On the west coast of Greece in the south Ionian sea lies Lefkada Island. This island has rugged, mountains covered in wild forest, olive groves and quintessentially Greek villages that remain un-spoilt. Crystal clear turquoise waters and stunning coastline made up of beautiful sandy beaches Pair these mountains and beaches with dramatic rocky coves and cliffs; it is all part of what make this Island my favourite place to visit in Greece.
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Having worked in Greece over four summers; three of which were based between the north and south Ionian areas (with cover work often on Lefkada). I got to visit here on my days off work and when taking annual leave. Below are my top 3 reasons for visiting Lefkada and trust me they are pretty compelling. You will soon be itching to go if you haven't already. But first how to get there...
Getting To Lefkada
You can reach this island from the mainland by car; no ferry ticket needed, no boat ride, just drive across the causeway bridge.
Half of the fun on this island is driving with steep climbs, hairpin turn and jaw dropping views at every turn.
There isn't an airport on the Island so if you are travelling by plane the nearest airport is Preveza (PVK).
On the mainland, you would need a transfer of some sort usually organised by your accommodation. However in Lefkada and Nydri there are taxi services just contact them in advance.
1. Beautiful Beaches
Porto Katsiki (Pictured above) is probably the most well known and pictured beaches on the island with its white rock dramatic vertical back drop. It is on the south west of the island (not to far from Vasiliki). When you arrive at the car park there you will be stunned by the contrast of colours between the turquoise water, white rock beach and chalk like back drop. This is further amplified when you get a clear and calm day, as the water is so clear you can see the dark patches where the sea bed drops.
There is a rail and rocky natural steps to walk down to get to the beach. But don't expect toilets, shops or people selling drinks down there. Take everything you need with you and leave no trace. In summer this beach does get busy, so just bare that in mind you. If you are a reasonably competent swimmer there are some cool caves you can swim into.
From Agio Nikitas you can reach Milos beach which unless you are staying in the hotel you can only access this by forest hike or boat (aqua taxi costs about 3-5 Euros each way). This beach was discovered by accident by me and a friend trying to get to the kite surfing school on our day off, when we got directions to the wrong Milos beach (should have been Milos beach beach resort in the north near lefkada - mentioned below in this post). But this is the place to go to have a bit more of a chilled time away from crowds in summer. People will still go hear and pay for the boat, but most tend to head to the more accessible beaches.
As you can see the crystal clear waters, the constant sound of gentle waves, the smaller crowds and sandy beach make this place ideal. It is easy to access with a small car park. There is also a lot of apartments near by to stay in.
This beach is a bit busier but still feels chilled out. The beach is a bit wavy like Tsoukalades and this is a great beach to relax, read a book and enjoy the sun sea and sand. Kathisma is one of the few beaches on the island that also has a bar right next to it. It is a sandy beach with sunbeds already put out so you can use one of them or head to the far side which is clear and sit on your own towel. There is also paragliding you can do from here (you will be taken up the cliff or to the top of the mountain behind for this and land on the beach).
This beautiful little beach is close to Vasiliki but sandy instead of pebbles (like Porto Katsiki). It does get very busy so arrive early. The drive up and car parking is essentially a dirt road so take this into account. It is a great place to laze around and just enjoy life in flip flops.
If you do get a little bored being sat on a beach, then you can either go for a swim (or snorkel) or head up to the rock for some cliff jumping. I only dared to do the lower jump after three times visiting this place and watching everyone else. It was really tough.
2. Adventure in the Mountains
As you may already be able to tell by the beaches this place is full of natural beauty. However, it's not just the coastline that deserves your time and attention. There is plenty to see and do in the mountains.
This gorge is on the south east of the island near Nydri town (which is home to other amazing sandy and sheltered beaches, and some great shopping). I took some of these pictures in peak season (August) when the water level was lowest but it was still amazing. I've been a few times on my way to Vasiliki or as a day trip on it's own, you can see the contrast between the two pictures above earlier in the season then when the water is low. The water is icy cold even in the peak of summer; and trust me when its in the late 30's temperature wise and high humidity you will love the cold water.
We mentioned about the roads being steep and curvy, well there are also lots of trails that are perfect for mountain bikers of all levels. Vassiliki (Pictured above) is a great place to base yourself for this with many close routes from the town. Whilst the town itself is flat, it is surrounded by mountains.
Some of the resorts in Vasiliki also have bikes you can rent or use as part of your package. With many of them having experienced mountain bike guides who can take you out on some of the best routes, and a selection of great quality, well maintained bikes. Alternatively if you are flying with British Airways they have great deals (sometimes free) to bring sports gear. It is not uncommon to see people coming through Preveza airport with their own bikes and/or boards of every kind to take advantage of this all this amazing island has to offer.
