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Tranquil times on Ithaca holidays

- by Liz Waugh

Travel along the east coast of Kefalonia and the holiday visitor cannot fail to spot the island of Ithaca just a few kilometres offshore.

Ithaca, also called Ithaki, is a small, rocky island with just one port on the west coast – the tiny hamlet at Piso Aetos – and three ports on the east coast, at Vathy, Kioni and Frikes.

Ithaca holidays are much more relaxed than those on neighbouring Kefalonia and popular with upmarket holiday firms such as Ionian Villas, which has an extensive range of holiday villas and apartments throughout the Ionian islands

Ithaca claims to be the legendary home of Odyseus, who according to Homer's epic The Odyssey, joined the Greek expedition to attack the city of Troy.

A holiday on Ithaca is for those looking for natural beauty, simple surroundings and an escape from busy Greek island resorts.

The island is split by a a narrow strip of land joining the north and south. In the south are the island capital port at Vathy,with a large harbour set at the end of a very deep inlet. Shops and tavernas are located around the town square.

On the approach to the port boats pass the islet of Lazaretto which was developed during the British occupation of Ithaca. It has served as a hospital quarantine area and later as a prison. The buildings were destroyed in a 1953 earthquake and a small chapel built there.

The northern part of Ithaca is even quieter than the south. The largest village is Stavros, once quite a busy settlement, but now having fewer than 250 inhabitants. The red domed Byzantine-style church which dominates the village square was actually built in 1922.

A village park hast a bust of Odysseus and a map detailing his voyage from the Trojan wars. The homeward journey is said to have taken 10 years during which Odysseus faced many dangers including the Cyclops, the witch Circe, and the seductive charms of the goddess Calypso.

Northern ithaca is noted for its two beautiful ports at Frikes and Kioni. Frikes has a few hotels and rooms to let but the main source of income in the bars and tavernas that line the harbour is the the many yachts that call here.

It's near neighbour, the picturesque village of Kioni, avoided the worst of the 1953 earthquake and has several traditional buildings on show. Kioni is also a popular port of call for yachts and has rather more holiday villas and apartments.

The atmosphere here, like the rest of the island, is very peaceful and laid back. There are no banks, just a few shops and a sprinkling of bars and tavernas

Getting around on Ithaca involves hiring some transport or simply walking, although there are a few taxis about. Another option is to hire a small motor boat for the day to explore the coast.

There are beaches on Ithaca, but they are small strips of pebble and stone. None have any facilities but most are backed by pine trees which offer natural shade during the hottest part of the day.

Many former donkey tracks have been cleared of recently and opened up the island of Ithaca for walkers. Many walkers like to visit the derelict windmills – there are more than 30 on Ithaca. Three windmills are visible on the hillside at Kioni.

From Frikes a narrow, twisting road leads through olive groves and vineyards to the almost deserted hamlet of Exoghi and passes the natural spring of Kalamos, whose waters irrigate terraced groves of tangerines, melons. At Kalamos there are spectacular views across the bay of Afales.