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Ionian islands news and views

Probably the most popular Greek island group, the Ionian are located on the west side of Greece with Corfu, Kefalonia, Zante and Lefkas featuring in most Greek island holiday brochures. The smaller islands of Paxos and Ithaca appeal offer quieter holidays while islets like Antipaxos, Meganissi and Kalamos are popular with day trippers. The Ionian islands have lush, green interiors thanks to relatively heavy winter rains and many have suffered heavily from earthquake damage.

Azimut ferry Joy
New ferry links for the Ionian

The Ionian islands look set to get a new ferry to link some of the biggest holiday hotspots in Greece. The Ionian chain includes the very popular holiday islands of Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkas and Zante. Although they attract thousands of UK visitors each year, ferry links between the islands have always been notoriously poor. Now a ferry route to link all the Ionian islands for the first time looks ready to set sail on May 1 and run right through the summer season until the end of October. Shipping Minister Panagiotis Kouroumblis announced the new ferry service at the Regional Development Conference of the Ionian islands. The new sea ferry services will be run by Azimut Joy Cruises with a 30-metre ship that will carry up to 260 passengers. The Minister said: "The linking of the Ionian islands will be a new reality that will put an end to the isolation between islands belonging to the same region". The new ferry will link Corfu with Paxi, Lefkada, Ithaca, Kefalonia and Zakynthos with sailings every day except Sunday. Each week the ferry with travel from Corfu, in the north, to Zante (Zakynthos), in the south, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and back again (Zante to Corfu) on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The full journey will take about eight hours, leaving Corfu at 8 am and arriving in Zakynthos about 4 pm. Details of sailing time can be found on the right. It's only in Greek at the moment but those with a basic knowledge of the Greek alphabet will be able to decipher the islands of ΚΕΡΚ"Ρ' ΚΕΡΚΥΡA (CORFU), ΠAΞΟΙ (PAXOS), ΛΕΥΚADA (LEFKADA), ΙΘAΚH (ITHAKA), ΚΕΦAΛΟΝΙA (KEFALONIA) and ZAΚΥΝΘΟS (ZAKYNTHOS) or something similar. Although plenty of ferries call at these islands they are usually heading east-west on routes between the mainlands of Italy and Greece. There are a few local inter-island ferries but these usually just day cruises, have poor connections and irregular sailing times. This is the first ferry to run the whole length of the Ionian islands.  With three passenger and car ferries plus two flying dolphins, Joy Lines, a subsidiary of Joy Cruises, has been operating since 2005 running day cruises and tours from Corfu to Albania. The launch of this new Ionian ferry service could trigger a wave of island hopping tourists who can now sail from island to island.  As the closest Greek islands to the UK, the Ionian islands can be reached in flight times of three hours or so. The Ionian group lies off the west coast of mainland Greece and the are notably greener than other islands thanks to heavy winter rains. Good sandy beaches and shallow seas help to make most islands in the Ionian chain very popular with families. Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkas and Zante are the best known but the smaller islands of Paxos and Ithaka are also well worth a visit.

hellenic seaplanes
Seaplane test on Corfu

The first seaplane test flights in Greece have been carried out on the Ionian island of Corfu. A 10-seater Quest Zodiac flew from Corfu Town harbour to neighbouring Paxi and other islands in the area. The flights are another critical step in getting regular Greek island seaplane flights off the ground following seven years of setbacks. But the seaplane test flights only show what unsatisfactory progress has been made so far in a project bogged down in Greek red tape and little hope of regular services next year. The seaplane repeatedly took off and landed at the port of Corfu and destinations in nearby islands. The flights were overseen by a consortium of Water Airports SA, K2 Smart Jets and two Japanese companies all hoping to get flights underway for the 2018 tourist season. But business leaders admit it's a been long haul. K2 Smart Jets owner Andreas Karotsieri said: "Our goal is to begin operating flights immediately when the next tourist season starts, but that depends on whether state mechanisms, which are particularly slow, will work at corresponding speeds." Little hope of that as the Greek government continues to limit licences and drag its heels. Rivals, Hellenic Seaplanes SA, has been trying for five years to establish a waterway network top operate seaplane services to the Greek islands. But it is faced with a hall of bureaucratic mirrors. A public consultation on the licensing of waterways ended in September 2016 but has not yet been discussed by the Greek Parliament. Without a legal framework in place, there is little chance of private companies investing in waterway infrastructure which the Greek government now says must be publicly owned. But public investment is at a snail's pace as officials get bogged down in approvals of expenditure, tender processing, policy changes, water and land surveys, risk assessments and ecological surveys. In 2016 the government banned private waterways, despite companies pouring millions of euros into the project. But with an insufficient number of public owned waterways to ensure sustainability for companies and a stable legal framework, seaplane services have little chance of taking off. The Hellenic Seaplanes group has negotiated waterway concessions for many Greek islands including Skyros, Alonissos, Skopelos, Tinos, Patmos, Thassos and Chios. Water Airports SA now has licences to operate seaplane bases in Corfu, Paxi and Patras and want to licence another 34 seaplane bases in the Ionian, Crete, Cyclades, Dodecanese and Saronic Gulf, Immediate plans are to launch regular flights from Corfu next spring, but Hellenic Seaplanes were saying the same last year, and the year before that, and the year before ...

