Ithaca, a charming Greek island located in the Ionian Sea, is renowned for its association with Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s Odyssey.
This idyllic island, known for its magnificent natural beauty, attracts travellers from around the world who wish to explore its mythical essence, rich history, and lush landscapes.
With its stunning emerald beaches, picturesque villages, and untouched wilderness, Ithaca offers an unparalleled travel experience for visitors looking to immerse themselves in serenity and reminisce on legendary tales.
Although smaller in size compared to its neighbours, Ithaca is nonetheless packed with an array of activities, sights, and attractions that cater to both the leisurely and adventurous traveller.
From awe-inspiring walks through traditional settlements to fascinating archaeological sites imbued with timeless stories, visitors can embark on a journey of discovery on this treasure trove of an island.
Nestled between the northeastern coast of Kefalonia and the western mainland of Greece, Ithaca serves as a sanctuary of wonder and fulfilment, leaving a lasting impression on every soul that sets foot on its shores.
History of Ithaca
Ithaka, also known as Ithaca, holds a significant place in Greek mythology as the homeland of the legendary hero Odysseus.
Known as the place of the return journey in the history of mankind, Ithaka is the setting for the epic poem, The Odyssey by Homer.
The poem recounts the story of Odysseus, who faces a 10-year journey to return to his beloved wife, Penelope, after the end of the Trojan War.
The island of Ithaka is home to several archaeological sites that provide evidence of its ancient history. The island flourished during the Mycenaean period (1500 to 1100 BC), when it was ruled by the Mycenaeans. Some of the prominent archaeological sites on the island include the Mycenaean palace, the ancient acropolis, and the ruins of various settlements. These sites provide invaluable insights into the lives of the inhabitants during this time period and the influence of the Mycenaean culture.
Throughout its history, Ithaka has seen various cultural influences that have shaped its identity. After the fall of the Mycenaeans, the island’s influence diminished, and its population decreased during the Hellenistic period and the subsequent Middle Ages. The island was later occupied by the Venetians and the Ottomans, both of whom left their impact on the architecture, language, and customs of the region. Despite these various cultural influences, the island has retained its distinct character and connection to its ancient past.
Geography and Landscape
Main Towns and Villages
Ithaca, a Greek island situated in the Ionian Sea, is part of the Kefalonia prefecture. It comprises four districts: Vathy, Aetos, Anogi, and Exogi. Vathy, the island’s capital and largest village, is home to the main port, while the other villages offer a glimpse into the traditional Greek island lifestyle.
Beaches and Coastline
Ithaca’s coastline is lined with a mix of pebble and sandy beaches, each offering visitors a unique experience. Some popular beaches include Filiatro, Sarakiniko, and Agios Ioannis. These beaches are renowned for their crystal-clear waters and gorgeous views, making them ideal spots for swimming, snorkelling, or simply relaxing under the sun.
Nature and Wildlife
The island’s landscape boasts a blend of lush green hills, olive groves, and picturesque walking paths. Ithaca’s natural beauty attracts hikers, cyclists, and nature lovers alike, providing opportunities to explore various trails winding through the island’s terrain. The surrounding waters also host a rich marine life, ideal for scuba diving and snorkelling adventures. As you traverse the island, you may come across species such as the endangered loggerhead sea turtle and various birds native to the Mediterranean region.
Things to Do and See
Museums and Galleries
Ithaca is a destination rich in history and cultural heritage. Visitors can explore various museums, including the Archaeological Museum of Ithaca, a small yet fascinating museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, and display of numerous artifacts discovered on the island. Items displayed here showcase the island’s rich history, dating back to the prehistoric times.
For travellers in search of natural beauty and outdoor adventure, Ithaca offers plenty of opportunities. One of the top attractions is the Ruins of Odysseus Palace, believed to be the palace of the mythical hero Odysseus. This archaeological site provides both a historical and cultural experience for visitors.
The island is also famous for its stunning beaches and clear teal waters. Some popular beaches include Filiatro Beach, Dexa Beach and Gidaki Beach. Many travellers prefer to explore these locations by boat, providing a unique perspective and accessibility to remote beaches.
