Emily Peilan - Freedom Wanderers

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Ithaca - The Hidden Gem of the Ionian Sea

Ithaca - The Hidden Gem of the Ionian Sea

 
Ithaca Island View

Before my first trip to Greece, I had never heard of Ithaca. To be honest, not many people have. But one look at the terrain map and I was sold - a secluded island in the Ionian Sea with dynamic hilly and coastal landscapes. No doubt hidden beaches, secret sea caves, cozy villages and very few tourists too… my favourite kind of destination! Although I couldn’t find a whole lot of information about this island, it didn’t bother me at all. I knew that the surprise would be very much worth the wait and anticipation - and I was not wrong. Fast forward FOUR trips to Ithaca in just over a year - I think my infatuation with this Greek Island goes without saying. There is just something magical about this island - is it the energy? The landscapes? The people?

To me, this island is paradise and you will find here a collection of my favourite places and tips for Ithaca - collated with the most wonderful locals and guides (and of course my awesome travel buddy and brother who was keen to jump on board some crazy ideas!).

CONTENT:
1. Useful Information 
2. Top Beaches on Ithaca
3. Best Look Out Points
4. Top Activities on Ithaca
5. Best Local Eateries
6. Accommodation
7. Getting to Ithaca

1. USEFUL INFORMATION

When is the best time to visit?
Anytime from April (when season starts) to around October (season end). This is when the weather is best. 
March and October: very very few tourists, some places will be closed and the vibe might be a little less full, but I consider this a great time to come for some peace and quiet getaway.
July: Super buzzy and full of life! Really vibrant and upbeat atmosphere. Would recommend June/July/August if you really want to experience what Ithaca has to offer in Summer.

Who is it suitable for?
EVERYONE! This place has it all, in my opinion. It’s for Nature lovers, Ocean lovers, Beach bums, Families, Solo Travellers, Couples, Backpackers or Luxury seekers, those who prefer peace and quiet, as well as those who love a good party on the beach or late night drinks at the bars. As long as you bring positive energy, you will get back tenfold. 

Transport on the Island

  • Car - would only recommend for experienced drivers as this island is home to extremely narrow, bumpy, curvy roads with surprise corners! There are also many ‘off-road’ dirt tracks, which many car rental companies won’t cover in case of accident.

  • Scooter/Motorcycle - hands down, the best way to explore this island! Nothing beats that feeling of warm wind rushing past you, the exhilaration and the freedom of riding. If you choose this option, make sure you ditch your suitcase and bring a backpack instead ;)

  • Boat - many of the beautiful beaches here on Ithaca can only be discovered on water, therefore I can highly recommend you rent a boat for a full day (no license required) and go discover some hidden gems! We rented ours from Odyssey Boats and found it very easy to operate and drive. It also comes with a sun canopy, which is vital. There is a ladder at the back so you can dive off the boat knowing that it’s easy to get back in after a refreshing swim. It really is such a special and unique way to see the island - I can’t recommend this enough!

    You can find more info about the boats and prices here: Odyssey Boats

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2. TOP BEACHES ON ITHACA

Most of the beaches on Ithaca are not sandy but rocky/smooth stone beaches - which is one of the reasons why the water is so clear. The beaches are usually very calm and I would highly recommend you pick up a pair of snorkel + fins, and just explore the amazing underwater world and the numerous little fishes hidden amongst the sea grass and rock structures.

Gidaki Beach
You can only reach this beach via the water (boat and kayak) or via a little hike trail via Skinos and Minimata beach. There is no car access, but that’s what makes this place so great. I came here both times with a kayak from Odyssey Outdoor Activities - allow 1.5 hours one way from Vathy. In the peak summer months, there is a cool beach bar open and I hear they also host some good summer night parties down there! 

Gidaki Beach, Ithaca
Gidaki Beach, Ithaca
Kayaking Gidaki Beach, Ithaca

Minimata and Skinos Beach
Both beaches are rather quiet and secluded, with hardly anyone about. There is a luxurious villa by Skinos Beach, so you’ll see lots of outdoor decor. Water is very clear and the shallow waters are surprisingly teeming with life. The paved road ends at Minimata Beach, where then a bumpy dirt track road begins and takes you over to Skinos Beach - I would recommend parking the car at Minimata beach and walking over (about 5-10mins) to Skinos beach.

Sarakiniko Beach
One of those dreamy beaches where no matter the season, you’ll find very few people. There are some olive groves on the far end of the beach where you can set up a tent or hammock and just chill. The water is crystal clear and perfect for some swimming or snorkelling. About 10-15mins by scooter/car (depending on mode of transport) from Vathy.

