurant.
Day 2 - Dinner at Porto Spiglia
Porto Spiglia is primarily a fish taverna, with local fisherman bringing in their catch daily. After the owner showed us what the fresh options were that evening, we feasted on grilled Sea Bream and Scorpion Fish. The fish was cooked on an open flame grill and stuffed with herbs picked that morning and lemon. What a way to end a beautiful day on the water, fresh fish eaten under the stars!
Day 3 - Hike to Spartachori, Papanikolis Cave, Lunch in Kioni, Ithaca, Overnight Fiskardo, Kefalonia
Nothing better than a quiet morning sail, while sipping on a cup of coffee.
Day 3 - Hike to Spartachori
Before leaving Meganisi, part of our group climbed to the village of Spartachori at the top of the hill. behind Porto Spiglia. A church anchors the town square that has sweeping views of the mainland and islands to the north. There is also a small hotel on the square. Between the square and the beach is a cave, the path to the entrance of the cave was blocked with rocks and tree trunks making it impassible to get to the cave. We think it was blocked for safety reasons.
Day 3 - Papanikolis Cave
Because of the wind and water erosion of the rocks, the Ionian Islands have many caves. One of the most famous is on the western side of Meganisi, Papanikolis Cave. This cave is named after the WWII Greek Submarine that was hidden from the Germans in the cave. It is interesting to note that in many places the deep blue water color goes directly up to a sheer rock face, the water can be as deep as 250 ft deep. The lighter aquamarine color in the last picture is where the water is more shallow.
Day 3 - Kioni, Ithaca
Ithaca is a small rugged island, immortalized as the home of Odysseus by Homer in the Odyssey and the Iliad. We stopped at the picturesque village of Kioni for lunch. The town lines the horseshoe shaped harbor, which is dotted with shops and tavernas. It is such a beautiful place, it is easy to see why Odysseus fought so hard to get home.
Day 3 - Lunch Avra Taverna
When we are in Greece, CaptK and I generally eat both lunch and dinner out. That is not the case when we are cruising in the BVI or the Bahamas. The food in Greece is just so darn good. Every restaurant has a family garden where the herbs and vegetables they serve grow. There is no word for farm to table in Greek, because everything is farm to table. If it is not grown locally, it's not eaten. Avra Taverna is a perfect example of delicious, fresh, locally grown options prepared impeccably. Tucked away in the far corner of the harbor, it is just the place to experience traditional Greek food.
Day 3 - A Walk around Kioni after Lunch
After lunch we took a walk around the harbor to enjoy the beautiful vistas. It is easy to understand why people have inhabited this island since the 8th century BCE.
Day 3 - Overnight Fiskardo, Kefalonia
Archaeological finds indicate that humans have been living on Kefalonia since 50,000 BCE. The island flourished in Mycenaen times (1600-1100 BCE) and was captured by the Romans in 2nd century BCE. From 1500 to 1700 CE the island was ruled by the Venetians. You can see their fingerprints in the 18th century houses that cluster around the harbor, along with coffee shops, cafes and nice gift shops.
Day 3 - A Walk Around Town and a Sundowner
We took a walk around town and made a reservation for dinner. Happy hour is not something that you see very often in Greece. The Greeks are usually drinking coffee at that time of day. Lucky for us, Panormos, the restaurant recommended for dinner, had a happy hour on the patio bar, overlooking the sea. Giving a nod to the greek custom of coffee in the late afternoon, I ordered an espresso martini.
Day 3 - Dinner Panormos
Panormos is a Mother/Daughter run restaurant in the cove just south of the main harbor. It has stunning views and non-traditional options on their menu, like the contemporary version of Shrimp Saganaki in the first picture above. The food is refreshingly different, but definitely Greek.
Day 4 - Hike Kefalonia, Lunch Vasiliki, Lefkada, Overnight Sivota, Lefkada
The morning light adds an extra glow to the brightly colored building in Fiskardo.
Day 4 - Hike The Cypress Trail, Kefalonia
Morning coffee was quickly downed as we headed out for the longest hike of the trip. Behind the town of Fiskardo is an EU Protected Natural Area and the 8 mile Cypress Trail. I found the trail on Alltrails, my main source of hiking trails when traveling. This trail has an 887 ft elevation gain that offers spectacular views. You wander through ruins on the climb out of town and established neighborhoods at the top of the hill. You come down to the south of the village and walk back along the road.
