Ithaca Island

Ithaca

A Small Paradise

With no airport on the island, it takes a little more effort to visit Ithaca; you must fly to Kefalonia or mainland Greece and get the ferry to Ithaca. That little effort is rewarded with an island that is pleasantly free from mass package tourism, a quiet place where you can still find authentic Greece, no matter where you stay on the island.

Ithaca is virtually two separate islands split in two by a narrow hill ridge at Aetos. The north has superb beaches, interesting walks and the timeless small fishing harbor of Kioni. The south boasts the port of Vathy, one of the most idyllic seafront settings in Greece. The west coast of Ithaca is rough and ragged, while the east is typified by rolling hills and farmland.

Ithaca Island at a glance

Ithaca – the beloved homeland and kingdom of Odysseus, who went through numerous adventures and hardship on his return from the Trojan War (about 1,200 BC) to finally get to it, as Homer wrote in his famous “Odyssey”. Ithaca – though there were few scholars that claimed that the island of Ithaca is not Homer’s Ithaca, an allegation which is not valid nowadays, is the smallest (except Paxoi) of the Ionian sea islands. The island is fairly mountainous, with limited freshwater resources, deep bays, and coves and two capes, Melissa to the north and Aghios Andreas to the south, with great diversity in its landscape and lies south of Lefkada and northeast of Cephalonia. The island is enchanting with a lot of historical and archaeological interest and beautiful traditional villages. 

The capital and port of the island is Vathy, a naturally protected port built amphitheatrically in a deep bay and surrounded by verdant mountains, is a traditional settlement with mostly 2-story houses and it is the same with Homer’s port of Forkys. On the top of the hill is the imposing castle built by the French at the beginning of 19th century AD. In Vathy is also the Cave of the Nymphs, where allegedly Odysseus had hidden the presents he received from the King of Feakes (Corfu), a beautiful cave wherein the sunlight is reflected on the stalactites and stalagmites, creating beautiful colors. In Vathy is one of the two archaeological museums on the island and a folklore art and maritime museum. Regarding beaches, close to Vathy are the beaches of Sarakiniko, Loutsa, and Tsirimbi, whilst the beautiful beach of Gidaki is accessible only by boat. Close to Vathy is the village Perahori, a settlement with great historical interest as near to it (3 km) lie the remains of Paleochora, the medieval capital of Ithaca. There is also an archaeological site and the 17th-century Monastery of Taxiarchon.

The second settlement and port of the island and a popular touristic place is Stavros, about 16 km from Vathy to the north, where most probably was the Odysseus’ palace. Extensive excavations have taken place, which revealed many interesting items, now exhibited in Stavros archaeological museum. The village is traditional and old – about 4 centuries and close is the Cave of Loizos, worthwhile visiting. The beach of Stavros is popular and attracts many people. Before Stavros is the village of Lefki with the nice beaches of Aghios Ioannis and Ammoudi and also Kounoupi and Lefkos Yalos. Furthermore, another beautiful and popular village is Kioni, a traditional village protected by law for its character and architecture, located in a distance of 24 km from Vathy, a favorite destination of yachters. In Kioni is the house of the Greek War of Independence hero Georgios Karaiskakis. Near to Kioni are the most popular of the island’s beaches Sarakinari, Katsikouli, Filiatro, and Plakoutses. Frikes is a pictorial fishing village about 13 km from Vathy, visited by several private yachts. In Kioni and Frikes are few old windmills. Anogi is a mountainous villages wherein pre-historic huge monoliths (menirs) were found. At Anogi is also a heliport. From Anogi is a pathway for trekking ending to Kioni. In the top of Aetos hill lie the remains of the ancient acropolis of the island, quite possibly Odysseus’ acropolis.

In Vathy, Stavros and Kioni are many hotels and rooms to rent, as well as restaurants, cafes, bars, few night clubs, and shops. Some of the beaches are organized. The local cuisine is “Eptanissian”, meaning Ionian Sea cuisine and the food served in the local restaurants and tavernas is very good.

Ithaca Geography, Economy and Name

The island of Ithaca is located west of the mainland of Greece in the Ionian Sea and is the second smallest inhabited island of the so called “Heptanese”.  It is well known around the world owing to its fame to Homer’s epic poems. The name Ithaca has been used in place of the words: target, homesickness, nostalgia and return in many poems and other literature.

Ithaca consists of two peninsulas with about equal extent which are joined by the isthmus of Aetos that is only 620 m. wide. The island has a length of 29 km. max. width of 6.5 km. with the total area covering 92.5 sq. km. The channel between Ithaca and Cephallonia is 14 miles long, with a maximum width of 3 miles and a minimum of 1.5 miles. Its coastline is about 45 mile which is indented all around with many natural ports. The island is mostly rocky and mountainous but it does have several small valleys where olive trees, vineyards, vegetables and fruit trees are cultivated. The main physical characteristic of Ithaca is the high contrast in its scenery. There are huge menacing rocks jutting up from the ground and just a few steps away are the tranquil orchards and vineyards. The three highest mountains on the island are Mt.Petaleiko in the south, the Homeric Mt. Neritos and the Mt. of Exoghi in the north.

The occupations of the people are: cultivation, stock-breeding, trade, technical jobs, fishing and tourist businesses, also a large percentage of the working population are traditional sailors. There are thousand of emigrants of Ithacan origin living in m parts of the world chiefly Australia, South Africa and the United States, many are also living in Greek cities of Athens and Patras.

Administratively Ithaca belongs to the Cephallonia County which includes several neighboring small inhabited islands.

The capital of Ithaca is the town Vathi and the main villages are Perachori, Lefki, Stavros, Platrithias, Anoghi, Exoghi, Frikes and Kioni was several thousand who lived mainly at the northern part of the island. During the Middle Ages, the population decreased due to the continuous invasions of the pirates which forced the people to live on the mountains establishing the communities of Paleochora, Anoghi and Exoghi.

There are various interpretations as to the origin of the name Ithaca, it is believed that it comes from :

– lthacos, the hero from mythology

– the greek word “ithy” which means cheerful

– the greek adjective “ithys” which means abru

– the Phoenician word “utica” which means the colony

The name Ithaca has remained unchanged since ancient time but it has been noticed that in written documents of different periods it was referred to other names such as:

Nerikii (7th century B.C.)

Val di Compare (Valley of the Bestman), Piccola (Small)   Cephallonia, Anticephallonia (Middle Ages till the beginning of the Venetian period)

Ithaca nisos (island), Thrakoniso, Thakou, Thiakou (Byzantine period)

Fiaki (Turkish period)

Teaki (Venetian period) and

Thiaki (before the Venetian period, also called so by the sailors and has remained the name used by the inhabitants).

Although there is not definite numerical information until the Venetian period, it is believed that from the Mycenaean to the Byzantine period the number of inhabitants was several thousand who lived mainly at the northern part of the island. During the Middle Ages, the population decreased due to the continuous invasions of the pirates which forced the people to live on the mountains establishing the communities of Paleochora, Anoghi, and Exoghi.

