Lefkada

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Lefkada is a name you will surely have heard before. Either due to its globally famous and award-wining beaches, or thanks to its neighbouring small islet of Scorpios, which tycoon Aristotle Onassis bought in 1963 and transformed it into a sanctuary for himself and his mega-famous friends (think Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Winston Churchill, a great number of kings, princess and dukes, shipping magnates and– et us not forget–Jackie Kennedy Onassis).
Scorpios garnered global attention once again when its new owner, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, hosted a huge party for his daughter’s wedding there.

Lefkada is a double-faceted island; it combines stunning white-sanded, unique beaches with turquoise-azure waters that make you think you have been magically transported to the Maldives, with a verdant, mountainous and traditional inland scattered with picturesque small villages (such as Karya with its renowned embroideries, or Exantheia with its quaint beauty).

Relax, you don’t have to choose, you can enjoy both and indulge in every possible beauty this magnificent Ionian island has to offer. As well as Lefkada itself, you can also choose to visit nearby Meganisi, either for a day trip or to stay for a few days at this secret paradise with the beautiful waters and the amazing food.

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The island’s culinary tradition is strong, with an array of local products that a visitor should definitely taste. First and foremost, do try the fish and seafood, freshly fished from the Ionian Sea and cooked according to many local recipes, such as fish “savoro” (first fried and then baked), “maridopita” (a pie with small fish and tomatoes), cod cured in salt with potatoes, “palamidi sto keramidi” (fish baked in the oven on clay tiles), cuttlefish cooked in their ink with rice, as well as fish soup, baked eel, baked octopus, fresh oysters, squid, lobsters and shrimps.

There are also plenty of specialities from the land, including cockerel served with thick pasta, the local PDO Lefkada salami, the sausages and the botargo (salted fish roe) from the lagoon, as well as the famous lentils from the village of Englouvi. Got a sweet tooth? You’ll enjoy the “pastelia” (bars made with honey and sesame), the “mantolata” (a type of nougat), the “ladopita” pie and the “ladokouloura” (cookies made with olive oil). 
 
More to check out:
  • “Soumada” (a beverage made with bitter almonds) and the homemade liqueurs.
  • The local wine, especially the white Vardea and the rare red Vertzami variety, as well as the olive oil from the island’s perennial olive groves. 
  • The delicious thyme honey produced by bees that feast on the thyme growing at Dragano and Athani.
  • The 6th of August feast-day at Agios Donatos church in the village of Englouvi. The housewives cook the area’s famous lentils in huge pots and serve them, along with olives and sardines cured in salt and wine, to all the guests.
You certainly won’t run out of things to do on Lefkada. As a tribute to the island’s magnificent beaches, let’s start with the water-sports you can enjoy here: water-ski, wake-board, jet-ski, SUP, water-bikes, as well as bananas and tubes for less extreme sport fans, are all available on the island, especially at Nydri and Vassiliki.

But you sports fans will know the name Vassiliki for another reason – it is one of the world’s top spots for wind-surfing. Lying along the part of Ai Giannis beach named Myli after the old windmills in the area, its windy east side is “the” place to surf.  Vassiliki has been named among the 10 best wind-surfing beaches in the world – and top three in Europe. Scuba-diving is also a big thing here, as the sea bed is truly magnificent.

You can find professional scuba diving centres at Nikiana, Nydri and Vassiliki, which will help you to explore the amazing underwater world of Lefkada with safety and the appropriate equipment. And from the bottom of the sea to the endlessness of the sky, extreme sport fans will not miss the chance to fall off a cliff, float in the air and land on magical Kathisma beach as part of the paragliding experience. 
 
More to check out:
  • The kite-surf open competition held annually at Myli beach, with Greek and international participants.
  • Exploring the island’s magnificent inland by bicycle. Melissa gorge, Charadiatika village with its fountains and gorges, and the waterfalls at Dimosari are excellent places for mountain-biking. 
  • The Aeroclub of Lefkada, which offers recreational flights over the island in light aircraft. 
  • Horse-riding around Lake Maradochoriou or along trails in the area of Ai Giannis next to Lefkada town.
  • The many hiking and trekking paths, which will lead you to the gorges, lakes and waterfalls of Lefkada’s interior.
  • The International Regatta, taking place each June at Vassiliki beach.
  • Sailing to the small islands located between the mainland and Lefkada, Ithaki and Kefalonia. The “Little Ionian”, as this group has come to be known, is becoming a favourite with the international sailing community. 
As a fairly large island with a long history, Lefkada has plenty to please travellers who like to see the sites. The castle of Agia Mavra (Santa Maura), which welcomes you as you drive across the causeway onto the island, is considered one of the most imposing mediaeval buildings in Greece. It was built to ward off pirates in the 1300s, by the Venetian ruler Ioanni Orsini, who received the whole island as dowry in exchange for marrying the ruler of Epirus’ daughter. The little church of Agia Mavra nestles within the castle.