Loggerhead turtles in danger
Zante turtles hold up flight

Baby turtles on Zante left UK holidaymakers stranded in the airport according to media reports. Homebound Easyjet passengers disembarked from the plane after a fault was found with one of the wing flaps. But specialist flight engineers were unable to fly in and fix the problem because of a night-time ban on flights on the island. It meant passenger had to wait until the following day before the repairs could be carried out and they were able to fly home. The flight approach to Zante airport lies directly over the big holiday beach at Kalamaki, also the nesting site for hundreds of endangered Mediterranean loggerhead turtles. As turtles eggs hatch during the hours of darkness, flights over the nesting beaches are banned during the breeding season which happens to coincide with the peak holiday season of June to August. There are reports of any passengers complaining at the alleged lack of support during the delay which started on Sunday afternoon. Some holidaymakers claim they didn't get back to the Uk until the following Tuesday, had nowhere to stop overnight and were not kept informed of what was happening. Conservation groups say around 500 turtles now head for Zante to build nests on the beaches. They once swam there in their thousands but the encroachment of tourism has taken its toll. The conservation record of Greeks is very poor, particularly on Zante where turtle nesting beaches have been bulldozed to make way for hotels, beach bars and tourist sunbeds. Despite cashing in on the turtle connection, Zante has done more than any other Greek island to drive them to extinction. Turtle spotting boat trips are still a popular draw despite the shy creatures being hounded by tourists. Turtles arrive in Laganas Bay to queues of glass-bottomed pleasure boats circling the waters. Camera snapping tourists appear unconcerned at the distress caused as boats that chase the turtles through the water. Easyjet said around a quarter of passengers took alternative flights and those stranded were provided with hotel accommodation and expenses in line with European and they will also be entitled to compensation. A spokesperson added: "We do all possible to try and minimise delays and as such planned to send a replacement aircraft. Unfortunately, due to the night curfew rule at the airport, we were unable to get the replacement aircraft into the airport." The Greek government has been under fire for years from the European Commission for its failure to protect the turtles and their nesting sites from commercial exploitation. Greece was condemned by the European Court for failing to protect the endangered sea turtles of Zante after household waste was dumped on a key nesting site.

Corfu Achilleion
Winter holidays on Corfu

The popular Greek island of Corfu is the latest to promote itself as a winter holiday destination - but in Spain rather than the UK. Despite being one of the favourite Greek island holiday destinations for Brits, the delights of Corfu are splashed across the latest Spanish edition of a leading travel magazine InStyle. Headlined 'Mediterranean Winter' an eight-page article in the fashion and lifestyle magazine features Spanish actress Carolina Bang touting Corfu as the island to be seen in the winter months. The article boasts of Corfu as "a great destination for those who seek the light of the Mediterranean, even in the coldest of months." A strange claim given Spain's own Balearic islands lie on virtually the same parallel as the Ionian and offer just as much winter sun. The feature shows the Spanish actress sipping cocktails outside Corfu's Byzantine Fortress and strolling around the narrow streets and small boutiques. With winter temperatures on both Spanish and Greek islands averaging a cool 11°C, there is no comparison when it comes to rainfall. Corfu is notorious for its heavy winter rains, with rainfall often higher than London, and an average 12 rainy days a month in the winter compared to three days on the Balearic islands of Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera. The Spanish article promotes more than Corfu sunshine however and features the many island museums, the churches, the Corfiot cuisine and the cafe lifestyle of the capital town's Liston Arcade as well as other Corfu attractions. A growing number of Greek islands are promoting themselves as a winter destination this year. Santorini recently launched a campaign to attract more winter visitors. Hotel and taverna owners have been persuaded to stay open over the winter months, and visitor attraction will keep their doors open all year round as well. Other initiatives aimed at promoting all-year-round tourism include running more regular transport services over the winter such as flights from Athens and daily ferries. The initiative may well pave the way for other Greek islands to cash in on attracting more winter visitors. More islands are expected to follow as the Greek government pledges cash to stimulate the winter tourism trade.

Egremni beach Lefkas
Lefkas beach lost in quake

The beautiful beach of Egremni on Lefkas appears to have been lost following an island earthquake. The beach on the south-west coast disappeared beneath the waves after a 6.1 quake was recorded on the Ionian island. The award-winning beach of Egremni, noted for its long sweep of sand and impressive rock formations, has been lost, according to reports. It is thought the tremor triggered landslides and rockfalls from the cliffs behind the sands and buried the beach in rubble. The beach is regularly listed in best beach awards and is a major tourist attraction on Lefkas. Backed by steep cliffs, beach visitors had to tackle 347 steep steps cut into the rock of the 150-metre cliff face to reach the sands and the clear turquoise waters. Two people are known to have died in the earthquake which shook the whole island, causing extensive damage. The tremor was felt throughout western Greece and caused extensive damage to roads and buildings on Lefkas. The Greek government has declared a state of emergency on Lefkas as aftershocks continued to shake the island all week. One of the victims of the earthquake was a 70-year-old woman who was crushed by a boulder that smashed through the wall of her home in the village of Ponti. Another elderly woman also died in the village of Athani when the walls of her home collapsed. Many houses were damaged in the quake, and several roads were closed owing to falling rocks and debris. Similar damage was reported in several other villages in the south of the island and engineers were drafted in from the mainland to help restore communications. Teams were also dispatched to neighbouring Kefalonia and Ithaca, following reports of damage there. The Ionian islands are notorious for earthquakes. Kefalonia suffered a series of major tremors last year that caused widespread damage all over the island. Some parts of Kefalonia were without electricity for several days and rescue efforts were hampered as several roads were blocked by landslides. Hundreds were evacuated from damaged or dangerous homed and housed in emergency shelters or on ferry boats docked in the harbour at the capital of Argostoli. The region is prone to tremors, and both Kefalonia and nearby Zante were devastated by a 7.2 quake in 1953 that razed many buildings across both islands. Earthquakes regularly shake the islands of Zante and Kefalonia, and there have been several, notably in 2003, 2005 and 2006.