History of Ithaca Island

Ithaca Island was already inhabited in the Neolithic Era 4000 – 3000 B.C. The first inhabitants of the island were indigenous Greeks. During the Premycenaean period (2000 – 1500 B.C.) only the south part of the island was inhabited. Ithaca’s civilization reached a high point during the Mycenaean period 1500 – 1100 B.C. At this time the island of Ithaca was flourishing and became to be the capital island of the neighboring islands of Cephalonia and Zakynthos and also from a part of Acarnania mainland.

Over the following centuries, Ithaca island feels under several rulers. The Dorian tribe arrived at Ithaca Island in two waves from Etolocarnania coast and from Peloponissos and occupied the island for three centuries (1100 – 800 B.C.) In the begin of the 9th century, Ithaca passed into the Corinthians together with the island of Cephalonia for more than 5 centuries. During the Roman period (180 – 394 A.D.) Ithaca Island was part of the Roman province of Illyria.

At the Byzantine period (394 – 1185 A. D.) Ithaca Island became to be a part of Epirus. In 1057 the Norman Baron Robert Guiscard tried without success to seize the islands of Ithaca and Cephalonia and finally died. In 1185 A.D. the Normans captured Ithaca, Cephalonia and Zakynthos Islands. The Norman ex-pirate and then admiral Margaritus in 1204 ceded those three islands to the Italian pirate Orsini. The Orsini family ruled those Ionian Islands for 153 years. In this time the Orsini family adopted the name, Comnenus. In the course of the 4th crusade in 1204, the Venetians together with the Crusades signed an agreement in Constantinople dividing up the Byzantine Empire. Ithaca and Cephalonia joined the Despotate of Epirus, which was created by Michael Comninos.

In 1357 Ithaca, Kefalonia, Zakynthos islands handed over to the king of Naples Leonardo Tocco. The dynasty of the Tocco family lasted for 122 years. Unfortunately, the fate of Ithaca Island was to fell in the Turkish hands of Ceduk Ahmed. Ithaca Island renamed under the Turks for 25 years. This period was one of the worst periods the island has ever known. The Turkish occupators took as hostages all the inhabitants of the island then they killed all the Lords of it and sold all the farmers and the artisans of Ithaca island to work as slaves in Constantinople. At this time the island of Ithaca was almost deserted. Then luckily the Venetians regained control over the Ionian Sea recaptured Ithaca island and held it for 293 years. In 1797 the French Republicans arrived with the fleet in Ithaca (1504 – 1797) gave an end to the Venetian domination and kept in a piece the island of Ithaca only for 20 months (1797 – 1799). After the French fleet was defeated in the 1st of August 1798 from the British admiral Nelson and Napoleon Bonaparte fell, the Russian – Turkish fleets under the admirals Usakov and Kathir Bey declared all the Ionian islands free from the French but as a belonging to the Sublime Port under the name of “United Septinsular State”. The treaty, which was signed in Paris on the 6th of November 1815 made Ithaca and all the Ionian, islands a British protectorate under the name “United States of the Ionian islands”. Finally, on the 21st of May 1864 Ithaca Island together with all the other Ionian islands were united with Greece.

 

Ithaca Resorts & Beaches

Ithaca has only a few village resorts, mainly centered around the harbors of Ithaca, each with their own charms. It is an island to visit if you are looking for a quiet holiday in an authentic Greek village.

Frikes has always seemed the poor relative of the fancy harbor of Kioni, the premier resort of Ithaca, Greece, just around the headland. Yet in many ways, it has been spared the goldfish bowl feel of Kioni, which has a few too many middle-class Brits gazing at one another across the harbor. A one time major port for the trade of lentils and olives between Ithaca, other islands and the mainland of Greece, Frikes was a prized port for its windy location.

Attractiveness 

Frikes in north Ithaca has in recent years received a bit of a tarting up, yet still retains a pleasant mix of old and new buildings. The main village cafes and tavernas are strung along the waterfront. In the harbor, a motley collection of small fishing caiques and leisure craft bob in the shallows, often augmented by the summer armada of Flotilla yachts.

Behind this waterfront, the scene is the main houses of the village lining the two roads that lead to villages of north Ithaca, Stavros, and Platritheas. All in all, Frikes is a sleepy place to hang out where cool young Ithacans come to relax. Pull yourself up a chair, pour yourself a beer and watch the dust devils come early afternoon.

Cleanliness        

Frikes, like most villages on Ithaca, is spotlessly clean. Occasional flotsam and jetsam get washed ashore but not really enough to take note of. Local people of north Ithaca take pride in the village and there are many fine rambling bougainvillea and jasmine and other favorite plants of Greece.

Safety  

Frikes has a one-way system which keeps the passing traffic under control. The biggest things to plow through Frikes are the tour buses, local school bus or Angelos Mavrokafelos on his JCB. The harbor itself is enclosed for mooring boats and yachts, though the mid-afternoon winds can be a bit gusty.

Though there is little traffic, a torch at night time should you be walking to a villa in the surrounding countryside or to Stavros would be helpful. The port can get busy in the summer around 9 in the morning when the ferry arrives at Ithaca from Nidri on Lefkas and cars are looking to board or disembark.

Non-beach activities     

Frikes offers a good base to explore the north Ithaca, especially up towards the villages of Stavros and Platritheas. You can quickly leave the main road as you walk on the minor road to Platritheas and onto old cracked concrete roads under the shade of the olive trees. This is a thoroughly lovely part of Ithaca and the road could take you as far as Kalamos and Asphales bay or even the near-deserted village of Exoghi.

It is about an hours walk up to the present-day capital of northern Ithaca, Stavros to get a flavor of life on the island. A visit to the Stavros museum is a must and there are several good tavernas in Stavros as well.

More recently local historian of Ithaca and Greece, Denis Sikiotis, has been working to open old trails and donkey paths in north Ithaca and there is even walk that can take you around the coastline to Kioni (see Top trips page for more information on the paths). There is also an FoI self-guided trail that introduces you to this village in north Ithaca.

Greek authenticity

Frikes is as about as authentic a village as they come to Greece. Even though there are a couple of small hotels in the village, there is no sense in which Frikes runs as some cheesy tourist destination. Frikes still has a pleasant, friendly village atmosphere. There are however a bizarrely large number of cafes and tavernas in the village (as many as five – a lot when you consider the resident population is less than 50) and though occasional battles break out.

Frikes will come as a pleasant change to the more slick operations of its near neighbor on Ithaca, Kioni. Frikes also maintains a strong local influence and its one of the few places where locals and visitors really do get to know each other.

All the bays along the coastline of northern Ithaca Greece have pebbly beaches of varying size so if you want a bit of comfort, you are best off taking along a mat of some kind.

Kourvoulia beach close to Frikes, varying size pebbles along this coastline.

These series of tiny coves have been cut into the bay of Frikes and are popular with locals of north Ithaca, Greece, looking for their afternoon swim. Each one has its own charm. The ones closest to Kioni, below the village of Rachi, are the most remote, though they do tend to lose the sun in the afternoon, especially later in the season.

Why not treat yourself to the Ithaca Digital Information Pack which includes all the trails for the island, together with eight wildlife booklets. Download the Ithaca Digital Information Pack

Attractiveness 

The northeast of Ithaca has a very pretty coastline. Though none are hugely dramatic, this series of little coves offer charming and peaceful seclusion. Some are a little close to the road, however.

Cleanliness        

All of these beaches are very clean and the council seems to make an effort to keep what are ostensively the public bathing beaches as clean as possible.