Also close to Lefkada town (just 2km away) is Nirikos, the ancient city of Lefkada. You’ll see the remains of the ancient settlement, along with two graveyards and some surviving remnants of the ancient port. At the southernmost point of Lefkada, you can visit windswept Cape Lefkata, which is said to be the place from which the poet Sappho decided to leap to her death, blinded by her unrequited love for Phaedon. It was believed that people who jumped to their death from the 60m cliff here were cleared of their ‘sins’. You’ll also find here the remains of the ancient temple of Apollo Lefkata, which in antiquity was where grand celebrations to honour the god took place. Since 1861, there is a lighthouse on top of the cliff, which offers magnificent views. 
 
More to check out:
  • The Archaeological Museum in the town of Lefkada, which displays findings from the middle Paleolithic period (35,000BC) until the late Roman era. Artefacts from ancient Nirikos are also kept here.
  • Ellomenos in the area of Nydri, the island’s most important archaeological site. All of the findings (among which is a graveyard with 33 tombs from the pre-Hellenic period) were made by German archaeologist Wilhelm Dorpfeld, who believed that Homer’s Ithaca was actually Lefkada and that the palace of Odysseus was actually in Nydri. 
  • Syvota (Sivota), one of the most picturesque ports of the Ionian sea, which resembles the Scandinavian fjords with its lush green hills “torn” by the sea. The traditional settlements of Agios Nikitas on the west part of Lefkada and the small mountain village of Drymonas are also well worth a visit. The latter is a typical example of the traditional architectural style of Lefkada.
  • The musical history and culture of the island. The serenaders in the narrow alleys may have long gone, but almost everyone here plays an instrument and a plethora of small and large musical groups and mandolin orchestras – including the Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in 1850 – keep the tradition alive.
Lefkada is so full of natural beauties that it’s hard to choose whether to begin with the breathtaking beaches and stunning fjords or its verdant inland with running waters and the tall trees. But perhaps the best starting point for nature-lovers is the wetland area close to the capital of Lefkada, which are considered the most important wetlands in the Ionian, a wildlife refuge of international interest (according to the treaty of RAMSAR) and a protected area of high ecological value (under the European Network of NATURA 2000).

The lagoon of Stenon (aka the Gyra Lagoon) is a particularly popular meeting point for bird-watching enthusiasts. So is the Melissa Gorge (located between Apolpena and Kavalos villages), an imposing crevasse lined with cypress, olive, pine and plane trees, as well as rushing streams and old water-mills, which serves as a haven for native as well as migratory species.

You should also pay a visit to the Dimosari Gorge in the Ellomenou area; take the path that climbs along the gorge and ends in a magnificent waterfall, whose waters cascade into a natural pool which is also considered a precious wetland. The forest of Skaron with the rare oak species, the olive grove to the north of Lefkada town with the perennial olive trees, and Kalamos pine forest with the rare tree species are only some of the numerous natural delights that you will want to discover here.

Now, when it comes to the coast, the west coast stretches out in a seemingly endless series of absolutely breathtaking beaches, from the stunning Mylos, Kathisma and Kalamitsi near Agios Nikitas to the famous Porto Katsiki beach, featured in every list of the top beaches in the Mediterranean, and the remote Egremni beach with the most achingly turquoise waters in Greece (and 325 steps to reach it). 
 
More to check out:
  • The Ammoglossa (“the sand-tongue”), a thin strip of sand in the lagoon of Lefkas town. 
  • The idyllic Prigkiponissia, a group of small ultra-green satellite islands off the east coast, as well as the islands of Atokos and Kastos further southeast, with small beaches and water caves just waiting to be explored.  
  • The area of Pefkoulia on the road from Lefkas Town towards Agios Nikitas (after Tsoukalades village). This is where the olive groves give way to a thick pine forest, the trees reaching all the way to the sandy beach also called Pefkoulia.  
  • The beautiful village of Syvros with running waters and thick vegetation. The Kerasia Fountains, close to the village but “hidden” by enormous plane trees and strong ivies, are well worth a visit. 
  • Papanikolis cave on the neighbouring island of Meganisi. To the southwest of the island, it is said to be the second largest sea cave in Greece with a huge chamber (about 120 metres long, 60 metres wide and 30 metres tall), which allows boats to enter and take visitors to the small sandy beach within.
The fact that the island is easily accessible (via a causeway from the mainland), with numerous accommodation choices for any given taste and many things to do and see, all combine to make Lefkada a very popular destination. Of course, its natural beauty and stunning beaches add extra points to its “ideal holiday destination” label. Thanks to the Onassis connection, Lefkada has enjoyed its fair share of mega-celebrities and tycoons in the past and continues to be a popular stop-off for super-yachts.

Nowadays, the magnificent area of Syvota, located in a Scandinavian-like fjord on the southeast of the island, is an absolute “must” for an elite crowd, who anchor their yachts here to enjoy the picturesque yet cosmopolitan scene developed in what has been called “the most beautiful port of the Ionian Sea”.