lefkas porto karsiki beach
Lefkas beach danger

One of the most famous holiday beaches in the Greek Islands could be closed to the public because of the danger from falling rocks. The stunning white cliffs of Porto Katsiki beach, on the Ionian island of Lefkas, have been voted among the most attractive in Greece and attracts thousands of visitors each year. But geologists are concerned at keeping the beach open to the public this year because of the danger posed by rocks falling onto the beach from the high cliffs above. Now a team of specialists from the geology department at Athens University has carried out an analysis of the cliffs at Porto Katsiki to assess the degree of risk to visitors and investigated what steps can be taken to ensure the beach is safe to use. Geology professor Efthymios Lekkas, who led the team, said: "We agreed to do a thorough risk analysis of the area to see if the beach will be open to the public this summer season or what additional steps can be taken to significantly reduce the risk." The dramatic setting of Porto Katsiki, the name means Goat Port, at the bottom of steep limestone cliffs, has made it one of the most photographed scenes in Greece. But the safety of the beach has been a concern since 2003 when an earthquake caused part of the cliff to collapse. Since then fears have grown at the potential danger to holidaymakers from falling rocks. Recent damaging earthquakes on the neighbouring island of Kefalonia have heightened concern that Lefkas could be in line for similar quakes. A series of earthquakes measuring around 6 on the Richter scale shook the island of Kefalonia in January last year causing widespread damage, bringing down houses, triggering landslides and blocking roads. Scientists recorded more than 250 tremors in the following months. Another severe earthquake measuring 5.1 occurred off the coast of Kefalonia only last November. Although large magnitude quakes on Lefkas usually happen only every 60 to 70 years, experts cannot rule out the possibility of tremors strong enough to affect the steep cliff face at Porto Katsiki. Lefkas island officials are reluctant to close the beach completely as it is such a major tourist attraction for the island. Other options to closure may be to fence off parts of the beach and to erect warning signs for visitors. Officials say there is no immediate danger to holiday visitors but that precautions are necessary given the recent seismic activity in the region. Few visitors to this spectacular beach will easily forget the beautiful sight of the beach and cliffs. Porto Katsiki is considered one of the most attractive spots in the Ionian, if not all the Greek islands. Named 'Port of Goats' in Greek it was once so remote that only goats every visited, but improved road links have made it one of the most popular day trip destinations for holidaymakers on Lefkas with a large car park and tavernas now perched high on the clifftops above. A narrow staircase of around 100 wooden steps leads down the face of the near vertical white limestone cliff to the narrow strip of white pebbles and sand and the brilliant turquoise sea shore. Landslides in 1999 and 2003 caused sections of the soft limestone cliff to collapse onto the beach, but until the recent seismic shocks it has been considered quite safe for visitors. Clifftop paths above the beach offer great views over the sands and Porto Katsiki is now one of the most photographed beaches in the Greek Islands. Although officials say total beach closure this year is 'unlikely' they cannot rule out the possibility of barring public access until safety measures have been implemented. When quizzed on the likelihood of Porto Katsiki beach being open to the public over the summer, Professor Lekkas replied that it is possible 'to a large extent' but could not guarantee access. He added: "I don't know whether we can afford to open up the whole beach. Our efforts will focus on the safe areas, so tourists can visit the beach." After meeting island officials he said agreement had been reached on long-term plans to improve safety on the beach. "However this will be a significant project that will take years to complete," he added.