Being a small island with lots of small coves, however, there does tend to be flotsam and jetsam on occasions, together with the occasional blob of oil. For that reason and the fact that all of Ithaca’s beaches are pebbly, All in all pretty clean beaches. Remember if you do get tar on your clothes, rub a cloth with a little olive oil on it to remove the stain – but remember to use plenty of soap to remove the olive oil asap!

Access 

Access to all these beaches from Frikes to Kioni can be made via the road. In some places there are steps down in others a bit of a scramble, but nothing too difficult. A great number of visitors to the north of the island hire small motor boats which enable you to explore the coastline and visit all of these coves with ease. Don’t jump out of your boat too early as you land though…some of the beaches have quite steep drop-offs.

Friends of Ithaca offer very good rates for car hire. Click here for more information. Ithaca Car Hire

Shade  

The different coves have varying degrees of shade available. Some are quite exposed with nowhere really to cool off when in full sun, others have some trees behind. Being on the east of Ithaca, all the coves along this coastline lose the sun by mid-afternoon, shaded by the steep bulk of the island behind. This is particularly true of the coves to the south.

Facilities             

There are no facilities on any of these coves, most people bringing supplies with them from either Kioni or Frikes (where there are mini-markets). It is a good idea, if you bring nothing else on your trips to these coves, to pack yourself a large bottle of water to keep you hydrated and to get rid of the salt-sea taste.

From the history of the two flanking windmills that still stand astride the mouth of this harbor to the prickly pear cactus and agaves, the trail gets you under the skin of this Greek village.

Though Frikes might appear sleepy, it has had its share of heroic history and that’s not just the Odyssey! During WWII Ithaca’s resistance fighters successfully managed to scupper the Nazis’ attempt to retreat from Ithaca and Greece, but not without the deaths of five fighters. A plaque on the harbor wall commemorates the battle.

On a lighter note, Frikes also commemorates the Raftopoulous clan, or specifically Stathis Raftopoulos, a colorful, eccentric resident of Ithaca who ended up running a chain of cinemas in Melbourne. He was also one of the few people to catch the great 1953 earthquake on film in Greece. A couple of busts erected by him (including one of Dante) can be seen on the ground floor balcony of one of the small local apartments.

If you’re spending an afternoon in the village, why not make more out of your stay with a gentle amble around town on the FoI trail. Become a member and get this trail as part of your Island Information pack. Visit the Travel Shop for more details of how to get your pack.

Transport comment

Frikes is easily reached from anywhere in northern Ithaca. From Stavros, the capital of the north, Frikes is only five minutes by car – and 30 minutes on foot. The local bus service is a bit patchy and devised to run around the times of kids going to and school in Vathy in the south of Ithaca, so it leaves from Vathy very early in the morning. Most visitors staying on Ithaca have a car, although you could book a taxi to come up here and then take the bus back to southern Ithaca around 3 pm.

Kioni is the premier resort of Ithaca and one of the most picturesque village ports in the Ionian islands of Greece, up there with Loggos on Paxos and Assos on Kefalonia. Set within a horseshoe bay, the neoclassical houses of the village tumble right down to the quayside and its promenading Brits, yachties and cacophonous ducks.

Attractiveness 

The bay, the flanking slopes of olives and its winding streets through pretty, flower-tangled houses and its harbor front make it one of the Ionian stop villages.

What makes Kioni especially interesting is its keen grip on what it is that makes it such a top destination; it understands its unique qualities, which have so often been destroyed or swamped in other picturesque locations in Greece. Whereas Fiscardo, on neighboring Kefalonia, got carried away with renovation, terracotta paint and new tiling (as well as lots of new development), Kioni has resisted the temptation. As a result, Kioni looks like being one of Greece’s more sustainable developments that will maintain its premium price tag.

Cleanliness        

Kioni, like the other villages on Ithaca, Greece, is spotlessly clean. It is a well-maintained village that has a keen sense of civic pride.

Safety  

Kioni is off-limits to traffic in the day during the tourist season, cars having to be left on the outskirts of the village. The most traffic you are likely to encounter is someone trying to launch a boat or one of the three local tavernas receiving the delivery of provisions.

The harbor itself is very secluded, most people preferring to swim from one of the tiny beaches at the mouth of the bay. There can be a bit of tangle in the evenings as flotillas devise their own somewhat ungainly methods of coming ashore. All in all, the only thing to look out for is the precipitous drops off the edges of roads and paths that are typical of this part of Ithaca, Greece.

Non-beach activities     

Kioni offers a good range of non-beach based activities. The village itself will take a few days to explore and this region of Ithaca is interesting to explore. Try heading towards the mills on the headland or back along the old road towards the hamlet of Rachi, which straddles the spur into Kioni to which it practically joined. On the far side of Rachi are several small coves and the church of where an old Corinthian column has built into the table of the priest vestibule.

If you feeling strong you can follow one of the old donkey paths of Ithaca that leads from Kioni up to the near-deserted village of Anoghi, once the capital northern Ithaca. Its a steep climb at times and way is not always clear, although helpful paint makes lead you the way. For the less strong, many do the walk-in reverse taking a taxi to Anoghi and then walking down. You may need help to find the start of the path (near Ithacas helipad).

Perhaps one of the charms of Ithaca Greece is that it has managed to find a happy balance between beach and local environment, that leaves both quite uncrowded. Friends of Ithaca have published a self-guided trail for Kioni as well as Frikes, Exoghi, Stavros and Perahori in the south of Ithaca. There is also a leaflet to guide you along the Kioni to Anoghi donkey path.

Greek authenticity        

Kioni is an authentic Greek village but in a thoroughly modern way. Do not let the contemporary appearance fool you into thinking that this was how things always were. Kioni is a far cry from the reality of even forty years ago. What you see today is a village that comes alive in the summer as tourists visit and Diaspora Greeks return from Australia, South Africa, and America for the fine weather. Come winter this part of Ithaca is practically deserted.

The local school has long since closed and if wasn’t for Albanian families, the one remaining school in north Ithaca, at Stavros would have gone the same way. Having said all that, Kioni is a pretty place perfect for those who love rustic, beautiful Greece.

The beach by the three mills that stand at the mouth of the Kioni bay is where most visitors go to bathe if they are staying locally. A 20-minute walk from the harbor front (along the very picturesque coast road) leads you past wonderful houses and whitewashed church to the pretty shingle beach.

Attractiveness 

Kioni’s beach is a very charming little pebbly cove, quiet, relaxed and very pretty. The water seems very clean and there is plenty of opportunity for snorkeling.

Cleanliness        

Kioni beach has its own cafe snack bar that does its best to keep the beach spotlessly clean and you could probably eat your dinner off the pebbles here. Most of the visitors seem to be very litter conscious and what gets washed up gets quickly sorted out by the council or by the local cafe.

Access 

The road to Kioni beach is a narrow affair that makes two cars passing a nerve-wracking experience especially if you are on the outside lane. Not surprisingly the road is closed throughout much of the summer to all but locals who don’t really do much driving up and down.

The walk takes between 20 minutes and half an hour depending on how sun-soaked or wine-soaked you are, but every minute of it will help remind you of why you choose to come to this place with its quaint, but thoroughly agreeable vistas.