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Sarakiniko 2.JPG

Filiatro Beach
Just a couple of minutes from Sarakiniko, located on the far side. Also very clear to swim in and has a cool watch tower. 

Filiatro 4.jpg

Aspros Gialos Beach
Probably my personal favourite because of the memories attached to this place. Very few people here, even in July. But they offer sun beds and umbrellas for hire in the main season. This beach is great for swimming and it’s very photogenic too - you can see Kefalonia on the other side.

Lefki Beach 2.jpg

Afales Bay
Beautiful stretch of coastline, which makes you really appreciate just how diverse this landscape is! There are some old windmills here in the area - very cool to check out as well!

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Photo Credits: Odyssey Outdoors

Photo Credits: Odyssey Outdoors

Photo Credits: Odyssey Outdoors

Photo Credits: Odyssey Outdoors

 

3. BEST LOOK-OUT POINTS ON ITHACA

To get to these view points, which are often very hilly - you should have a good mode of transport and make sure you have enough petrol in the scooter tanks so they don’t give you a minor heart attack half way up the mountain!

Monastery Katharon
No words that can adequately do this place justice. You absolutely have to see this place at sunset for yourselves. Just pure magic.

Pernarakia Peak
Another great sunset spot is from Pernarakia Peak - although on Google maps you’ll find it under Monastery Panagia Eleousa - but it’s the same place. The road up here is quite sketchy and rough, so I recommend you stop just below the signal towers and walk a few minutes up to the point - saves you a minor heart attack when you drive back down after dark. In late May, the sunset was about 8:45pm - and we found some goats grazing up here to this amazing view and you can the island of Kefalonia on the other side.  

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View of Vathy
Pull into the petrol station on the hill as you leave Vathy and just take a few moments to appreciate this very cool view. An island in the middle with a lush hilly backdrop and sun coated roofs of the houses in Vathy.

Vathy 1.jpg

King Odyssey’s Palace
If you’re into history and old Greek mythology, you will love this place. The age of these ruins and the detailed structures are incredibly impressive! If you want a guided tour with more historical background, I’d point you to Odyssey Outdoor Adventures - I came here as a part of an Island Safari tour and learnt so much about Greek History. 

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Old Ruins 2.jpg

Anogi
The stretch of road along Anogi is so beautiful, every corner was a photo opportunity!! If you decide to explore the north of the island, I can recommend you do a circuit loop around the West Side of the island and up around Anogi before reconnecting back to the thin section, bringing you back to Vathy.

Sunset Anogi 1.jpg
 

4. TOP ACTIVITIES ON ITHACA

If you feel like an adventure or want to see the island from a local’s perspective, then go check out: Odyssey Outdoor Activities. George Lilas is the founder and grew up here on the island of Ithaca, so you can trust him to show you the best hidden spots. Here are some of the activities I can recommend:

Island Safari:
Most of the places I mention here were thanks to the very insightful Island Safari I did with George. Not only does he bring you to some amazing ‘off the beaten track’ locations, but also provides some great background information and history about each of these places. This is a great way to make the most of your time on the island and gain a deeper appreciation for the rich history of this island. You can find out more info here: Island Safari

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Kayaking:
You have the option of doing a guided tour or renting a kayak and exploring some cool places on your own. I actually discovered Gidaki beach on a half day tour with George. When I came back a second time, my brother and I rented kayaks to explore on our own. Below are some photos en route to Gidaki Beach. The prices are very affordable and for first timers on the island, I would highly recommend a guided tour. You can find out more info here: Sea Kayak Ithaca

Kayaking 4.jpg

Scuba Diving:
You will most likely have the pleasure of diving with the very experienced and charismatic Australian/Greek Dive Master: Nick Flynn. He does most of the scuba diving excursions and has a knack for making you feel super calm and in control, despite the weird sensation of breathing underwater for the first time! It was here, that my brother and I had our first ever diving experience and we couldn’t have asked for a better first time! From the preparation and safety briefing to the underwater drills with all your diving apparatus - you can trust me when I say, you are in very good hands here. No matter your level, they cater from beginners to advanced deep diving and night diving too. They are also PADI certified, so you can do your Scuba Diving qualifications here. More info available here: Ithaca Diving

