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Guide to Ionian Islands

These seven islands, which run from the bottom of the Adriatic to the Peloponnese...


From:Condé Nast Traveler

These seven islands, which run from the bottom of the Adriatic to the Peloponnese, are amongst the greenest in Greece, studded with olive groves and vineyards. There is a distinct Italian feel to the Ionians, a hang-over from the medieval Venetian rule, yet each island has its own character.
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Where To Stay

Cephalonia

Cephalonia, setting for Louis de Berniere's best-selling tragi-comedy Captain Corelli's Mandolin, is the largest Ionian island but remains the least developed. Its two key resorts are the pretty fishing harbour of Fiskardo and tiny Assos. Skala in the south has long sandy beaches backed by pines and the pleasant Tara Beach Hotel. The former capital of Sami boasts Cephalonia's smartest hotels, Sami Beach (+30 26740 22802) and Pericles (+30 26740 22780), but it's essentially a working port with few pretensions to tourism. Argostolí, the new capital, has a number of year-round hotels, including the Ionian Plaza (+30 26710 25581), Mouikis (+30 26710 23032) and Mirabel (+30 26710 25381/3).

Lefkas

Lefkas is tethered to the mainland by a causeway and, because of its accessibility, is popular with Greeks and Italians during high summer. The island's main tourism centres are Nidri. Lefkas Town has a hip atmosphere particularly during the International Arts Festival in August. The town's hotels include the large Lefkas (+30 26450 23916) and Xenia (+30 26450 31490), and the smaller but smarter Nirikos (+30 26450 24132).


Zakinthos

Zakinthos receives nearly half a million tourists each summer, who head for the 24-hour party zone of Laganás in the south. The Vassilikos peninsula, where accommodation is mainly in villas and rooms, is somewhat immune to this tourism explosion and Yerakas, at the tip of the peninsula, boasts the Ionians' finest beach. Zakinthos Town, formerly flattened by earthquakes, has been rebuilt mostly with concrete, but handsome churches remain. The seafront Strada Marina Hotel. The north and west of the island has barely been touched by tourism but there are a number of rooms available for those seeking seclusion. All hotels
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What To Do

SAILING

Sailboats can be rented in most of the Ionian port towns, though to charter anything more ambitious (yachts with crew, etc) you'll need to provide a recognised proficiency certificate. Those wanting to simply mess around on the water though should find it easy enough to set out on a motorised launch and explore the islands' enchanting coastlines.

DIVING

The islands are home to a number of reliable diving schools and instructors, with the sheltered seas between the islands and the mainland a favourite spot. Be warned: independent diving is strictly forbidden off the coasts of any of the islands.

WINDSURFING

Connoisseurs will tell you that the fishing village Vasiliki, on Lefkada, has the best windsurfing beach in all Europe. Failing that, most of the islands have windsurfing facilities, including tuition for anyone new to the sport.
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How To Get There

AIRLINES FROM THE UK

Olympic Air (+30 21035 50500; www.olympicair.com) offers flights via Athens to Corfu, Cephalonia, Preveza (for Lefkas) and Zakinthos (booking in advance and flying mid-week). In season, companies such as Eclipse Direct (+33 20 3451 2720) offer direct return flights to Cephalonia, Zakinthos and Corfu.

WHO TO GO WITH

Tour operators to the Ionian Islands include Planos Holidays (+44 13 7381 3022) and Routsis Holidays (+30 26620 31807). British villa companies include CV Travel (+44 20 7563 7901 or +44 20 7563 7999), Greek Islands Club (+44 20 8232 9780) and Simply Ionian (020 8995 1121).
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Tourist Info

The only Ionian Island with a tourist office is Cephalonia. The Tourist Information Office (+30 26710 22248) is in Argostolí.

When To Go

Visit the Ionian Islands anytime from April to October when the weather is fine and the resorts are open. The best time to go is in the spring when the islands are at their greenest, the flowers are in bloom and the masses haven't arrived yet.

Travel Information

Visas: Nationals of Australia, Canada, EU countries, Iceland, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, the USA and many South American countries can stay for up to three months without a visa. Most others are authorised to enter Greece for up to two months.

Public holidays: New Year's Day; Epiphany; Monday Lent; National Day (25 March); Good Friday; Easter Monday; Labour Day; Whit Monday; Assumption; National Day (28 Oct); Christmas; Boxing Day.
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Good buys: Stock up on Greek jewellery and ceramics, plus ouzo (if you can stomach the national drink). Do not buy antiques, as it is illegal to export any authentic pieces.

Local dishes: Popular starters include tzatziki (a cucumber and yoghurt dip) and seafood. Mains include pastitsio (macaroni baked with minced meat and béchamel sauce), stuffed tomatoes, moussaka (minced meat and aubergines in a white sauce) and horiatiki salata (a country salad of lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, feta cheese and olives). For a quick snack, try the original kebab, a souvlaki of skewered meat in pitta bread.

Interesting fact: Greece's national anthem has 158 verses.

Good reading: Read Louis de Bernières' Captain Corelli's Mandolin, a captivating WWII-era love story set on Cephalonia.

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Travel Magazine: Guide to Ionian Islands
Guide to Ionian Islands
These seven islands, which run from the bottom of the Adriatic to the Peloponnese...
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Travel Magazine
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