Sailing Area

The unique beauty of the Ionian lies in its sheer diversity in a compact area. It is entirely possible to spend one evening in a buzzing town with lively tavernas and fun locals, the next to be tucked under a blanket of stars in an undisturbed bay. With some sailing area remaining relatively untouched by mainstream tourism, you can be sure that you will find a truly authentic Greece while sailing in the Ionian.

We are very fortunate here as there is a wonderful sailing area, with selection of islands right on our doorstep. It is easy to explore the islands of Meganisi, Kastos & Kalamos, Atokos, Ithaka and Kefalonia, as well as mainland ports such as Mytikas and Palairos, all with very short sailing distances. Not forgetting the always popular Lefkadian ports of Sivota and Vasiliki. With so much choice on offer, Vliho Yacht Club, our base, is the entrance to a sailor’s playground!

What sets apart the Ionian from many other sailing destinations is the ability to do a circular route from our base in Vliho and visit a different island every day.

Seven Day Suggested Route

Alternative Route

Head North out of the Lefkas Canal ….

For an alternative route, head north through the Lefkas Canal to explore the Epirus region of the mainland, the Caribbiean-esque waters of Paxos and Anti-Paxos and the well-known island of Corfu. For lovers of nature, the Ambracian Gulf is a treasure trove of wildlife. Charming and idyllic the gulf is home to large pods of dolphins and a plethora of rare sea birds, including migratory flamingos. With the towns of Preveza and Vonitsa on its shore line one night may not be enough…

Following the coastline north, you will reach the fabulously colourful town of Parga. Spend the morning losing yourself in a maze of backstreets, unwind on a golden sandy beach and wade out to the Panagia Chapel. Spent a night on the quay of Sivota Mourtos, a quaint fishing village encompassed by rolling verdant hills. Be sure to reserve a front row seat at one of the relaxed bars or tavernas to soak up the incredible sunset.

Sailing area Ionian Islands
Sailing area Ionian Islands
Ionian Islands
Sailing area Ionian Islands
Sailing area Ionian Islands

History & Hidden Gems

The history of the Ionian is a story of colonization and resistance steeped in myth and full of flamboyant characters.

From the ancient stories of Homer’s Odyssey to heroic resistance fighters of WWII, the islands of the Ionian are immersed in history which heavily influences it’s diverse cultural identity, making this sailing area, one of the most charming and fascinating parts of Greece to explore.

There are historical ruins scattered across the Ionian, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for castles, turrets, towers and fortress’ as you follow in the footsteps of ancient mariners, invaders, defenders and pirates!

Lefkada & the Castle of Santa Maura

Civilisation on Lefkada can be traced back as early as the Paleolithic era. Wilhelm Dorpfeld, archaeologist extraordinaire, conducted extensive research in Nidri and the surrounding area, uncovering ancient burial grounds dating back to 2000 BC. His findings led him to argue that Lefkada was the actual home of Odysseus, that famous explorer, creating hotly contested debate ever since.

The Corinthians began construction of the canal separating Lefkada from the mainland in 650 BC. This transformed Lefkada, not only into an island, but into a significant trade point and gateway to the Southern Ionian.

There are many beautiful ports to explore right here on our island. The lively town of Sivota boasts an array of modern cocktail bars and family tavernas. With a selection of pontoons to choose from we advise booking ahead to ensure a spot.

Further south, Vasiliki is a haven for water sports lovers. The afternoon winds are perfect for windsurfing and dinghy sailing. Whether you are an avid competitor or looking to try something new, one of the many beach clubs that line the shore will get you started. Dock in the town harbour and head out for an afternoon of fun!

If you are looking for a slower pace on your yacht charter, is Mikros Gialos. Sailing area have a picturesque anchorage with crystal clear waters and a sweeping pebble beach. The location is ideal for those looking to escape the maddening crowds.

The coastline around the Preveza peninsula and the Lefkas channel has the greatest concentration of Turko-Venetian fortifications in mainland Greece.

The castle of Santa Maura, situated at the entrance to the Lefkas Canal, is one of the most prestigious medieval buildings of the area, having guarded the island since the 14th Century.

By 1820 the castle had been refortified four more times. It is one of the most besieged fortresses of the Ionian Islands having been besieged twelve times in only seven centuries.

Cave of Papanikolis on Meganisi

Once the second largest in Greece, this sea cave is rumoured to be the secret hideaway for a Greek submarine named Papanikolis during World War II. Tucked away on the south tip of Meganisi, it is widely believed Captain Miltiadis Iatridis sought refuge in the cave from the Italians after a number of successful attacks on enemy ships. Before the huge earthquake of 1953, which destroyed a large section of the cave, it was much deeper and wider.

