Lefkas Travel Guide
Lefkada is a beautiful island of the Ionian Sea, the fourth bigger among the complex of the ionian islands called Eptanisa (which means "Seven Islands"). Although it is described as an island, it can be easily reached by car, since it is connected with the mainland by a small floating bridge of 50 metres. There, exactly at the entrance of the island, you will also find one of the most prestigious medieval buildings of the area, built on the 14th century, the impressive castle of Santa Mavra.
The name "Lefkas" means "white" and derives from the famous white cliffs of Cape Lefkata which is located at the southernmost point of the island, where Lefkos, friend of Odysseus, built an ancient temple of Apollo according to the mythology. Therefore, the place was called Lefkas stone or Lefkas. From that exact point of Cape Lefkata, according to the tradition, the celebrated Lesbian lyric poet Sappho flung herself from the rocks after a heartbreak she had from Phaon. That is why Cape Lefkata is also known as Kavos Kiras ("Kira" means "Lady") or "Kavos Niras", as it is called in slang on the island.
HISTORY OF LEFKAS
Humanity in Lefkada can be traced back to the Paleolithic era. The distinguished German archaeologist Wilhelm Dairepfeld, associate of Henry Schliemann in the Troy excavations, conducted extensive archaeological research in Nydri, and brought important findings from the copper age (2,000 B.C.) to light and hence started the theory that Lefkada can be identified with Homers Ithaca and the palace of Odysseus was located west of Nidri on the south coast of Lefkada. There have been suggestions by local tourism officials that several passages in the Odyssey point to Lefkada as a possible model for Homeric Ithaca. The most notable of these passages pushed by the local tourism board describes Ithaca as an island reachable on foot, which was the case for Lefkada since it is not really an island, that it was connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway.
The history of Lefkada, from the 7th century b.c. after becoming a Corinthian colony up until the Roman conquer, is politically connected to the city of Corinthos, which Lefkada followed in all important events of the time: the Salamina naval battle, the battle of Platees, the Peloponnesian war as an ally to the Spartans and the expedition of Alexander the Great.
Strongly resisting to the Romans during the 3rd century B.C., Lefkada finally submits to the conqueror in the 2nd century. During the Roman occupation considerable projects were constructed, the stone bridge, to name one, which connected the island of Lefkada with Akarnania, and had a length of 700 meters. They also reconstructed the ancient wall.
In 1204 the island was incorporated to the dominion of Hepiros, but from the year 1294 Lefakada came into the hands of the French, since it was given as an offering to John, Count of Orsini, who later built the nucleus of the Aghia Mavra Castle, still erect today at the island’s entrance - that is why Lefkada island is also known as Santa Mavra.
The history of the island, since the 14th century and until it’s incorporation with the Greek state, is full of events - milestones of long historical adventure. In 1331 Lefkada was conquered by the Andigavians, while in 1334 it becomes the feud of the Georgie. In 1357 the “Voukentra revolution”, the revolt of the islands farmers against the Gratian Georgie, arose, a fact that centuries later inspired the Lefkadite poet, Aristotelis Valaoritis, to write the famous work “Fotinos”. In 1362 the island was passed on to the hands of the Tokki and in 1479 was conquered by the Ottomans, only to fall temporarily, for two years (1502-3) in the hands of the Venetians and then again back to the Turks, for a prolonged period of time that ended in 1684. The same year the Venetians return. Lefkada was occupied by Fransisco Morozini, the capital was transferred outside the castle, at the position it remains up until now, called Amaxiki and the Lefkadites lose control of the port and commerce falls in the hands of the Venetians.
The Venetian occupation is an especially difficult time for the Lefkadites, who were cut off from the rest of Greece and with the Venetians being indifferent in developing a cultural and social foundation, as they did in Zakynthos and Corfu, found it difficult to organize their social life and create their own cultural movement. However, during these years, the Venetians modernized public life by founding courts and setting the basis for organizing administrative services.
A period of continuous historic changes follows. The democratic French replace the Venetians in 1797 and immediately after that Lefkada as the rest of the Eptanisa falls under Russian - Turkish rule. From 1802 the island becomes a part of the Eptanesian State, the first semi independent Greek state, under Russian - Turkish protection.