hellenic seaplanes otter
Corfu seaplanes latest

Corfu may be on track to launch its new seaplane services this year but officials are concerned about exactly where they will be allowed to land. Seaplane flights got a boost last year when the Greek government decided to fast-track applications to build seaplane landing strips on islands across Greece. Seaplanes are seen as a quickly and relatively cheap way to open up tourist transport links between the Greek Islands and help boost holiday visitors numbers on even the most remote islands. Corfu was one of the first to apply for a license to operate seaplane services from the main port to other islands in the Ionian Sea such as Paxos, Kefalonia,Lefkas and Zakynthos. But it appears that other Greek Islands in the Ionian group have not been as swift as Corfu in getting clearance to build offshore seaplane landing strips. Now Corfu tourist leaders are worried that seaplanes may be able to take off from Corfu this summer but not have anywhere to land. A special conference organised to discuss the development of seaplane services warned that priority must be given to establishing suitable landing sites in the Ionian if the Corfu project was to be a success. "It is very important after the water-drome in Corfu is licensed that water-dromes on other Ionian Islands offer facilities for the sustainable operation of seaplanes in the rest of the region,' delegates were told. A dossier supporting the building of a water-drome on the neighbouring island of Paxos is still waiting for authorisation. Hopes are high that it will get the greek light this month but the granting of a license to build is only the first stage in a complex planning process. It may well be that Corfu seaplanes could be sitting idle in Corfu harbour this year because they have no official places where they can land. This could be a major embarrassment for the Greek authorities who have been keen to push ahead with seaplane services to cash in on the 2015 tourist season. Although Paxos is pushing ahead with plans for a water-drome there has been a 'distinct lack of interest' in the scheme by authorities on Lefkas where initial interest in the seaplane project quickly faded, the conference was told. But it's not only the other Ionian islands where initial enthusiasm has stalled. Mainland ports in the Peloponnese and Ioannina have yet to get plans for seaplane services off the ground. "The challenge now is to proceed as quickly as possible licensing water-dromes in other Ionian islands, the continental shores of our region and also in the Peloponnese or Ioannina for tourist seaplane flight to become viable," conference delegates heard. "With Corfu the only port with a licensed water-drome, routes cannot be started and for seaplane companies to be sustainable, it should be possible for a network of routes and development of a minimum flight operations to the other Ionian Islands, Lake of Ioannina and the port of Patras." The lack of interest in the seaplane project is puzzling. It is not as though water-dromes are expensive to build. Construction and maintenance costs are relatively small. On Paxos, for example, the wooden deck and a prefabricated shelter to check in passengers for seaplane flights had come in at less that €20,000. And it is not as though seaplane project have been bogged down in red tape, as happened the last time seaplane services were attempted in the Ionian. The Greek Ministry of Transport is bending over backwards to get licenses issued. The Mayor of Corfu warned delegates that seaplanes ought to have adopted as a means of transport between the Ionian islands 'many decades ago'. He told the meeting: "There are countries that base an entire internal communication network in seaplanes. For the Ionian islands will be very important for the development of communication between our islands." Seaplanes are expected to be a cheap and versatile means of transport between islands and serve not only the tourism sector but also be used to fly in medical supplies, small items of cargo and take part in search and rescue operations.

Achilleion Palace Sissi Corfu
Corfu palace monument

Thousand of holiday visitors to Corfu take time off from the island's golden sand beaches to visit one of the many museums and historic sites. And high on the list for any visitor to Corfu is the impressive Achilleion Palace, also called Sissi's Palace which lies 12 kilometres south of Corfu Town in the village of Gastouri. Now Greek officials have granted 'monument' status to the many artefacts, such as sculptures and furniture, that grace the extensive gardens and rooms at the historic site. Built in 1890 for Elizabeth (Sissi), the Empress of Austria, Achilleion Palace became her summer retreat with manicured gardens and picturesque views over the Ionian sea. The palace grounds were designed on the theme of the mythical Greek hero Achilles and has become one of the island's top tourist attractions. Many Achilleion artefacts have already been classed as monuments notably the 61 marble sculptures that are scattered around the gardens, the 50 paintings and engravings that hand on the walls of the various rooms and the bronze sculptures and carvings that can be seen in many of the rooms. Now, Greece's Central Council of Modern Monuments has added a total of 45 items of furniture, eight mirrors and a even a pipe organ to the list. The furniture comes from two periods in the palace's history. The first are the pieces commissioned by Empress Elizabeth during the late 19th century. These include the palace library, which is adorned with embossed decorations and inlaid marquetry, a desk and a chair with embossed mythical creatures, a wardrobe and mirror featuring carved dolphins and several items of furniture from the palace chapel. The other furniture comes from the later period when the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, lived at the palace. This includes oak furniture with white lacquer and bronze decorations as well as a desk with a swivel chair, a red marble dresser and a cast iron bedstead. It was Kaiser Wilhelm who ordered the building of the distinctive Kaiser bridge, a stone jetty set in the cliffs below for berthing the royal yacht. A hugely popular tourist attraction on Corfu, the palace recently underwent a major revamp to protect and restore all four of the main buildings: the palace museum, the Regiment building, the Baron's building and the Porter's building. The palace fell into disrepair after the First World War when foreign troops stripped of many of its treasures but the building was eventually restored by the Greek government and many of its contents recovered. The impressive palace, its gardens stuffed with neoclassical Greek statues and with very fine over the surrounding Corfu landscape and the Ionian sea have made it more than a major tourist attraction. The palace also featured in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, shot there in 1981 and starring the British actor Roger Moore. Several scenes in the twelfth Bond spy film were shot in the Sissi Palace casino. The palace gets very busy in the summer with thousands of tourists bussed in on special tours so visitors who prefer a quiet stroll through the palace and its gardens should arrive early to avoid the coach tour crowds.

