A Local's Guide to Vacationing in Greece: Islands Edition
Greece's coastline is surrounded with islands that offer an escape like no other. While Mykonos and Santorini often steal the spotlight, there's a whole world waiting to be discovered in lesser-known paradises. There are 6000 islands in Greece with only 227 of them inhabited. We can spend each summer visiting a few islands and we would have just scratched the surface. In this second part of a Local's Guide to Vacationing in Greece, I’ll share with you six islands: Corfu, Paxos, Hydra, Zakynthos, Kefalonia, and Ithaka offering insights into how to make the most of your vacation and discover the Greece that often escapes the typical tourist trail. From hidden coves, to pristine beaches, to unique traditional dishes, my wish for you is to be inspired to visit these beautiful places and experience Greece's authentic beauty...like a local.
Corfu: The Emerald Isle
Corfu, often referred to as the "Emerald Isle," is a lush paradise nestled in the Ionian Sea. The island's unique blend of Greek, Venetian, and British influences is reflected in its architecture, cuisine, and culture. Begin your journey by wandering through the streets of Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where narrow cobbled streets wind through Venetian-style buildings, charming squares, and cozy cafés. For breathtaking panoramic views of the town and sea, make sure to visit the Old Fortress.
Corfu's cuisine is another reflection of its historical influencer. While in Corfu Town, explore local markets to sample olives, cheeses, and spices, and make time to have a taste of the classic pastitsada, a hearty stew featuring local spices and pasta.
Paxos: Tiny Island, Big Heart
Paxi is made of Paxos and Antipaxos, the smallest of the Ionian Islands, known for the quiet beauty and harmonious lifestyle. Accessible only by boat (from Corfu and Igoumenitsa), the island offers a true escape from the hustle and bustle. Gaios, the main port town, serves some breathtaking scenery with its colorful houses lining the waterfront and charming squares shaded by olive trees. We spent 5 amazing days here this past July exploring the coastline by boat and discovering hidden coves, sea caves, and crystal-clear waters perfect for snorkeling and swimming. I highly recommend booking a boat with a skipper to take you around both islands (pictured here is Voutoumi Beach in Antipaxos). To get fully immersed in the island’s fabric, take a drive through the olive groves, inhaling the scent of wildflowers and fresh sea breeze. I promise you’d want to visit this island more than once.
Hydra: Timeless Elegance
Hydra, located in the Saronic Gulf is a place where time seems to stand still. Known for its ban on motorized vehicles, Hydra maintains a unique charm with donkeys and boats as the primary modes of transportation. The architecture of Hydra Town is captivating, showcasing elegant stone mansions and narrow alleyways.
Hydra’s vibrant beauty has been attracting artists and creatives for many years. Make sure to visit one of my favorite local jewelry designers, Elena Votsi. Don’d miss the chance to take a hike up to the Monastery of Profitis Ilias for the most stunning panoramic views of the island.
Zakynthos: Nature's Masterpiece
Zakynthos, known as Zante, is one of the most stunning islands in Greece with some of the most pristine beaches in the entire country. Visit Navagio Beach which is nestled within towering cliffs. The azure waters and white sands make it a postcard-worthy destination. If you’re a marine enthusiast, diving into the Blue Caves is a must-experience activity. These caves are natural formations with stunning shades of blue and turquoise. While in Zakynthos, try some local specialties like bourdeto, a spicy fish stew and mandolato, a sweet nougat treat.
Visit the church of Saint Dionyssios to learn about his life and the miracles he has and continues to perform to this day. Our oldest son had the honor to visit Saint Dionyssios church this summer during his time in Greece and came back with many stories to tell.
Ithaca: Home of Odysseus
Ithaca, known as the home of Odysseus, is made up of peaceful villages, olive groves and pristine beaches. Discover its beautiful landscapes by taking a hiking trip. Visit a local taverna and enjoy dishes like froutalia, a hearty omelette made with potatoes, sausages, and peppers, accompanied by freshly baked bread.
Kefalonia: Nature's Masterpiece
Kefalonia's landscapes range from Myrtos Beach's turquoise waters to Mount Ainos' lush slopes. Don't miss the enchanting Melissani Cave. After a day at the beach, feast on some robola wine, Kefalonia's own creation, while relishing dishes like kreatopita, a savory meat pie that exemplifies the island's hearty fare.
Kefalonia is home to the sacred monastery of Saint Gerasimos, the patron saint of the island. I highly recommend visiting this monastery to gain an understanding of the saint. Visiting the cave he spent most of his life was the highlight of our son’s trip.
While Greece's well-known destinations have their charm, the Ionian Islands offer an opportunity to experience Greece in an authentic way. From exploring the mythic landscapes to enjoying the local cuisine and engaging with warm-hearted locals, these six islands should be on your list of places to visit.
Read part one of the Local's Guide to Vacationing Greece: Athens Edition.