Day 4 - Roman Burial Ground and a Sweet Treat at the end of the Trail, Kefalonia
On the road back to town, you will find an ancient Roman cemetery that is an active archaeological site. The coffins in the first picture are part of that site. In town, we stopped at Melina Patisserie. Her offerings definitely live up to their reputation as the best bakery in the Ionians. It is a tasty place to refuel after a hike.
Day 4 - Vasiliki, Lefkada
As tempting as it is to spend another day in Fiskardo, we sail off to Vasiliki, the windsurfing capital of western Greece. This is a pretty, modern town with a well shaded waterfront and a brand new marina.
Day 4 - Lunch Penguin Taverna
One of the things I love about Greek food is the heavy Italian influence. I have eaten some of the best pizza in Greece! The Penguin Taverna, on the waterfront in Vasiliki, has authentic wood fired pizza. CaptK and I shared a delicious pie, made with local sausage, peppers and onions. They also serve traditional Greek dishes and fresh fish. Gary, the owner and his son are at the restaurant everyday, serving up deliciousness to travelers and locals.
Day 4 - Overnight Sivota, Lefkada
The next cove over is Sivota on Lefkada, not to be confused with Sivota on the mainland. We visited both cities, however we stayed overnight in Sivota on Lefkada. Sivota is a modern city with provisioning, gift shops and cafes designed to attract boaters. Floating docks with water and electricity are available for overnight stays at no charge as long as you eat have dinner at the restaurant that owns the dock.There are also showers and a washing machine available to use. There is a pretty, pebbly beach for swimming on the eastern side of the harbor.
Day 4 - Dinner 12 Gods Restaurant, Sivota, Lefkada
On the recommendation of Yiannis, we stayed on the 12 Gods Restaurant floating dock and ate at the 12 Gods Restaurant. This was one of the best meals we had in Greece. CaptK picked out a huge lobster for dinner served grilled, which he shared with my sister. You can see the wide assortment of seafood available that night, in the first photograph. They also serve traditional Greek dishes like the stuffed tomatoes I enjoyed.
Day 5 - Lunch Ammoudia, Acheron River Tour, Wine and Olive Oil Tasting, Overnight Parga, on the Mainland
After a ride north through the Lefkas Canal and along the western side of mainland Greece, we stopped at Ammoundia where the mythological five rivers of Hades converge. The Acheron River is the longest of the rivers and it spills into the Ionian Sea at Ammoudia. The river Styx converges with the Acheron River about a half mile inland. These rivers marked the beginning of the underworld in mythology.
Day 5 - Lunch at Taverna Pateras, Ammoudia, Mainland
Ammoudia is a coastal village with a big, wide, sandy beach. It sits along the Acheron River at the place where the river meets the Ionian Sea. There are multiple tavernas along the river to the north and the remains of the ancient customs house on the south side of the river. We had a lunch of traditional Greek dishes at Taverna Pateras before embarking on the Acheron River Excursion.
Day 5 - Acheron River Excursion, Mainland
Unauthorized boats are not allowed to enter the Acheron River Basin because it is an EU Protected Natural Area. The only way to visit this area is by small tour boat.
It is a peaceful ride up the Acheron River to the River Styx. There are turtles, protected birds and bright blue dragon flies. These rivers played a large role in Greek Mythology. They were the boarder between Earth and Underworld. Achilles’ mother dipped him into the river Styx as a child to give him invulnerability, only his heel which she was holding was vulnerable. The ferryman Charon transported bodies from Earth to the Underworld. In several cultures, coins are placed on the eye sockets of the dead to pay the ferryman. This is a custom started in greek Mythology by Charon. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and cost 5 euros for each passenger.
Day 5 - Overnight, Parga Mainland
Parga is a picturesque town on mainland Greece, where colorful buildings line the harbor and beaches. The back streets and alleyways wander via stairs up the hill. Gift shops, cafes and tavernas line these pedestrian walkways. The bay is dotted with small, verdant islands that are home to bright white religious buildings. In the early morning, you can see swimmers getting their exercise by padding between the island and shore.