It’s rumoured that while the submarine Papanikolis was tucked away inside, Meganisi locals trekked to the cave to bring supplies of fresh food and water to the captain and crew.

Nowadays the cave is only accessible by sea unless you are a gutsy Meganisi goat; they can often be seen scaling the sheer rock faces around the cave.

If you are cruising around on your charter, follow the numbers on the map above as a guide to some of the island landmarks visible from the surrounding sea
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1

The main harbour of Skorpios where Onassis kept his super yacht the Christina O (named after his daughter). Rybolovlev’s super yacht Anna is often moored here in summer and is usually a sign that a member of the family is on the island.

2

Here is an extended walkway Aristotle had built for his wedding to Jackie O. She arrived to the wedding ceremony which was held on the island via boat from Nidri and walked along the decorated walkway to the small church hidden away in the island.

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The famous Jackie O beach and only beach accessible to the public.

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A bathing pavilion with changing cubicles, showers and places to lounge in the sun on a manmade beach built with sand that Onassis had imported from Salamina. It is this part of the island that the Rybolovlevs used to celebrate daughter Ekaterinas 25th birthday in 2014, an event that was rumoured to have Beyonce and other high profile celebrities as guests.

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These houses up in the hills can be seen from the sea and were built by Onassis for his children. Onassis himself reportedly rarely slept on the island and preferred to sleep onboard his super yacht in the harbour.

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The staff house on the island built by Onassis for his numerous workers including cooks, gardeners, maintenance and security. It’s built in the shape of the Greek letter π (P). The Greek word for staff Prosopiko – προσωπικό is believed to be the reason behind the design.

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If you look to the top of the island there is a flattened area that looks as though it’s been sliced off. This area is the helicopter landing pad, of course a necessity for any private island and is often seen being used when the Rybolovlev family are there.

Skorpios Island

The island and history surrounding the Onassis family makes Skorpios island an intriguing and fascinating landmark right next to our base here in Vliho.

When Aristotle Onassis, a world famous shipping tycoon billionaire, initially bought the island in the 60s as his private getaway, Lefkadians were proud that such a prominent Greek businessman had chosen their tiny corner of the earth for his retreat. Aristotle brought fame and wealth to the area and was often seen socializing amongst the locals in Nidri.

Later he married Jackie Kennedy, former First Lady, on the island and Skorpios Island became their hideaway from the world’s media.

The beach on the south side of the island (3) is now world famous after Jackie was snapped relaxing here completely naked by a daring paparazzi hiding in the trees.

The image was sold for millions of dollars and made front covers of magazines across the world. This beach also has a small ouzerie where Onassis is thought to have drank and played cards with friends. Look out for the quaint white and blue beach house that sits on the shore.

After Onassis’ death in 1975 at the age of 69, it was stated in his will that as long as a family member was alive and could financially afford the upkeep of the island, it was to remain within the family. Aristotle, his daughter Christina and son Alexander are all buried at the small church on the island. Granddaughter Athina is the only surviving member and the final part of the Onassis bloodline.

She subsequently sold the island for a reported $153 million to the Russian Rybolovlev family, quite a nice 21st birthday present!  Since the Rybolovlev family have come to use the island, security has been ramped up and you will often see armed guards patrolling around in huge motor boats.

It has been reported that the Rybolovlevs plan to turn the island into a VIP resort, spending around €165 million in renovations. This is sure to bring business and wealth to the surrounding sailing area – so watch this space!

Kastos

Kastos is the smallest residential island of the Ionian and has a permanent population currently of only around 50 people. Many people visit Kastos for its untouched beauty, peaceful serenity and popular windmill taverna.

Few people know to visit the Marine Museum, which is the surprising home to the skeleton of a Blue Fin Whale.

The whale was found by fishermen in 1979, having washed ashore onto the rugged rocks of the island. It took them days to fully retrieve the skeleton. From the bones that were salvaged and preserved, it is thought the whale was approximately 5 months old and had died after been separated from its mother. The museum exhibits lots of other flora and fauna from the area and is well worth a visit if you make a stop here on your yacht charter.

The east coast of Kastos has a secret cave unbeknownst to most tourists. Tucked away on the small bay of Agios Aimilianos, the cave entrance is a 30 meter tunnel a must for brave explorers, though not recommended for the claustrophobic! This bay is also a gorgeous swim stop with good anchorage.

Kalamos

The mountainous island of Kalamos is certainly worth a visit on a charter around the Ionian, some believing the name of the island derives from the words Kali Ammos, meaning ‘good sand’ in Greek.

The tree lined coastline has a number of secluded bays with white coarse sand making it the perfect place for a swim stop.

