Located in the Ionian Sea, the Ionian Islands, also known as the Heptanese, meaning “seven islands” in Greek, are located around the coasts of Epirus, Central Greece and the Peloponnese. These islands are: Corfu (Kerkyra), Paxos (Paxi), Antipaxos (Antipaxi) Lefkas (Lefkada), Ithaca (Ithaki), Κephalonia (Kefalonia) and Zante (Zakynthos). Κythera (Kythira), located in the south of the Peloponnese, belonged historically to the Ionian group although administratively belongs to Piraeus.
Each island has its own particular style and offers its own unique attractions: Corfu is more cosmopolitan with narrow streets and high buildings, which are reminiscences of those located in the south of Italy; Κephalonia is utterly beautiful and has lush vegetation and many high mountains; Lefkada is also covered by vegetation and has some very idyllic spots; Zante was called “the flower of the East” by the Venetians; Ithaca, unfertile and rocky, is the symbol of goals and ideals; Paxos is sparsely populated and has caves, vineyards and olive groves.
The Ionian Islands are one of the best tourist destinations in Greece and tourism is one of the main economic resource for their inhabitants. They include amazing beaches, full of natural beauty, authentic culture and Venetian architectural influence. Ionian Islands are the greenest islands in Greece, with many olive trees and vineyards and agriculture is another very important field in these islands. The Ionian Islands are renowned for their exquisite traditional cuisine and local wines.
Corfu has had its name changed several times in the past, but finally came to take its original Greek name from the nymph Kerkyra. In terms of tourism, the island is one of the most famous and developed islands in the Mediterranean. Its natural beauty and gentle climate, interesting spots, modern hotels, great range of leisure and sporting activities and its cosmopolitan character in combination with its strong traditional feel, majestic city and picturesque towns, are the main elements that attract visitors to the island.
The capital is the main port of the island and it is located approximately halfway down the west coast, facing the coast of Epirus. It is the biggest medieval city and one of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean Sea. This mixing of cultures gives the Ionian city a very special and unique feel. It is worth taking a stroll to admire the different foreign architectural influences and the contrasting styles.
In the city of Corfu, we find one of the largest squares of Greece, the Spianada Square. During the Venetian occupation it was used as a fortress and at the beginning of the 19th century, in the second French occupation, it became the most frequented place by the inhabitants of Corfu. The Liston (the promenade around the square) is lined with beautiful arches with many coffee shops inside.
There are many churches in the city but the most famous is the Church of Agios Spiridonas (St Spyridon) because it hosts the preserved body of the patron saint of the city and it also includes a very interesting bell tower. In the Anemomilos area, the Churches of Agios Iason and Sosipatros are also very interesting: they are byzantine temples with the shape of the cross and an octagonal dome. It is also worth visiting the cathedral PanAgia Spiliotisa, Agia Theodora, the monastery of Platiteras, the Virgin of the Foreigners, and the Catholic Cathedral of St Jacob –built in the 16th century.
The most important museums are the Archaeological Museum, with valuable items found on the island, and the Museum of Byzantine and Post byzantine Art, located in the church of Panagia Andivouniotisa, where you can see a priceless collection of icons and relics, including paintings of famous and anonymous artists. It is worth visiting the Asian Art Museum, located in the Spianada square –it is the only museum in Greece that displays oriental collections (China, Japan, and Korea) and collections from India– and the Museum of Dionisios Solomos, dedicated to the national Greek poet.
The biggest island of the Ionian Sea, Κephalonia, covers an area of 786 km2, including 250 km of coastline, and is located in front of the Western Coast of the Peloponnese. Its capital is Argostoli, the island’s main port. This island is rich in green forests, filled with fir trees and banana trees. Its lush woods and large vineyards, which produce the delicious wines of Κephalonia, have been known since the Ancient times.
The capital and main port, called Argostoli, is a modern town that was completely reconstructed after the terrible earthquake of 1953. It has beautiful buildings, most of which still conserve their majestic style, with big squares and picturesque neighbourhoods. The cathedral of the city, Evangelistria, is worth seeing as well.
Three kilometres on the south of the town, in the area of Spilia, there is a cave called Agios Gerasimos. He was the saint patron of the island in which he lived. In the valley of Omalon, at the foot of Mount Ainos, there is a monastery with his name where his remains are kept.
Close to Lixouri, you will find Paleokastro, an important archaeological site where the remains of the ancient town of Pali were discovered. In Kontogenada there are Mycenaean tombs and churches with Postbyzantine icons
Northwest from Argostoli you can find Sami, the main port of Κephalonia, connected to Italy. Here, archaeological excavations unearthed important artefacts and remains from the Hellenic and Roman period, as well as remains of Cyclopean walls.
It is worth visiting the Karavomilos Lake, formed by subterranean water coming from Argostoli and the Melissani cave, with sea water, known for its turquoise colour. A little further, in the South-West, you can find Drogarati cave, with impressive stalactites and stalagmites and breath-taking acoustics.