Ithaka luxury resort
Luxury resort for Ithaka

A luxury holiday complex on the island of Ithaka is one of five major projects waiting for the green light from the incoming Greek government. The multi-million-euro tourism scheme are for the islands of Ithaka, Chios and Crete with two more on the Greek mainland. Developers hope to get the go-ahead this year under the Greek 'Fast Track' law, which can speed up licensing procedures for private-public investments. But it is not certain that the new left-wing Greek government will look favourably on the projects after ministers recently called a halt to plans to privatise around a dozen Greek Island airports. Investors behind the latest schemes say they are 'concerned' at delays over a final decision on the projects from the Greek Ministerial Committee for Strategic Investments (DESE). Among the tourism projects under review are multi-million-euro plans to build a tourist resort and golf course on the small island of Ithaka, which lies off the east coast of Kefalonia in the Ionian Sea. A popular haunt for Greek Island holiday visitors, Ithaka could be in line for a mega luxury resort off its southern shore that could include six five-star hotels, more than a thousand apartments, a marina to hold 200 yachts, a golf course and even a waterfront village. Around 525 hectares of land have already been acquired for the Ithaka holiday complex, making it one of the largest private island land holdings in the whole of Greece. The proposed site takes in 7.5 kilometres of pristine coastline and several natural deep water coves that could be developed as yacht harbours. The Australian company Interportfolio wants to build ten exclusive boutique resorts and residential villages with an 18-hole golf course designed by golfer Greg Norman. The scheme also includes luxury spas, a yacht marina and marina village, a soccer academy and a retail and conference centre. As well as several remote beaches and bays that lie along the Ithaka island coast, the company has also acquired an offshore islet. Developers are even considering plans to build an airport nearby to take private jets. If permission is granted it will be the first privately run, jet airport in the whole of Greece and could open up access to the huge global private jet owner market. Currently, private jet owners are not allowed to land on Greek Island airports and pilots must 'park up' at Athens International and make their way to the islands by boat. The company's prospectus says of the Ithaka project: "The Ionian Islands have the reputation for luxury tourism, and are home to mega and super yachts, and sailing boats, for the summer season." "The area's climate is Mediterranean in character and ideal for outdoor recreation. Close to Italy, and serviced by an international airport on the adjacent island of Kefalonia, the site enjoys easy access to all European markets." It is not the only mega million tourist scheme to await the green light from the Greek government. With a budget of €123 million, Sportsland SA want the go-ahead to build a holiday village, hotels, golf course, sports centre and conference facilities in Viotia, some 75 kilometres from km from Athens. Property giant Kerameia SA is also planning to invest €150 million euros on the island of Chios in the north-east Aegean with a luxury five-star 700-room holiday hotel. Other major investment schemes awaiting approval are a € 384 million solar power plant in central Greece and a €500 million oil storage terminal in southern Crete.

zante nagavio shipwreck
Zante shipwreck fence

A holiday on Zante is hardly complete without a boat trip to the famous Shipwreck Cove but visitors may well find the beached vessel fenced off. Officials on the Greek island of Zakynthos are planning to give the rotting hulk in Navagio Bay a facelift. If conservation work gets the go-ahead that could mean fencing the vessel off from the public while the shipwreck gets a clean-up. Thousands of holiday visitors to Zante take the regular excursions boats to see the famous shipwreck. The beached wreck at Smugglers Cove features on Zante island holiday brochures and makes a favourite snap for the holiday photo album. Excursion boats make daily trips to the beach where holidaymakers can clamber over the rusting wreck. Although touted as a romantic wreck, the beached vessel is just a rusty old steamer that ran around in bad weather. Locals say the ship was on a smuggling expedition and was loaded with contraband cigarettes and booze. It was being chased by a Greek navy patrol boat when it hit the beach and has remained ever since. Once considered a ugly a blight on the beautiful bay, the ship has slowly deteriorated over the years and has now become part of the scenery as well as a major tourist attraction. But much of the hulk is rusted and stained while parts of the wreck are covered in ugly graffiti. Zante mayor, Pavlos Kolokotsas, wants to a conservation program for the eroding vessel which he claims is now part of the island's heritage. As well as erecting fencing around the wreck he want to limit the access of beachgoers who he claims are responsible for some of the damage. Latest plans also include hiring security guards to supervise access to the wreck and a portable chemical toilet for visitors. A lifeguard may also be on duty when excursion boats pull into the bay as many visitors combine their trip with a dip in the sea. But the waters in the bay are deep and the shoreline steep, with strong currents in the bay. There are no roads to the remote beach and emergency services can have difficulty in responding quickly to calls for help. The island council could earmark €25,000 - €30,000 towards the project but it will also be looking to the private sector to help fund the clean-up. It may only be a matter of time before Zante holiday visitors have to pay cash to explore the famous wreck which could be 'hidden' behind a fence. The bay at Navagio is considered one of the most beautiful in the Ionian islands and the wreck has only added to its charm. There will be some who will argue that a large fence around the wreck will be an ugly eyesore at such an attractive spot. It was only recently that alarm bells rang over rumours that the famous Zante holiday beach could be sold off to a private company. But the rumours were dismissed by the Greek Orthodox Church, which has considerable property rights in the area. The photogenic Navagio beach is considered a must-see sight on the Greek island of Zante where near-vertical cliffs plunge down to a deep crescent of white pebble on a shore of crystal clear turquoise waters.

