The Ionian Sea
Chartering a yacht in the Ionian Sea: Many attribute the name of the Ionian Islands to Io, one of Zeus’s many love interests in Greek mythology. The Ionian Sea – on the west coast of Greece – begins in the north with the wonderfully verdant island of Corfu (Kerkyra). The Ionian group consists of seven islands altogether: Corfu, Paxos, Antipaxos, Lefkas, Ithaca, Kefalonia and Zakynthos.
After the dry, almost barren look of the Cyclades, the green islands of the Ionian Sea can feel very different. Cypress elms and pines surround picturesque bays with their beautiful sandy beaches. In fact, if the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can smell the intense, aromatic scent of the maquis shrubland up to a mile off the coast. The islands of Corfu, Lefkas and Kefalonia are some of the most beautiful of the Greek islands.
Hiring or Renting a yacht in Greece
- Yacht charter Dodecanese
- Yacht charter Ionian Sea
- Yacht charter Cyclades
- Yacht charter Saronic Gulf
- Yacht charter Sporades and Chalkidiki
Venetian influence is felt across the islands, especially in terms of architecture. There are lots of small bays with crystal clear water for swimming, snorkeling and diving. The Ionian Sea is largely protected from strong winds. Numerous bays offer safe anchorage, many of which can only be reached from the water, which makes them especially appealing. The area is ideal for families, beginners and sailors who want to take it easy. There are plenty of small daily trips to make the most of, but even experienced sailors can get their fix with longer, more challenging voyages.
Wind and Weather: In July and August the Maestro can sometimes come from the northwest and blow quite hard. Between the islands of Lefkas, Ithaca, Kefalonia and Zakynthos there can be strong gusts. In the evenings, winds must be observed by the high mountain ranges on the mainland, which can reach up to 5 or 6 Bft. From October to May, you may encounter northerly or southerly winds, and in winter the strong, rainy winds come mainly from the southeast. There’s a chance of violent thunderstorms in spring and autumn, together with strong gusts, but they don’t tend to last long.
Best Sailing time: May to the end of September
Difficulty: Easy to moderate.
Navigation: Although most charts for Greece have now been revised, you need to exercise caution when navigating on land. Here we recommend using GPS where necessary.
Ports and anchorages: In this area you will usually moor stern-to at simple fishing villages or town quays. Water and electricity are in limited supply for sailors. The Marina Gouvia in Corfu and the Marina Lefkas are very well equipped. The islands in the Ionian offer many picturesque, well-protected bays. What you do need to consider when creating your cruising itinerary, however, is the ferry traffic in the ports. In all community ports, ferries can cause considerable swell.
Corfu [archipelago: Ionian Sea | Greece] – Around Corfu, there are many well-protected bays like Kassiopi in the north, Ormos Koulara, Ormos Kalami, Ormos Garitsas and the rather sleepy Petriti in the east. The idyllic Paleokastritsa, with its beautiful monastery, on the northwest coast of Corfu, has become increasingly popular with tourists. Marina Gouvia is very modern, and as it’s just 15 minutes from the airport, is one of the key starting points for chartering a yacht in the region. The Mandraki harbour in the town of Corfu has two good yacht clubs.
Paxos [archipelago: Ionian Sea | Greece] -The island of Paxos is 7 nm south of Corfu and well worth seeking out. Its bright turquoise water, together with Lakka’s vast expanse of sandy beach on the northern tip, makes it reminiscent of the Caribbean. If you’re lucky enough to get a mooring for the night, it’s advisable to get up early the next day to visit the caves on the island’s west coast.
Note: The lagoon-style port of Gaios, on the east coast of Paxos, is an attractive place and a great starting point for your yacht charter. Alternatively, moor in well-protected Mongonisi and take the ferry to Gaios. This charming town, with its ancient Venetian rock fortress, is one of a few pleasant day trips to the mainland. It’s best to anchor early in the evening, after the groups of day trippers have departed. A quieter alternative is the more northerly Sivota, also on the mainland (not to be confused with Sivota in Lefkada).
Lefkas (Levkas, Lefkada, Lefkada) [archipelago: Ionian Sea | Greece] This island is separated from the mainland by a canal. It has a well-equipped, modern marina that offers relaxed moorings and is now the basis for many charter fleets. It’s about 25 minutes from Preveza Airport. The city of Lefkas has some good restaurants and boasts excellent shopping opportunities. Further south lies the lively town of Nidri. Opposite Nidri is Tranquil Bay, a pretty, densely wooded cove that’s well protected from winds. Sivota is a picture perfect bay in the south of Lefkas that again offers plenty of protection.
