A taste of the Ionian islands

I was once managing director of Greek Islands Club. When we had offices in Old Isleworth it meant a 2 hour drive from home in West Sussex and then a 2 hour drive back home. The M25 was my companion and pacemaker. I now look after Ionian Villas from our home in a little Dorset village and occasionally tune in to radio traffic reports to see how my companion of old is faring. Not too well by all accounts.

My wife and I travel round the Ionian islands for 3 weeks in April/May and 3 weeks in September/October. Refreshing perks of the job but also very important to give knowledgeable advice to prospective clients and to retain good personal links with all our property owners. A plate of grilled octopus by the sea beats the M25 snarl-up any day.

This May we spent Greek Easter on Paxos and then took the hydrofoil to Corfu and then a SkyExpress prop plane to Kefalonia – the ubiquitous grilled octopus at Sami port and then a 30-minute ferry to Ithaca, where we stayed at Dexa Beach House just a few steps away from the beach.

Dexa Beach – early morning

Ithaca hasn’t been tamed or compromised by tourism – it has a beautiful wild side, hidden hamlets, inquisitive locals – many with a lingering Australian or South African twang (many fled Ithaca during the civil war after the 2nd World War), a welcoming lack of coastal development and stunning views from mountain top monasteries.

Back to Kefalonia where we stayed at the superb Avra Suites – above sandy Makris Yalos beach. 5 Star accommodation with only the sound of the sea and the occasional sea bird. Memorable breakfasts procured from the owner’s garden of fruit trees, strawberry patch, vegetable garden and the magic touch of Eleni the creative chef.

Avra Suite breakfast

Then another Sky Express plane hop of 15 minutes to Lefkas (via Preveza airport) where we stayed at Villa Yasmina – above the west coast with our own theatre of an orchestra pit of silver olives, a stage of Ionian sea and a backdrop of oooo – arrrrr sunsets.

Villa Yasmina

On Lefkas’ east coast port of Nidri a ferry takes 25 minutes, passing Skorpios and other small islands, to reach the tiny island of Meganissi. We stayed at Villa Arenaria – a few paces away from a secluded beach. Vasco, the ever-smiling owner, is half Greek and half Florentine.

Sky Express then took us to Corfu where we met up with Jan Manessi, who owns The Manor House– possibly the most beautiful house in the Ionian.

View from our favourite cafenion just outside Corfu Town

Life’s a Greek Beach

Photo – Villa Arenia on Meganissi

Most people’s prerequisites for a relaxing Greek island holiday will include being close to a beach.

Fortunately there are ancient laws within Greece to restrict building close to the sea and “private” beaches do not exist. It is not easy therefore to find an island retreat above the sea, which is close enough to hear lapping waves from a private terrace.

There are however, a few in the Ionian Sea which will appeal to those wanting to dip a toe from their Greek holiday home:

On Paxos, Villa Skipper’s terraces extend to sea and look out to the mountains of the Greek mainland.

On Ithaca, Dexa Beach House nestles amongst olive trees just a few steps away from a beach where possibly the Phoenicians left Odysseus at the end of his journey.

On Corfu, flamboyant Villa Azzuro has a small cove just below its colourful gardens.

On Kefalonia, the The Avra Suites look down through tall pine trees to the soft sands of Makris Yalos beach.

On Meganissi, Villa Arenia sits just above a sheltered beach on an untouched coastline in a wilderness of olive groves.

If you are looking for a special holiday escape close to the Ionian sea – try Ionian Villas.

The Elgin Marbles Debate

Photo – The Elgin Marbles

Browsing in a second hand bookshop in Sherborne I came across a book: “Through Greece and Dalmatia” – published in 1912 to show “a diary of impressions recorded by pen & picture by Mrs Russell Barrington.”

When Mrs Barrington was in Athens she wrote: “The most glorious jewel in the crown of Athens – the Parthenon – in the dazzling fair light of the morning sun – the finest edifice on the finest site in the world, hallowed by the noblest recollections that can stimulate the human heart.”

She then goes on to say “A feeling of shame creeps over one with the thought that in the dingy, foggy precincts of Bloomsbury, the gloomy prison of the British Museum, the English have incarcerated so many of its glories. Ah! that those matchless sculptures had been left blooming in their beauty under these cloudless skies, warmed, as if to life, under the rays of this sunshine – the smile, it would seem, of their own especial gods. We are told we should console ourselves with the thought that the actual work by Pheidias and his pupils is better preserved in our Bloomsbury dungeon than had it been left in its birthplace. Still, standing here, face to face with the wreck of their original dwelling-place, and thinking of the dark, depressing, foggy atmosphere of their present habitation, we feel as we do when a lark is encaged, and, protesting, we are told it would probably have been killed by a hawk, or ensnared by the poulterer, if it had been left its liberty.