In 1807 Lefkada is conquered by the imperial French only to fall in the hands of the British in 1810, who incorporate the island to United State of the Ionian Islands.
Despite the bits of democratic freedoms provided, the English rule was one of cruelty and heavy taxing to the poor Lefkadites, a measure resulting in the revolt of the peasants. During that time, however, many public projects were constructed, such as roads, bridges and aqueducts.
The union of Lefkada as well as the rest of the Eptanisa to Greece happened in 1864 when, after Otto’s removal, came George the 1st to the throne.
For a few years the civil class prospered and commerce especially developed. However in the beginning of the 20th century, the year 1900, peronospora a plants disease, destroyed all the islands vineyards, sending into poverty and despair the inhabitants. Then begun the great emigration to America and Canada, which lessened only after the end of the great wars of the century, where life in Lefkada improved significantly in the beginning of the sixties.
This period also allowed inspiration for many Lefkadian writers such as Lafcadio Hearn, also known as Yakumo Koizumi (Japan's national poet) and Angelos Sikelianos. In the 21st May of 1864, a treaty was signed proclaiming the unification of the Ionian Islands (among which is Lefkada) with the independent and newly born Greek State. The museums for the two famous poets can be found in Lefkada Town.
Last but not least, if you are interested in religion tourism, you should definitely visit the Monastry of Faneromeni, which is the most important religious centre on the island of Lefkada, located on a hill above the Town (region of Frini), with a gorgeous view to the capital village, the northern side of the island and the opposite coasts of the mainland. According to the tradition, the monastery of Panagia Faneromeni was originally built in 1634 on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of hunting. On this site, the students of Apostle Paul had preached Christianity some centuries ago. In the Venetian times, particularly in the 18th century, the monastery was renovated, but unfortunately two fires burnt it down. In the late 19th century, the monastery was reconstructed again. Today, it hosts an interesting Ecclesiastical Museum with rare Byzantine icons, old manuscripts and gospels plus a very nice little zoo. Panagia Faneromeni is the saint protector of the island.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Lefkada, as stated above, is an island of the Ionian Sea and belongs to the island complex of Eptanisa, being the fourth in size, covering an area of 302.5 square kilometres. It lies between the islands of Corfu and Kefalonia and it is very close to the shores of the western mainland of Greece, Akarnania.
Having a population of 23.000 people, Lefkada along with the islands of Meganissi, Kalamos, Kastos, Scorpios, Skorpidi, Madouri, Sparti, Arkoudi, Thilia, Kythros and other smaller ones around them, constitutes the province of Lefkada with the city of Lefkada as capital.
The island's climate is Mediterranean, with long spells of sunshine all through the year, the temperate but rainy winter and the warm but pleasant summer due to the cooling breeze. The 70% of Lefkada is covered by mountains, having Stavrota as the tallest top (1.182 m.) followed by Elati (1.126 m.), St Lias (1.014 m.) and Mega Oros (1.012 m.).
On the west side of the island which is quite steep, there are many long sandy beaches, like Kathisma and the world's famous beach Porto Katsiki. Lefkada possesses narrow plateaus, fertile valleys and canyons with rich plantation, while it also has a notable flora which includes olive trees, cypresses, a variety of pine trees, a special variety of oak, aromatic herbs and rare flowers. The island has many springs, like the known Kerasia springs in Sivros, torrents that become rather violent at times and form small cataracts like the one in Nydri, the Dimosaris and impressive canyons like the ones in Mellisa of Sfakiotes and in Haradiatika. The two salt lakes in the northern part of the island are a very important reserve for many bird species.
The lagoon of Lefkada - called Ivari by the locals - is located at the entrance of the town and is of great ecological importance and has unique natural beauty as a landscape. It is included in the NATURA 2000 network as a protected area of great ecological importance. Characterized by RAMSAR Treaty as wetland of international importance, the lagoon is a migratory station for several birds, some of which belong to rare species. If you are lucky, then, you will see swans, herons, and various species of gulls, ducks and geese.