Skorpios [archipelago: Ionian Sea | Greece] Until recently this island was owned by the Onassis family. Sailors may anchor for free in the south east of the island of Skorpios. However, venturing onto the island is not allowed.
Meganisi [archipelago: Ionian Sea | Greece] One of the most beautiful passages of this yachting area is located between the islands of Lefkas and Meganisi. On the north east side of Meganisi, there are various bays such as Ormos Kapali, Ambelaki and Atherinos. From these quiet anchorages you can hike to the fishing village, Vathy. After enjoying the splendid beaches and tavernas, the view from the top of the rather steep Spartochori (Spartahori) is well worth the climb. In the bays the water is quite deep and yachts are well protected. The adventurous among you might like to climb to the ruined watchtower behind Vathy. Once at the top, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view over the entire archipelago.
Vounaki [archipelago: Ionian Sea | Greece] North east of Meganisi, and south of the fishing town of Palairos, is the modern marina, Vounaki.
Kalamos [archipelago: Ionian Sea | Greece] This is certainly one of the most beautiful islands of the Ionian Sea. From the sparsely populated east side, you may be lucky to catch a glimpse of the rare monk seals that live there. Port Leone, the ghost town of Kalamos, is also worth a visit. For more sheltered anchorages in the area, check out Sarakiniko and Prasonisi on the sister island of Kastos, both are excellent for snorkelling.
Ithaka [archipelago: Ionian Sea | Greece] This is perhaps the most famous of the Ionian Islands, thanks to Homer’s Odysseus. Even today there is a place on the island where the castle of the ancient hero is said to have confessed all. Ithaca’s capital, Vathy, is definitely worth a stop, and so is the picturesque village Kioni. Please note that strong, north westerly winds have been known here. Also worth a visit is Phrikes, which lies at the foot of a wooded ravine on an estuary.
Kefalonia (Cephalonia) [archipelago: Ionian Sea | Greece] The largest of the Ionian islands, separated from Ithaca by a narrow waterway, Kefalonia is also considered the most diverse in terms of its landscape. Expect to find alluring beaches, rolling plains and remote villages along winding mountain roads. The beautiful port of Fiskardo, in the north of the island, is peaceful and quiet. Yachting crews can moor right in front of the tavernas. A highlight is a visit to the museum on the hill above the village. If Fiskardo is too full, the southerly location of Euphemia is a great alternative with its underground lake and Drogarati caves.
Assos [archipelago: Ionian Sea | Greece] This village on the peninsula in the northwest of Kefalonia is a must for your yacht charter in this area. The harbour and the ruins of the Venetian fortress were settings for the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Anyone energetic enough to walk around the winding lanes to the fortress will be rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view.
Zakynthos [archipelago: Ionian Sea | Greece] The Venetians called the southernmost island of the Ionian Sea, the ‘Flower of the Levant,’ because it’s reminiscent of a flowery garden. Sadly, much of the Venetian Baroque architecture was wiped out by a violent earthquake in 1953. However, the natural beauty of the island is still very much alive. To the north is Ormos Nikolau, with its offshore islands, that offers a nice little day trip with the option of kayaking to the caves on the northern tip of the island.
It’s important to note that there can be strong gusts in the bay. The bays on the south side of the island, Lagana and Geraki, are the main breeding areas for loggerhead turtles in the Mediterranean. In the summer and early autumn months you may not be allowed on for this reason. On the north west coast you’ll find Shipwreck Cove or Smugglers Cove, also called Ormos Vremi, which is probably the most famous beach in Greece and can only be accessed by boat. It is well worth the trip.
The wreck of an old tanker sticks out of the bay and is a popular backdrop for tourists and amateur photographers. The crew were suspected of smuggling and had to leave in a hurry after being pursued by coast guards. Unfortunately for them, the ship ran aground but it has subsequently become a very popular tourist attraction.
Regulations and authorities: To enter you will need a valid ID card. The skipper must be in possession of an official yachting license with coastal navigation. Another crew member should have sailing experience and – if possible – the documentation to prove it.
Getting there: Various charter airlines fly directly to Corfu and Preveza.
Not to be missed: A quick tour of the island of Paxos on hired scooters. If you go to Gaios, make the crossing by dinghy to the wooded island, Agios Nikolaos, to visit the ruins of the old fort. You shouldn’t visit Kefalonia without trying the wine. In our (expert) opinion, the red and white Robola is excellent! For rosé lovers, we recommend the Manzavino. If you head for the bay of Vreni, in the northwest of Zakynthos, don’t forget your camera. The half-sunken wreck of a tanker sticking out of the sand is not something you see every day and well worth capturing.