cruise ship costa fascino corfu
New holiday cruises to Corfu

Holidays cruises to Corfu could get busier with new cruise ship and ferry routes opening up to port resorts in Italy. The Corfu Port Authority (CPA) is set to relaunch the Corfu to Italy coastal shipping route in the summer of 2015 with new sailings to the southern Italian port of Brindisi in the Apulia region on the Adriatic coast. New cruise holiday routes will also be opened up to the Italian Adriatic port resorts of nearby Bari and the eastern seaport of Ancona, not far from Rome. On top of this talks on a new route from Venice to Corfu are also under way and, if it gets the go-ahead, is expected to attract many more visitors from Italy and Northern Europe. Starting a Greek island holiday from Italy, with a ferry or cruise crossing of the Adriatic is already a popular option for many holidaymakers. In fact, the most common way to travel between Italy and Greece is by ferry across the Adriatic Sea with several Italian ports to choose from to take a ferry to Greece, Croatia, and many other Mediterranean destinations. Brindisi is already the Italian port most commonly used to catch a ferry to Greece as it offers the most travel options. Frequent ferries leave Brindisi for the Greek islands of Corfu and Kefalonia then on to the mainland Greek ports of Igoumenitsa, and Patras. Brindisi is located at the 'heel' of the Italian boot and it's the most southern Italian ferry port. It's possible for cruise holiday passengers to reach Corfu from Brindisi in under seven hours with departures throughout the day. Bari is also in southern Italy and holiday visitors can catch a ferry here to Corfu, Igoumenitsa, and Patras as well as Dubrovnik, Split, and other ports in Croatia. Most Bari ferries leave in the evening and have sleeping cabins. The fastest ferries travel between Bari and Corfu in about eight hours. Bari's ferry port is close to the resort's historic centre, centro storico, which is a pleasant place to explore before the ferry leaves. Ancona is in central Italy and is probably the most convenient port for a ferry to Corfu if you don't want to travel overland to the southern Italian ports, but the sea journeys are much longer. Ancona ferries go to Igoumenitsa and Patra. with journey times to the former taking 15 to 20 hours and for travel to Patras it's more like 20-23 hours. The ferries from Venice will probably take around 24 hours to reach Corfu and longer to get to Igoumenitsa and Patras. Ferries usually leave Venice in the evening and sail overnight. More cruise ship visitors for 2015 Corfu tourist leaders are confident that new ferry services will bring in plenty more visitors in 2015. Port authorities are already boasting 370 slots already booked by large-capacity cruise ships for next year and are confident of even more booking from smaller cruise operators. Earlier this month the docking of the Costa Fascinosa cruise ship in Corfu officially marked the end of the tourist season for the Ionian island port. Tourism officials are pleased with visitor figures this year despite the difficult economic conditions in Greece and the unstable political situation in the wider east European region. According to latest figures a total of 672,000 cruise passengers visited Corfu with around 72.000 passengers staying in Corfu for their holidays in 2014. Corfu Port Authority figures show a high occupancy rate of berths in the port this year at 90.3% compared to 87.5 % in 2013 and 86% in 2012. The majority of ship passengers visiting Corfu were from the UK with a total of 145,353 passengers or 22.8% of total boat traffic, followed by the Italians with 112,554 passengers (17.7%) and the Germans with 6,489 (10%). One of the most encouraging signs for Corfu tourism officials was the growing upward trend to cruise and other ship passenger arrivals throughout the year with November notching up one of its highest rates with 18 cruise ships berthing in Corfu post being 30,871 cruise passengers. Although port activity in Corfu was down overall for the year, port officials say this was expected given the difficult economic times for the Greek economy. Overall cruise visits dipped for the whole year with 85 fewer cruise ships docking at Corfu, down 17%, and a fall of 10% on the 709,000 passengers that arrived in 2013.

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Corfu gets first seaplanes

The popular holiday island of Corfu looks set to get Greek island seaplane services flying again after a deal was signed to open the first water airport in Greece. The move follows clearance by Greek environmental officials on the impact of a water airport to the south-west of the main harbour in Corfu Town. The agreement should pave the way for up to 100 seaplane services to Greek islands across the Aegean, providing tourist visitors with quick and easy access to popular holiday resorts as well as to many of the more remote Greek islands. The private company Hellenic Seaplanes has plans to operate scheduled flights from Athens to all Greek islands, coastal ports and lakes where the current transportation system is inadequate or problematic. The company says scheduled inter-island routes will be established based on demand generated from the local communities and from company partners. The approval for the creation of the first water airport in Greece on the island of Corfu was signed by Greek Environment Minister Giannis Maniatis following a meeting with officials from the Corfu Port Authority and senior executives of Hellenic Seaplanes. Approval has been granted for the creation of a new water airport to the south-west of the existing port of Corfu with buildings, a floating pier and permission for up to 10 flights per day. A nearby desalination unit may have to be rebuilt at the port's eastern entrance to help make way for the new seaplane port. Greek Environment Minister Giannis Maniatis said: "With this approval, we are giving the green light to create water airports across the country, having now configured all the required processes." "The support of the investment initiative and the formation of another development landscape in the country will substantially contribute to the upgrading of the tourist product and the creation of new jobs." Greek seaplanes take 10 years to get off the ground It has certainly been a long time getting inter-island seaplane services off the ground in Greece. The first Greek seaplane service was launched by Canadian-backed company AirSea Lines way back in 2004 with seaplanes flying out of the holiday resort of Gouvia. The Greek company used two de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft to run seaplane services from the marina at Gouvia, Corfu to the nearby islands of Paxi and to Ithaka, off the coast of Kefalonia. In 2007 AirSea Lines tried to expand its network into the Aegean but was forced to use the smaller port of Lavrio rather than its preferred location of Piraeus, near Athens, after finding insufficient infrastructure at Piraeus for seaplane operations. But the airline ceased operations the following year in 2008, citing Greek bureaucratic and infrastructure hurdles and unworkable regulations by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Greek Merchant Marine Ministry. The problems could have been overcome but for Greek government red tape that held up negotiations for months. Among the problems cited was the demand that only Greek pilots be allowed to fly the planes. Ironically, it was the collapse of the Greek economy and a possible exit from Europe that helped pave the way for the revival of seaplane services as the government set about clearing red tape and bureaucracy that threatened to stifle entrepreneurial companies. Red tape cleared for seaplane flights Hellenic Seaplanes was set up in 2013, with headquarters in Athens, following the passing of the bill in the Greek parliament that set the legal framework for water aerodrome and seaplane operations in Greece, relaxed regulations and cleared much of the red tape that had dogged the original plans of AirSea Lines. Hellenic Seaplanes now plans to operate around 100 scheduled flights between Greek islands and coastal ports by the end of 2015. As well as scheduled seaplane services, the company also plans sightseeing tours over the Greek Islands as well as a variety of excursion packages. It also hopes to launch charter flights and private fire flights for tourist and business groups and for government, corporate, institutional, scientific, medivac, search and rescue, sports teams, advertising and other promotional services. The latest plans should prove a big boost to tourism in the Greek islands. Many of the more remote islands should get a significant tourist boost as they become much easier to reach, especially islands with poor ferry connections. Corfu and the Ionian islands provide an excellent platform to launch operations as, although islands like Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkas and Zante are close to each other, ferry connections between them and many of the smaller offshire islands such as Ithaka, Paxos and Meganissi are relatively poor.