The east coast section of the island has many beautiful small resorts, like Nikiana, Ligia and Nidri, where one can find many boats for daily cruises around the island or to other islands nearby. Many resorts of the east coast have a beautiful view of Skorpios, the island that used to belong to Aristotle Onassis, Meganissi and other small islands, like the beautiful islands of Kalamos and Kastos.
In the south there is the famous windsurf location of Vassiliki village connected with Lefkada town by the main coastal road.
HOW TO GET TO LEFKAS
As already noted, Lefkas is the only island in the Ionian Sea that is accessible by car from the mainland by a 50 metre floating bridge that has a free pass, making it even more tempting. There are different ways to drive to the island depending on where you are travelling from.
If you are heading to Lefkada from the north of Greece, the Balkans or eastern Europe, then you’ll have to drive the Egnatia Highway all the way to Ioannina where you exit it. From Ioannina exit you drive to Preveza where you cross the underwater tunnel of Aktio. When you exit the tunnel, you need to drive 20 kilometres more before you arrive in Lefkada Town.
If you are travelling from the South, taking the ferry that departs from the major ports in the east coast of Italy to Patra, then you will have to cross the large bridge of Rio-Antirio.
The closest airport to Lefkada is the small airport of Aktion/Preveza, about 30 min drive away through the underwater tunnel of Aktion. There are direct access flights from the UK and most European cities to Aktio airport until October. In case you can't find any flights to Preveza airport, there is always the option to fly to Athens or Thessaloniki airports which are connected with frequent flights from all over the world. The bus journey (KTEL) to Lefkada from both cities takes approximately 5 hours. Nearby airports with frequent chartered flights from overseas are those on Corfu, Kefalonia and Zakynthos. From there, you can take the ferry to Nidri or Vassiliki, Lefkada.
Moreover, there is the option to take the Ferry from Venice or Ancona to Igoumenitsa, and then drive the remaining 120km by car or take the bus (KTEL).
Famous all over the world for its exceptional landscape and its exotic water, beaches in Lefkada are considered among the most beautiful in the world. The entire western coast of the island, especially, is full of long beaches with white sand, pebbles and crystal clear waters.
Pefkoulia beach, where pine trees reach the sand and offer shade from the sun, the cosmopolitan Kathisma beach with its beach bars, beach volley court and paragliding availability, Milos, Avali and Kalamitsi beach for a more tranquil and remote atmosphere, or Agios Nikitas and Poros Mikros Gialos beach if you have small children and would prefer a place with more "controllable" water and watersports for the children and tavernas close-by, are just some of the many options you have while being in Lefkada.
All beaches in the island have crystal clear waters and an unparalleled beauty of an exotic paradise. The most famous of them, though, two of the best in the Mediterranean Sea are Porto Katsiki and Egkremni. Porto Katsiki, which means "Port of the Goat" since the tradition has it that it was found when a goat slipped over the cliff and the shepherd went all around the place to find it and found this exquisite beach as well as his dead goat. It is a very famous and photogenic beach at the bottom of an arc of pale cliff that seem to have the clean lines of something designed by an architect rather than a natural wonder. It rises out of the water like a wedge, narrow at the center of the bay where there are only a few stairs to the sand, and then towering upwards at either end. As well as the white lines of the cliffs, the water is bright, bright blue and the cliffs have grassy topped fringes. It is 35 km away from Lefkada town, near Athani village. The unique view of the white cliff over the beach combined with the surrounding green of the area and the cyan water of the sea make this beach a "must visit" place for tourists. It is consistently rated Top European Beach of the Year.
Porto Katsiki has parking lots and canteens, but you will not find anywhere to stay. Camping is not allowed on the beach, since it can be relatively dangerous underneath the rocks. It is a long stairwell down to the actual beach from the cliff parking. The last 5 km of the road are not wide enough and especially in August you may experience difficulties visiting Porto Katsiki at noon. In order to avoid this situation, you can go early in the morning (before 10:00) or at the afternoon (after 17:00). You may also visit Porto Katsiki with the cruise boats from Nydri or Vasiliki.
Egkremni beach is a very wide, sandy beach with the blue crystal clear water of the western coast's colors, but it is only accessible by boat these days. Nevertheless, all daily cruises around the island make a stop there so that everyone can swim at this "exotic paradise".