If you are coming from out of town you will have to leave your car on the outskirts of the village and walk the 1.5 km to the beach (taking the road to the right of the kafenion and the mini market as you come towards the waterfront).

Shade  

Plenty of shade can be found to the back of Kioni beach under the numerous trees that surround the beach or at the snack bar.

Facilities             

Kioni beach is a relaxed affair with few facilities. There is, however, a cafe snack bar where you can get drinks, snacks or a spot of lunch. Perfectly adequate.

Exoghi was once of Ithacas’ most important villages; a major administrative and religious center with well over a thousand inhabitants. Over the centuries the population has declined to around 20 people, leaving Exoghi a somewhat melancholic ghost town.

The Exoghi to Platrithea trail takes 2 to 3 hours at a leisurely pace and will introduce you to Exoghi and help you to get a feel for the village and what it must have once been like to live here. As well as introducing you to some of the histories of the region, the Exoghi trail will uncover of its more quirky features. From the strange pyramid monuments of Yiannis Papadopolous and the Seats of the Old Women to the old Aloni, or threshing floors, and mountainside terraces, there are many unexpected finds that you might otherwise miss. En route, you will also get some of the most spectacular views of north Ithaca.

If you plan to explore Ithaca a little during your stay, why not make more out your time with a gentle amble around town on the FoI trail. Become a member and get this trail as part of your Island Information pack. Visit the Travel Shop for more details of how to get your pack.

Transport comment

Exoghi can be reached by car or by taxi from any of the nearby villages. Ask the driver to take you up as far as the Church of Agios Nikolaos. From the crossroads at Platrithea, where the trial ends, you can walk the short distance by road to Stavros or Frikes which should take about 30 mins. Alternatively, make a prior arrangement with a taxi driver to collect you at the Levanti Taverna in Platrithea.

The Perahori Trail aims to give you a feel for life in a traditional agricultural village in south Ithaca. The Perahori trail takes about an hour at a leisurely pace.

The trail will lead you up to the zig-zag streets of the village to the two churches of the village and introduce you to the religious culture of Greece.

Climb some of the old cobbled steps of the village and learn a bit about what it means to live in a village with no fresh water source.

A second leg of the trail leads you up to the village of Paleochora, the original Perahori, ruined by successive earthquakes.

Transport comment

You will definitely need a car to get up to Perahori. It is quite a way up the steep mountainside.

Until relatively recently in Ithaca’s history, the island did not have roads as can be seen today. The main north-south road was hewn from the rock face and built by the British when they ruled the island in the nineteenth century.

Until this point, people traveled around the island by boat or by donkey and a network of paths crisscrossed the island. The definition of a road in these times was a path wide enough for 2 laden donkeys to pass.

Once proper roads had been built to link the towns and villages of Ithaca, the old donkey paths became disused, wildly overgrown and for the most part unpassable.

Local historian Denis Sikiotis, fascinated with the cultural heritage of the island, has spent considerable time and effort getting some of these paths reopened to prevent them from becoming lost forever.

With some funding from the local council and an army of volunteers, many of the paths have been cleared in the past few years.

The paths across north Ithaca Greece, have been marked with blue and yellow signposts and along the way, where the route becomes unclear, redpoint marks and arrows will help you to determine the route. The paths take you into the heart of the island along the old popular routes and uncover an Ithaca that is not be seen from the road.

Transport comment

This is a top trip designed for foot power alone. Get out of your car and head into the heart of the island!

Take a walk up the track behind the café in modern Anoghi in the mountains of north Ithaca, Greece, for a real walk into the past. It is quite clear to see how the village moved down the hillside over the centuries. The buildings furthest from modern Anoghi are the most rudimentary; very simple shelters build from piles of stones. Closer towards the village of today, it is possible to see the ruins of much more sophisticated buildings such as the old British prison with its arched doorways from the nineteenth century. Successive earthquakes have left little but ruins.

Looking around the bleak, rocky hillside, you will probably find yourself wondering how the capital of north Ithaca came to grow up here. It is more through push factors away from the coast than the lure of the Anoghj plain. Piracy was for a long time rife in the waters around Ithaca and Greece. Pirates from the mainland did not come to steal from the inhabitants – they had very little to take – but to capture them to sell in the slave markets of the east. So the inhabitants of Ithaca built their villages in the most inaccessible points of the islands. Amidst the rocky landscape of the Anoghi plain, it would have been very difficult to spot the low buildings built from the same rock

Anoghi literally means ‘upper land’ and it is the highest village on the island, some 500 meters above the sea. There is no freshwater source up here and villagers would have had to walk several kilometers down the mountainside to do their washing and collect water once stern as dried up in the summer. Fishermen had to carry their catch barefoot all the way from Kioni, only to be forced to sell their fish very cheaply since the inhabitants of Anoghi knew they would not be able to carry their fish back down the mountainside. One only has to look at the landscape around the village to realize that the Ithaca of yesteryear offered only a very hard existence.

With the demise of piracy at the beginning of the eighteenth century, many villagers moved down the mountainside to Kioni or Stavros where they would be closer to water sources and the sea and the mountain villages of Exoghi and Anoghi, once home to over a thousand people, began to decline. Waves of Diaspora continued this trend after, many Ithacans leaving for Melbourne and other parts of Australia after the earthquake of 1953. There are now only a handful of people left living in Anoghi permanently, although the numbers do swell with a few returning Greeks in the summer.

Transport comment

Unless you are prepared for a long hard walk up the mountainside from Kioni, you will need a car to get up to Anoghi, in the mountainous heart of northern Ithaca, Greece.

Like all beaches on Ithaca Greece, Marmakas is a pebbly one, with medium-sized pebbles.

Islet off the shore of Marmakas Beach

mid-size pebbles

Marmakas beach is still only practically reachable by boat. There is a track that leads to the beach via Asphales although you would need a 4×4 and some strong nerves for the 4 km journey over the headland. The other route is via the path from Frikes in the northeast of Ithaca Greece. Not surprisingly the beach itself is largely deserted and it is this that gives the beach its charm.

Why not treat yourself to the Ithaca Digital Information Pack which includes all the trails for the island, together with eight wildlife booklets. Download the Ithaca Digital Information Pack

Attractiveness 

There is little building at Marmakas, aside from a couple of villas, although this could change once the road is hard-surfaced. The landscape behind the beach is wide and open with eucalyptus and wild pear. Predominantly an agricultural area of Ithaca Greece with flocks of goats, you might end up sharing the beach with some passing livestock.

It is this otherworldliness, with its old deserted fields and dry-stone walls, that gives the region its melancholic feel. The offshore islet with its tiny church is genuinely very picturesque. The snorkeling around this islet is really quite good and worth the effort with shoals of fish and fabulous rock structures for you to explore.

Cleanliness        

There is no organized government cleaning of beaches here so the thin beach picks up all sorts of detritus both natural and man-made. On occasion there have even been big lumps of tar washed ashore.

Access 

Reaching Marmakas without a boat is difficult unless you have a 4×4 or stout legs and a desire to haul your way through the undergrowth. There is a path that leads to the beach from the northern side of Frikes, near the new pontoons, but this is more of a goat track. Follow this until you reach the small beach and then try and find the path that leads up at the back of the beach.

