When we are living at The Walnut Tree in the early spring and summer and again in the late autumn, one of our great pleasures is to take advantage of the Greek ferry system and go travelling.
Ithaca! Odysseus, Penelope, ancient castles, high mountain roads, good walking, fabulous views, beautiful churches, small unspoilt towns and harbours, deserted beaches: Ithaca/Ithaki is an island of two parts divided by a narrow bridge of land between two mountains: Paleokastro and Agros. There are two main towns, the capital Vathi in the south part and Stavros in the north with around eight villages mostly in the north.
Taking the early morning ferry (about 40 minutes) from Sami to Ithaki allows enough time to have a whole day on the island; spending two nights in Vathi (which we loved) and taking the ferry back to Kefalonia on the third afternoon, we had nearly three days to explore this unspoilt, mythical and beautiful island. What a good decision!
The weather was pretty near perfect (was there even one cloud?) and early October meant that our Captain Yiannis Hotel and most restaurants were open for business, beaches were just about empty and we had the roads more or less to ourselves.
After arrival at the ferry port of Piso Aetos and a short drive to Vathi, we had breakfast on the waterfront before a wander around the town. We leisurely found the museum, the main church, both the secondary school and the primary school, pretty old houses and gardens in back streets, an irrigation system and even a plant nursery before finally making our way to Hotel Captain Yiannis at the far side of the bay for a 12 noon check in.
Things were running late but it didn’t matter. We set off for a beach to chill for a couple of hours ….. finding a super yacht the only other occupant of the little bay of Minimata. Mild irritation at the noisy ‘toys’ were certainly offset by watching the staff set up an enormous inflatable slide for the guests’ afternoon’s entertainment – and ours! The water was crystal clear – a perfect beach for swimming and lazing in the shade. We found and went part way down a well defined path leading on from Minimata to Skinos Bay – but we saved this reputedly beautiful beach for our next visit. Always leave something for next time ….
The evening saw us settled very comfortably indeed at the Captain Yiannis with dinner in Vathi town at a restaurant where all the ingredients were from their own farm or sourced locally – absolutely delicious and so reasonable.
Our plan was to explore the south and leave the north of the island for our final day. On the recommendation of the helpful hotel manager Alex (accidently doing the ‘scenic’ route) we eventually arrived in his home village of Perachori above Vathi for the magnificient views over Ithaki, the sea and the mainland. We were not disappointed.
Perachori is perched on a hillside with a slightly ‘alpine’ feel to the village; houses built to take advantage of any flat land available or cut into the hillside and surrounded by terraced gardens overflowing with climbing plants or crammed with vegetables. Although our time there was at the end of the tourist season, the village felt alive – not just a tourist haunt. Perachori seemed a village with a fascinating past, a thiving present and a future.
At the top of the village we noticed a sign pointing the way to the Cave of the Nymphs, an ancient church and the remains of a medieval settlement. We obviously could not resist such an adventure and having left the car by a cafe with the promise to be back , we set off on a well maintained path with the most extraordinary and continuous panorama of views – enough to stun the senses.
The Church, partially built into the rock and with beautiful murals, had an atmosphere that truly calmed the soul. The walk would have been worth it just for this, but the rest of the walk was just as rewarding.
The afternoon saw us headed for another beach – Kaminia. A long drive down a tricky track but oh so worth it! There was one other couple already there but this didn’t matter in the least – and there was one other occupant which meant that every lump and bump of the track seemed totally unimportant. Much to our astonishment, we were sharing Kaminia with a coypu.
On top of that, the views were as ever fabulous and the water clear as crystal and so calm – not a sound of anything. We swam, we snoozed, we read …..
We rounded off the end of the day eating at Sebastian ‘Tsiribis’ Restaurant – like all our other experiences in Ithaki, this was a great place to eat.
Our last day and the plan was to visit Stavros, Frikes and Kuoni in the north. Everything about Stavros was charming – a proper place where people lived with a great ‘feel’ to it. I would choose to stay in Stavros on our next visit to Ithaki. The town square, the church, the back streets – we warmed to Stavros. Our visit to Frikes was slightly marred by the arrival of an excursion boat – the one cafe open immediately crammed. Kuoni was a delightful harbour village – definitely a popular summer destination and we had potato pies! Haven’t had those before.
Before the journey back to The Walnut Tree villa, we followed the advice of another member of staff at Captain Yiannis and drove to Agios Ioannis Beach – not too far from the ferry port. I had the best swim of this autumn – exploring the inlets, caves and little beaches for half an hour or more going north from this beach. It was absolute bliss!
Looking back to Kefalonia from Aghios Ioannis ……. and then we had to tear ourselves away to get to the ferry on time. Thank goodness we left lots more to discover – not that we needed any obvious reason to come back for another delicious taste of this truly magical island.
And now back to Kefalonia and The Walnut Tree!