Day 5 - Wine and Olive Oil Tasting, Parga Mainland
About halfway up the hill is a Paragaea Old Olive Oil Factory that focuses on turn of the century olive oil production. Our Skipper arranged for them to do an evening olive oil and wine tasting followed by dinner at the quayside restaurant, Aegis. Cassie, from the museum, took us on an educational journey through Greek olive oils and wines. She expanded our knowledge of these integral parts of Greek life. The health benefits of a diet rich in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, especially first harvest, cold extraction Extra Virgin Olive Oil are widely documented and proven by the long life spans of the Greek people. This is particularly true of Greek people living on the islands. You can book wine and olive oil tastings directly on the on the Aegis website.
Day 5 - Dinner Aegis Restaurant, Parga Mainland
Aegis is directly on the seaside, on the northwestern side of the quay. Their food is absolutely delicious. The menu is full of fresh, local ingredients prepared with a contemporary twist. Pictured above is Sea Bass on Shrimp Risotto with Mussels and Herb Crusted Lamb Chops.
Day 6 - Hike to Castle Parga, Lunch Anti-Paxos, Overnight Gaios Paxos
The Castle at Parga has dominated the landscape since the 11th century. It was built to protect the city and its citizens from pirates and the Ottomans.
Day 6 - Coffee and Hike to the Castle, Parga Mainland
One of my greatest pleasures is enjoying a cup of coffee slowly, while watching a resort village awaken. Parga did not disappoint. Mornings start slowly and quietly, as the sun rises the activity level rises. By noon the seaside town is lively and bustling,
The hike to the Castle is a walk upwards on pedestrian streets of stairs. The vistas are spectacular. The gift shops beckon you in to look at their treasures. Cafes offering ice creams and cold drinks are available to refresh you on your climb.
Once you reach the top, you have a 360 degree view of the glimmering Ionian Sea, old town Parga and the wide sandy beaches and resorts to the west of old town Parga. Originally constructed in the 11th century, this castle was demolished and rebuilt 3 times before it was abandoned in 1819 during the British rule of this part of Greece.
It is fascinating to walk among the ruins and imagine what life was like for the people who lived on this hilltop fortress. You can see cavernous structures that were used as storage or as an armory. It is easy to identify barracks and sentry posts. You expect at any moment pirates will come sailing into the harbor.
Day 6 - Tour of Olive Oil Museum, Parga Mainland
As we meandered down to sea level, we went in search of Paragaea Old Olive Oil Factory . We wanted to purchase some bottles to take home. Luckily a tour was about to begin and our olive oil and wine educator from the night before, Cassie invited us to join the tour. At the turn of the 19th century, an Olive Oil Factory processed olives just up the hill in Parga.
Families brought the fruit from their trees here to be processed. The early harvest oil was used for cooking. The later harvest oil was used to light their lamps. It was so interesting to see how little the process has changed from the 1900's to today.
Day 6 - Lunch and Snorkeling, Anti-Paxos
This small island has only 100 full time residents and the vineyards outnumber the olive trees. It is renown for having some of the most beautiful beaches in the Ionian archipelago. Pristine sand and stunning cerulean seas are what greeted us as we cruised into two beautiful bays. You can see from the pictures above the colors of the water is stunning! We stopped at Paralia Vrika and one of the world's most beautiful beaches, Mesovrika Beach.
Even though the water was quite chilly, none of us could pass up a dip in these gorgeous waters. I even did a bit of snorkeling along the rocky cliffs.
Day 6 - Overnight Gaios, Paxos
The waterfront villages of Paxos are lined with brightly colored Venetian style buildings, complete with balconies and shutters. Each one is prettier than the next. We spent our last night at sea in Gaios. Gaios is a lively, smallish, resort town. It has a large quay for boaters and plenty of cafes, restaurants, gift shops and places get provisions.
Day 6 - Dinner Erimitis, Paxos
This spectacular restaurant had its humble beginning in 2001, where it started as a taverna and bar in a vineyard. In 2004, they began an expansion that focused on giving diners a relaxed atmosphere to enjoy a high quality meal with a magical sea view, especially at sunset. We treated ourselves to Crab Ravioli, Veal Cheek and Lamb Fillet Cassarole, accompanied by a rich earthy bottle of Greek Red Wine. If you enjoy fine dining or are looking for a splurge dinner on Paxos, this is your place.
