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Ithaki Island | History | Hiking Paths | Villages of Ithaca | Museums | Cultural Events

Ithaca 

The gaze is lost in the calm Ionian waters that lap the shores and vertical slopes. On the west of Ithca the coast is abrupt and craggy, whilst on the east the sandy coast forms numerous gulfs both big and small as well as beautiful beaches. Here, too, the blue eggs flags confirm that the waters are ideal for swimming.

The best way to get to know Ithca, its unspoilt landscape and exquisite unapproachable beaches with crystal clear waters, is by sea.

The beach at Dexa or Dexia is narrow and surrounded by olive trees. It comprises of pebbles and is one of the most-frequented beaches on the island. You can explore its water by boat, canoe or sea bicycle, while there is also a life-guard and a canteen. Just before you reach Dexa, you will come across an ascending path leading to the Cave of the Nymphs.

Loutsa is the closest beach to Vathy, the gulf of Skino, forms a narrow, pebbled beach with crystal clear waters just like the small, but equally beautiful Mnimata beach. The organized Filiatro beach is situated 4km out of Vathy and offers water sports. Situated in the same area is Sarakiniko comprising of two coves; one is a beach for fishermen and the two other is a nudists’ beach within a wide gulf; the charming Kaminia beach is located to the south.

To the north of Filiatro beach is Gidaki with its extraordinary natural beauty that has travelled the world. Access is gained either by boat or on foot taking a path that starts at the gulf of Skino. Nevertheless, Aspros Yalos at Ai Giannis is the most enchanting beach in northern Ithaca. This is a large beach on the western coast with a view of Cephalonia.

In the beautiful gulf of Afaloi there is a picturesque beach, suitable for swimming as well as fishing, with neighbouring Lefkada as a backdrop. This beach is a favourite location for Ionian yachts.

Amongst Frikes and Kioni there are charming small coves with beautiful beaches, which you can reach either by going down stairs or a descending path that starts from the road, perfect to enjoy a swim in their azure waters. Close to Frikes are the beaches Limenia and Kourvoulia, whereas situated in the gulf of Kioni are another three coves, the most well-known being Kimitirio beach. Furthermore, when in Kioni you can rent a boat and visit the nearby beaches Katsikouli, Sarakinari, Plakoutses and Mavronas.

 

Ithaca

In terms of tourism, Ithaca is not tour usual destination given that it is overshadowed by the great island of Cephalonia. The simplicity in its beauty as well as the ‘’conscientious’’ alternative and modest tourism development have made it an ideal island for those that are in search of excitement passing through nature and unique images with the tones of the land and sea. The entire island has been designated a Site of Particular Natural Beauty (S.P.N.B)

Geomorphology

Ithaca has an area od 92.7 km2, is the smallest of the Ionian Islands and is positioned to the east of Cephalonia. The island has mountainous and semi-mountainous terrain and a maximum elevation of 852m with an exceptionally natural partitioning, the northern and southern regions are joined at Aetos, the narrowest point, whilst its 72 km coastline forms closed gulfs, capes and beautiful beaches. Its bare mountains are distinctive of the Northern part of the island, where Mount Niion stands tall.

Nature

The flora found on Ithaca comprises of many wild flower species and the low lying shrubs that cover the mountainous terrain and rural areas.on the slopes of Mount Niion, we come across pine trees, cypress trees, arbutus trees and other Mediterranean plantation, whilst numerous rare aromatic and therapeutic plants have been recorded on the island. Ithaca’s natural ecosystem also has many species of fauna, primarily birds and small forest animals (porcupines, hares ferrets and many more). It is not uncommon to come across the rare species of the Caretta - Caretta turtle and Monachus-Monachus Seal on its sandy beaches and in the sea.

Located amongst the island’s rocky terrain is the Perahori Forest, being given the strange name ‘’Afentikos Loggos’’. The forest extends over 80 acres of Mount Niion comprising of oak trees, the ruined prehistoric temple of the Saviour and the Argastaries forest, Ithaca’s only forest. The latter is situated close to the village of Exogi, away from civilization, but with majestic views as you look in the direction of Fiscardo, especially sunset.

