If you asked me what my favourite part of my trip to Kefalonia was, I’d probably say it was visiting Ithaca (sorry Kefalonia!).
The siren call of Ithaca is strong if you’re staying on the northeast coast of Kefalonia – it seems tantalisingly close and larger than it looks on the map. It’s green and dripping with go-slow vibes, with pretty villages tucked away in its strange humpy shape – a mountainous figure-of-eight with a narrow isthmus at its centre. If you can live without sandy beaches then Ithaca is paradise. It’s famously the home of Odysseus and is the most unspoiled of the Ionian islands, and although there’s a strong yachty presence it’s in a very laid-back way.
I tend to find that the most enjoyable Greek islands are at least 1 ferry ride away from any airport. I’m also fond of sailing and of lush pine-clad islands. So it’s really no surprise I loved Ithaca and would return in a heartbeat.
If you want to nip over from Kefalonia to Ithaca for a day trip then you have several options:
- DIY – take the early ferry over from Sami, 45 mins with Ionion Pelagos. Prices from €4 for a foot passenger and €17 for a car – check the website for tariffs and schedules. The problem is that there is currently no public transport from the arrival port of Piso Aetos to the nearest town of interest which is Vathy, so this is best for those who have a car or scooter (check first – not all hire companies allow this). Alternatively, you can arrange a taxi in advance – just don’t count on there being any at the port to meet the ferry.
- Bus tour – there are agencies in most resorts that offer excursions from around Kefalonia by bus and ferry, these usually include a guide. I recommend Avgerinos Travel if you’re on the north of the island.
- Boat trip – available from resorts on the north coast – try Captain Vangelis from Skala and Poros, Romantika Cruises from Agia Efimia. Book through local agencies for transfers from elsewhere.
- Boat hire – boat rentals are available in Fiskardo when the sea conditions are good, this more suitable for reaching Stavros and Polis Beach on the east coast. You can also negotiate day-long charters and private transfers.
Be aware that the bus and boat tours don’t run every day.
I chose the boat trip because a swimming stop sounded more appealing than sitting on a bus. As I was staying in Aghia Efimia on Kefalonia, I booked the Romatika Cruise trip through Avgerino Travel although you can book direct with the boat at the harbour when the stand is manned.
There are 3 main towns to visit on Ithaca – the capital Vathy, Frikes, and the unbelievably pretty Kioni. My boat trip visited Vathy and Kioni only (by the time we got to Kioni I was tempted to jump ship and maroon myself on this beautiful island).
The boat took an anti-clockwise trip around the island, sailing first past the green and empty south-east coast. First stop of the day was swimming at Gidaki beach. This is a crazy beautiful spot, with electric turquoise waters and a blinding white pebble beach. I don’t think my photos do it justice – there is something Robinson-Crusoe-esque about the place, and it was perfect for the last swim of my trip.
You can reach Gidaki by foot from Vathy but from what I could see the trail looked unappealingly steep – unsurprisingly it’s more common to arrive by boat (or kayak). There is a beach bar shack on Gidaki which rents umbrellas and sunloungers and hosts parties on the long hot summer nights, although it was closed for the season when we were there.
Next stop: Vathy. The capital is just around the corner from Gidaki so this was a short sail – and approaching Vathy you can see just why Ithaca is so popular with the yachting fraternity. It’s located in an incredible natural harbour that is almost hidden from view until the last moment. The bay was full of yachts flocking to Vathy for lunch.
Vathy is a pretty town which encases the bay and is overlooked by green mountains. The streets are lined with picturesque Neoclassical mansions – Ithaca became a wealthy island thanks to its seafaring prowess – but today it has more of a working town feel. If you find places like Fiskardo and Assos on Kefalonia far too touristy, then Vathy is the antidote you need. There are a few tourist streets of souvenir shops and souvlaki but elsewhere local life goes on as normal. It has a low-key feel if a bit desolate in places (after the high summer months at least).
Many of Vathy’s old buildings were devastated by the earthquake in 1953 (Kioni escaped the worst) but as it was a richer town it recovered better than similar areas of Kefalonia and Zakynthos. A preservation order has since been introduced – there’s a pleasant lack of concrete block hotels on Ithaca. And there’s a distinctly Italian vibe – the island was ruled by the Venetians from the 1500s to the 1700s and is popular today with Italian tourists.
We didn’t eat lunch at Vathy – just a gelato stop for me – saving ourself for the restaurants at the final stop of Kioni, which is a short sail up on the northeast coast of Ithaca. Another spectacular approach brings you to this picture-perfect village surrounded by dense pines. There’s a small row of excellent tavernas on the waterfront offering seafood and local specialities. We weren’t the only boat docking with lunch in mind – I recommend getting a table quickly because it does become a bit of a mad rush.
It’s a genteel place with a few bakeries and jewellery shops and a tiny pebble beach, although I did spy a few bars catering towards the visiting yachts. Kioni has a similar yachty vibe to nearby Fiskardo on Kefalonia but is much much more relaxed and less blingy.
In hindsight, whilst I loved swimming at Gidaki beach, if I had to do over again I would choose the bus tour. Whilst the boat is comfortable it felt pretty crowded and the sail back from Kioni is long and hot (and this was in September). I took another bus tour with Avgerinos and rate them very highly – with lovely and informative tour guides and smallish buses.
I’m very glad I went though – it was one of my favourite days on my Ionian trip and left me hankering to return. Ithaca is my kind of place. Next time I plan to bring friends and rent a boat to explore the island’s many empty beaches.
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