“Dwell in shining Ithaca, there is a mountain there, high Neriton, covered in forests. Many islands lie around it, very close to each other, Doulichion, Same, and wooded Zacynthos, but low lying Ithaca is farthest out to sea, toward the sunset, and the others are apart, towards the dawn and sun. It is rough, but it raises good men”
Lying between Kefalonia and mainland Greece and therefore not farthest out to sea, and is hardly low lying with its rocky mountainous terrain, never the less since ancient times Ithaca has been described as the home of the mythological hero Odysseus.
Ithaca has been ruled by many different civilisations throughout time, perhaps due to its unique geographical position and with one of the largest natural harbours in the world, a haven for navigators from far off lands, including pirates, wanting to claim this island for themselves! Influences from these invasions are still apparent today, making this apparently sleepy, mythological island actually quite cosmopolitan! What better location then for a family holiday, an old fashioned holiday discovering the old mule paths and small mountain villages, Byzantine churches & windmills – clambering over ancient ruins and discovering caves, trying to locate the 1500 year old olive tree, exploring the coastline by boat and swimming in the crystal blue sea!
Perhaps the journey there an adventure in itself; a three hour flight to Kefalonia followed by a one and a half hour coach trip up the west coast to the pretty harbour village of Fiskardo where you transfer by boat to Polis Bay, set the tone for our Ithaca adventure. We travelled in August and fully expected the island to be overrun by tourists, but were pleasantly surprised, and perhaps due to it being more difficult to get to, a haven for those wanting to get away! The Greek islands have gained in popularity recently and it seems that the rich & famous have already discovered the benefits of a more remote location – we overheard a waitress telling one tourist that Armani had been there the previous week and the brochure also told us that the island is popular with the likes of Madonna & Paul McCartney.
We stayed in an apartment overlooking Kioni Bay on the east side of the island. Kioni escaped much of the destruction of the 1953 Kefalonia earthquake and the Venetian architecture has been preserved. The view of this little fishing village was magnificent and one could while away hours just watching the yachts coming & going, if not for the rising heat of the day urging us towards the sea for our morning dip. Our package came with car hire for the full two weeks, which is absolutely essential on this island as much of it is uninhabited and settlements are few and far between. There are several small shingle bays between Kioni and Frikes, but we particularly liked Cemetery Beach in Kioni which has a small taverna selling fresh sardines & souvlaki, Greek salad and local wine. We also liked the beach at Agios Ioannis with its small white pebble beach and beautiful turquoise sea!
Drive up the mountain roads and explore the interior, but not for the faint hearted. The roads are very narrow, with sheer drops and no barriers. Often the road disappears completely into a dirt track and goats will wander lazily in front giving you the evil eye. One such drive through Exoghi culminated in a closed iron gate but we continued on foot to find a charming church and bell tower with stone steps to the top, it seems the goats had been here before us, but from here the most amazing view from the North of Ithaca. Further down the mountain was the archaeological site ‘School of Homer’, although extremely hot, there was a little shade from the olive trees, you can climb over the ancient stones and imagine what life was like in Odysseus’ Ithaka.
To explore the remote beaches you need to hire a boat (around 50 euros a day). Ask for a cool box to stow your wine & water, visit the bakery for your Greek pies & Baklavas and set out to sea to find your own private cove. Drop anchor, jump off the boat and swim with the fish, or try and catch one if you can! Spend the day collecting small shells and other ‘treasure’ to bring back.
All in all the perfect summer holiday and in response to my good friend who recently reminded me of our own carefree childhood holidays, this Greek island has all the ingredients to feed the imagination and as we ferried back across the sea with the sun rising majestically over Ithaca we were already planning our return visit!
“When you set out for Ithaca ask that your way be long, full of adventure, full of instruction.” Ithaca by Constantine P Cavafy
Things to do in Ithaca:
1 Explore the coast by boat from around €50 per day plus fuel
2 Visit the archaeological site ‘School of Homer’
3 Try and locate the 1500 year old olive tree
4 Drive up to Exoghi for the view and the solitude
5 Visit the pretty harbour town of Kioni