Nevertheless, the island’s most significant natural monument is the Cave of the Nymphs or Marmarospylia located close to Vathy. According to Homer, it is within this cave with stalactites and the two entrances, one for the gods and one for the mortals, that Odysseus hid the gifts of King Fakaion. It is also worth visiting ‘’Odysseus’ olive tree’’, a grand old olive tree with an 18 m perimeter located at the end of the Aghios Ioannis settlement.

In the area of Anogi, you must definitely see the scattered, huge stone blocks (menhir). The most elaborate was named Monolith of Araklis. This is a natural. Spindle shaped rock with compressed surfaces and a height of 9 m placed on a wide block taking the form of a pedestal.

 

Hiking paths

Ithaca displays its simple and unspoilt beauty through its colours, sounds, scents and –paths, even of Odysseus had never walked through them, these are the paths that Ithacans have been strolling through for centuries. The island has been mapped with specially marked hiking paths, which the hiker follows without particular difficulty, lightly, equipped with a hat, comfortable hiking boots, and plenty of water. Each path has its own beauty offering unique scenery, archaeological sites and traditional villages or access to secluded beaches with crystal waters.

A popular and easy hiking path is the one that starts at Anogi and ends at Kioni comprising of a 16th century, paved path. Exceptional scenery can be seen going along the path that starts at the small lake at Frikes and continues over the old mill and ends at the cape of Piso Kourvoulia. Finally, an accessible and interesting path commences at the archaeological site at Piso Aeto and reaches the Alalkomene Castle. More fascinating paths can be found at Anemodouri-Arethousa Pigi, Paleohora-Cave of the Nymphs, Kalyvia-Asprosykia-Rousano-Exogi, Vrisses Kalamou-Exogi, Kolieri-Aghios Athanasios-Exogi.

 

Ithaca

Ithaca is the island that gives birth to the idea of the journey, the promise of return, nostalgia and expectation. Its citizens, the Thiaki, brave and experienced seafarers as they were,followed the example of their beloved King, making sure they always had a port of return. The small island of Ithaca in the Ionian Sea is the big surprise, a destination that is detached from the main tourist wave, entices you to explore it.

A short trip into history

During the Mycanaean period, Ithaca became the capital of the Cephalonian states and was a significant commercial port for mainland Greece and the Corinth as it had great political, economical and shipping powers in the Greek world of that period.

In 800 BC Ithaca was no longer at the epicenter of dicision-making, therefore together with Cephalonia, Lefkada and Corfu it was attached to the Byzantine administrative region of Cephalinia. From this point onwards the island is resigned to the grim fate of the Heptanese (seven Ionian Islands). Unbearable taxes, pirate raids and conflict with the various conquerors troubling the residents for many centuries. After the Franks and the first Venetian rule in 1479, began the Turkish rule during which time continuous conflicts led to the drastic reduction of the population. When the Venetians took control in 1500, the island was almost uninhabited and it was considered necessary to create motives in order to draw people to the island. At the same time, the fear of pirate raids had not been diminished thus forcing Ithacans to flee to the mountains or even to Cephalonia. From the end of the 17th century shipbuilding, in order to fight off pirates, led to a flourishing of the shipping industry and respective economical prosperity.

From 1797 and for a few years after that all the Ionian Islands came under French rule and then British rule (1815-1864). Ithca participated in the battles of national liberation (1821, whilst the reunion with liberated Greece came in 1864. German occupation (1940-1945)followed, as did an earthquake that left the island with deep scars. By the middle of the century, the migration problem, which led Ithacans to other parts of the world, worsened.

Nowadays, Ithaca maintains its tradition  in shipping, fishing and enterprising. Many Ithacan migrants and seamen support the island’s economy and the vivacious community at every opportunity, whilst ensuring that this will be their port of return!