The town of Lefkada has vibrant nightlife, with many cool bars on the main pedestrian road and at the square of Agios Spyridon, and also offers the chance for beautiful strolls along the “kantounia” (narrow paved streets), where you will come across the characteristic quake-proof buildings with their brightly painted corrugated tin upper-storey facades.

Meanwhile, Vassiliki bay, with its streets thronging with bronzed, beautiful people into the small hours and its cool boutiques (established by Athenians who moved here to try their luck in the land of their fathers), is very popular with youthful visitors, to stroll and socialize and party till the early hours.

The very touristy Nydri, on the other hand, has been overdeveloped and has lost some of its old charm and glory along the way. Last but not least, the so-called “Little Ionian”, lying between Lefkada, Ithaki, Kefalonia and the mainland, holds many surprises for those that can get their hands on a boat, as apart from the Prigkiponissia islets (Meganisi, Madouri, Scorpios, Scorpidi, Sparti and Cheloni), the islands of Kastos and Atokos are considered a “must-visit” for the chance to swim in crystal-clear waters and enjoy yourself all-day long. 

More to check out:
  • Traverso bar in Kastos, a well-kept secret amongst the sailing elite of the Ionian Sea.
  • The numerous parties that take place at the several beach bars here.
Location
  • Location
  • Climate
  • Where to stay
  • Getting there
  • Getting around

Lefkada is part of the Eptanisa (Heptanese) island complex located in the Ionian Sea. It lies under Paxi and over Ithaki and Kefalonia, and is connected to the mainland by a causeway over a channel only 28m wide which, according to historians, was opened by the Corinthians when Lefkada became a Corinthian colony in the 7th century BC.

Lefkada has a Mediterranean climate with relatively good weather and sunshine all year round. It has hot summers and mild winters; however, the common summer breezes keep the temperature within reasonable limits during summer months. Due to its size and geography, there are always places to enjoy the sun and sea, even on very windy days.

Accommodation options here cover all tastes and budgets; from camping to rooms to let and from sea-side villas to 5-star resorts, Lefkada won’t let you down.

Lefkada Town. This is the capital and one of the main centres of the island. Banks, supermarkets, chemists, taverns, restaurants, bars, clubs, travel agencies and anything else one might wish can be found here. Accommodation choices are plentiful, and the beautiful capital with its picturesque marina and pretty alleys is ideal for anyone who loves to be in the centre of island life, without having to worry about transport options.

Nydri. The most touristy settlement on the island, Nydri is 17km from Lefkada Town in a green coastal area. It has its own posh beach and well-organised marina and buzzes with life all day and night long. Numerous hotels, rooms to let and guesthouses, taverns, bars and clubs, mini markets and stores, make Nydri a good place to stay for those who do not wish to move around a lot – at least not all the time.

Vassiliki. A magnet for wind-surfing enthusiasts, as this is an international meeting point. Vassiliki and the nearby area of Ponti buzz with youthful guests and sporty types, as well as fans of Vassiliki’s vibrant nightlife. From the port of Vassiliki you can also catch a boat for Kefalonia or Ithaki, as well as to Lefkada’s famous Porto Katsiki and Egremni beaches.

Nikiana. Just 9km from Lefkada town, this relatively new settlement is becoming more developed each year and is mostly preferred by small boat owners, as it features a picturesque and calm marina. It offers a growing array of accommodation options, many taverns and beautiful small coves.

Agios Nikitas. This charming traditional settlement on the northwest of the island is ideal for travellers who want to get to know the authentic character of the island. Its small marina, natural beauty, crystal-clear waters and traditional architecture, as well as the total absence of cars, makes it a great place to stay. It is considered an up-and-coming resort, but has not lost its authentic flair. Agios Nikitas has its own beautiful beach, but is also very close to the famous Kathisma beach and it is the place from where you can catch a small boat and sail to exotic Myli beach.

Inland. There are several rooms to let and guesthouses to be found in the mountainous inland of Lefkada. You could choose to stay in Drymonas, Lazarata, Palaiokatouna, Exanthia, Karya (which is actually quite touristy) or any other settlement, if you wish for serene holidays with an authentic flair, without being too far from the sea.

By air: The airport of Aktio is located just 15km from Lefkada town and is served by flights from Athens airport. During peak season there are also charter flights that fly directly from many European cities.

By car: Driving from Athens to Lefkada is quite easy, taking some 4-5 hours. You follow the National Road from Athens to Patras, cross the Rio-Antirio bridge, then head towards Amphilochia, which is about 60km from Lefkada. From there, just follow the signs that will take you directly to the causeway connecting the island to the mainland.

Lefkada is a relatively large and well-organised island with a very good local bus (KTEL) network, many taxis and sea taxis to get you more or less anywhere you want. However, your own car or motorbike is the easiest way to get around, as the road network here is very good. The provincial road of Lefkada-Vassiliki will take you from the town of Lefkada to most points of interest in the east and south of the island, while the road from Lefkada to Apolpena leads you west.