Ithaki or Ithaca, as it’s known for most of us in Italy, is Odysseus’ mythical homeland, an island rooted in history which, so far, has not succumbed to the worst of mass tourism. There’s a special kind of presence in this land, in this light; it seems that the ancient world is still there, at your elbow, but just out of sight. The entry into Vathy harbour will set the atmosphere for your visit, it is most remarkable as well as beautiful, backdropped by mountains, it boasts one of the most idyllic seafront settings of all the Ionian islands.
Like in Kefallonia, most of the buildings have been heavily damaged by 1953 earthquake but some fine examples of pre-quake architecture remain both in Vathy and in Kioni. According to Homer, Ithaca was the capital island of a group comprising most, if not all, of its close neighbours, and it’s well situated to enact this role. Nowhere this status can be claimed so strongly than from the old ruins in Paleohora, just above Vathy, where all these islands and the coast of continental Greece dot the horizon in multi-hued colors, ranging from the clearness of the azure sky, the blue of the sea and the verdant cypresses.
A wonderful scenic mountain road links Vathy with the northern half of the island reaching the mountain village of Anogi and the monastery of Katareon where there are fabulous views of the bay of Vathy, provided that you can withstand 50-knot wind blowing from the north. Further north along a narrow and hair-rising road you can reach the top of Exogi for panoramic views of the north coast, the bay of Afales as well as the island of Lefkhada. Not far from Exogi, a rough track leads to the supposed School of Homer where there are remains of extensive foundations as well as views of Afales Bay.
At the end of the road there are the lovely hamlets of Frikes and Kioni. The former is the departure port for Lefkhada; when the ferries have departed, Frikes falls quiet; this is the real charm of the place. There are no beaches to speak of in the village but plenty of superb coves on the road which hugs the coastline to Kioni. This latter it’s an extremely pretty village which retains some fine examples of Venetian architecture tumbling down in the bijou harbour where you can enjoy a cold Mythos while waiting for the sunset.
Even if Ithaca lacks the scenically beautiful beaches of neighbouring Kefallonia it has at least a couple of beaches, Skinos and Gidaki which are, in my opinion, among the most beautiful of all the Ionian islands. You can reach them by boat or via a scenically footpath (it was our choice) which connects the two strands. There are no facilities at both save for a small and crumbling taverna at Gidaki managed by some friendly Australian-Greeks guys whose fathers hailed from Ithaca.
Yes, Ithaca, the home of Odysseus and therefore of hospitality, has become the ultimate Mediterranean getaway; it’s the perfect choice for a tranquil holiday, with scenic mountain roads, windswept cliffs and crystal-clear waters, the small Ionian island will retain a charm of its own which will last long in your memories.