That Lord Elgin did well to seize them, and preserve them from utter destruction, no one can doubt; but now that their right preservation would be as much secured on the Parthenon as in England, surely England should rise to a generous magnanimity, and return the originals to their right home, and substitute casts for them in our Museum.”

Paxos, More Than Just a Pretty Face

When my father and I started up Greek Islands Club on Paxos in the late 1960’s we arranged holidays from the beginning of April until the end of October.

In more recent years the islands, including Paxos, have experienced a shortening of the summer season. Both tour operators and charter flight airlines are not able to risk a poor uptake on holiday bookings during May and October.

As a general rule the colours and warmth of Spring in the Ionian arrive up to a month earlier than in northern Europe. As I write this I have just been emailed a photo of our Paxos mimosa tree exploding with fuzzy yellow blossom. Friends spent this last Christmas on Paxos and swam in the sea every day.

A small group of Paxiots have put together the beginnings of a programme called Off Season Paxos. Local islanders and specially invited guests will introduce whoever is interested to the island’s many attributes in a personalised way, which is not possible in the hotter and busier summer months.

From 11th March to 26th March 2013 a group of locals are offering to share their beautiful island with a more intrepid visitor. Everyone involved is doing so on a voluntary basis and visitors will only have to pay for board and keep.

There will be guided walks, yoga sessions, cookery lessons, theatre and dance, Greek language lessons, traditional songs from local musicians and impromptu activities involving most of the island’s villages.

Tavernas, normally only open during the May to October season, will offer specially prepared dishes during the two weeks.

For more information have a look at Off Season Paxos

Ideal Honeymoon Getaways in the Ionian Sea

Photo – Dexa Beach House

When planning a honeymoon many people will want a Caribbean beach destination. I wouldn’t want to put a dampener on this but here are some important considerations when comparing the Caribbean and a Greek island as a honeymoon destination:

Travel expense: a flight to the Caribbean costs a lot more than to Greece.

Travel time: A whole day is needed to get to the Caribbean & the same on the way back plus the ensuing days of jetlag lethargy.

Indigenous food: I have been amazed at how little food is produced and served at Caribbean resorts – there appeared to be a dependence on imports from USA.

Cost of staying at the water’s edge: usually very expensive in the Caribbean.

Island hospitality: it often requires inginuity and a bit of hard work to get to know native Caribbean islanders.

Caribbean sunsets: they tend to be early & are over very quickly.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the Caribbean and have had some memorable holidays there but to give you an example of why a Greek island should also be considered, have a look at Dexa Beach House on Ithaca

A flight to Kefalonia is needed (3 hours) and then a ferry to Ithaca (30 minutes). There are just two houses here – just 15 metres from a beach. Olive groves on either side of the houses.

Siestas come easily to the sound of cicadas and lapping waves. A small cantina at the other end of the beach serves local snacks and the nearby port of Vathy has waterfront tavernas offering a delicious variety of cuisine using local produce.

Dexa Beach House costs £500 per week in May and £590 per week in June.

Anywhere you venture on Ithaca you will be greeted by a smile and if you have the time, locals will ask where you are from – many of them, like their forefather Odysseus, have returned from faraway places.

Summer sunsets on Ithaca go on and on and on. The evening light gives an intoxicating warmth to the colours of the sea and olive trees.

It’s all quite romantic.

Your private balcony over the Ionian sea

Paxos offers a simple escape from a crowded world outside.

The tiny port of Loggos, on Paxos’ east coast, has a waterfront of 5 tavernas and 3 cafe bars. Set back from the waterfront are 3 minimarkets, a bakery and the village church. No music bars here – just laid back simplicity and a relaxing opportunity to watch people and the brightly coloured fishing boats.

Levrecchio beach is a walk of 2 minutes. An olive grove borders the beach and frames the dining area of Spiros’ taverna, which serves appertising mezes to the tunes of the lapping sea.

Mermaid Cottage has one of the most sought after locations within Loggos. Not for those aspiring to villa opulence but a romantic haven for those seeking a simple island village retreat with a cafe bar as one neighbour and the expanse of the Ionian sea as another.

Back-packing & Island Hopping Nostalgia in the Ionian Sea

We’ve just returned from a 12-day Ionian island-hopping trip. Comfy villas & apartments on 4 islands. An intriguing alternative to staying in one place.

Sky Express make it all possible. Difficult to arrange if you’re booking a more rigid

package holiday (1 or 2 week durations) but no problem with a more flexible Ionian Villas holiday.

We stayed 3 nights on Paxos at Eliana Cottage, 3 nights on Lefkas at Villa Fotini, 5 nights in Fiscardo, Kefalonia at Katy’s Apartment and the final night on Corfu at the Cavalieri Hotel.