Photo Credits: Nicholas Flynn

Photo Credits: Nicholas Flynn

Photo Credits: Odyssey Outdoors

Photo Credits: Odyssey Outdoors

Photo Credits: Nicholas Flynn

Photo Credits: Nicholas Flynn

Photo Credits: Nicholas Flynn

Photo Credits: Nicholas Flynn

 

5. BEST LOCAL EATERIES

In Vathy:
Porto - my favourite go-to restaurant with the best (vegetarian) Roasted Eggplant dish I ever tasted!! You also have to try their Saganaki and Zucchini Balls - absolutely to die for! Love the cozy atmosphere.
Kohili - my second go-to restaurant with excellent food. Situated right by the waterfront near the Centre Square of Vathy, this place gets very busy in peak season - but for good reason. They also have a good vegetarian selection here.
Hotel Mentor - not many would consider eating at a hotel, but the prices here are surprisingly affordable (if not cheaper than some of the restaurants by the waterfront) and the food is very good. They also have a great selection for vegetarians and the salads are superb! Can definitely recommend the Couscous Salad.
Psistaria O Zois - a very local eatery and my personal favourite go-to for Souvlaki Pitas! You cannot beat their 2.50 Euros Pitas ;)
Roses is a great bar to chill in the evenings, sometimes they even have live music. Very chill, happy vibes :)

In Frikes:
Dodoni Divine
- ok, I’m punching myself for not taking photos of the amazing waffle and ice cream sundae I had here, but you just gotta trust me. It’s amazing and the view is just mwah! Here’s a view from the cafe.

Frikes 1.jpg

Dona Lefki - located in the little village of Lefki, this is the most PERFECT spot for sunset and dinner. Not the mention the food here is very high quality (with that also comes a little more $$). This is a place I can’t wait to come back to for another sunset meal! Highly highly recommended!

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6. ACCOMMODATION:

Hotel Mentor

I have stayed in the Hotel Mentor twice and can highly recommend this place! Very clean, modern and cool in summer. I had a balcony both times with a lovely view overlooking the Vathy Harbour and Church. They also offer buffet breakfast, to which you can enjoy with a harbour view. It cost around 60 Euros (in July) for two people including breakfast.

You can view and book the hotel here: Hotel Mentor

Hotel Mentor 2.jpg
Hotel Mentor.jpg
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Levantes House

This charming stone cottage is an absolute dream with a lush garden and stone steps leading right down to the clear blue waters. One of the highlights was definitely the hot outdoor showers with a view right towards the beautiful harbour - best way to wake up in the mornings! The room itself was very cozy and the beds were super comfortable. We had one double bed in the main room and two single beds in the other room. The bathroom is very well done and feels very clean (yes there is also an indoor shower as well as an outdoor shower - just in case you were wondering). When you wake up in the morning, you are the first to see and feel the warmth of the sun.

Our host (Spiros) was downright the loveliest and most helpful host we could have ever asked for. He was so friendly and welcoming, it made us feel right at home from the first moment. This place is very local, quiet and tranquil. We stayed for a total of four nights at the Galini Cottage but could have easily stayed for longer! A short 10-15 min walk takes you to the centre of Vathy where you can grab some fresh bread and a Freddo Cappuccino to start your day. Highly recommend this dreamy island cottage - thank you Spiros!

You can view and book the houses here: Levantes House - Ithaca

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7. GETTING TO ITHACA:

Ithaca has no airport - but its neighbouring island Kefalonia does. You can check out my article about Kefalonia and how to get there: Kefalonia - a Travel Guide

From Kefalonia, you can get to Ithaca via Ferry.
Depart: Sami Port (Kefalonia) —> Arrive: Pisaetos Port (Ithaca)
Duration: 45mins
Cost: 4 Euros per person (+ 4 Euros for scooter and 17 Euros for Car)
Ionion Pelagos Ferry: Time Schedule and Ferry Prices

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The locals here are super friendly and the island is just full of happy, chill vibes. Hopefully, I’ve intrigued you enough to visit Ithaca on your next trip to Greece! It’s one of my favourite places in the world and the fact that I keep feeling the draw to come back here, certainly says something :) Special thanks again to George Lilas and Nick Flynn from Odyssey Outdoors. I would never have found the majority of these stunning locations if it weren’t for these guys and their good company. If you want to make the most of your trip to Ithaca, I couldn’t recommend them highly enough! Definitely looking forward to coming back again this year and discovering some more hidden gems.


Have you been to Ithaca before? What were your favourite places? Or are you planning a trip to Greece and have been considering the Ionian Islands? If you have any questions, pop them down below! I look forward to reading and responding to your comments!


 
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