The growth of maquis will make the going tough and you need to climb the ridge behind the beach before you can descend into the bay of Marmakas. The easiest way of all, is course, to hire yourself a small day boat, and chug around the coastline.

Shade  

There is shade at Marmakas from the trees that line the beachfront. It is a bit of an agricultural area and can appear a little scruffy. A pleasant walk can be had by following the old agricultural land to the north, though a small valley of pear and apple trees to another tiny cove.

Facilities

There are no facilities at Marmakas. If you are planning to visit this old untouched region of Ithaca Greece, then come prepared. There are no toilet facilities so bring your own paper and remember to use a big stone to pin down the paper and cover any fragrant offerings.

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pebbles at Skinos

Skinos is a very quiet beach, situated close to Vathy on the eastern headland. This area is the preserve of the wealthy with not much save a few exclusive villas and developments.

Attractiveness 

Skinos is a long, narrow beach set amid some beautiful countryside with trees cascading down the mountainside to the edge of the clear water.

Cleanliness        

A little off the beaten track, Skinos is not regularly cleaned by the council which means some debris does get washed ashore from time to time.

Access 

You will need a car to reach Skinos bay as it is too far from anywhere to walk. It is possible to drive down here but the last section of the road is unmade so be very careful in your hire cars!

Shade  

There is a shade close to the beach in the form of trees. Being on the eastern side of Ithaca, the beach gets a bit shaded come late afternoon as it is shaded by the bulk of Ithaca.

Facilities             

There are no facilities down at Skinos beach so you will need to bring something to eat and drink should you wish something. A beach mat might also come in useful. The water here is very clear and it’s a good spot for snorkeling with its rocky shoreline.

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Small pebbles & Shingle

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Mixed medium to very large pebbles.

very dramatic Asphales Bay

Asphales Bay’s pebbles

Asphales bay is the long, narrow rent right in the north of Ithaca and is really very dramatic, with its steeps limestone cliffs cascading down to the milky blue sea. The beach itself is not amazing but, except in high season, is a nice secluded spot.

Attractiveness 

Asphales is a huge gaping rent into the north of Ithaca that opens out onto views of the Vassiliki bay on neighboring Lefkada. Viewed from the village of Exoghi hundreds of feet up from the coast, Asphales takes the breath away, with its combination of a striking limestone cliff and infinite shades of turbulent blue.

Cleanliness        

Asphales is a little-used beach except in the high summer. With its gaping yaw to the north, it does tend to pick up bits and pieces of floating debris.

Access 

You will need a car to get to Asphales, unless you happen to be staying in Platrithea or are prepared for a bit of a hike from StavrosThe beach is reached from either Platritheas or and is metalled most of the way. Turn left to go to the beach, as right will lead you towards Marmaka beach (a long 4k on by dirt road). The drop onto the beach can be a little difficult, almost a scramble for the last 10 yards, making unsuitable for those without stout pins.

Shade  

There is plenty of shade on the beach – in fact far too much. Asphales beach is shaded by vegetation to the west and the bulk of Ithaca from mid-afternoon onwards (unless you have either motored or swam to the eastern side of the bay).

Facilities             

There are no facilities at Asphales. You can get provisions from the local shop in the village of Lachos, just at the head of the road down to the beach.

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Small pebbles & Large pebbles

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Like all beaches on Ithaca Greece, Agios Yiannis is pebbly. The beach has small to medium-sized roundish pebbles.

white limestone beach at Agios Yiannis

small pebbles of Agios Yiannis

Traveling up the spine of the island from Ithaca’s capital, Vathy, the striking beach of Agios Nikolaos it appears as a crescent of blue and white far below the main road. One of the few beaches on Ithaca’s west coast, Nikolaos, with its distinctive crumbling windmill, is one of Ithaca’s memorable landmarks.

More recent building in the region of the beach hasn’t exactly done the place any favors, the schlock villa being a rather ostentatious and vulgar addition to this once pristine landscape. Having said that, Nikolaos remains a pretty beach to visit and the rocks along its shoreline some interesting possibilities for snorkeling.

Attractiveness 

The beach at Agios Nikolaos is made up of pretty pebbles that have been shaped into sweeping curves by the currents of the Ithaca channel. With its striking views across to Sami, Agia Efimia and the region of Erissos on Kefalonia, Nikalaos really gives you the feeling of being on an island. The flotillas tacking their way up through the channel add to the maritime scene. The beach does, however, shelve quite steeply and can have strong winds and occasionally strong currents.

Cleanliness        

Nikalaos does seem to be a pretty clean beach and there are bins at the road-head. Inevitably stuff does get blown ashore. Unlike the east coast, tar doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem hardly surprised when you consider that the shipping lanes pass to the east of Ithaca.

Access 

Even though Agios Nikolaos can be glimpsed from high on the main road as you head north, the road down to the beach starts four kms further on from the village of Lefki. Do not be tempted off road in your Seicento down the track that goes off from the left as this will almost certainly be the biggest mistake in your life.

The road from Lefki snakes down through a series of switchbacks before ending some 100 meters from the beach. A newly laid path that leads past the mill will bring you to the beach. If you have stiff limbs, the drop onto the beach will need a little negotiating.

Shade  

There is little shade down here and the wind could make an umbrella somewhat problematic on a gusty afternoon when the wind funnels between Ithaca and Kefalonia.

Facilities             

At the time of writing, there are no facilities at Agios Nikolaos, so you will have to pick up some provisions in either Vathy or if coming from the north, Stavros. Lefki at the road head does have a couple of pandopoleons, or local shops, where you could grab a few items from their octogenarian owners.

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Small pebbles & Large pebbles

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Medium-sized, rounding pebbles of varying color.

shady by the afternoon

medium size pebbles of Dexa

This is the first beach reached as you travel north out of the capital of Ithaca, Vathy. The side of Dexa beach has in recent years seen quite a bit of building, though not so much as to make a mess. With its olive groves and shingle beach, Dexa is mainly used by residents of the apartments that lay behind it and locals heading out of town for a quick dip.

Attractiveness 

Dexa is a pretty beach, though none too wide with beautiful views out into the bay. In the past, there have been attempts to artificially enlarge it with additional shingle. Dexa tends to get good sun in the morning, with the high southern backdrop making it shady by late afternoon.

The local desalination plant is generally quite though those with hypersensitive hearing might detect a distant hum. Dexa has excellent pedigree, as this is believed to be the beach that the Odysseus landed on when he returned to Ithaca after his years of wandering Greece and the Mediterranean.

Cleanliness        

Dexa maintains a high degree of cleanliness and had bins along its foreshore. Occasional detritus and rubbish might get blown ashore. The water is very clear and sparkly.

Access 

Dexa is easily reached from the capital Vathy by heading along Ithaca’s main north-south road. Just over the headland, about 2km towards the center of Ithaca and Dexa appear on your left. parking can, however, be a bit of problem. You’ll have to struggle to get a car sufficiently off the road. Cars whip along this road, especially when the ferry is coming in so make sure your car is at least visible. You could walk here, but be aware that this is the busiest road on Ithaca and there are no pavements.

Shade  

The shade is good at Dexa as a result of the olive grove backdrop. By mid-afternoon in the late season, you might even think there is a bit too much shade as the bulk of Ithaca shades pretty much the whole beach.

