Greece: Ionian Odyssey
Corfu, Kefalonia, Zakynthos
Corfu: 2 nights
Kefalonia: 3 nights
Zakynthos: 2 nights
8 days Itinerary
The Ionian islands are Greek islands situated off the western coast of Greece, in the Ionian Sea. They are a group of large and small islands, Corfu being the northernmost and Kythira at the southern end. They are characterised by lush landscapes, sheer cliff-backed sandy beaches and turquoise water leading to an azure sea.
Corfu, Kefalonia, Ithaca, Lefkada, Paxi, Zakynthos and Kythira are the largest and the most popular islands. Due to the occupation of these islands at various times by the Venetian, French and British rulers, one can see their influence in the architecture, culture and cuisine of the islands.
Corfu: (Kérkyra) 2 nights
(Around 1 hour by flight from Athens)
Corfu is a beautiful island with a multicultural, charming heritage. It has picturesque green mountains, glorious bays and white beaches along aquamarine waters. There are around 4 million olive trees on the island adding to the beauty of the landscape.
The capital of the island is Corfu Town with an old town area declared as Unesco world heritage site. It has winding cobblestone alleys, architectural marvels like old fortresses and palaces, museums, an arched promenade and a huge square. Corfu Town makes for a perfect base to explore the rest of the island.
Corfiot cuisine differs from traditional Greek cuisine due to the influence of the Venetians, who ruled the island for over 400 years. It resulted into a different gastronomic tradition than that of mainland Greece.
Talented chefs use local, fresh produce along with Italian ingredients such as corn, peppers, chocolate and tomato to create delicious dishes. Local cheese, honey, wine and extra virgin olive oil dominate Corfiot food.
Traditional cuisine of Corfu: (Vegetarian)
Pies made with seasonal vegetables like Zucchini, Pumpkin, Onion and Cheese. Fresh herbs are an important ingredient.
Pasta made from cornmeal, mixed with wheat flour, fried in olive oil, and served with sugar and cinnamon.
Boiled leafy greens cooked with onion, garlic, hot pepper, lemon, olive oil and salt.
A corn pancake served with sugar, cinnamon and honey.
A sweet Fig pie made with figs, ouzo, walnuts, almonds, spices and pepper, and then wrapped in walnut leaves.
Non-alcoholic beverage made with lemon juice and ginger root.
A sweet liqueur made from small, orange citrus fruits called Kumquat. Jam and candy are the other products.
Eating out in Corfu:
Across the island, there are many restaurants, tavernas, cafés and bars in tourist places like Corfu old town, by the beaches and in the mountainous villages, serving culinary delights. Some of them are:
Restaurants with a view:
This is an award winning, family run restaurant, showcasing a passion for gastronomy. The creativity of its dishes offers a great foodie experience. It is located on the northeastern side of Corfu.
This is an elegant restaurant situated in the north of Corfu, on the beautiful beach of Saint Spiridon. Greek and Mediterranean dishes are served throughout the day and late into the evening, accompanied by lively music.
Located on an idyllic bay of Paleokastritsa, along the northwestern coast of the island, Akron bar- restaurant has a unique ambience. Sitting near crystal clear waters, one can enjoy gourmet food, inspired cocktails and a selection of impressive wines.
Looking out on the beautiful beach at Agios Gordios on the western coast of Corfu, Sebastian’s Hotel and Taverna serves traditional grilled and home-cooked Greek dishes. The restaurant has a modern rustic charm and a menu created using some of their organically grown produce.
Eucalyptus is situated on the picturesque harbour of San Stefano in the northeast of Corfu. The area is surrounded by olive groves and the view over the stunning sea is towards the Albanian coast. Traditional as well as innovative cuisine is their speciality.
Olive oil and Honey tasting:
Corfu has a long tradition of producing excellent quality olive oil. Some of the trees are 500 years old, planted during the Venetian rule.
Bee keeping is a flourishing business in Corfu and high quality honey and related products are created. Honey is an essential ingredient of the Greek diet.
For over a 100 years, the Dafnis family is into the production of olive oil in Corfu. They have ancient groves of Lianolia olives, in the heart of Agios Matheos, in the south of Corfu.