If you are a fan of water-sports like kite-surfing and wind-surfing, Agios Ioannis beach and Vassiliki are the best places for you, since it is where most European kite-surfing and wind-surfing contests take place, taking advantage of the strong winds from which all the surfers benefit. Moreover, if you have never tried these kinds of sports but you would like to try, lessons as well as equipment are offered there.
If you stay near Vassiliki you could also take the boat to visit Agiofilli beach, a beautiful but very small beach - it can be really crowded in high season periods.
Kathisma beach is a very wide sandy beach with sunbeds and umbrellas, many beach bars and some tavernas, offering a more cosmopolitan all-day experience at the beach for those who like to spend the day there while having their coffee, have a bite to eat, watch the beautiful sunset and - why not? - drink cocktails and party until very late at night. The color of the water is amazing with many different shades of blue, but you should be careful when it gets very windy, since the waves can get high at this part of the island. It could be stated that it is one of the most easily accessible beaches, since the parking lot is next to the beach.
Apart from Kathisma, there is Mylos beach, next to Agios Nikitas, a beach that looks a lot like Kathisma but without the "human touch", making an exquisite pristine landscape. You can get there either by a little boat from Agios Nikitas beach (no more than a 5 minute trip) or on foot crossing up and down the mountain from Agios Nikitas village.
If you come to Lefkada you should visit Agios Nikitas anyway, since it is a traditional, picturesque village with small paved alleys and coffee-shops, tavernas and bars. The main alley leads to Agios Nikitas beach, which consists of sand and brilliant crystal clear waters. It is quite small but equally beautiful to the other beaches of the island as it uniquely combines a refreshing swim and a delicious meal at the tavernas near-by. Agios Nikitas beach is also one of the best choices when it is windy, since the water is relatively calm even when all the western coast has big waves.
Additionally to Agios Nikitas, Poros Mikros Gialos is also a small bay (as revealed by its name, since "Mikros Gialos" means Little Bay) with calm, crystal clear water with green colors and scenary with lush vegetation, hills and rocky forms, making it a small jewel among the beaches of the area. The access of the beach is not so complicated, just follow the road signs towards Poros village between Nidri and Vasiliki. The beach is filled with white chalky pebbles, but water shoes are not necessary and it is great for snorkelling. It is fully organized with sunbeds and umbrellas, SAP, water bicycles and canoes and has tavernas and coffee-shops near-by.
As for Avali, it is a very tranquil beach with similar colors with the others of the west coast, but it is not an organized beach, there are no parasols and sunbeds and, therefore, calmer. There is also a cantina during summer period at Avali beach which offers coffee, beers and great meals (the owner used to be a chef in a well-known all-day bar restaurant in Athens) and where you can relax observing the beautiful view while listening to chill-out music. As The New York Times have written in 2017, "Avali is the place you feel like Heaven on Earth" - one could easily say that this is the case for all the beaches in Lefkada...
ACTIVITIES - LEISURE
Apart from swimming, sunbathing and doing all kinds of water-sports (like kite-surfing, wind-surfing, parasailing and paragliding etc.), Lefkada offers many other interesting things to do.
If you like to bike, you could do a guided mountain bike tour based on your level of fitness and skill - more details could be found below:
Guided Mountain Biking
Get Active! offers daily guided biking on the island of Lefkas. Serene to extreme, the rides are suitable for all levels of fitness and skill, from gentle meanders through olive groves, past waterfalls and churches, to the extreme mountain rides up to the highest peaks on the island, they have got something for everyone. Get Active! are based in the coastal resort of Nidri and riders have the use of their 2012 Specialized Rockhopper bikes, helmets and gloves.
Check out their website www.getactivelefkas.com for more information and 'like' their page on Facebook to keep up to date with local news and weather. Make the most of your time exploring the lush mountainous landscape Lefkas has to offer and Get Active!
Walking/Hiking and Places to Eat
If you like hiking to feel nature around you, you should definitely visit the Gorge of Melissa, which is located between the villages of Apolpena and Kavalos (10 km from Lefkada town). It is a verdurous gorge with rich flora, consisting of cypress, olive, plane and pine trees and has plenty of birds, native and migratory. It is the definition of dreamlike and unparalleled natural beauty in its greatness. The gorge is crossed by a river that accompanies you all along the route and from which the supply of the watermills was made in the past. The choices you have regarding the hike are three: Pigi Spilias, Apetasti, Kako Langadi.