The earthquake of 1953 caused huge destruction on the island with most of the settlements now left destroyed and abandoned. All those living on Kalamos after this earthquake moved away from the mountains and towards the coast. Episkopi and Kalamos village are currently the only two villages on the island with inhabitants. Both ports boast traditional tavernas & small harbours, offering the quintessentially Greek getaway.

Life on Kalamos has not always been so idyllic. In the Ancient Greek period, the strait between Kalamos and Mytikas was of particular military importance. Piracy was a permanent problem due to a lack of state control. To overcome this, the islanders built a large castle with a tactical vantage point overlooking the strait. The large arches and tall stone walls are still standing on the island today.

During the Greek Revolution against Ottoman control, Kalamos became a prominent refuge for families from across Epirus and wider Greece. Georgios Karaiskakis, a famous Greek high ranking military commander and leader of the Greek War of Independence used Kalamos as a safe haven for his family, his mother reportedly being buried in the grounds of the castle.

Ithaca

The island of Ithaca has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. Since then it has been occupied by Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Ottomans, Venetians and the French, before being liberated by the United Kingdom 1809. It then became part of the United States of the Ionian Islands before being ceded to Greece under the 1864 Treaty of London as a mark of cordiality with Greece’s new king, the anglophile George I.

During the Mycenaean period, 1500-1100 BC, Ithaca rose to its highest level of prominence. The island became the capital of the Cephalonian states, which included the surrounding lands, one of the most powerful states of that time.

The Ithacans were characterized as great navigators and explorers with daring expeditions reaching further than the Mediterranean Sea.

The epic poems of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, may shed some light on Bronze-Age Ithaca. Homer portrayed Odysseus, king of Ithaca, as a man of outstanding wisdom and shrewdness, eloquence, resourcefulness, courage, and endurance. In the Iliad, Odysseus appears as the man best suited to cope with crises in personal relations among the Greeks, and he plays a leading part in achieving the reconciliation between Agamemnon and Achilles. Odysseus’s bravery and skill in fighting are demonstrated repeatedly, and his wiliness is shown most notably in the night expedition he undertakes with Diomedes against the Trojans.

Odysseus’s wanderings and the recovery of his house and kingdom are the central theme of the Odyssey, an epic in 24 books that also relates how he accomplished the capture of Troy by means of the wooden horse. The Odyssey ends as Odysseus wins a contest to prove his identity, slaughters the suitors, and retakes the throne of Ithaca along with his faithful wife.

Ithaca, Frikes

The name Frikes is said to be named after the notorious pirate Frikon who used the then uninhabited bay as his lair.  This, and the wider threat of piracy, meant that the area remained uninhabited until the late 1500’s.

With the decline of piracy, coastal living became increasingly attractive. Residents from the mountain villages of Exoghi & Stavros founded the village, building a small port for fishing and cultivating the long valley. Due to its close proximity to the mainland and Lefkada, Frikes became a thriving trade port.

On the 13th September 1944 the tiny port gained patriotic fame when a group of young resistance fighters captured the German U-boat ‘Antuanetta’ in the harbour.

In retaliation to taking the crew captive, heavy bombing ensued. Retreating into the hills to escape persecution, many resistance fighters evaded capture for most of the war.

Assos Castle, Kefalonia

Situated on the north west coast of the island, the fortress at Assos is the larger of the two castles on Kefalonia, and is one of the largest castles in Greece.

It was built by the Venetians in 1593, as the Castle of Saint George could not solely defend the island against the Turkish threat and pirate raids. The stronghold was of great strategic importance and made Assos a prominent city of northern Kefalonia. At 170m above sea level, it is the perfect vantage point.

The original castle and fortifications would have taken up almost all of the Assos peninsular with the walls spanning almost 2km in length.

Beginning in the village of Assos, an archetypal sleepy Greek village, the trail up to the castle offers breath taking views out across the Ionian. Take the mountain path that snakes up the hillside to the South Gate for a stunning coastline walk. Return via the Main Gate for picturesque views over the village and little harbour. The route takes roughly two hours, depending on how long you stop to absorb the views…

The Melissani Cave – Kefalonia

Just a 45 minute walk from the popular Kefalonia harbour of Sami you will find the Melissani Cave, also known as The Cave of the Nymphs.

During antiquity the lake was a place of worship dedicated to Pan, God of the Wild, and the Nymph Melissani. According to ancient myth, Melissani drowned herself in the lake because of her unrequited love for Pan.

The cave was rediscovered in 1951 after a large part of the roof caved in revealing the deep lake below. The water is so clear here that the trip boats appear to be floating through thin air. The sun reflects on the water creating magnificent shades of green and blue and the stalactites, which are thought to be up to 20,000 years old, only add to the air of mystic in this ancient place.