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More quakes for Kefalonia

After suffering widespread earthquake damage last year, Kefalonia suffers more seismic rumblings under the Ionian Sea Earthquake rumbles continue to shake the holiday island of Kefalonia months after a series of quakes hit the island in January causing widespread damage. Scientists report a strong 5.1 magnitude tremor under the Ionian Sea just west of the island at the weekend following a 4.7 magnitude quake recorded on the previous Friday. There have been no reports of injuries or damage but the incident will have reawakened memories of the series of tremors that rocked the island earlier this year. A major 5.9 earthquake in January this year was one of many that shook the island for nearly a month, bringing down houses, causing landslides and blocking roads. In February this year, just days after Kefalonia holiday hotel owners reassured tourists that hotel were safe despite more than 250 tremors over a number of weeks, the island was hit by another major earthquake. Measuring 6.1 on the Richter Scale the tremor struck Kefalonia just before dawn sending panicked residents across the island running out into the streets. More than a dozen people were injured and damage reported to several buildings. Aftershocks as large as 5.2 were recorded and, at the height of the incidents, a state of emergency was declared. Some parts of Kefalonia were without electricity for several days and rescue efforts were hampered as several roads were blocked by landslides. Hundreds were evacuated from damaged or dangerous home and house in emergency shelters and on ferry boats docked in the harbour at the capital of Argostoli. Nearly every building in the town of Lixouri was reported to have suffered some minor damage, and many buildings, including schools suffered from collapsed walls and roofs. One unusual side effect of the seismic activity was the creation of several new beaches as parts of the island were raised around 20 centimetres. The remote north-west Pali peninsula suffered the worst and it is here that searches have revealed beaches where none existed before including one that extended several thousands of square metres. Fortunately the island recovered quickly from the worst effects and the 2014 summer holiday season was not affected as hotel owners reported a rise in visitor numbers despite fears that potential visitors would change their holiday plans. European ministers also earmarked €3.7 million towards clean-up costs on the island and much work has been done to restore damaged roads and buildings. But the latest tremors may do little to reassure visitors planning a holiday in Kefalonia in 2015. The whole Ionian region is no stranger to strong earthquakes. The area is particularly prone to tremors and both Kefalonia and nearby Zante were devastated by a 7.2 quake in 1953 that razed many buildings across both islands. Known as the Great 1953 Ionian Earthquake it struck the southern Ionian Islands in August 1953 after a month when more than 113 tremors were recorded in the region between Kefalonia and Zakynthos. Earthquakes still regularly shake the islands of Zante and Kefalonia and there have been several, notably in 2003, 2005 and 2006. It is not the only tremor reported in Greece over the past few weeks. A 4.8-magnitude earthquake also shook the cities of Patras, Aegion and Nafpaktos in the northern Peloponnese on Friday evening, according to Athens Geodynamic Institute. The tremor occurred at a depth of 5 kilometres and its epicentre was located in the western Corinthian Gulf. A 5.2 magnitude earthquake also struck Western Greece in the last week of October with its epicentre 20 kilometres from the mainland town of Arta , to the north-east of Kefalonia. No damage or injuries were reported.

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EU cash aid for Kefalonia

Kefalonia to get euro cash help towards the clean-up costs of winter earthquake. Cash help could be on the way for the Ionian holiday island of Kefalonia hit earlier this year by a 5.8 earthquake and a series of severe aftershocks. European ministers have earmarked €3.7 million from the European Union Solidarity Fund towards clean-up costs following the series of earth tremors that struck the island in January this year. The earthquake struck on 26 January to the north-east of the island capital of Argostoli and tremors were felt on the neighbouring Ionian Islands of Zante and Corfu and on the Greek mainland. Dozens of aftershocks shook buildings for several weeks after the iniital shocks with significant damage to buildings and to island roads. Around 100 houses were so badly damaged that they had to be demolished and thousands of islanders were forced to move into temporary accommodation. Many Kefalonian islanders slept in tents and other emergency shelters. Ferry ships and cruise liners anchored in Argostoli harbour were also used for temporary emergency accommodation. Schools across the island were closed until mid-February and there was significant impact on the local infrastructure. Landslides and fallen rocks made many of the island roads impassable. Some aftershocks were so severe they had panic-stricken islanders running into the streets. The seismic shocks reawakened memories of the devastating 7.2 magnitude quake that struck Kefalonia in 1953 killing hundreds of people. The cash support package for Kefalonia is part of aid worth nearly €47 million that is also earmarked for Sardinia, Slovenia and Croatia in the wake of a string of natural disasters. "These amounts are specific and targeted to help address the immediate and direct impact of natural disasters," said EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn in a press statement. The support still has to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council but it is unlikely to be opposed. The cash will go towards covering the emergency costs incurred by the public authorities on Kefalonia as a result of the disaster. The grant will help to restore vital infrastructure and services, reimburse the emergency and rescue services, and help to cover some of the clean-up costs. Fortunately the island was able to recover from the worst effects in good time for the summer holiday season and has this year reported a rise in visitor numbers despite fears that potential visitors would change their holiday plans in light of the island tremors.

