Lay of the Land
The Ionian Islands are also known in Greece as the Eptanissia—the Seven Islands. And there are indeed seven main ones that make up the group, spread out in the Ionian Sea between Greece and Italy. The northernmost is Corfu, which is less than two miles from Albania at its northern tip; the most southerly is Kythera, which is as close to the volcanic Cyclades Islands as it is to Corfu. Most of the Ionian Islands have smaller islets ringing them—some developed, some uninhabited—and all of them are lush, green, and frequented by European travelers (especially Italians, who swarm them in August). Unlike the rest of Greece, which was under Ottoman control for almost 500 years, the Ionian Islands were ruled by the Venetians, French, British, and their own Ionian government at different times in history. This mix of cultures led to the development of unique Ionian music, cuisine, and architecture—and each of the islands has its own variations on these themes.
WHEN TO GO
Farther north than most of the Greek islands, the Ionians have a cooler and damper climate than the hot, dry Cyclades and the other Aegeans. As in all these parts, however, August is the busiest month—so busy it's worth avoiding. Visiting between November and March isn't advisable since so many places are closed, but April to mid-June, just before the main tourist season, is a great time to come here—the islands are green and blanketed with wildflowers, the hiking is especially good, and nowhere is overrun with tourists. September to October is similar, minus the flowers, and with a tinge of postseason melancholy. July and late June are less crazed than August, but still high season—the best time for beach-based vacations.
HOW TO GET THERE
There are direct flights to Athens (30-210-353-0000; www.aia.gr/) on Delta from JFK and Atlanta (800-221-1212; www.delta.com). Olympic Airlines also operates flights to Athens from JFK (800-223-1226; www.olympicairlines.com). Airports on Corfu (30-266-108-9600; a mile south of Corfu Town), Kefalonia (30-267-102-8808) and Zakynthos (30-269-502-8322), all connect with Athens airport. Ferries from Italy (Brindisi, Bari, Ancona, and Venice) dock at Corfu, where you can access ferries to the other islands. Lefkadha can be reached by road (there are buses from Athens) and Kythira by hydrofoil from the Peloponnese and Piraeus (information on sailing times: 30-281-072-2300; www.greekferries.gr; 0-281-034-6185; www.ferries.gr). If money is an object, it's worth investigating a round-trip fare to London with the aim of connecting to a cheap charter or low-cost airline flight to Athens or Corfu.
Rizospaston Vouleuton & Iakovou Polyla
Tel: 30 266 103 7520
Fax: 30 266 103 0298