Day 7 - Walk around Gaios, Lunch Sivota, Overnight Gouvia, Corfu
Above is a statue of one of Paxos most famous citizens, Consantinos Kanaris. Born and raised in Paxos, he was the first soldier killed in the Greek War for Independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821. This statue rests proudly on the entrance to the harbor in Gaois.
Day 7 - Morning Coffee and Walk around Gaios
One of the best things about small yacht cruising is the ability to explore the small towns and villages at your own pace. I love to take a morning walk, watch a village wake up and enjoy my morning coffee where the locals have their coffee. On our morning in Gaios, I wandered along the southern coast, watched a fisherman working on his nets and shop owners opening their businesses.
Day 7 - The Blue Caves on the Western Shore of Paxos
On the western shore of Paxos are some of the most beautiful sea caves in the Mediterranean. Greek Mythology tells us, Poseidon, the god of the sea severed the south tip of Corfu island with one strike of his trident and pulled it southward to create a secluded retreat for his wife Amphitriti. Massive white rocks stand vertically along the whole western side of the island. Here wind and water erosion created famous blue caves. Mythology says, in the blue cave of Ypapanti, which is 1200m long and leads to the centre of the island, was home to the marble palace of Poseidon and his mistress. These caves are only accessible by boat.
Day 7 - Lunch Georgeos Family Restaurant, Sivota Mainland
We made a lunch and fuel stop at Sivota on mainland Greece. (There are two cities named Sivota in the Ionian region, one on the island of Lefkas, the other further north on mainland Greece.) Our primary reason for stopping in Sivota was get fuel. All Charter Boats must refuel before returning to the marina. The fuel prices are less expensive in Sivota, so we refueled there and only topped off the fuel after we crossed to Gouvia Marina on Corfu.
Lunch at Georgeos Family Restaurant
Sivota is a modern resort town on mainland Greece. The waterfront is lined with open air restaurants. The back streets have nice gift shops and beach town amusements like arcades and small a putt putt golf. While the boat was refueling, we had a delicious lunch at Georgeos Family Restaurant. Their menu is filled with traditional Greek Cuisine that is authentically prepared.
Day 7 - Overnight Gouvia, Corfu
It was bittersweet crossing back to Gouvia Marina. We enjoyed our time island hopping in the Ioanian. Quiet, not crowded, and stunningly beautiful, these islands gave us insight into the history and traditions of Greek Life. We did get back in enough time to enjoy some watersports and swimming pool time at the marina before dinner.
Day 7 - Dinner Ambelonas Winery, Corfu
Ambelonas is built on the idea "an authentic traditional wine needs to be combined with authentic foods." The owner and chef Mrs.Vasiliki Karounou "undertook a search of forgotten flavors, explored historical sources and by experimenting with local ingredients has resulted and published a cookbook with traditional local recipes that brings back the cooking secrets and flavors of previous generations on the island and served at Ambelonas’ restaurant. Ambelonas." It is these ideals are what drove me to booking a reservation before we left the United States.
Our meal was outstanding. Keep in mind that their menu is very seasonal. The evening we were there, we feasted on spring green salad with radishes, prosciutto and shaved cheese to start. Followed by Veal Sofrito, slices of lean meat slowly cooked with garlic, parsley and white wine served with roasted potatoes and Goat Kavraman, boneless meat cooked with wine, herbs and spices, served with risotto. This was one of the best meals we ate in our three weeks in Greece.
Have you done small yacht cruising in the Ionian Sea? Please leave your favorite port of call in the comments section below.
Recommended Tours for Athens:
Here are my best recommendations for Hotels in Athens:
For a luxury experience: Grande Bretagne Hotel
For a more budget friendly experience: NEW Hotel
Or Hotel Fresh
Here are my best recommendations for Accommodations throughout Greece:
Eretria, Evia - Elia Luxury Apartments
Elounda, Crete - Elounda Heights Hotel
Agios Nikolaos, Crete - Ikaros Art Hotel
Nea Chora, Crete - Sea & Town Getaway
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