Lefkada has some fabulous paragliding which can be booked from Kathisma beach. There are two routes you an take a lower one when the wind is a little too high which still gives you amazing views over the sea and mountains or a high one which is just that little bit more breathtaking. You don't need to book your paragliding ahead but you may need to wait around or possibly be turned away if its too busy. So arrive before lunch and make a day of it (you can relax on the beach).
Despite being scared of heights still, I do find this really relaxing and another great way to see the landscape of a place. The guides have go pro's and sticks (as you can see), so you can film your experience. You just pop in your own memory card to it and away you go. They will have it wrapped around your wrist to help you keep hold of it, but this is a great option for those of you who like me at the time couldn't afford a go pro (I had a faux pro lol) or simply don't have attachments to make some of your adventures safe. I would love to see more companies do this.
3. Adventure on the Water
Sailing and Windsurfing
As I mentioned earlier Lefkada is in the south Ionian which means if you are doing a south Ionian Flottilla you are most likely going to visit this amazing island. However, it isn't just fun for sailing 40ft yatchs and catamarans. In Vasiliki you can give dinghy sailing a go at one of the many resorts along the bay. Vassiliki is a town sits in a large bay in the south, looking out to the island of Cephelonia.
It is classed as a high wind resort and a mecca for windsurfing. When working in Greece, the company I worked for specialised in active holidays and has a resort right in Vasiliki due to its reputation for consistent wind. I was lucky enough to work on several of occasions for holiday cover a few times teaching yoga to guests. I also used to come here on my day off (day off club) and enjoy getting on the water.
If you want to learn to windsurf and haven't got any experience you can still be taught here but just bare in mind you may need to do your lessons in the morning before the heavier wind kicks in.
A lot of sponsored competitive windsurfers work in this town as instructors at the resorts such as: Neilson (Cosmos), Club Vass or Ocean Elements. This gives them chance to use their lunch breaks to practice their own skill and days off. The water in the afternoon is packed with windsurfers harnessed in and planning up and down the bay. With an average wind speed of about 8 knotts during the season (Above are the pictures I got from the beach at Cosmos trying to practice panning with a new camera).
If you are into windsurfing you may want to follow Cookie, who was the active manager at Cosmos and has worked around Greek beach clubs managing teams of instructors. He has also made a YouTube channel doing ride along tutorials so you can see learn about using a harness, body drag and how to carve-gybe Check It Out Here.
In the North of Lefkada, Milos beach resort at Paralia Agios Ioannis, like its southern counterpart (Vasiliki) has consistent high winds. There are two kitesurfing schools in this area which both have great reputations for teaching beginners right through to more advanced. I find kite surfing very difficult (like windsurfing) and it is very tiring but I can't wait to do it again.
Windsurfing and kite surfing are not allowed to be on the same beach in Greece (brought in by a new regulation in 2011 to have specific kite surfing zones). You may be thinking this is odd but when you see the speed that surfers go in both of these sports, you can soon use your common sense to realise how much damage can be caused when crowding occurs and even more so with two sports in the same bay.
Stand Up Paddle boarding and Kayaking
The waters on the west of the island may be wavy, and the exposed north and south windy, the east side of the island. However there are coves all over this island and even Vasiliki whilst windy is very flat water (and best in the morning). The east side of the island that is more sheltered near Nydri and little Siv are ideal for paddle boarding.
Cruise to other Islands
There is a water experience isn't technically on the island, but it starts here and is really fun for those trying to see as much as possible.
I did this on a day off from work. We took a boat first to Meganisi which is just of the east of the island and visited then to Kalamos. It was amazing, I took my camera but stupidly forgot to charge it ('rookie error'), my pictures came out but they weren't the best quality from my phone at the time. The islands are gorgeous and charming and you will see old stone windmills, beaches with only a few people there and more scenery that isn't altered so much from the footfall and a bit wild. It can be booked from Nydri, Lefkas or Vassiliki.
Other Things I've Not Included On Here But Still Worth Considering :
Kavalo sunday horse ride - Each week as tradition a group of locals ride their horses to the local coffee shop (which is also a taverna, local grocery shop and I heard they also cut hair here).
Englouvi and Kaira village are both off the beaten track shrouded in Greek tradition, artwork and more.
Syvota or little siv as I call it, based on the fact there is a Sivota in Thesprotia on the North Ionian coastline of mainland Greece opposite Corfu.
Gialos, Egkremi and Pefkoulia beach are also really amazing and deserve a mention here, but we'd be here all day, so I chose my favourites.
Lefkada and Nydri are brilliant towns. They have plenty of restaurants, bars, shops and apartments.
I'd recommend at least a week on the island if you have the time, you don't need to move around from one accommodation to another but I would recommend hiring a car, scooter or bicycle.
May/October is cheapest for flights and accommodation, plus the bars, beaches and everything is that little bit quieter. Still enough to socialise and meet people though.