Sailing the Ionian Islands

Published 14 December 2023

Scattered off the west coast of Greece, the Ionian Islands are one of the most popular coastal sailing destinations in the world. The verdant islands are kept green by the winter rainfall, while the summer brings with it blue skies and calm seas that promise the waterborne the most spectacular landscapes.  


What is more, these islands are Greek but tinged with a distinct Venetian flavour. From the busy tavernas lining the harbours of Corfu and Kefalonia to the tranquil fishing villages of Ithaca and Lefkas, each island has its blend of culturearchitecture and cuisine. The winds in the Ionian are also remarkably consistent in the summer. From June until the end of September the maestro wind blows south, arriving around noon and generally dying down at sunset, and as such the archipelago is a charterers paradise.  



Corfu

Due to its cosmopolitan vibe, international airport connections, and position at the north of the Ionian archipelago, Corfu has become the favoured embarkation for an Ionian yacht charterBoth famous and occasionally infamous as a resort islandCorfu’s popularity is derived largely from its geography.  

Head to Corfu for stunning beaches, secluded coves, and charming coastal towns 

Lying just off the mainland coast of Greece, it has approximately three times the rainfall of the islands in the central Aegean and consequently is a verdant green place even through the hot summer months. Numerous invaders have of course well prepared the Greeks for the invasion of visitors to its shores, which today come in the form of tourists, but in the past have also included artists, composers and poets. The islands fashionable harbours, quaint fishing villages and beautiful beaches have also been attracting the yachting crowd for decades.  

Corfu yacht charter highlights


  • Secure the best spot-on Corfu’s Agni Beach at Taverna Nikolas and sample its fantastic mezze  
  • Join locals at the popular waterfront haunt, Mitsos Taverna in Nissaki  
  • Sip an ouzo and watch the locals go about their business in the cosmopolitan Corfu Town  
  • Enjoy a peaceful night anchored in a secluded cove to the east of the island 


 

Paxos

Lying some seven nautical miles south of Corfu, the small islands of Paxos and its diminutive Anti-Paxos offer a convenient stop-off between Corfu and the larger island of Lefkas to the south. The two islands are idyllic places, attracting many waterborne visitors during the peak summer months of July and August. The waters are an almost unbelievable blue and green hue, set off by a backdrop of olive groves.  

Small and secluded, on Paxos you can truly relax and unwind 

The island of Paxos, which covers an area just seven by two miles, combines picturesque simplicity with an easy pace of life. Olive and cypress-clad hills gently slope into a crystal-clear sea, and dotted along these shores are small coves and bays and the three main harbours – Gaios, Laggos and Lakka. Lying just off the island’s south coast, the tiny green islet of Anti Paxos also has two beautiful beaches – Virka and Voutoumi – at its north end. A haven for watersports enthusiasts, there are also numerous secluded coves which are ideal for a peaceful night at anchor. 

Paxos yacht charter highlights


  • Take in the imposing cliffs which shelve precipitously into the Ionian Sea along the northwest coast of Paxos 
  • Wander through the ancient olive groves on the tiny island of Paxos  
  • Explore the Venetian castle that reigns over Paxos 
  • The tiny islet of Anti Paxos is known for its green vegetation and shaded walking trails  
  • The crystal-clear waters of both Paxos and Anti Paxos, the tiny islet lying to the south, are both perfect for swimming and snorkelling  



Lefkas and Meganisi

The Inland Sea is the area of water enclosed by the islands of Lefkas, Kefalonia and Zakynthos on the west and south with the mainland to the east and north. With its lake like resemblance, the area provides incredibly calm waters and therefore some of the best cruising conditions in all of Greece.

Lefkas is the most northerly of the islands, however, it is only an island by virtue of the Lefkas canal which has existed since the seventh century BC. With such convenient access and a road bridge only closed for five minutes every hour, the coastline is busy with resorts and towns all down the eastern coast, while the west coast is less populated and has beautiful beaches and reliable onshore north-westerly winds which are ideal for windsurfing and other similar watersports. 

Explore rock formations and beautiful sea caves in the shores around Lefkas

Lying close to the eastern coast are the twin islands of Skorpios and Skorpidhi, the long-time retreat of the Onassis family. Still privately owned, you can nevertheless sail around both islands, but you cannot step ashore (other than on a beach below the high-water mark). For the best overnight anchorage, Meganisi’s much indented coast is riddled with sheltered bays and coves next to each other, all of them beautifully situated and surrounded by hills dotted with cypress and pine or covered in maquis. Here yachts will generally put an anchor out and tie up to the shoreline with lines around the rocks or trees. An unforgettable experience for the yacht guest. 