All Sky Express flight departure times made for a comfortable trip – the 8am hydrofoil from Paxos to Corfu gave us time for an airport coffee before the 10am flight to Preveza (Lefkas).

The flight time between islands is just 15 minutes. The cost is around £45 per person for each island hop flight.

Roman Abramovich’s Yacht Seen in the Ionian Sea!

Photo – Mr Abramovich’s Luna on Lefkas

This photo was taken from the terrace of Villa Kalithea on Lefkas last September. It shows Roman Abramovich’s motor yacht “Luna” in Poros Bay on the Lefkas’ south east coast.

Two days after the photo was taken “The World” (the largest privately owned yacht on the planet) called in for a brief stay.

Poros has a sleepy waterfront of just a few tavernas (fresh fish from the local fishermen), a small supermarket and a wide beach of brilliant white pebbles. No nightclubs, no traffic lights, no football pitch – even Roman needs a break.

Villa Kalithea sits above Poros Bay with total privacy and enjoys magnificent views over a silver and blue Ionian sea.

Are you an Extreme Escapist? Find out in Paxos

Photo – Voutoumi Bay, AntiPaxos

On Paxos you can escape the crowds. There are no large hotels, only 3 small ports and the island is covered by olive groves hiding sleepy hamlets. It’s not that strenuous to get there: a 3 hour flight from UK to Corfu, a 10 minute taxi to the port and a 1-hour hydrofoil journey. If, for you, Paxos does not provide enough of an escape but you are still expecting comfort and a swimming pool – try AntiPaxos.

The idea of a holiday escape to a tiny Greek island will appeal to many people. Ingredients of a real escape will probably include a completely different environment, peace and quiet, balmy evenings, warm seas and the freedom to do what one wants when one wants. The tiny island of AntiPaxos has all these ingredients but it’s important to peek under the surface to make sure it’s the right escape for you.

Villa Violetta and Phoenica provide total privacy. Pathways lead from each house to two sandy beaches. There are no roads, no street lights and no traffic lights. You might spot the odd beaten-up jeep but donkey transport is predominant. Goat paths criss-cross the island – many walking trails. With a population of around 20 one is unlikely to bump into many people. With no light pollution the night sky is theatrical.

But – there are no shops (Violetta’s & Phoenica’s caretaker can deliver provisions from Paxos or the regular speedboat service between the islands allows you to shop on Paxos). There are only 4 tavernas and they do not always open at night. Excursion boats call into the two sandy bays most mornings and disgorge scantily clad day trippers for a few hours.

AntiPaxos is 4 kilometres long, 2 kilometres wide and lies 1 mile south of Paxos (a 20 minute speedboat trip). A wilderness of maquis and wild olive trees hides a small number of cottages and private vineyards. When the last inter island speedboat departs at 5.30pm you should have the sandy beaches to yourselves. There are only 3 villas for rent on the island.

A stay on AntiPaxos will provide an unusual and romantic escape but without the usual trappings and distractions of a more built-up resort, it’s important that you get on with your partner!

When is Best to Book a Greek Island Holiday

Understandably the Greeks are finding it hard to accept punitive austerity measures and their future still remains uncertain.

It might appear flippant to talk up tourism to Greece but visitors to Greece are needed this time more than any other. The opportunities to forgo our busy lifestyles for a relaxed escape on a beautiful Greek island are still there.

Athens no doubt will continue to be the central stage for Greeks to protest against these measures but on the islands, where there tends to be more self sufficiency in lifestyles, people are more philosophical. Here you will hear Greeks complain about price and taxation increases but most are self employed or dependent on tourism for income and they are therefore not all affected as seriously as the employed or unemployed on the mainland.

It would appear that most tour operators (companies selling package holidays) are suffering from a very slow start to the holiday booking season for Greece. For Ionian Villas , a new business, we have been busy with enquiries for all Ionian islands.

If you are thinking about a holiday on a Greek island this year but you reckon that it’s best to wait a while before booking – you might benefit from panic offers but you might also be faced with a limited supply and therefore increased cost of flights (caused by tour operators “consolidating” their programmes and charter flights being cancelled). Scheduled carriers like Easyjet watch the supply and demand of charter flights very carefully when pricing their own flights.

Naturally we would advise to book early to secure what is best for you and to take your money now rather than later! At Ionian Villas (we are booking agents for individual property owners and not a package holiday company), we are happy to help if a price is outside your budget. If a particular property appeals but the price is too high, let us know and we can speak to the owner to see if a reduction can be made. No guarantees but it’s always worth asking – and it might help you secure your flights before a possible price increase.

© 2018 Ionian Villas Limited

Call us on: +44 (0) 1243 820928    ..or email enquiries@ionian-villas.co.uk

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