Ionian Idyll – Back to Greece!

  • Posted on: 7 July 2021
  • By: Aline Dobbie

To sail in the Ionian, one needs to fly into Preveza to the small modern airport of Aktio on the mainland of Greece adjacent to the island of Lefkas.  Our yacht is moored at Nydri which a charming little town with a beautiful beachfront on Lefkas and acts as a gateway to the Ionian islands for sailing and visiting by ferries; a taxi ride takes about fifty minutes to reach the Iris Hotel at the far end of Nydri.  This lovely family-owned hotel has the most comfortable of apartments according to your budget and number of family or companions – Effie and Christos give you a warm welcome. There are two beautiful inviting pools, a gracious dining and relaxing area, a bar which leads to much conviviality and the owners have the pontoon opposite on which one can moor the yacht.  They also own several motorboats with which to explore lovely little beaches and nearby islands or just enjoy being out on the inviting blue sea. There are bikes to use and a paddle board or two. Sailors living on their yachts can use the public WCs and Showers and the Laundry which is hugely valuable facility.  We chose to have a studio apartment for three weeks and could sail, or not as we pleased. Swimming in the pools was a favourite for me with a bit of careful sunbathing and of course reading.  The view is superb whether it be early in the mornings viewing the sunrise, or in the late afternoon and then evening when the bay is lit by the setting sun.

My day would start exceedingly early, as I am a sun rise worshipper and the colours are superb for photography – a quiet swim and then breakfast with chilled fresh orange juice, a plate of bacon and tomatoes and whatever takes one’s fancy served by the charming Lela.  The kitchen provides good simple Greek food to suit both non-veg and vegetarian choices – and for our wedding anniversary they cooked the most wonderful huge prawns with garlic rice and lemon. The bar is sophisticated and managed by the excellent ‘Argy’, and his Sangria is a total delight!   Those who are guests living in the hotel and those on their yachts all intermingle so well and the ambience therefore is good and lively – or as I say in the early morning tranquil and calm with just some birdsong.

There is a particularly good mix of British, Dutch in large numbers, some Germans, some Italians and French and Greeks.  It is such a favourite hotel that guests return year after year either to sail, or just to relax. have a flotilla moored on the pontoon and it is the ideal place from which to start a chartered sailing holiday perhaps for a week, then stay for a week in the hotel … or for as long as takes your fancy. Sailing Holidays is a company started by an enthusiastic New Zealander who continues to take a close interest in the company and has a villa nearby for his frequent visits. I recommend them as a company with a fine array of yachts, according to your size of party and your budget as to what you would like in the way of luxury and comfort. They can provide skippered yachts of various sizes, medium to large, to seriously large, or bare boat sailing in groups of two, four or six persons or larger which means the party do all the sailing themselves but are in a flotilla which ensures they are safe and confident in their activities and have someone on whom to rely for professional sailing advice.  That can be great fun, but sometimes just sailing as a couple is the best for relaxation and enjoyment. 

We ourselves have sailed widely in the area over the last few years and found it a most relaxing and enjoyable way to enjoy the Ionian Islands. Our favourite haunt is the island of Meganisi, which takes a 45-minute boat journey from the Iris Pontoon; the bay of Spiglia and Spartakhori is enchanting.  Moor up alongside the lovely simple but excellent taverna at the head of the bay and enjoy good food. this is a big favourite with us in a beautiful bay with lovely beach, safe swimming in crystal clear water with showers, and a bar that serves snacks and drinks with thatched umbrellas on the beach; the ancient village of Spartachori is up a steep good road but affords wonderful views. The beach alongside with its thatched huts is just our idea of bliss as is the clean safe water for swimming.  The capital of Meganisi is Little Vathi which is charming to visit. We have spotted dolphins in the Meganisi Strait many times.

Sivota to which one sails through the Meganisi Strait, perhaps an hour and half journey has a host of tavernas and flats and villas and is a haven for yachts of all sizes. The favourite for us is the Family Café which makes one welcome with the most enormous size of plates of your choice. There is also good shopping. Vasiliki is a small port also on Lefkas which has renovated its port facilities and is a lively place in the evenings and the Ocean is a good fish restaurant.  By car Vasiliki is an enjoyable drive with great views of the mountains of Lefkas and the fertile valley on one’s right. After one night in port, we then sailed across to island of Cephalonia to Fiskardo.  Sailing here is beautiful and not dangerous, but one must be aware of other craft, most especially ferries of all sizes that move at speed amongst Greece’s islands. This is a beautiful but smallish port and difficult to get a mooring .... also challenging if the winds change ... as they did!  However, after a blowy night we came into port and enjoyed another two days; the restaurants are good and colourful, and the shops are full of beautiful fashionable items, clothes, and jewellery. Fiskardo has the remains of an ancient Roman cemetery to explore near a good taverna. Then we sailed down to Eufemia also on Cephalonia. Cephalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands and became famous with the poignant book Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and the film of the same name which was the story of a local girl meeting an Italian soldier during the World War 2 occupation and the subsequent cruel behaviour of Nazi Germany who then occupied Greece and executed thousands.   We looked at Sami which is a lovely town and port and was the location for much of that famous haunting film. We then sailed on to the island of Ithaca.