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Corfu takes top Euro beach title

Best beaches accolade for Corfu at World Travel Awards. The popular Greek holiday island of Corfu has taken the top title as Europe's Leading Beach Destination in this year's World Travel Awards 2014. The island took over the honour from last year's winner, the Algarve in Portugal, at a gala ceremony in Athens. The award, known as the 'Oscars' of the travel industry was received by Corfu Governor Christos Iraklis Skourtis, The Acropolis in Athens won the title of Europe's Leading Tourist Attraction, the island of Corfu was dubbed Europe's Leading Beach Destination and Aegean Airlines won Europe's Leading Regional Airline in a gala ceremony. World Travel Awards President Graham Cooke said: "It was a fantastic night for our winners, congratulations to them all. This is our first visit to Greece and Divani Apollon Palace & Thalasso have done a wonderful job in hosting our Europe Gala Ceremony; they should be tremendously proud of their achievements." A holiday favourite of the British since Victorian times, Corfu is the Greek Islands that is closest to the UK and the most northern of the Ionian chain of islands that run down off the north-west coast of mainland Greece. One of the first of the Greek islands to be opened up for package tourism, the downmarket demands of package tour operators, took their toll in the 1960's and 1970's with many Corfu beaches and fishing villages bulldozed to make way for cheap hotels and neon-lit bars. Indeed Corfu, like Kos and Crete, were once an embarrassing by-word for cheap-as-chips holidays aimed at lager-lout tourists. Much has changed in recent years with the island 'rediscovered' by more discerning tourists. Around 10,000 Brits have permanent homes on the island and, away from the popular tourist strips is wild and unspoilt countryside, little touched by tourism. The most popular holiday beaches are found in the north and east Corfu while the west boasts remote bays and the central hills has remote villages and Corfiots who are famously welcoming and friendly The European awards by the World Travel Awards(WTA) marks the second leg of its annual grand tour which opened in Dubai earlier this year and now heads to Ecuador, for the South and Central America awards followed by stop in Nigeria, India, and the Caribbean island of Anguilla before the Grand Final Marrakech, Morocco in November. WTA's global media partner network includes International New York Times, TV5Monde, CNBC Arabiya, Newsweek, Outlook Traveller, Travel & Leisure, Khaleej Times, Trade Arabia, TTN, Trav Talk India, Publituris, ASTA Network, Breaking Travel News, eTurboNews, Travel Daily News International and Focus on Travel News.

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Zante rapped over turtle sites

Greece had been condemned by the European Court for failing to protect endangered sea turtles as it dumps household waste on a key nesting site. It follows widespread alarm at the continued use of a waste dump on a protected beach in Zante close to the popular holiday resorts of Laganas and Kalamaki. Zante authorities continue to bulldoze nesting sites and to dump waste on land that lies within the maritime national park of the island, part of the European network of protected sites Natura 2000 since 2006. The European Court of Justice rules that, by keeping a dump active, in defiance European Union environmental regulations, Greece has violated its obligations under European law. The court also ruled that Greece also violated its obligations on the preservation of the environment and endangered species and it now faces the risk of a lawsuit or a heavy fine. The destruction of nest sites and disregard for the sea turtle caretta caretta has been a national scandal for many years. Zante locals have traded heavily on its turtle connection, with turtle spotting boat trips and endless turtle T-shirts, while at the same time destroying habitats, invading nesting sites and killing off turtles in large numbers. Beaches around Laganas Bay have been major turtle nesting sites for hundred of years. But the growth in tourism has seen turtle numbers decline sharply as tourist facilities have expanded. Zante tourist turtle spotting boats regularly scare off the shy creatures while bulldozers clear nesting sites to make way for sun loungers and beach bars. Some measures have been put in place to protect turtles, with nesting sites marked off and power boats and jet skis banned on some beaches, but laws to protect the animals go largely disregarded and unenforced. Zante conservation experts have repeatedly warned that tourist turtle-viewing trips on Zante pleasure boats are threatening the future of the endangered caretta caretta sea turtle but the war with the tourist industry in Laganas Bay has been going on for years. In this latest incident, Greek authorities decided to continue using a waste dump close to the Sekania beach on Laganas bay inside the maritime park until a new one is opened. The court found that waste dumping in this area of Kalamaki was having a strong impact on the ecology of Zante and it siting judged to be especially damaging, as turtles in this area need absolute protection. Tourists appear unaware or unconcerned at the distress caused by turtle spotting boats that chase the turtles through the water. Conservation experts blame repeated funding cuts by Greek authorities which have prevented measures to protect turtles and guard endangered nesting sites. The Greek government has been under fire for years from the European Commission for its failure to protect the turtles of Zante and their nesting sites from commercial exploitation.

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