Corfu – Old Town

Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Corfu Old Town can trace its history back as far as the 8th Century and Byzantine rule. Due to its geographical vantage point at the entrance to the Adriatic, Corfu has been subject to many influences and rulers. For four centuries, beginning in 16th, the island was under Venetian rule and was a formidable opponent in defending the Venetian maritime empire against Ottoman attacks. A testament to Venitian engineering, Corfu – one of the most strongly fortified cities in Greece- was the only part of Greece that never fell into Ottoman hands.

A vast amount of construction, both military and domestic, occurred under the Venetians, twined with influence of the British and French in the 19th Century, the Old Town today is an authentic neo-classical town.

Perhaps a more quirky element of Corfiot history occurred under the British protectorate between the years 1815 to 1864. Cricket was introduced to the island in 1823 when a game was organised between the officers of a Royal Navy ship, moored in the harbour, and the British soldiers who manned the garrison.

The game became increasingly popular with the locals, Lawrence Durrell described cricket on Corfu as ‘a mysterious and satisfying ritual which the islanders have refused to relinquish’.

Played on the Spianada, the beautiful tree-lined square that sits between the steep-streets of the town and the old palace with its crenelated fortress, this is the only place to watch cricket in Greece.

Paxos Island

According to mythology the island of Paxos was created when Poseidon, god of the sea, struck Corfu with his trident breaking off its southern tip to create a sanctuary for his lover Amphitrite.

In this process it is said that Poseidon lost his trident. Later found by Paxonians, they honoured the sea god by including his trident in their emblem, thus ensuring their island remained under his protection.

According to the legend, Amphritrite was dancing on the island of Naxos when Poseidon fell madly in love with her at first sight. His love was initially unrequited and Amphitrite hid with Atlas at the end of the world. She was quickly found by a resourceful dolphin who delivered her to Poseidon. The couple married, using Paxos as their honeymoon retreat.

The Sea God rewarded the dolphin by proclaiming him divine and immortal. Dolphins are widely celebrated and idolised throughout Greece and feature on the Paxos emblem.

The western coast of Paxos has many caves that can only be reached by sea. The caves offer amazing spots for diving and snorkeling and are nicknamed the Blue Caves for the endless shades of blue created as the sun reflects of the water and through the rock formations.

Parga

Built amphitheatrically around a turquoise bay, Parga is by far one of the prettiest & most colourful towns in Greece. Dominated by two castles, the importance of Parga has been paramount throughout history, as a major trading post, a refuge from battles and a gateway to the mainland.

Crowning the harbour, the ruins of the castle stands as testament to Parga’s tumultuous past. Though fortifications have stood on the outcrop since the 11th Century, it was the Venetians that constructed the impregnable fortress between 1792 and 1808. Eight turrets defended the citadel, which was home to 400 densely packed houses on varying levels of the hill. There is even a secret passageway down to the sea.

 Five kilometres out of Parga, yet unmissable as it conquers the in-land skyline, is the castle of Ali Pasha.This impressive fortress served as the base of operations again the people of Parga who valiantly resisted the Ottoman attacks. Local legend has it that the canons fell 200m short of the town and for this reason Pasha was never able to take Parga by force.

Don’t miss the quirky road train up to the castle of Ali Pasha for a unique guided tour of the old fortress and stunning views that stretch as far as Lefkas.

Parga boasts an array of seafront restaurants, roof top bars and cosy cafes. With a maze of colourful backstreets to explore, even the fussiest of travellers will find something they love in this bustling town.

The Hellenic Trench and Calypso Deep

The Hellenic Trench is a hemispherical long narrow depression in the Ionian Sea, here you will find the Calypso Deep

At roughly 5,267 metres (17,280 feet) deep, it is the deepest point in the Mediterranean Sea.

Located South West of Pylos, it is a thriving ecosytem for aquatic creatures frequently studied by marine biologists. This area of steep continual trenches and troughs is the core habitat for the endangered Mediterranean sperm whale as well as the more densely populated Cuvier’s beaked whale. The Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force (MMPATF) work in these water to monitor, manage and promote the conservation of the whales.

Formekula

This tiny outcrop of rock sitting between Meganisi and Kastos could easily be missed, however it’s certainly worth a stop for a quick dip. The stunningly clear turquoise water and rocky seabed has created an underwater world ideal for snorkelling.

In recent years, the island has become a breeding ground for the extremely rare Mediterranean Monk Seal.

These magnificent creatures have been sighted here on numerous occasions in recent years, and population numbers have now increased enough to take them off the critically endangered list. Fun fact – they are the only mammal Drop anchor here at Formekula, keep an eye out for their big beady eyes breaking the surface and capture a photo if you are quick enough!

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