Ithaca is a hiker’s paradise, with its lush green landscapes and picturesque walking trails. Some of the best hiking routes include paths that lead to breath-taking viewpoints and secluded coves. Cyclists can also enjoy exploring the island’s landscape through its numerous cycling paths.
Festivals and Events
As a part of the Ionian island group, Ithaca hosts several cultural events and festivals throughout the year. Traditional celebrations take place during Easter, where visitors can witness processions, sacred rituals and locals celebrating with food and dance.
In the summer months, the Odysseus Festival brings music, theatre, and art events to the island, honouring its connection to Homeric literature and the legendary hero. Additionally, local festivals, known as panigiria, are held to celebrate the patron saints of various villages, making it authentic cultural experiences for visitors to enjoy.
Accommodation and Dining
Hotels and Villas
Ithaca, Greece offers a variety of accommodation options for visitors. There are charming hotels and luxurious villas available throughout the island. Some popular choices include:
- Hotel Mentor: Located in the picturesque village of Vathy, this hotel offers comfortable rooms, a swimming pool, and easy access to local attractions.
- Perantzada Art Hotel: Situated in Vathy’s harbour, this boutique hotel features unique artwork and stylish decor, providing a memorable experience for guests.
- Villa Kalos: Nestled in the lush green hills of Ithaca, this private villa offers breathtaking views of the Ionian Sea and an idyllic retreat for families or groups of friends.
Restaurants and Local Cuisine
During your stay in Ithaca, indulge in the delicious flavours of Greek cuisine at the various local restaurants and tavernas. Some recommendations are:
- Polyphemus Restaurant: Set in a restored mansion, this eatery offers traditional Greek dishes made with fresh local ingredients. Here, you can savour favourites like moussaka, pastitsio, and seafood delicacies.
- Yefuri: A modern Mediterranean restaurant with a beautiful garden setting, Yefuri serves innovative dishes that combine Greek traditions with contemporary influences.
- Calypso: Located in the heart of Vathy, Calypso offers visitors authentic, homemade Greek dishes, including grilled meats, fresh salads, and mouth-watering desserts.
While exploring Ithaca, be sure to sample local specialities such as “riganada” (bread seasoned with oregano and olive oil), “sofrito” (beef cooked in wine, garlic, and parsley), and “mantolato” (a traditional nougat dessert). Remember to pair your meals with a glass of delectable local wine or indulge in refreshing Greek coffee.
Travel and Transport
Getting to Ithaka
Ithaka, an island in Greece, is known for its natural beauty and mythical significance as the home island of Ulysses from Homer’s Odyssey. It is part of the Ionian island group and lies off the northeast coast of Kefalonia, within sight of continental Greece.
To reach Ithaka, visitors typically take ferries from one of three nearby ports: Poros, Fiscardo, or Sami. These ports offer connections to Ithaka, making it relatively easy for tourists to access the island. For convenience and speed, it is possible to arrange a taxi transfer from Kefalonia International Airport “Anna Pollatou” to any of these ports.
Getting Around the Island
Once on Ithaka, there are various ways to explore the island’s breathtaking landscapes and harbour villages:
- Car rental: Renting a car can provide the most freedom to explore Ithaka at your own pace. Several local providers offer car rentals on the island, making it easy to find a suitable vehicle for your trip.
- Public transport: For those who prefer using public transit, Ithaka does have a limited bus service that connects the main villages and beaches. Timetables can be found at the local bus stations or online.
- Taxi: Taxis are available for hire on the island and can be a convenient way to reach specific destinations. Keep in mind that taxis may be more expensive than other transportation options, especially during high season.
- Walking: Ithaka offers numerous wilderness walks and hiking trails, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the island’s natural beauty. Trails vary in difficulty, so make sure to choose one that suits your fitness level and experience.
Remember to plan your transportation options according to your interests and activities, ensuring you get the most out of your visit to the enchanting island of Ithaca.
Hailing from the historic city of Thessaloniki, Nikos Tsakiris is a passionate explorer, seasoned writer, and co-founder of Greek Island, the definitive travel blog for the Greek Islands.