Despite its almost mythical status in Greek culture as the home of Odysseus, Ithaca is one of the lesser-visited of the Greek islands. Relatively small (around 20 miles from top to bottom and less than half a mile wide at its narrowest point) it lacks an airport and requires a boat transfer from Kefalonia; but that modest effort is amply rewarded by what is still a traditional island dotted with quiet beaches and pretty fishing villages.
The population of Ithaca lives mainly in the island’s three main villages. Vathy is the capital and is home to around 2,000 inhabitants. It is set on the edge of a sweeping natural harbour; you’ll find the ferry terminal here, along with the banks and the main shops for the whole island. Until the mid-20th century Vathy boasted a beautiful Venetian waterfront, but the earthquake of 1953 sadly destroyed much of the island’s old heritage. The modern harbourfront has a laid-back vibe and offers plenty of options for a drink and a meal.
Kioni and Frikes are the two other ‘significant’ villages. Kioni has a bit of a resort feel, and its pretty harbour is popular with private yachts and sailing boats; as a result there’s a decent selection of tavernas and a few shops. The streets around the sheltered harbour at Frikes are much quieter, although with talk of a new marina this might change in time.
There are many beaches dotted around Ithaca’s coastline, and while the ones close to the villages tend to get busier, it’s easy enough to find your own spot if you’re prepared to venture a short distance. The lush greenery of the island’s interior drops right down to the coast, creating a picturesque backdrop to the inviting, emerald green water. Almost all of Ithaca’s beaches are pebbly (Loutsa Beach near Vathy is an exception) and most have few or no facilities, so a picnic basket is ideal for a day by the sea.
Ithaca holds a special place in Greek hearts as the likely setting for Homer’s Odyssey, although on closer inspection his verdict appeared to be that the island was only good for rearing goats. More favourable was the poem Ithaca, written in 1911 by celebrated Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, in which he sings the praises of of the island both as an important part of Greek history and a place he clearly loves to visit.
Perhaps the best way to get to know Ithaca is to explore it on foot, and despite its modest size there are more than enough trails to keep even the most enthusiastic hikers busy. A good number of these trails have connected the island’s villages for centuries; indeed they may well be the trails used by the goat herders about whom Homer was so disparaging! GIC can arrange a variety of guided walks for those who want to wander without the worry of getting lost. The trails focus on themes such as local history, the island’s flora and fauna, or Ithaca’s ancient archaeological sites. Full details can be found here: Walks on Ithaca.
GIC The Villa Collection offer a range of properties for visitors wishing to experience the simple beauty of Ithaca.