Ionian Greek Islands - the islands of the Ionian sea - Greece
The Greek Ionian Islands are scattered off the west coast of mainland Greece, with the exception of Kythira which lies off the southern coast of the Peloponnese at the point where the Ionian Sea meets the Aegean. The two best-known islands are Corfu, one of the first places in Greece to attract package holidaymakers in the 1960s, and Kefalonia which unwittingly acquired an army of fans worldwide after the publication of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Zakynthos is another popular package holiday destination whilst those seeking a tranquil island untouched by mass tourism head for unspoilt Ithaca, the legendary kingdom of Odysseus. Lefkada offers bustling tourist resorts along with many wonderful walking trails and traditional mountain villages.
The Ionian archipelago is quite different from the Aegean islands in terms of both its culture and appearance. You'll find many legacies of the French and British occupations here rather than the Turkish influence which is so much in evidence on the Aegean islands. Corfu boasts the only cricket ground in Greece and eager local teams still turn up in their whites for regular matches (despite the fact that the British "protectors" left in 1864).
The islands receive above average rainfall (Corfu has the highest rainfall in the whole of Greece) with the result that they're lush and green, awash with olive groves, cypresses and mountainsides carpeted with orchids and other wild flowers in springtime. The luxuriant vegetation comes as something of a surprise to those more accustomed to the stark barrenness of the Cycladic islands. Winters are mild and wet but the summer months are extremely hot as the islands don't receive the meltemi wind that cools the Aegean islands.
Cheap charter flights from many north European destinations bring the holiday hordes directly into Corfu, Kefalonia and Zakynthos. Lefkada is connected to the Greek mainland by a drawbridge and is only a 30-minute bus ride away from Aktion airport near the mainland town of Preveza. Kythira attracts Greek visitors rather than package holidaymakers and has an airport with regular domestic flights to and from Athens. Ferries and hydrofoils serve the islands from various departure points on the mainland and from Corfu you can take an international ferry to Albania or Italy (the latter is a popular option for island-hopping backpackers who head for Venice or Brindisi).
Each Ionian island has a distinct character and between them they offer everything you could wish for from a Greek island holiday. You can swim with the loggerhead sea turtles in Zakynthos, party the night away at Corfu's notorious Pink Palace complex, relax on Kythira's beautiful unspoilt beaches or follow in the footsteps of Homer's Odysseus on Ithaca. Lefakada boasts one of the top windsurfing resorts in Europe whilst Kefalonia's magnificent Myrtos Beach is widely regarded as being the loveliest in the Mediterranean.