Greece – Ionian Island hopping guide

Searching for a taste of unspoiled Greece? Or maybe a busy established resort would fit the bill more closely. Whatever travellers to this cluster of the Greek Ionian islands are looking for, this classy quartet has something to float everyone’s boat. All four are well linked by short ferry crossings so don’t wait, get hopping!

Greece - Ionian Island hopping guide

Kefalonia, Ithaka, Lefkas and Zakynthos, the islands that dangle at the southern tail of the Ionian chain, were all blessed by the Greek gods with more than their fair share of wild beauty, beaches to die for and buzzing towns to hang out in. All four hit the spot for lazy beach holidays, but each has its own distinctly different character.

After all, spread around these heavenly isles are rugged mountain landscapes carpeted with pine and cypress perfect for fragrant hiking, arguably Greece’s very finest sandy beaches and nightlife that runs the whole spectrum from low-key harbourside tavernas to the worst excesses of booze and neon-lit video bars, so it’s a good idea to pick the right one from the start.

Kefalonia in brief

Kefalonia is on the whole a classy, upscale destination with a strong sailing interest centred around Fiskardo, the island’s trendiest resort. A hire car is the best way to get around and explore this large island.

Ithaka in brief

Ithaka is a tiny island – little more than a pair of scorched, scrub-carpeted peaks soaring from the azure perfection of the Mediterranean. Tourist development is in its infancy and there’s not a lot to do. The perfect choice for that ‘get away from it all’ break.

Lefkas in brief

The characterful old town of Lefkada, some of the best beaches in Greece, hiking in the mountainous interior, and the dramatic coastal scenery are four very good reasons to visit Lefkas.

Zakynthos in brief

The Vassilikos Peninsula on Zakynthos is home to rare loggerhead turtle nesting sites and divine beaches, while the wild west coast offers a glimpse into traditional village life on an island that is no stranger to mass tourism

Flights to the Ionian Islands

Direct flights leave from regional airports all over the UK with charter airlines such as Thomson, Thomas Cook, MyTravel and Monarch. Check websites for timings and best deals. The charter flight season runs from April to October.

Scheduled flights from the UK fly to Athens where Olympic Airlines connects to Kefalonia, Zakynthos and Preveza, the airport serving Lefkas, which is about 25km away on the mainland. Ithaca has no airport, but is connected by ferry with Kefalonia or Lefkas.

Getting around the Ionian Islands

Greece - Ionian Island

Olympic Airlines flies between Kefalonia and Preveza (Lefkas), also between Kefalonia and Zakynthos, and between Zakynthos and Preveza. But who’s in a hurry? – it’s far more fun to travel by ferry. However, ferry links are not always in the most user-friendly places, so taxis or a hire car are often necessary to travel between ports and hotels.

The good news is that the islands are clustered closely together so short ferry crossings are no longer than a couple of hours. Greek ferry schedules change from one year to the next and can be hilariously erratic. The latest version of the Greek Island Hopping guide published annually by Thomas Cook should help.

Although using public transport is eco-friendly and can be fun, networks on these islands are pretty rudimentary, so getting around is best done by hire car. Hire cars are cheap, but will bump up the price of ferry crossings if taken between islands. Ithaka is so tiny that a scooter should do the job.

When picking up a hire car from the airport, there’s no point in taking up any deals involving a pre-paid tank of fuel, as it is unlikely that enough distance will be covered to use the whole tank and the car may end up being returned half-full of the pre-paid petrol.

Greek Islands Bicycle Touring on the Ionians

The seven main islands of the Ionian region, called the Eptanissa by the Greeks, stand apart from other Greek islands. Due to the higher than average rainfall, the landscape is rich with lush olive groves and forests filled with pine and cypress trees, unlike the arid rocky terrain common elsewhere.

The combination of mountains, stunning coastlines and fertile interiors make them an attractive proposition for an island hopping tour on two wheels rather than by boat, the more common method of travel between the islands.

A charming weeklong bicycle tour is one that takes in three of the lesser-known islands, starting and ending from Lefkada and taking in Kefalonia and tiny Ithaca on the way.

Greek Island Hopping

Often overlooked by many visitors, Lefkada is a good starting point for a bicycle tour with some easy gradients along the eastern coast. The popular resort of Nidri offers a tranquil yet bustling haven for a first night stop with a wide choice of restaurants overlooking the many smaller islands like private Skorpios owned by the Onassis family.

A tough but optional climb to the famous white church at the top of the island allows a spectacular vista over the many smaller islands beyond. Rest in a mountain taverna before heading back down to windy Vassiliki to catch the ferry to Kefalonia.

Discover Kefalonia by Bicycle

Ionian Island hopping guide

The largest of the Ionian islands, odd shaped Kefalonia covers 781 sq. km and, despite its lack of ancient buildings, most of which were flattened by the 1953 earthquake, is nevertheless awesome due to its rugged beautiful mountains towering over some of the most stunning coastline in the Mediterranean.

Myrtes beach is probably the most dramatic of all in Greece and is unspoilt due to its inaccessibility 500m below the coast road.

Spend two nights on the island and take in the best of the hills and tranquil scenery by cycling from the northern harbour town of trendy Fikardos to Sami, via Myrtes beach and the popular caves of Drogarti and Melissani.

Sami itself is a little disappointing, despite the locals claim to fame (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was filmed there), but the cycle touring in the area is breathtaking from every vista.

Discover Ithaca on a Greek Islands Bicycle Touring Holiday

Take the ferry from Sami and an entirely different experience awaits on Ithaca, the home of Odysseus. This tiny, narrow, rocky island with an hourglass figure can be cycled from end to end in one day but the cyclist needs to take time to appreciate Ithaca’s magic.

Start at Vathi, the harbour town capital situated at the end of a sheltered horseshoe bay; it has a subtle colonial elegance unlike any other thanks to the Venetians. Stay a night before heading north along the only main road to Frikes via Stavros Those with energy can try the challenging ascent to Mount Neritos, which is rewarded by breathtaking views looking down on Vathi, some 800m below. The ferry from Frikes marks the end of the tour and a celebration back at Nidri.

Best Times for Island Hopping in Greece

Avoid the intense heat of summer due to risks of dehydration.
April – June and Sept – November are ideal.
To get to the Greek Ionians, fly to Preveza on the mainland and onwards to Lefkada (40 minutes by taxi)

Greek Island Cycle Tour

Whether the goal is to reach the highpoint on every island or just to revel in the tranquillity of the Greek islands, the Ionians offer a charming mix for all abilities of cyclists. Just be sure to practice changing a bike tire before the trip.

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