Since ancient times, the name of the island has been known all over the world as the homeland of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s Odyssey. Archaeologists and scholars generally identify the island with Homer’s Ithaca, explaining that the differences in descriptions resulted either because of Homer’s lack of knowledge of the island or by poetic license. Odysseus who played a key role in the Trojan War and is the hero of Homer’s Odyssey besieged Troy for ten years along with other Greek Kings showing brilliance, guile and wisdom and is famous for his Trojan Horse ploy to capture the city of Troy.  His journey home took ten years, but we all know that really the Odyssey is a hymn to human strength, will and perseverance.

We came into Vathi the capital of Ithaca and moored well; the approach to Vathi is through an enormous bay and the whole experience is very striking and beautiful.  This is a nice town with quite a few areas of interest and good tavernas and shops; we hired a car and explored the island which was a delight with beautiful beaches to explore and great heritage.  In 1953 it was ravaged by earthquake but was rebuilt. In the 20th century at a cave on the west side of the island at Poli Bay near Stavros various ancient artefacts were discovered that seemed to prove that Odysseus had existed, and that great story had its origins in truth. The village of Stavros is of interest in relation to Homer and 4 kms from Stavros there are the remains of the School of Homer.

We have sailed into Frikes, before but this time by car we called in and then chose one of the glorious little bays nearby for a swim at Skinari with a picnic on the pebble beach; the water is a clear turquoise, and it is enchanting. We sailed round to Kioni from Vathi early next morning. This lovely village is picturesque and popular with yachties and thus one sets off early to ensure finding a mooring.  Having spent two nights there relaxing and swimming and paddle boarding we sailed across to One House Bay on the island of Akoto which is just beautiful for swimming; the one house is an old chapel and there is no habitation, but this is a beautiful bay in which to snorkel, swim, paddle board and enjoy the turquoise clear waters. We then sailed across to island of Kastos for one night; this is a small port on a little inhabited island and charming with stunning views across the Ionian Sea.  Next morning, we then motored the yacht on to the port of Kalamos on the island of Kalamos.  This too is a very colourful small port and a great favourite with sailors.  One could climb the mountain or walk to the deserted old village, but we just relaxed. We then sailed round to Episcopi which is on the northwest of the island which is a tiny little port but with lovely beaches and just one rudimentary but good taverna.

From there we again sailed to Meganisi Island and little Vathi the capital and moored at Karnagio in the outer bay which was very pleasant.  From Karnagio, which is popular for its amenities – particularly good showers, one can just walk into Vathi which is a pleasant small town. On the second occasion just recently, we moored in Vathi, but we prefer the smaller places.  We then motored the yacht around to Spiglia and Spartachori for two nights.  Swimming off the stern of the yacht or paddle boarding in the blue tranquillity is just bliss.

We hired a car and used it on this recent occasion from which I have returned to explore Lefkas the island – the coastal road of Lefkas has stunning views. Lefkada the capital is about half an hour from Nydri by car and we had a walk around the narrow streets, and we visited the folk museum and enjoyed some lunch.  The capital has a huge marina, and many people store their yachts there during the off season from October to early May.   We drove right round to the west and enjoyed some beaches.

On the day of our departure, we left early and motored to Preveza near to the Aktio airport.  This is a big town but has an attractive heritage quarter which is full of narrow streets, shops, tavernas and cafes.  The marina fronts on to the wide expanse of sea.  It is easy to leave the car at the airport thereafter.

A particular restaurant that I recommend is Elena that is accessible by motorboat or dinghy with outboard or by car.  It is situated right on the water of Vlio Bay at Geni which is to the south of the Iris Hotel.  It is a special place with good fresh fish and everything else of course. On our last evening we had a most excellent meal at another favourite the Pinewood Restaurant at north end of Nydri, which is right down on the beach and shaded but with the most beautiful views in the setting sun; the food is good with attentive service.

Christos and Effie who own the Iris Hotel are the most hospitable of hoteliers and are genuinely loved by all of us.  Covid had obviously seriously challenged them, so it was so good to see the hotel completely full by the time we departed with a busy time ahead.

Currently there are mandatory Covid regulations one must observe; we took the PCR test at a laboratory in Lefkas by appointment within 72 hours of departure and they sent the negative results to us to my email address.  The airport authorities scrutinise carefully both on arrival and at departure.  The Personal Locator Form is mandatory for arrival and sourced from the Greek Government website efficiently; the one to return is sourced from the UK Government and carefully scrutinised at the return airport.

Happily, Covid will one day soon be history, but its legacy has been devastating for so many in hospitality and tourism, whether it be Greece, India, the UK or anywhere else. I pray for the normality of the good times to return for us all. Holidays, travelling, exploring, and relaxing are what we all need and crave from time to time.

For me, my second home is India (as some people already know! – the land of my birth) but my third home is Greece.  I first went to Greece as a girl of 16 and fell in love with the country and her islands.  I always wish the Greeks well, and will return soon.  Yassas!

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Aline Dobbie July 2021 Greek Idyll Gallery 2021