It’s hard not to fall for the Ionian Islands, an archipelago that sweeps down the west coast of mainland Greece and includes Corfu, Paxi, Lefkada, Ithaki, Kefallonia and Zakynthos. Discovering these islands is a tantalising odyssey. Their natural beauty embraces the visitor – the vast olive groves, intriguing mountainscapes and iridescent waters of the Ionian Sea offer something for adventure seekers, culture vultures and beach bums alike.
Each island boasts a distinct tradition, cuisine and architecture – the remaining influences of former invading forces such as the Venetians, French and British. These influences are obvious in Corfu Town, where you can watch a cricket match on the Spianada, drink under Parisian-style arcades and wander through the town’s Venetian-style alleyways. Elsewhere in the Ionians – in the traditional fishing or mountain villages – you can stroll through central plazas shaded by bougainvilleas and plane trees, or relax under a taverna’s vine-covered canopy with the soporific scent of jasmine. Less-tasteful encounters exist, in the form of invasive, package-tourist beach developments, but these can be avoided. It’s easy to get off the beaten track: find your own isolated swimming coves in a boat, wander through olive groves, or stumble across an authentic kafeneio (coffee house). Cultural adventurers can explore fortresses, Byzantine churches and Homeric sites. Adventure addicts can trek, cycle, windsurf and scuba dive, and anyone can try bird-watching or golf.
The culinary experience rounds off an Ionian journey: indulge in fresh, generous helpings of local dishes, served with a huge dollop of local filoxenia (hospitality).