Facilities             

There is certainly not much down here but there might be a canteen during summer. You should come prepared at least with something to drink.

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Small pebbles & Large pebbles

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Like all beaches on Ithaca Greece, Aetos is pebbly with medium-sized pebbles.

thin pebbly beach

pebbles of Aetos beach

The huge sweeping bay of Aetos (or eagle bay) is one of Ithaca’s great sights, almost severing the island in two. Between Aetos on the east and the west coast, the island is little more than a third of a kilometer wide. With its hefty summer downdrafts and steep sides, the bay of Aetos is pretty deserted, bar a few houses.

Attractiveness 

Aetos beach is attractive by virtue of its magnificent scale and the iridescent blue waters that lap along its western shore. The towering flanks, narrow beach with the road running hard along its shoreline, make it unpopular for bathing. It is, however, the sheer scale of Aetos that genuinely takes the breath away.

To gage the full impact that this bay has on the topography of the island you must take the trip up to the mountainous heart of Ithaca and look down from the Kathera monastery. Only then will you see how this bay almost bites Ithaca almost in half.

Cleanliness        

Poor old Aetos with its long coastline and the narrow beach does tend to be neglected by the local council, whose interests only seem to revolve around those beaches actually visited by decent numbers of tourists and locals. As a result, it can pick up lots of natural and man-made flotsam and jetsam. Since the road passes practically on top of the beach it’s quite easy to see what state the beach is in.

Access 

Aetos is easily reached along Ithaca’s main north-south road. For about a kilometer the road runs hard behind the beach at a height of about 2 meters. Parking is just a question of getting your vehicle sufficiently off the road to be safe.

Shade  

There is little shade on Aetos from vegetation, although the vertiginous slopes behind will provide ample shade from mid-afternoon onwards. These slopes can also make Aetos extremely windy.

Facilities             

There are no facilities on Aetos beach, so you will have to come well prepared.

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Small pebbles & Large pebbles

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Medium-sized roughish pebbles.

Less of a beach than a ferry port, the tiny harbor of Piso Aetos has recently been enlarged to accept even bigger ferries. The shorter traveling time from Kefalonia to Ithaca coupled, with a series of acrimonious rows about developing the island between councils and ferry lines have to lead to Piso Aetos becoming more of a significant enter port to Ithaca than the main capital. Nonetheless, many ferries do still take the route around the southern tip of Ithaca to dock in the capital Vathy.

Attractiveness 

There is a thin pebble beach at Piso Aetos, but it is rarely used as a bathing beach. Instead, it now serves the island as a port. If, however, you are marooned here on the basis of some erroneous local information regarding ferry times then you could take a dip at Piso Aetos.

Cleanliness        

Piso Aetos is quite clean although as it is not regarded as a bathing beach, it doesn’t get cleaned by the council. The port itself is home to a few local boats and is well maintained if a little half-built and rudimentary.

Access 

Piso Aetos is reached from Aetos bay on the east side of the island. Climbing over the spine of the island the road descends through a few switchbacks before dropping steeply onto the port. If you are marooned here be aware that it is not always easy to get a taxi unless you have a number. If you are arriving by foot on the ferry, do your utmost to share a taxi or be prepared for a wait. Better if traveling by foot from Kefalonia to take the Sami ferry to Vathy, the capital of Ithaca.

Shade  

There is shade at Piso Aetos, by virtue of the port buildings. The steep sides that flank the beach will provide shade in the morning. The hot windy weather that can blow through the Ithaca channel during the summer months can be desiccating at times.

Facilities             

There is a canteen at the port, although that will only be working through the summer months. There used to be a rather good taverna just up from the port, which if working would make being marooned in Piso Aetos a rather nice experience.

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Small pebbles & Large pebbles

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Like all beaches on Ithaca Greece, Polis is a pebbly beach with medium to large size, roundish pebbles.

looking down on Polis bay

pebbly Polis

Polis bay sits hidden on the west coast of Ithaca Greece, below the northern capital of Stavros. It is here that locals corral their caiques and dayboats and is the main port for boats making the journey across the channel from Fiscardo on Kefalonia. More recently money has been spent down here trying to make it more attractive and beach cleans have helped to improve the quality of Polis. Polis once had a huge caveat its northern end where many important ancient religious artifacts were found in the 1930s. The cave has since collapsed in one of the innumerable earthquakes that rock the region.

Attractiveness  Seen from high above the road just to the south of Stavros, Polis is a dramatic sight, the deep aquamarine water of the bay dotted with tiny boats. A new series of park benches installed along the roadside by the local council seem intended to tempt locals and visitors to venture out of town to savor this view.

Down on the harbor wall, giant eucalyptuses give a shady and laid-back feel to Polis. The beach itself is composed of large limestone pebbles. The somewhat scruffy backdrop belies the importance of this swathe of land that is one of the few agriculturally rich pockets of arable land on Ithaca.

Cleanliness        

Polis tends to be cleaner nearer the harbor end though this is a working beach and locals can be somewhat flippant when it comes to tidying up after their marine repairs. Beach cleaning has helped although the beach itself is not one of the finest on the island, although it is fine for a swim.

Access 

Reaching Polis is straightforward and involves taking the steep road behind the cafe neon next to the municipal park, opposite the church. A series of switchbacks leads you to the beach. Walking is an option but it’s a good haul up on the way back.

Shade  

There is shade at Polis courtesy of the eucalyptus and the canteen at the harbor front. For several years larger ferries came into the island here, though these days the boats tend to land at Piso Aetos far to the south. On the beach itself, there is no shade.

Facilities             

There is a canteen that works at Polis during the summer, although outside the main high season months, its best to come prepared. If you’re planning to walk, then take along a least bottle of water. Nearby Stavros, capital of north Ithaca Greece has a range of shops, tavernas, and cafes.

History

The island of Ithaca was continuously inhabited, even during its lower periods, for almost six thousand years- In most of its historical Periods, it was never totally isolated, due to the traditional marine activity that kept it in contact with other distant civilizations. A small and Poor island, Ithaca was influenced and or dominated by the most powerful states of each period.

Homeric Ithaca

The small rocky island of Ithaca has become known worldwide through Homer’s epic poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey”. Many people may not know its exact location, but they know Ithaca as the island of Odysseus since Ithaca and Odysseus are conceptualized together.

There is no indication from the very little ancient written information which has survived, that Ithaca is not the Homeric one. The ancient philosophers and writers Porphyry, Thucydides, Plutarch, Apollodoros, Cicero and Acousilaos, all refer to the island as Ithaca centuries after Homer’s time. The philosopher Aristotle writes about “The State of the Ithaceans”, indicating that the island was autonomous, this was confirmed when coins of “The State of Ithaca” and “Odysseus” were found from recent excavations on the island. During the Roman era, the geographer Strabo was the first to discover that several ancient writers disputed as to the geographical position of Ithaca, unfortunately, none of these documents are known to exist today.

In recent centuries many archaeologists and researchers came to Ithaca to investigate if it was the Homeric island. Others had the opinion that Homer’s Ithaca was any of either island of Cephallonia, Corfu, Paxi, or Lefkada, while a few believed that the ancient island sunk into the sea, or that it existed only in Homer’s imagination. But after discoveries made from excavations on the island and methodical studies of the Odyssey, the majority of scientists are convinced that today’s Ithaca and Homer’s are one and the same.

