It is Ithaca’s distinct lack of mainstream tourism, coupled with its mythological past, which makes it an island well worth visiting. Although many people have heard of Ithaca, few have ever come to stay. For those that do, their reward is a peaceful, strongly traditional Greek island, mountainous and scenic, with some very pretty villages and sparsely populated beaches.
Ithaca divides into two halves. Mount Aetos, which joins north with south, is barely half a mile in width at its narrowest point. The highest peak on the island is Neritos at just over 800 metres. The west coast is very rugged, with sheer mountainside rising steeply from the sea for much of its length. The east side is gentler, and its indented coastline provides several natural harbours, which is where Ithaca’s three main coastal villages – Frikes, Kioni and Vathy – are to be found.
Frikes is the smallest of the three and delightfully sleepy, with a lazy, very Greek air. Four tavernas and a café or two front the sea here, which doubles as the mooring place for a line of colourful fishing boats. With the mountain behind, and green hills to either side, Frikes enjoys a very natural, unspoiled setting and offers good walking country.
Kioni is very pretty indeed and some very nice white-pebble beaches can be found within a 15 minute walk. Thankfully, Ithaca having no airport, has not succumbed to over-commercialisation. The horseshoe bay, backed by wooded hills, is lined with neo-classical houses.
There is often a flotilla moored up, and a number of good family-run restaurants and small shops around the harbour. The bay itself has three or four beaches dotted around it. With the hire of a boat it is easy – and fun – to discover others beyond it for yourself.
Vathy is the charming island capital. Built along the sides of a long fjordlike bay, Vathy has some lovely old buildings along its expansive waterfront. There are some good beaches dotted around the peninsula to the east, and in season small water-taxis will take you to and fro.
Scuba diving, snorkeling and sea kayak excursions can be arranged from Vathy by our island representative.
There is a bus service between the three seaside villages but this is limited so car hire would be a good idea for further exploration of the island.
Was Ithaca really the homeland of Odysseus? There are plenty of clues – certain descriptions and places Homer mentions do seem to fit – and it is fun to do a little detective work and see if you agree.