They are known as the Heptanese (Ἑπτάνησα or Ἑπτάνησος in Greek and Eptaneso in Italian) meaning the “Seven Islands”. Their name is related to their number. They are simply the Ionian Islands of Greece.
I O N I A N I S L A N D S
The principal islands are seven in number but there are lots of smaller islets scattered off the coasts of Western and Southern Peloponnese in the Ionian Sea. They bear the Venetian flavour and Greek hospitality. No matter you choose Corfu or Zante, Ithaka or Kefalonia, Paxos & Antipaxos, Lefkada or Meganisi, they all combine natural beauty, strong traditions and rich history, wine-making and, of course, the cleanest beaches of Europe and crystal clean, celestial-blue-green water. Amazing, isn’t it?
K E F A L O N I A (C E P H A L L O N I A)
It is the biggest of the 7 seven islands and the 6th largest island of Greece. It is also one of the most mountainous islands of the Heptanese. It was named after Theseus’ son – Cephalus. The island’s capital is Argostoli which has a notable and a very picturesque harbour. Unfortunately the capital city was fully destroyed in the earthquake of 1953 and it was re-constructed following the local traditional architecture. The most beautiful town is Fiskardo. There is no doubt Kefalonia is much photographed and loved because of the amazing combination of dark green mountains and celestial waters and dazzling beaches, stately towns and settlements and awe-inspiring attractions. That sheer beauty has inspired locals so much and that’s why they are so open-minded, love jokes and laugh and are always ready to help. Their spontaneous behaviour and character are “contagious” and you need little time to feel carefree as they do.
Z A N T E (Z A K Y N T H O S)
Il fiore del Levante or To fioro tou Levante (The Flower of the East) ….. The island of Zakyntos (or Zante – the Italian name is also used) is one of the Greek-Venetian pearls of the Ionian Sea. It’s the southernmost of the Heptanese and the most beautiful one, in my opinion. It is too diverse in all terms. It offers something to every taste. The architecture and traditions are influenced mainly by the Venetians. Its nature is splendid. The beaches are marvelous. Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta-Caretta) and monk seals (Monachus-Monachus) are the most famous sea inhabitants there attracting thousands of tourists annually. There are too many landmarks on the island of Zante, the most popular ones being the Blue Caves and Navagio (the word “navagio” means shipwreck). The tiny cove hosts the shipwrecked smuggler ship Panagiotis.
L E F K A D A
White colour (or “lefkos” in ancient Greek) has even given the name of Lefkas Petra (the white rocks on the southern cape of one of the Ionian Islands, i.e. of Lefkada, that immerge from the turquoise blue and celestial sea. Nowadays the island of Lefkada spreads out on a territory of 302 km2 and ranks fourth among the Ionian Islands after Cephalonia, Corfù and Zante. It has a population of about 22 thousand inhabitants. Its charm and splendor hide in the extremely beautiful white-sand-stone beaches, mountainous villages and local traditions and cuisine.
Being on the island of Lefkada, of course, we cannot omit the most beautiful Hellenic beach and one of the 10th most amazing beaches in the world – Porto Katsiki. The name means the “the goat port” because only goats could reach it in the past. Today this paradise as well as the nearby Egremni beach is reachable by sea and by road but for sure, the greatest attraction is a daily cruise from Nydri (on the island of Lefkada). When the three-deck cruise ship anchors at the beaches, you have no other choice but fall in love with the crystal clean sea waters with numerous shades of blue, the gorgeous rocks and the beach.
There are two nice small villages around Lefkada – amphitheatrically built Poros and the village of Syvota. The latter is situated 12km away from Nydri. It is worth visiting because it possesses one of the few natural ports. Its beauty and peace have attracted a great number of Italian and French rich people who have bought villas (one of them is Giorgio Armani).
On the other hand, the island of Lefkada is surrounded by small islets. Some of them are private ones. The Island of Arcoudi is a tiny islet which belongs to a family of Ithaka. It’s also named as “the Bear Island” because it resembles a head of a bear when looked at from above. It was sold out for 8 million euro and the price also included the 1400 goats that inhabited the island. Other islands are Scorpios (Aristotle Onassis’s private property) and …….
M E G A N I S I
The island is a very tiny one consisting of three villages only. It’s one of the few places on Earth where beaches (some of them accessible only by sea) haven’t lost their virgin nature and it turns it into an extremely romantic place. The reason for this is the few population as well as the limited tourist development (as a matter of fact, it’s frequented by a limited number of tourists annually). The island is situated between Lefkada and the mainland of Greece and it’s under the jurisdiction of Lefkada. Principally, the Ionian Islands are dotted with several extremely beautiful sea caves, one of them being Papanikolis Cave. It is located in the sea off the island of Meganisi and is accessible from Nydri which is a small village on the white island of Lefkada. Although the cave is not a typical sea cave but a karst one, nowadays it’s inundated by the sea.
There’re three interesting facts about the cave and here they are. During the Ottoman rule a priest called “papas” and his students and followers found a shelter namely in that cave and thus saved themselves from pirates. Later during the World War II the cave was used as a hideaway of the Papanikolis submarine (550 tons, with 6 torpedo and two weapons) which used to come to the cave where locals provided supplies of food and fresh water. It didn’t fall under Italian and German the radars as well and after an attack over the Italian armada the submarine found a shelter here. In present times it is a preferred place and shelter for ships in bad weather because the cave is large enough and is about 30 metres deep in order to accommodate big vessels. And last thing about the cave. It’s a spicy folk saying that the cave is the place for “making captains”. What does it mean? Local fishermen and their wives have a rest there after an intense day in the sea. While they enjoy the peace of the cave, women always share with their husbands they are pregnant … 😉
C O R F U
It is one of the most magical islands of Hellas where you move from one epoch to another, breath freely and adore the three shades of blue. Yes, it is true. For instance, when you head for the amazing Achilleion Palace, you bump into a Byzantine church and ancient Roman ruins situated on both sides on the road. There is no Ottoman influence on island simply because Corfù is the only Ionian island that was never under Ottoman dominion. But the Venetian atmosphere is too feasible and it brings you to the romantic world of brave warriors and princesses. Of course, Greek mythology is not missing. Gods and nymphs will follow you wherever you go on The Island of the Nymphs and also on the islands ….
P A X O S & A N T I P A X O S
The history of both of the islands is connected with that of Corfu. Nowadays they are under the jurisdiction of the island. But there is one, let’s call it, a mythic connection between Paxos and Corfu. Poseidon, as the God of the Sea, brought his women to different islands and afterwards, in marital bliss, he usually dedicated them to his ladies. This happened to nymph Amphitrite as well. Poseidon fell in love with her, threw his trident on the island of Corfu and a piece of it picked off. Namely, this piece is Paxos today and the trident of Poseidon is its symbol. The capital city is Gaios at whose entrance there are two islets (Agios Nikolaos iand Panagia) in rich vegetation which gives a natural protection when ships and boats anchor. Antipaxos is an idyllic place, real paradise with its blue-and-green waters and white-sand beaches.
I T H A K A
And finally, Ithaka is the 2nd smallest island after the Paxie (the collective name of Paxos and Antipaxos). The mythical island of Odysseus is an idyllic and romantic islet whose main city is Vathy. Ithaka posses six small villages and the main vocation of the locals is livestock breeding and fishing. The emerald and sapphire gem of the Ionian Sea is a quiet place with no traffic where one feels in Paradise.