A yacht owner's guide to sailing the Ionian Islands
The Ionian Islands, also known as the Heptanese (“the seven islands” in Greek), include Corfu, Paxos, Lefkas, Ithaca, Kefalonia, Zakynthos and Kythira as well as several other smaller islands and islets. Interestingly, the name “Ionian” derives from Greek mythology, as it is said that Io (one of the mortal lovers of Zeus) swam across these waters from Greece to Italy while fleeing Hera. They are also one of the top sailing destinations in Greece, loved by beginners and experienced sailors alike.. and for good reason! Read on to find out more.
Best sailing bases for yacht charters in the Ionian Islands.
List of other Ionian Islands you can set sail from Corfu or Lefkada.
Paxi or Paxoi is the smallest island group within the Ionian Islands, while nearby you will fing Antipaxos. Gaios is the principal port of Paxos Island. On the islets off the harbour are a Venetian fort and the former Monastery of the Panayia. You can moor right in the middle of the busy touristy scenery of this charming place.
Besides Kythira, Zakynthos is the southernmost island of the Ionian Islands and lies off the west coast of the Peloponnese. With its beautiful scenery and excellent bathing beaches making it the perfect setting for sailing, Zakynthos is very popular among yacht charterers and tourists in general. The big harbor of Zakynthos has a marina on the side of the jetty, where you can find any supply you might need for yourselves or your yacht. Sailing around the island, you will find many beaches to inspect, including the world-famous Navagio beach (Shipwreck Bay), a good anchorage with sandy bottom.
The largest of the Ionian Islands, Kefalonia is adorned with bare limestone mountains and a coastline generally forming many bays and capes. The coasts are mainly rocky and steep from the side of the Ionian, while they have milder formations from the east side. One place that can attract all kinds of sailor is Fiskardo, on the northernmost tip of the island, while Agia Efimia, to the east, also serves as a meeting point for the sailing crowd for safe anchorages.
Ithaca lies east of the northwest coast of Cephalonia, from which it is separated by the Strait of Ithaca, and has approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) of coastline. The southern branch of the bay of Molos is the harbor of Vathy, the capital and largest settlement of the island. The main harbour of Vathy lies at the back of a deep bay and represents a safe and hospitable shelter, while Lazaretto Islet (or “Island of The Saviour”) guards the harbor.
Luxury yachts for charter in the Ionian Islands.
Ionian sailing holidays: Popular questions answered.
How many Ionian Islands are there?
There are 20+ islands and islets in total, many of them completely uninhabited.
What islands make up the Ionian islands?
The main Ionian islands (traditionally considered the Heptanese) are Corfu, Paxos, Lefkas, Ithaca, Kefalonia, Zakynthos and Kythira. That said Kythira is the southernmost member of the Ionian Islands, although it administratively belongs to the Attica region.
What is the history of the Ionian Islands?
The Ionian islands were settled by Greeks at an early date, possibly as early as 1200 BC, and certainly by the 9th century BC. The early Eretrian settlement at Kerkyra was displaced by colonists from Corinth in 734 BC. The islands were mostly a backwater during Ancient Greek times and played little part in Greek politics.
Ithaca was the name of the island home of Odysseus in the epic Ancient Greek poem the Odyssey by Homer. Attempts have been made to identify Ithaki with ancient Ithaca, but the geography of the real island cannot be made to fit Homer’s description. Archeological investigations have revealed interesting findings in both Kefalonia and Ithaca.
Later they became under Byzantine rule, and in 1085 were conquered by the Normans; subsequently in 1203-04 the Fourth Crusade brought another change of masters. After an interlude of French rule the young Republic of the Seven Islands became a British Protectorate in 1815; in 1864 Britain returned the islands to Greece.
What’s the usual Ionian sailing weather forecast?
The sailing conditions in the Ionian are usually very predictable with a nice NW breeze of around 3 Beaufort in the afternoon, often dying down in the evening allowing sailors to moor safely with ease.
The best time to sail around the Ionian Islands: When to go for Ionian sailing holidays
Same as with the rest of Greece, the sailing season in the Ionian Islands spans from April to the end of October. Not sure about which dates to pick? Here’s a quick guide.
July, August and September are considered high season. You can expect balmy temperatures averaging 30 – 35 °C, long sunny days, lukewarm seas and bustling nightlife. The perfect, Instagram-worthy Greek summer vibes!