The oil is processed at their own mill using superior farming and milling methods. The result is an award winning premium extra virgin olive oil at par with the best in the world. A visit includes walking through the groves, understanding the production process and a tasting session.
Other olive oil producers are:
MKB (Melisokomio Kerkyras Basilakis) Beekeeping:
The Vasilakis family, based in Vatos, in the Northwest of Corfu, produces organic honey, and related products like pollen, royal jelly and beeswax.
Established in 1965, Mavromatis is a family-run distillery, specialising in liqueur and sweets, obtained from the distillation of the Kumquat fruit. They also produce Ouzo, Raisin brandy and other fruit liqueurs apart from jam, marmalade,baklava etc. A guided tour and tasting session are available.
Corfu old town:
Corfu town is flanked on two sides by imposing Venetian fortresses. The Palaces of St Michael, St George, Mon Repos and Achilleion are impressive. The city Cathedral and the church of St Spirydon are worth a visit.
Spianada square, adorned with 19th-century French architecture, in the centre of the town, is a happening place. Liston promenade with its arcades provides a backdrop for the cafés.
Corfu abounds in white sand and pebble beaches. There are around 60 of them with sparkling, aquamarine blue waters and numerous, small coves. The most popular beaches are Paleokastritsa, Agios Gordios, Nissaki, Kassiopi, Sidari and Glyfada.
One can hire a small boat and go around the bays to enjoy the views from the water.
If you have an extra day, the nearby islands of Paxos and Antipaxos are worth a trip.
Kefalonia: (Cephalonia) 3 nights
(1 hour 20 min flight or 4 hours by ferry from Corfu)
Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian islands. It is famous for its stunning coastline, azure waters, dramatic mountains, verdant valleys, picturesque fishing villages and mysterious underground caves. It became more famous as the location for the Hollywood movie ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’.
The capital Argostoli overlooks the Koutavos lagoon which is a nature reserve. The city makes for a convenient base for exploring the island.
Local produce of Kefalonia:
Kefalonia is a world renowned wine making region.
The Robola grape is the most widely cultivated grape on the island and it is primarily found only in Kefalonia. The Venetians referred to it as the ‘Wine of the Stone’ because its vines grew on the rocky, limestone slopes of Mount Ainos.
The other grapes used to produce white wines are Moschatela, Muscat and Vostilidi. The red wines are produced from Mavrodaphne.
Robola grape variety produces some of the finest white wines of Greece. It is mostly used as a single varietal but sometimes also blended. The wines are floral and rich in character, with herbal undertones, mineral and fruity aroma and a high level of complexity.
Wineries visit and tasting:
This is the largest producer in Kefalonia with a production of around half a million bottles annually. Founded in 1982, it has at present 300 growers as members.
A visit includes a vineyards and winery tour and a free tasting with a plate of olives,cheese and bread. It also has an open small museum for visitors.
This is a family run winery founded in 1978. They produce excellent wines from Robola and other local grapes, farmed organically in their vineyards.
The tour imparts knowledge of the different types of grape varietals, the process of wine making through to the bottling. The tasting takes place in the natural surroundings of their garden.
The most famous cheese of Kefalonia is a white, soft cheese similar to Feta. It is made from the milk of sheep and goats and matured in brine filled barrels for around 3 months. It is slightly tangy and aromatic.
The other popular cheeses are:
Manouri: A by product of white Kefalonian cheese
Kefalotyri: A hard, salty, full fat cheese
Myzíthra: A Ricotta like cheese
Préntza: A blend of Myzithra and white Kefalonian cheese, mixed with thyme and olive oil.
Founded in 1957, Galiatsatos is a family run dairy producing a variety of dairy products. They combine traditional methods with innovation, making use of new technologies. They make different cheeses, yogurts and desserts.
Melissani cave lake:
It is a natural wonder whose beauty cannot be captured in photographs. It is an underground lake, lit from above through the collapsed roof of the rock. It is fed by the waters of the sea near Argostoli. One can go down the steps and take a short boat trip.
It is a huge cave, well lit, and has magnificent stalactites and stalagmites. The natural acoustics make it possible to host concerts inside the cave.
