PLAN YOUR IONIAN AD­VEN­TURE

Set sail for a group of Greek is­lands full of myth and mys­tery

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - DESTINATION GREECE - CHARLES MI­RANDA

Gloria was 14 when she first hol­i­dayed with fam­ily in the Ionian sea­port vil­lage, Kioni. So cap­ti­vated was the Amer­i­can teenager, whose only con­nec­tion to the re­gion was a Greek grand­par­ent, that she would re­turn four years later. That trip would be her last.

“I never left and that was, what, 53 years ago,” the woman said shriek­ing with laugh­ter as her Greek hus­band chuck­led be­hind her. “I mean look around you, the is­land, wa­ters, can you blame me? It’s just an in­cred­i­ble place, in­cred­i­ble peo­ple and I am just lucky to have found where I be­long.”

Her mus­ings are per­haps not as in­depth as those of An­cient Greek poet Homer who from these Ionian shores in the 8th cen­tury BC wrote his odyssey epic which schol­ars ar­gue went on to in­spire Western civil­i­sa­tion’s most fa­mous works of lit­er­a­ture, mu­sic and art. But her ob­ser­va­tion of the spec­tac­u­lar nat­u­ral beauty of the Ionian Is­lands off the west coast of Greece is clear. These is­lands have changed lit­tle over the cen­turies and only in re­cent years are be­ing dis­cov­ered by trav­ellers bored with the over­crowded is­land of­fer­ings on the coun­try’s east coast.

SHOV­ING OFF

The only way to truly dis­cover this re­gion is by sea. Over the past five years var­i­ous char­ter com­pa­nies, self­sail or fully crewed, have sprung up about the Port of Le­fkas, which is the main start­ing point for a Greek is­lands odyssey. De­spite a crowded har­bour and bus­tle to get out, once on the open sea your only next hu­man con­tact will be of your choos­ing as you cruise in the af­ter­noon’s 17-knot breeze through turquoise wa­ters to seek out your pri­vate an­chor­age for the night. Con­di­tions are pre­dictable and easy to nav­i­gate and – with many small coves, caves and beaches where a yacht can an­chor or long line off – chances are you’ll be alone in your self-made berth to swim, fish or ex­plore.

Ithaca (Ithaki), one of the seven largest is­lands in the re­gion, is breath­tak­ingly beau­ti­ful with its clear wa­ters and peb­bled beaches. Kioni is cute with its res­tau­rant-ringed bay where fish­ing boats lit­er­ally pull up on the beach to drop off their fresh catch, or Po­lis beach, a high­light with its sin­gle beach tav­erna speak­ing of un­spoilt and an­cient beauty.

This re­gion is not the white­wash­walled homes and loud bars one as­so­ciates with Greece but rather lush green is­lands of cyprus and elm trees and flow­er­ing herb shrubs grow­ing wild; where on some beaches, like Kalo Li­mini, the only be­ings you share your space with are the wild goats.

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