If you are looking to escape the crowds and also take advantage of considerably lower yacht charter prices, we would recommend looking at low season in April, May, June and October. The weather would still be very nice with the average temperature at 20-25 °C and mostly sunny conditions.
Best anchorages in the Ionian sea: Where to stay in the Ionian Islands
There are honestly so many amazing places to visit in the Ionian that it would take months to explore them all.
Let’s start with the basics.
The Ionian Islands are essentially divided into two parts. The North and the South.
To explore the North Ionian you will start your sailing holiday from Corfu in Gouvia Marina. Highlights of the North Ionian Sailing Itinerary include Lakka bay in Paxos, the famous, sandy Voutoumi beach in Antipaxos, Parga and Sivota on mainland Greece, as well as the untouched by tourists masses Othonoi and Ereikoussa at the North of Corfu.
For a sailing holiday in the South Ionian, you will need to pick your boat up from Lefkas (also known as Lefkada). From there, you can explore the nearby Meganisi, swim where Jackie Kennedy Onassis used to swim in Scorpios island, visit the famous, colorful Fiscardo in Kefalonia and of course the legendary Ithaca, the island of Odysseus.
Should you choose to opt for a longer duration yacht charter of at least two weeks, you could combine the North and South Ionian routes and get the best of both worlds.
Is the Ionian Sea calm?
The Ionian Sea is usually calm with winds not exceeding 4-5 Beaufort, meaning you can enjoy probably the most stress-free sailing holiday in Greece. That is why the Ionian islands are often described as the ideal sailing destination for first-time sailors as well as families with young children and/or elderly.
Does the Ionian sea have tides?
There are tides in the Ionian Islands, however, they are not strong enough to pose an issue during a yacht charter there and are often not taken into consideration at all.
Ionian sailing dilemma → North or South?
If you are planning your first sailing holiday, then starting from Lefkas and exploring the South Ionian islands may be the best choice for you as there are plentiful bays and overnight anchorages to choose from and generally shorter distances between the islands allowing for a comfortable 2 or 3-hour sail daily. The wind conditions also tend to be lighter and more predictable.
The North Ionian will be better suited to a group who have already sailed from Lefkas and looking for the next step or perhaps a mile-building trip. Sailing legs are somewhat longer compared to the South as you will be visiting both the islands and the mainland and you can expect some exhilarating sailing as well but nothing too extreme.
Important to highlight that Lefkas is served by Preveza airport and Corfu is served by its own airport both accepting international flights. You can also easily travel between the two islands by ferry from Corfu to Igoumenitsa on the mainland and a short bus ride from there to Lefkas (there is a bus stop right at the entrance of Lefkas marina).
Both Lefkas and Corfu are vibrant, cosmopolitan towns, so we would recommend spending the first night at the home port and exploring these marvelous locations instead of heading off to the next island straight away. You will not be disappointed!
Which is better: Aegean or Ionian Sea?
We couldn’t possibly choose between the Aegean and the Ionian as they are so different. The Aegean is known for its traditional white-washed houses, blooming bougain villages, pebbled streets and Meltemi winds. The Ionian on the other hand offers wonderful scenery of calm emerald waters surrounded by green coves. Why not experience both and get a taste of all that the Greek islands have to offer?
What is the most beautiful Ionian island?
Although it is hard to say as each island is unique in its own way, we can’t help but feel that Ithaca (or Ithaki as the Greeks call it) is sure to enchant even the most demanding of travelers. An island rich with history dating back to mythology, it is the centre of Omer’s Odyssey described as the home of the legendary Odysseus. Arriving in Kioni or Vathy, the island’s main overnight anchorages, you will be amazed by the picturesque and colourful houses inspired by Venetian architecture as well as the warm hospitality of the locals.
How long does it take to sail from Corfu to Lefkada?
One-way charters between Corfu and Lefkas are often an option during the beginning or end of the season when the need arises for a yacht to be relocated. These are usually offered without an extra fee and oftentimes with generous discounts. If you request a one-way charter in the middle of the season, you should expect to be asked to pay a one-way fee covering the cost for the yacht to return to the home port.
Sailing from Corfu to Lefkada takes about 10 – 15 hours non-stop. This, of course, depends on the type and size of the boat and the prevailing weather conditions.
Are there dolphins in the Ionian?
There are quite a lot of dolphins in the Ionian. If you’re lucky, you may get the chance to see them playing around your bow, as they are usually very sociable. Make sure you have your cameras ready!
Talk with Vassia, our Yacht Charter Specialist.
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