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Ithaca in Greece
Ithaca. Ithakia. Ithaca. Ithaki. Dear child has many names. At least many different spellings. The island with the many names belongs to the Ionian Islands, which consists of twelve inhabited islands, in the far north is Corfu and in the south is Zakynthos. Ithaca is located just east of Kefalonia.
Beautiful Vathy on beautiful Ithaca.
Ithaca (as we say in English) has about 3,230 inhabitants, distributed in three villages, and some smaller communities. The capital is Vathy, and has about 1,920 inhabitants. The area is 95 km2 and the highest peak - Mount Neritos - measuring 806 meters above sea level.
Of the 65 Greek islands I've been to, Ithaca is one of the most beautiful.
Ithaca is an exceptionally beautiful island. Kefalonia is widely known to be a beautiful island with plenty of greenery, but Ithaca is actually a cut above. Of the 65 Greek islands I've been to, Ithaca belongs to one of the most beautiful. Some places have such a nice view that you have to rub your eyes. Too bad there are so few people that know that.
Sarakiniko beach on Ithaca.
It is a relatively unknown island for the majority. Why one may ask? Is it because no one wants to tell about the beauty of the island? No, it's not. It rather depends on that almost no one has been here. I think that many would have a new favourite island if they gave Ithaca a chance. When I came to Ithaca for the first time, it took no more than half a day before I placed the island on my top-five list.
If Ithaca is an island unknown to ordinary people, it is more than known for all those who are interested in Greek mythology. Ithaca is namely the home island of Odysseus. Although it in recent years have been a dispute whether it really is Ithaca which Homer describes in his epic Odyssey. I've decided that Ithaca is the right island. There is so much more fun then. Read more about Odysseus below.
The English poet Lord Byron wrote following after a visit on Ithaca: "If this island belonged to me I would bury all my books here and never go away." I could not have said it better myself! :-D
TRAVEL TO ITHACA
If you travel independently it is easiest to fly to Kefalonia. From Kefalonia, the ferries to Ithaca sail from Sami and Fiskardo. There are three ports on Ithaca: ferries from Fiskardo call at Frikes, while the ferries from Sami call at Vathy, or at Piso Ateos. Ithaca also has boat connections with Vasiliki in Lefkada.
The port in Vathy.
The port of Piso Ateos where there is a small beach.
GETTING AROUND ON ITHACA
The bus runs between Vathy and Kioni, via Stavros and Frikes, twice a day. As the bus connections are not so good, many people take a taxi instead. I think that the best way to see Ithaca is to rent a car or moped. Rental companies are to be found in Vathy.
I mostly rent mopeds in Greece and I have some islands that I just love to discover by moped. This applies to Skopelos, Amorgos and Karpathos, among others. Ithaka also belongs to that category. As the photo below is a good example of.
Discovering Ithaca from a moped is a wonderful experience.
VILLAGES ON ITHACA
Vathy is Ithaca's largest village, in addition there are a few small villages, and a couple of tiny ones. Ithaca has a peculiar shape; the northern and the southern parts of Ithaca are connected by a narrow strip of land in the middle. It's almost as if it were two islands.
Vathy is situated on the southern part in a delightful and beautiful bay which is often full of sailing boats. The village spreads out on both sides of the bay and it's a pure pleasure to slowly walk back and forth. The centre is located in one corner of the bay. This is where most facilities are available.
View of Vathy and the beautiful bay and the small island of Lazareto.
The small island in the bay above is called Lazareto and was formerly a quarantine island for sailors coming to Ithaca. Later, the small island was used as a prison. The buildings were destroyed in the great earthquake that hit the Ionian Islands in 1953. Today there is only a small chapel on the island. Incidentally, Kefalonia was the island that was worst affected by the earthquake, something that is described in the book Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
One of the restaurants along the harbor promenade in Vathy.
Along the waterfront and on the charming square, there are many tavernas and cafes. The best taverna can be found on a side street that begins in the square. The taverna is named Ó Nikos and it is one of the most enjoyable tavernas I have eaten at. There are many other tavernas to choose from, some of them right close to the sea. The evenings and mornings in Vathy are magical and one should stay overnight to fully enjoy this wonderful village.
Vathy is a very popular night port for sailors.
There is unfortunately no beach in Vathy, the nearest beach is Loutsa beach which is located about two kilometers north of the village. It's not a beach to write home about, but it's good for a dip or two.
Loutsa beach just north of Vathy.