The first to begin a series of investigations on the island was J. Paulmier de Grentesmenit in the 17th century, but the first who worked on scientific bases was William Gell in 1806 who had the opinion that the ruins of Aetos correlate to the ancient city. Some of the archaeologists and researchers of the 19th century who shared his opinion were Dodwell, Holland, Mcdler, Kendrick, Goodisson, Kruse, Schreiber, Triesch, Ruhie von Likiestern, Crifford, Mure, Grivas, Liehetrut, Ansted, and Wordsworth. Others like Leake (1806), Bowen (1850), Partsch (1888), Thomopoulos (1908), Gandar, Bursian, Lolling and Reisth claim that the ancient city was located in the northern peninsula at the area of Stavros.

All the above-mentioned archaeologists and researchers found areas on the island that coincide to Homer’s analytical descriptions.

The main oppositional opinion comes from the German Dorpfeld (1927) who claims that Homeric Ithaca is the island of Lefkada, and he considers that Ithaca was the Homeric “Same” and Cephallonia was “Doulichium”. But in this theory, there is a geographical contradiction since the Homeric orientation changes and the narrow channel between Ithaca and Cephalonia becomes an open sea almost 20 miles wide. Homer also clearly determines that the position of Ithaca is closer to the north than the island nearby (Cephallonia), and the descriptions of other areas such as the islet Asteris and the southern part of Ithaca as well as the route was taken by Odysseus and Telemachus, come to an absolute contrast to the Dorpfeld theory. Another main point against his theory is that Homeric Ithaca was definitely an island, but at that time Lefkada was a peninsula of the Greek mainland; several centuries later in 627 B.C., the Corinthians eliminated the isthmus changing Lefkada to an island.

It is of great interest the words with which Homer describes Ithaca such as having “distinctive limits”, “sea from both sides”, and that the island is “narrow”, “small”, “rocky” and “unsuitable for horse riding”.

Only the island of Ithaca coincides with the combination of all the above characteristics.

The name Ithaca did not change during the last three thousand years even when several of the conquerors gave other names to the island. Also, there are many places in Ithaca which still retain their ancient names although in certain periods the population decreased to a small number of families. Some of these places have a special interest since episodes from the Odyssey took place there. Homer gives an analytical description of these places and the surrounding area.

All of the above is a very condensed outline of the arguments used to prove that the Ithaca that exists today is the same as Homer’s.

Archeology

In contrast to the rich history of Ithaca, the archaeological research has been comparatively limited with the most important being done by foreign scientists in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Greek state has not shown the interest they should have, and some of the discoveries made took place at excavations that were for building purposes.

Considered the pioneer of archaeological study on the island, was William Gell. He began his scientifically based research in 1806 but he did not continue with methodical excavations. Nevertheless, he is credited with the discovery of part of an ancient inscription probably from the temple of Artemis near Vathy.

After Gell, several other archaeologists came to Ithaca dealing illegally in antiquities and undertaking in “secret” excavations that were tolerated by the English rulers. Among these archaeologists were Leake (1806), Charles de Bosset (1810-1813) and Lee.

Lee was in cooperation with Baron Stackelberg and divided the precious objects they found. Some of the objects known to have been taken were the following: a bronze pre-historic sword found at Aetos, which was similar to the one found at the Cave of Louizos, various gold jewelry, glass and clay bowls, pottery, tools, copper, silver and gold coins.

A characteristic example is of the local conqueror Guitera (1811-1814) who plundered 200 tombs at the Aetos area, melted some of the gold and silver coins and sold the metal with the other treasures abroad. Therefore, because of these illegal excavations, most of the priceless ancient objects from Ithaca are now in certain museums and private collections mostly in European countries.

After the Union of Ithaca with Greece in 1864, legal excavations began and Schliemann was the first to systematically organize them in 1868 and 1878. Other archaeologists followed until the beginning of the 20th century and from the research and excavations of this period a variety of interesting objects were found, some of them are now either in the two museums of Ithaca or the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

The excavations at the hill of Pilicata under Heurtley’s supervision, which took place in 1930, was considered one of the most important. A variety of discoveries proved that the area was inhabited as early as the Neolithic Period.   A wall surrounding the hill, foundations of buildings, graves of the Mycenaean period and different objects indicate that civilization continued and that this area was of great significance.

The next excavation that took place was in Polis at Louizos cave by Heartly’s assistant Renton. These findings proved that it had been a place of worship from 2500 B.C. until the 1st century A.D. A female mask of clay with Odysseus’ name engraved on it was found in the cave. The mask is another strong indication that links the identity of the island to that of Homer’s.

Derived from the various discoveries, is a general conclusion that the arts and crafts of Ithaca were very similar to those in other significant Kingdoms of Greece of the same time periods, and that the Ithacans were especially skilled in pottery.

In 1931 and 1932 Heurtly undertook excavations at the Aetos area. He discovered ruins of buildings, ancient temples, everyday articles and many Corinthian objects of worship. These were dated to be from the 9th, 8th, and 7th centuries B.C. Also of significance are the nine different types of coins from the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. These coins refer to Ithaca and Odysseus as well as various symbols or gods.

Excavations were very limited after the 1930s with no finds of any great importance. From the research and excavations that have taken place, it has been proved that civilization has existed on Ithaca for the past six thousand years with some periods having a very high level. The main settlement was in the northern peninsula around the hill of Pilicata. Later on, a new settlement was founded at the area of Aetos where the ruins of the ancient town Alalcomenae lies. In Vathy and Southern Ithaca, ruins from the Roman period and previous periods have been discovered. Excavations on the island are considered to be incomplete and it is believed that there are numerous objects and ruins under the ground waiting to be discovered to enlighten us further about the ancient history of Ithaca.

Climate in Ithaca Island

The climate is generally rainy in winter with mild winters, but also mild summers, with frequent heavy-humidity and cool nights.
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How to get to Ithaca Island

By boat

From Piraeus, there are daily trips scheduled to the port of Ios. The distance covered is 111 nm and the trip lasts 7-9 hours.

By hovercraft: From Rafina, there are frequent trips to the port of Ios. The trip lasts 5 hours and 45 minutes.

If you are looking for airline tickets and flights to Ithaca(Via Kefalonia airport) enter the dates of arrival and departure in the left box, and the online reservation program will show you suggestions and prices for your flight where you can make your reservation directly and securely.

Carnival

The carnival is a special celebration for everyone. Young and old enjoy its unforgettable festivity with songs, dance and of course costumes and masks, usually resembling the Venetian style. People wander from house to house at night playing practical jokes on those who prefer to stay home. On the last day of the Carnival, a parade takes place with a competition for the best costume and the most impressive presentation.

The next morning, the fortieth day before Easter, lent begins, the day is spent in the country with an ample supply of food and wine necessary for the high spirits, songs, and dance.

Production & social life

In the ancient period, the only information about production came from Homer’s poems. He reports that the main products of the island were cereals, wine, olive oil, and fruit. Stock-breeding consisted of swine, goats, and cattle, fishing was a supplementary activity because the population believed that fish was a useless food product.