Ithaca and the ‘’journey’’… Although certain contemporary researchers place Homer’s Ithaca in Lefkada or Cephalonia, no other land in contemporary Greece has been linked with the notion and spirit of the journey as much as Ithaca. The poem titled ‘’ITHAKI’’, one of the masterpieces by the renowned Greek poet Constantinos P. Cavafis (1863-1933) played a determinative role, insprired by Odysseus’ travels relating to the grandeur of the human guest and of the ‘’majestic’’ journey of the soul.

 

Vathy and the beautiful villages of Ithaca

Vathy, the island’s capital and centre of Ithaca’s social life is built around the small cove that embraces the smaller island of Lazareto. Since 1982 the entire settlement has been described as traditional and is a sightseeing destination, which combines unique position, the warm colours of traditional architecture and picturesque houses with tiled roofs, manors and the fishermen’s humble homes within the districts.

In the beautiful rural area of Ithaca, there are traditional and historical villages that can be discovered while trekking though the island. Perahori is situated 3km out of Vathy on the slope of the Petaliatiko Mountain and most historic settlemenmts. Lefki is a village perched on the slopes of Mount Niritos, which offers an amazing view of the Ithaca – Cephalonia strait. In its churches you will find exceptional icons from the Russian – Post Byzantine period. Stavros is the main village and commercial centre of northern Ithaca Ithaca. Platrithia, which is situated north of Stavros, and has buildings of traditional architecture scattered in the verdurous, more fertile part of the island. Anogi, the more mountainous and possibly oldest village on Ithaca, can be found on Mount Nirito at an elevation of 550m.  The mediaeval ruins located just outside the present-day settlement of only a few residents and traditional homes built around the central square, are quite impressive.

Kioni is made up of a beautiful traditional settlement and picturesque harbour; what was once a hideout for pirates today is a retreat for pleasure craft and it is worth the visit. At the entrance of the bay, three old windmills adorn the harbour, whilst a stone-built home, which was inhabited by the hero G.Karaiskakis until the independence of 1821 and dates back to another period, has been preserved. Frikes, the small fishing village, is set in a refreshing valley in the north-eastern region of Ithaca. It was originally built to give residents access to the sea and today it has significant tourism. According to researchers this is the Homeric harbour of Reithrou.  

Finally, Exogi, the mountainous village with historical significance is situated on the north westerly point of the island and it has an amazing view. During the mediaeval and the early Venetian Periods it was one of the most significant settlements on Ithaca as it offered safety from pirate raids and later became a powerful agricultural centre due to its viticulture.

Historical and religious monuments

Located on the Aetos hill are the true gigantic Cyclopean Walls and ruins from the ancient city of Alalkomenes of the Geometric Period (850 BC), whereas in the mediaeval village of Paleohora (Perahori) one can admire churches with magnificent Byzantine frescoes and ruined homes distinguished by mediaeval architecture.

The next stop is Stavros. Located in the square is the one and only bust of Odysseus with the inscription ‘’OFFERING TO ODYSSEUS’’ whereas in the harbour of the Polis bay one can find the Loizos Cave, which was closed off after the 1953 earthquakes. The cave has a particular historic significance given that it was a centre had been dedicated to god Apollo. According to recent archaeological excavations, the city and Castle of Odysseus is situated close to Stavros, in between the hills Pilikato and Aghios Athanasios, whilst there are sites of archaeological interest just outside Patrithia, such as the Melanydros springs, offering a rich water supply from ancient times and the so-called Homer’s School.

Amongst the religious monuments the Monastery Katharon (1696) stands apart from the rest as the main monastery and most sacred place of worship on Ithaca. It is situated on the south eastern peak of Mount Nirito and the view from that point is exceptional. It is a good opportunity to visit the monastery on the day of its feast, which is on 8 September. Furthermore don’t miss out on visiting the Church of the Virgin Mary at Anogi. This is one of the biggest, most significant and most ancient churches in all of the Balkans. It is a large church of the basilica order, built gradually over 700 years ago and its interior is covered in Byzantine-styled frescoes. It is for this reason that the church has been declared a preserved historical monument since 1959 by the Ministry of Education and Religious Matters.