Lefkas yacht charter highlights


  • The deep inlets of Meganisi are ideal for watersports and provide an idyllic overnight anchorage  
  • Head ashore to the brand-new beach club and restaurant FUN in Port Atheni 
  • The main port of Vathi is a bustling fishing village with tavernas and boutiques. Try Errikos for Greek waterside dining at its finest  
  • Tucked under the rocky faces on the west coast of Lefkas lies Porto Katsiki and other staggeringly beautiful beaches 
  • Anchor in the cove on the southwest coast of Skorpios where Jackie O had her ‘beach-hut’  
  • With reliable onshore winds in the south of Vassiliki, Lefkas is a paradise island for windsurfers 
  • Lefkas Town is a bustling harbour with tavernas, boutiques and plenty of night-time entertainment  



Kefalonia

Kefalonia is the largest island in the Ionian, around twice the size of neighbouring Zakynthos and bigger than Corfu. It is not as green as some of the other Ionian islands and the coast is mainly impressive mountain scenery, however, it has become a favourite spot on any Ionian itinerary since it was put firmly on the cruising map with the novel by Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.  

Make sure you visit Myrtos Beach on your yacht charter to Kefalonia 

Although it has a definite Italianate feel to parts of it, the main fishing village of Fiskardo is often referred to as the Saint-Tropez of the Ionian. Spared by an earthquake that shook the rest of the island, the picture-postcard bay and harbour is now a magnet for superyachts and has become the place to see and be seen in this part of the Med.  

Kefalonia yacht charter highlights


  • Sail to Myrtos Beach with its white and azure waters under sheer cliffs 
  • Discover Sami, the beach that stole the show in the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin  
  • Sip an ouzo (or a gin and tonic) in the cafés that line the harbour of Fiskardo 
  • Listen to the harmonic ‘kantades’’ flowing from the local tavernas  
  • Find the cave of Melissani and watch the subterranean lake transform into a stunning myriad of colours when the sun strikes  
  • Volunteer for a beach patrol to protect endangered sea turtles on the southern beaches of Kefalonia  



Ithaca

Relatively untouched by tourism, the quintessential Greek island of Ithaca has a rich history. Synonymous with Odysseus, today Ithaca offers virgin green hillsides that spill down to a string of deserted coves with white, pebbly beaches, some of which can only be reached by sea. It is prohibited to build large hotels and as such the island remains relatively unspoilt and with relatively little tourism for its size.  

Steeped in mythology and history, Ithaca is small, unspoiled and utterly stunning 

Ithaca yacht charter highlights


  • Ithaca is home to the mystical Cave of the Nymphs, where Odysseus is said to have hidden gifts. No longer open to the public, but you can still sail by and peek inside 
  • Explore the fountain of Arethusa, and Odysseus’ palace 
  • Ithaca’s bijou ports are a showcase of quintessential Greek life. Head ashore to the fishing village of Kioni for dinner by the water’s edge at the Calypso restaurant 
  • The main harbour of Vathi is lined with traditional Greek tavernas and boutiques  



Zakynthos

The southern-most island in the Ionian chain, Zakynthos is quite different to its northern neighbours. At its centre is a huge plain surrounded by a horseshoe range of mountains. These catch the winter and spring rains and funnel them down to water the island’s verdant vineyards, orchards and olive groves. The island was named the ‘Flower of the Levant’ by the Venetians who ruled the island for 350 years and today the waterborne still flock to its stunning beaches and azure waters.  

Take a refreshing dip in the tranquil waters of Zakynthos or a stroll in the beautiful golden sand

Zakynthos yacht charter highlights  


  • Therapeutic sulphur springs can be found in the area around Keri  
  • The bustling fishing port of Zakynthos Town is the place to head for entertainment ashore  
  • Watch the sun set over the beautiful rolling peninsula of Vassilikos whilst sipping cocktails on the aft deck  
  • Drop anchor in a secluded bay off the uninhabited Atokos Island 

Set sail and discover the Ionian Islands with Burgess. Speak to our team of expert charter brokers today. 

To find out more about Burgess’ yachts for sale and yachts for charter, please contact a Burgess broker. Alternatively, get in touch with one of our offices directly: London, Monaco, New York, Miami, Singapore or all other locations.

- Yachts, prices and availability are correct at the time of publication.

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