It is an extremely popular beach in the north of the island. It lies between dramatic limestone cliffs, has white pebbles and amazing turquoise blue waters.
It is a horseshoe shaped pebble beach, famous since it appeared in the Hollywood movie.
Day trip to Ithaca:
(45 min by ferry)
There are many options for crossing over to the neighbouring island of Ithaca from Kefalonia.
There are regular ferry connections from different ports. One can cross over and hire a taxi or a car to go around the island.You can also go across in the ferry with your own car. Or you can take a day trip with one of the tour operators who include all the sightseeing on the island.
Whichever way is suitable, it’s worth it !
Ithaca has turquoise waters, a serene tranquility and a mythical air about it. It is the homeland of Odysseus, the hero of the epic poem ‘The Odyssey’ by Homer.
There are green valleys and picturesque villages, beautiful bays and underwater rock formations. Trekking paths lead you to stunning views and seaside tavernas serve authentic Greek food. Swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving are popular activities. One can also take a boat ride around the island and see beautiful coves in the rocks which are otherwise inaccessible.
Zakynthos: (Zante) 2 nights
(1 hour 20 min by ferry from Kefalonia)
Zakynthos is one of the most Instagrammed islands amongst all the Greek islands. The Venetians called it ‘Fiore di Levante’ (Flower of the East) due to its rich flora and beautiful gardens. It is a great destination for all ages owing to the party towns, secluded resorts, gourmet restaurants and exotic natural beauty.
Zakynthos (Zante) is the main town of the island. Most of its buildings were rebuilt in the Venetian style after the earthquake of 1953. The town has wonderful restaurants, tavernas and cafés to enjoy Greek cuisine. It makes for a good hub for going around the island. The other options are the coastal towns of Laganas and Tsilivi.
Zakynthos Local Produce:
Like the other Ionian islands, Zakynthos also has its own local produce like virgin olive oil, raisins, honey, cheese and wine. If you want to visit any of the factories, they are:
Having tasted these earlier on the other islands, in Zakynthos you can take cooking classes to learn how to make amazing Greek food using these ingredients.
Established in 1992, this is a family run business. The owner/chef teaches traditional dishes, vegetarian and non-vegetarian, from locally sourced ingredients. You get to sample all the food after the session as well as some wine, cheese, olives and coffee.
Through the cooking classes, Utopia’s aim is to introduce the Greek culinary culture to the visitors. For the course, they use the vegetables grown in their own greenhouse located in the centre of the restaurant. The class lasts for about 3 hours, followed by lunch, with local wine.
Navagio (Shipwreck) Beach:
This is one of the most photographed beaches in all of Greece, on the west coast of the island. It gets its name from a wrecked container ship that ran aground in 1980. The beach is accessible only by boat, otherwise there is a viewing platform on the rocky limestone cliff above. You can sunbathe, swim in the brilliant blue waters, or explore the wreck.
These are spectacular cave formations, where the sea reflects the colour of the sky, which is mirrored off the walls of the caves, creating a magical azure lighting effect. It can be combined with Navagio beach since they are near each other.
Marathonisi (Turtle) Island:
This island is situated in the bay of Laganas. It is known mainly for the Loggerhead sea turtles, who lay their eggs on the sandy beach on the northern side after sunset. You can go around the island in a glass bottom boat for a chance to see the turtles.
Shopping in Zakynthos:
Handmade Ceramic Ware and Workshops:
Adamieion Studio is located in a village 5 km away from Zakynthos town, amidst olive, lemon and vine plantations. There is a studio space where workshops are conducted for visitors by the owner, and a retail shop to buy the wares.
This is a beautiful studio and café, run by two sisters, each dedicated to her own art. There is an amazing pastry selection available with coffee while one browses the beautiful pottery collection or you could enroll for a workshop to learn the art.
Spinspot Ceramics has a wide range of handmade articles, inspired by the Zakynthos island. They are quite unique. A pottery class with the owner is available.
Having enjoyed this trip to the Ionian islands, this culinary journey ends on a return to Athens (1 hour by flight) for an onward connection.