The cozy village of Kioni in northern Ithaca.
The diamond on the northern Ithaca is called Kioni, and it is just as nice village as Vathy, though on a smaller scale. The village is surrounded by lush greenery and turquoise water in a horseshoe-shaped bay. In the water the fishing boats and sailing boats rock along. The small waterfront promenade is lined with several tavernas and a few cafes.
There are many good tavernas along the harbor promenade in Kioni.
Kioni is incredibly nice, and I could image to stay here a week or two. There is even a small pebble beach if you want to have a dip.
The small beach in Kioni in one direction.
The small beach of Kioni in the other direction.
The other villages in the north of Ithaca are so small that they are barely visible. Except from Frikes that revive when a ferry pull in from Lefkada or Kefalonia. Here is a small beach and a few tavernas, including one called Penelope.
In Frikes there is a small beach and Taverna Penelope.
The villages of Exogi and Kolieri may be small, but interesting nevertheless. In both villages there are remarkable monuments and sculptures. In Exogi there are some pyramid-like rock formations. Why they stand here, I have no idea about. In Kolieri there are a collection of monuments, sculptures and olive presses. There is even an obelisk.
The strange pyramids in the village of Exogi.
The equally strange monuments in the village of Kolieri.
BEACHES ON ITHACA
Beaches are not Ithaca's strong point. If the beaches were on the same high standard as on Kefalonia, Ithaca would have been invaded by tourists. The water is nevertheless fantastic, so it doesn't matter that the beaches are not so good. There are no sandy beaches, only pebbles are offered.
One of the beaches around the village of Kioni.
Where Ithaca is at its narrowest is Dexa beach, which is said to be where Odysseus went onshore when he came home from the war in Troy. As a beach it is not much to see. That is, however, Polis beach from where it is said that Odysseus left from Ithaca when he went to Troy to make war. Polis beach is considered by many to be the best beach on Ithaca.
Dexa beach where it is said that Odysseus landed when he returned home from the Trojan War.
Polis beach from where it is said that Odysseus left Ithaca on his way to Troy.
Others think that Gidaki beach is the finest. Gidaki is located northeast of Vathy and is accessible only by boat or on foot. I prefer the beaches around Kioni. There are many small beaches around the island, so you will surely find your own favourite. I like the small beach Filiatro which is very beautiful.
SIGHTS ON ITHACA
For me, it is the beautiful scenery that is Ithaca's great gift to humanity. For others, it is the mythological footprints from Odysseus that arouse the interest. Are you interested in Greek mythology, you should visit the beaches of Dexa and Polis as mentioned above.
Odysseus in the village of Stavros.
As most people surely know, Odysseus was a wandering hero who fought against all sorts of things. Among other things, he played a crucial role in the war in Troy. It was Odysseus who came up with the idea of the Trojan Horse. He was away from Ithaca for ten long years. At home his wife, Penelope, was waiting faithfully for his return. Well, it's a long story that I'm not going to tell know. It does not matter if there is any truth or not in the myth of Odysseus, he and Penelope have put many traces on Ithaca.
Do not miss the fine church of Sotiris if you visit the village of Stavros.
Above Dexa beach is the Cave of the Nymphs where it is said that Odysseus hid his booty, including gold, copper and textiles. The last time I visited the cave it was closed to the public. However, there was an elderly gentleman who for some Euro lent a flashlight and showed where the cave was. I did not enter the cave, but so did my dear wife Camilla. She does not do it again. The cave was dangerous.
The entrance to the nymphs cave.
Do you like to hike; you can walk to the Fountain of Aretousa on south-eastern Ithaca where Odysseus's swineherd Eumaeus gave his pigs water. It sure sounds exciting. The road to the path leading to Aretousa runs along a ridge in southeastern Ithaca, not far from Vathy.
The Fountain of Aretousa is approximately where the arrow points.
Above Vathy lies the abandoned village of Paleochora, once the capital of Ithaca. Only a church and some ruins remain of the old one village, but is still well worth a visit, not least for the breathtaking view of Vathy (see picture at the top of the page).
The church in the uninhabited village of Paleochora above Vathy.
I love Vathy so I always live there on my vacation.
ACCOMMODATION ON ITHACA
Almost all tourists stay in Vathy. The range is quite small, and it is not easy to find room on location. Many hotels and guesthouses are booked by charter companies, and the few family pensions that exist are poorly signposted, so it is best to book in advance.
Suggestions for three good hotels in Vathy.