(Igoumenitsa, 18 nautical miles.) The northernmost island
of western Greece, Corfu is the best-known,
busiest and most cosmopolitan
of the Ionian islands. Although its natural beauty has led to
extensive commercialisation along parts of the coast, visitors
who arrive during spring or autumn will still find idyllic
beaches, romantic landscapes studded with cypresses and
olive groves, and unspoilt inland villages.
The capital, Corfu Town, is presided over by
two striking Venetian fortresses and gives onto
a series of pretty harbours and bays. With French, Italian
and English influences evident in its architecture, it
is made up of wide avenues and large squares, among them the graceful
Spianada or esplanade, cobbled alleyways, arches and colonnades.
Worth visiting are the Archaeological Museum,
which houses finds from local excavations; the Byzantine
Museum, with an excellent collection of icons; and the
Museum of Asiatic Art. The Town Hall,
a fine example of 17th-century Venetian architecture, and the
12th-century Byzantine Church of St Jason and Sosipater
and the Church of St Spyridon are also interesting. At
Kanoni, on the tip of a small peninsular south
of the town, a narrow causeway leads to the much photographed
Monastery of Vlacherna. From here, it is possible to
take a boat to the minute island of Pondikonissi, crowned by a
South of Corfu Town, at Gastouri, stands the
19th-century Achillion, the summer palace
of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, surrounded by gorgeous
Italian-style gardens. West of town, built into a rocky hill,
lies the village of Pelekas, reputedly one of
the best place to watch the sunset. Close by,
the Ropa Valley (Livaditou Ropa) is home
to the superb Corfu Golf Club. North of town lies the
well known seaside resorts of Kassiopi, Ipsos
and Sidari, the latter known for its unique rock
formations and beaches, which have unfortunately been somewhat
spoilt by commercial development. Northwest of Corfu Town, the
fortunately unspoilt resort of Paleokastritsa
offers crystal clear seawater and two wonderful sandy
coves for bathing. Nearby stands Angelokastro,
a 13th-century Byzantine fortress.
Corfu can be reached by ferry either from Patras (see Peloponnese
section) or Igoumenitsa (on the northwest coast of mainland Greece,
just south of Albania), and there are direct ferries from
Italy in summer. The island’s airport offers direct
flights to Athens and many other European cities.
(Patras, 53 nautical miles.) Recognized as the setting
of Louis de Bernières Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,
Cephalonia is the largest Ionian island. The mountainous
scenery, culminating with the 1600m (5250ft) Mount Enos,
is dramatic and the island has a high-quality network of roads.
The chief settlement, Argostoli, was ruined
in the disastrous 1953 earthquake. Nevertheless, the Archaeological
Museum and Folk Art Museum are both worth visiting
and the nearby beaches of Makris
and Platis Gialos are perfect for bathing. Inland,
close to Perata, stands the 16th-century St George’s
Castle (Agios Georgios), built by the Venetians. Cephalonia’s
second town, Lixouri, is peaceful and
old-fashioned, and a little south from here lie some
of the island’s best beaches. On the northwest coast, the
village of Assos is known for its charming
castle. Fiskardo, the northernmost harbour,
is unspoilt and has some nice beaches. On the
east coast, the Cave of Melissani, noted for
its astonishing colours caused by the reflection of the sun’s
rays through the sea, can be visited by boat. Cephalonia can be
reached by ferry from Patras. The island’s airport offers
direct flights to Athens.
(Piraeus, 28 nautical miles.) At the southeastern tip of the
Peloponnese, Kythera is the southernmost Ionian island.
Much loved by artists such as Watteau, it was
often portrayed as a ‘Garden of
Paradise’ and has some magnificent sand beaches.
Kythera Town, is a neat settlement overlooking the sea,
close to the main port of Kapsali. The second port, Agia
Pelagia, is the main tourist centre.
At Milopotamos stand the ruins of a Byzantine
town and the Cave of St Sophia, previously used as a
chapel and adorned with frescoes, stalagmites and stalactites.
Kythera can be reached by ferry from Monemvassia and Piraeus.
During summer there are direct flights from Athens.
Lying east of the Peloponnese and southeast of the coast of Attica
in the Aegean, a total of 30 islands make up the Cyclades,
the best-known being Santorini
and Mykonos. Other well-liked islands are Andros,
Naxos, Delos, Paros and Tinos, while the small islands of the
eastern Cyclades are less visited and offer only basic amenities.
All of these islands can be reached by ferry from Piraeus, and
several have small airports with daily fights to Athens through