Continuously traveling by sea, the ancient Ithacans were excellent navigators and explorers. The steady contact with other civilizations, especially those of the Hellenic States, resulted in the use of similar tools, structures, costume, language, and religions.

After the Mycenaean period, Ithaca declined in power but continued to preserve its autonomy during the following centuries. Through excavations and findings, we can see that there was still an organized structure of life, production, and contact with other islands and lands nearby.

During the centuries of the Middle Ages, Ithaca reached it’s the lowest level of decline. It became isolated from other places and dependent on rulers who considered it as a small useless island. Navigation disappeared or rather was “cut off” by pirates who periodically used the bays and small ports of Ithaca as hideouts. This forced the few people left on the island to live high on the mountains, therefore keeping them from fishing, and leaving them with only a minimum of agriculture and stock-breeding to feed themselves.

During the Venetian period the population increased and prospered, new regions were inhabited, cultivation of the areas around the villages began, mostly due to the Venetians stimulating the populace by paying them a premium or using their authority, especially in the cultivation of olive trees, and by 1590 production covered the inhabitant’s needs. In 1620, 12% of the total area was cultivated with the main product being wheat which was exported along with olive oil. In the middle of the 17th century, the production doubled with raisins becoming the most important product of the island. The profit from its export allowed the import of products necessary to improve the standard of living. Also, there was a steady increase in the production of fruit, vegetables, stock-breeding, poultry, bee farming, and flax. Flax was used with lamb’s wool to weave fabric for clothing. This improvement gave the financial ability to build ships in order to confront and drive away from the pirates from the area of the island.  With this done, the Ithacans once again sailed the seas, giving them a quick and easy product exchange and contact with the outside world, enabling them to “modernize” their buildings, equipment, clothing, production, and their culture.

In the last decades of the Venetian period and during the British rule the population reached its highest number in recent history. Production was more organized and 45% of the island’s area was cultivated, leaving the Ithacans in a very good financial state. The first emigrants at this time left Ithaca to try another style of life, mainly going to European countries or larger cities in Greece. Since the 18th century, higher education became one of the most important goals of the people, thus several young men had studied in European Universities, particularly, Medicine and Law. In 1792 almost every village had its own primary school attended by both boys and girls. Teachers were paid by the parents of the children who attended school. On many occasions where the economical situation was unfavorable, the parents had other alternatives.   Many of the 47 priests and 17 notaries of Ithaca, would teach the children. Even until the end of the British rule education was not compulsory, but still 50% of the population was educated, a percentage which increased to 90% in 1890 reaching at that time the highest level in the Ionian Islands.

By the end of the 19th century, the navy became quite powerful and the 200 Ithacan ships with the native crew were traveling up as far as the Black Sea. In these years emigration greatly increased with the majority going to Russia and Romania, controlling the navigation and market on the Danube River. While emigration and the Ithacan fleet were increasing, the population on the island was decreasing and since an important percentage of males were absent, there were less working hands. Having, as a result, a reduction in production. The occupation of the remaining population was agriculture, stock-breeding, fishing and trade with the main products still being wheat and olive oil in which for the processing of these from 1890, 31 mills and 26 olive presses were functioning, with some of them even until the 1950s.

By 1920, 35% of the population had emigrated to Australia, South Africa, and The United States. Also, many seamen were far from the island most of the time. None of these people who left or were away from the island forgot their homes, sending money to families left behind. In this way, they also participated in the ‘modernization” of Ithaca.

Even though the population decreased greatly, with this financial aid and the little production on the island, the first decades of the 20th century were wealthy for Ithaca. Compared to the last fifty years of the 19th century, in the 20th, the standard of living rose, so much so that the percentage of money paid from incomes had tripled for clothes, and the percentage for personal items and entertainment became five times greater.

The population steadily decreased during the Second World War, the occupation of the Axis Forces, and the Civil War. Emigration and naval employment remained the main alternatives as a means of living for young people. Another reason for the decrease was that families who understood that the best possible education was the key to facing the economic problems of life, moved to the larger cities of Greece.

The withdrawal of people from the island affected its customs. Many of which had roots from the Venetian period. Customs such as the religious celebration of The Carnival, nameday and wedding festivities, songs an dances. The clothing worn was already similar to that of the European fashion, the local dialect remained in use only by the older people and traditional meals and drinks have almost been forgotten.

The earthquakes of 1953 were a strong blow for Ithaca, they destroyed almost 80% of the buildings on the island. Vathy and several villages fell to total ruin. Rebuilding started immediately, with all Ithacans helping either by physical labor or sending financial aid for the construction of new houses and public buildings.

In the decade of the ’60s, Ithaca started to become popular to tourists coming from Greece or other countries, even though the island wasn’t really prepared, having no proper facilities to accommodate them. During the next few years tourism steadily increased. Ferry-boat crossings became more regular, the roads and transportation were improved, and several tourist facilities were established on the island.

Today production of any kind is limited, but the cultural level remains at a high standard. Tourism is one of the main sources of income for the residents of Ithaca and one of the reasons the young people remain and work in their own land.

Clothing

Until the last century, the clothes worn by the Ithacans were made of linen and woolen material which was produced on the island. Some of the tools used for processing the linen are still to be found in some of the households today.

The men usually wore black trousers and jackets made from a combination of linen and wool but the older men would wear the sailor’s wide trousers made of linen with the color of marine blue, hand made woolen socks that would cover the trousers and a woven cap worn on the head. The wealthier men had a silk tassel attached to the cap.  The winter coat was a shaggy coat, made from goat’s wool. The daily shoes were brogans made of either ox or swine leather but on Sundays and special occasions, a pair of proper shoes were worn. Finally, the Ithacan women’s clothes were always in the style of European fashion.

Food

The type of meals eaten in each household depended on financial and productive conditions. The various ways to prepare meals or sweets was a tradition passed on from mother to daughter. The older farmers used to have for breakfast “soup” made from toasted bread soaked in olive oil and wine or “poulenta” which was boiled cornflour mixed with raisins and hot olive oil, and they would drink “pikimezi”, local ouzo.

The custom of roasting the lamb on the spit at Easter recently came from the Peloponnese. Originally the people used to prepare the lamb or goat with the “tserepa”. The usual sweets eaten on Christmas day were “tiganites” a type of pancake and on New Year’s “diples” with nuts and honey. Even to this day housewives follow this tradition.

Some of the traditional Ithacan meals and sweets which are still made today are:

Riganado: slices of bread dipped into water and then topped with oregano, olive oil, tomato and white local cheese, it is a deliciously easy snack.

Tserepa: a casserole made of clay. The meat or chicken is prepared and put into a metal pan which is covered by the tserepa which is surrounded with charcoal for uniform baking.

Rovani:  a local sweet still made and served in certain cafes in Ithaca. It is made of rice, honey and olive oil, baked all together in a deep pan.

Halvas: a sweet made from wheat hearts, olive oil, sugar, local ouzo and almonds boiled altogether.

For the name day celebrations, the custom to exchange visits is still in use. The sweets were usually rovani for the older people and halvas, as it is easier to be made, for the children. This was obviously unfair discrimination which the young fellows most often did not excuse, therefore in retaliation immediately after exiting their hosts’ house they would throw the halva at the walls of the house decorating them accordingly.

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