Museums

A visit to the island’s small, but interesting museums starts in the area of Vathy with the Archaeological Museum of Ithca. There you will find a collection of findings from the excavations at Aetos, as well as other locations that cover the periods from the Geometric to Roman times. A category of vases called Ithakisia dating back to the Geometric period and originating from a local workshop, present particular interest.

In Vathy you will also find the Naval Folklore Museum, which is housed in a restored building of 1923, formerly the Railway Station. The collection comprises of over 1500 exhibits, the most impressive of which are photographs dating back to the beginning of the previous century, paintings of ships owned by Ithacans, navy instruments, uniforms, documents and books that belong to the Stathatos School of Merchant Shipping as well as tokens from the Ithaca naval history.

Lastly, the Archaeological Collection at Stavros, which comprises of findings from Northern Ithaca, is also remarkable. The exhibits that stand out are those that come from the Cave of Loizos and the sanctuary’s peak period during the Geometric period.

 

Cultural events

Throughout the entire summer period various cultural events such as concerts, performances, exhibitions and lectures are held in Vathy and other villages on the island. Furthermore, there is also the Wine Festival at Periphery as well as many traditional festivities and religious celebrations at Kioni, Stavros, Exogi, Anogi, the Fishermen’s Festival (1st October) and many more. The Philological Seminar of Homer and Odyssey attracts philologists and Homer lovers from Greece and abroad.

Homer’s Odysseus… According to Homer, the ancient Greek poet,Odysseus was a charismatic leader, well known for his craftiness and ingenuity. In the epic Odyssey, during the course of returning to Ithaca from the Trojan War, the hero encountered tremendous ordeals and a superhuman fight for survival against the fury of the gods and other elements of nature. Equipped with free will, wisdom and craftiness, Odysseus conquered all the difficulties and after 10 years he finally reached his beloved homeland and Penelope, his faithful wife. The story of Homer’s Odyssey was an inspiration for many classical and contemporary Greek and foreign writers (Evripidis, Pindaros,Virgilios,Stratios,Ovidios,Dantis, N. Kazan


 

Ithaca

The unspoilt natural environment, the beautiful coasts and crystal blue waters of Ithaca makes this island ideal for sea exploration and unique athletic excitement.

Sailing and Yachting

Ithaca traditionally constitutes one of the favourite destinations for the Ionian Sea ‘’Sea wolves’’. The island’s eastern coast is preferred by the amateurs in sailing and yachting due to its well-protected natural harbours. Organized harbours can be found at Vathy, Frikes and Kioni. However, the experience of a sea tour around the western coast of Ithaca is surely exceptional. Afales, Ammoudi, Polis and Aspros Yalos constitute some of the picturesque gulfs and coves, where you can stop for a dip in the crystal blue waters.

Scuba-diving

The underwater area of Ithaca is an ideal destination for scuba diving. The geological phenomena found in the depths of the sea invite you to endeavour underwater exploration and scuba-diving centres, these can be found on Cephalonia, which organized scuba-diving centres, these can be found on Cephalonia, which organized scuba-diving expeditions at Ithaca as well.

Sea Kayak

The sea kayak is yet another way that someone can go around Ithaca’s beautiful coast and picturesque coves. By paddling through the turquoise watersm, one can see contrasts of the landscape and the alternations of the coastline. Special water sport and kayak centres on Cephalonia organize daily and extended excursions to the islands with overnight stops at Vathy or Kioni or the countryside.

Water sports

On Ithaca you will find an organized infrastructure for water sports. At Dexa beach, or Filiatro beach, the more organized beaches on the island, you will be able to enjoy water sports such as water ski, sea bicycles, or jet ski. For those that prefer getting out into the sea, renting a boat or rib craft is a good way of discovering the island’s inaccessible, but beautiful beaches.

 

 

 

 

 
 
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