- Pigi Spilias: The route owes its name to the fountain that is "carved" by nature in a huge rock at the beginning of the trail. Centenarian sycamore trees, gurgling water, sounds from the animal kingdom of the area offer incredible images and moments that will be truly unforgettable.
- Apetasti: The walk takes place next to the stream, with green trees towering above you, creating due to their density a kind of natural "roof", hiding the sky from your vision.
- Kako Langadi: Watermills and wooden bridges, dense and lush vegetation, unique shapes of rocks both in the bed and on the banks of the river from the carving of water on them, are included in the basic characteristics of this path.
Lefkada has an abundant storage of underground water, which is one of the principal reasons why a major part of the island is lush with greenery. The high mountains that abound in Lefkada are the sources for many waterfalls that cascade through the mountainous terrain and finally ending up into the sea. One such gorgeous cascading waterfall is the Dimossari waterfall that can be found on the outskirts of Nydri. After 3 kilometres you will see a small parking site for your car or bike, because from this point you have to walk. A few meters away from the entrance there is a small cafe bar with refreshments, beers and snacks. The walk to Dimosari waterfalls takes only about 15-20 minutes on a mostly well maintained footpath, with some rocks, stairs and curves. During the walk some old plane trees provide shade for hikers. Along the trail a small stream flows and you can see in some places smaller waterfalls, but the main waterfall is located directly at the end of the route. Dimossari waterfall is approx. 15 meters high, surrounded by large rocks and cliffs. During the summer season, when the temperature gets really hot, tourists come to the Dimosari Waterfalls to relieve themselves from the sweltering heat and many of them can be seen swimming in the crystal clear waters of the lakes which can be found among the rocky contours. The trail on foot to the waters along the silhouette of the pine trees is splendid. Visiting Dimosari waterfalls is free, there is no entry fee.
Ideally, if it is after 18:00 a visit to the Dimossari waterfalls should coincide with a visit to Dimitris Mountain Taverna in Paleokatouna (in the mountains to the direction of Rachi, about 7-10 minutes drive from Nydri), to enjoy traditional Greek food at great prices and a panoramic view of Nydri and the Geni peninsula, since the restaurant is perched on top of the hills of Paleokatouna. If you feel like having lunch or dinner by the sea though, you could always visit the family taverna "Kanioria" in the tiny, picturesque harbor of Ligia village.
Apart from that, a trip through the mountains and mountain villages of Lefkada is very pleasant too. Vafkeri with its natural water springs, Karia with its big, old plane tree in the middle of the village's square, Eglouvi with its authentic traditional stone houses and its famous lentils and a visit to the church of Prophet Elias with its spectacular view will totally reward you.
A daily boat tour around Lefkada and the surrounding Islands, usually starting from Nidri, is also recommended since it offers a quick view of the main sights and landscapes.
If you find yourselves in Lefkada Town walking on the narrow cobblestone alleys observing the colorful houses and listening to the famous Ionian cantadas (at summer you can also find events with people singing traditional cantadas on little fish boats on the traditional harbor of Lefkada, called "varkarola") or visiting the Phonograph and Folklore Museum, the Archeological Museum of Lefkada or Angelos Sikelianos Museum, you could then go and have dinner at Ey Zhn restaurant, one of the best in Lefkada Town, with its many different choices of food on its menu.
Finally, while being in Lefkada, don't forget to try the traditional cuisine with its delicious seafood recipes such as savoro (it's a special kind of cooking fish), codfish bianco and lathiria, as well as frigadeli (made from liver), sofigado (beef with quinces), the spicy salami Lefkadas and the local sausages for the meat lovers, all kinds of traditional pies such as ladopita (with olive oil), rizopita (with rice), lahanopita (with vegetables) and briani (pie with thick green zucchini) and, of course, the famous lentils Egklouvis and ladokouloura (oil cookies). All these could be accompanied with one of the many local wines!