Lefkas: an unsung island paradise
Growing fast in popularity, tourism has brought many changes to the Greek island of Lefkas but none are too profound.
Those seeking modern facilities in a traditional Greek island setting will find Lefkas, also called Lefkada, a very attractive beach holiday destination indeed.
Parts of Lefkas are quite astonishingly beautiful, notably inland where charming flower-strewn hill villages nestle in lush forests of pine.
Once neglected by UK package tour firms, the picture changed with the opening of Preveza airport on the Greek mainland nearby coast and a good road connection that helped pave the way for a boost in holiday visitors in recent years .
Tourism has left it's mark on Lefkas with the east coast suffering a rash of hotel building, notably in Nidri which has turned from a tranquil hideaway to a busy and noisy beach resort.
Sheltered deep water bays on the Lefkas east and south coast have made the port resorts of Nidri and Sivota a favourite with yacht charter companies. The heavily indented bays of nearby offshore islets such as Meganissi also prove a great attraction for sailing holiday lovers.
Rugged limestone cliffs, rocky shores and exposed beaches line the less populated west coast and these are a magnet for the more adventurous holidaymaker while windsurfers head south to Vassiliki which is famed as a windsurfing centre of world class.
Tourism may have brought some stark changes to parts of Lefkas but there is still much to treasure and those looking for good tourist facilities in a traditional Greek island setting will find the island of Lefkas a very attractive beach holiday proposition.
The best and most accessible beaches are located on the gentle slopes of the east coast while the 'wild' west is mostly sheer limestone cliffs. The most popular Lefkas beach resorts are at Nidri and Vassiliki. Nidri is located near the large, deep Geni Bay, and is one of the main yachting destinations in the Ionian; the starting point for several flotillas and bareboat yacht charters.
Vassiliki is the second largest holiday resort on the island. The resort comes to life in July and August when windsurfers arrive in droves. The wide and sheltered bay is noted for it's brisk afternoon winds and the sight of hundreds of windsurfers speeding over the bay is a spectacular holiday sight.
Other notable beach resorts are found at Nikiana which offers quiet, relaxing holidays on a gently shelving pebble beach with crystal clear water and Agios Nikitas set in steep olive-carpeted hillside with a number of beach coves nearby .
Wilder and windier, the west coast has the most spectacular beaches, though some are relatively difficult to find. They landscape gets progressively wilder but the rewards are terrific views from the cliffs and breathtaking beaches below. The spectacular white beach at Porto Katsiki in particular is a must-see — considered one of the most attractive beaches in the Mediterranean.
Lefkas has seen a sharp growth in hotel and apartment building in recent years and the island now has a wide variety of hotels, apartments, studios and villas. Most accommodation is concentrated in the popular resorts at Lefkas Town, Nidri, Vassiliki and Agios Nikitas but rooms can be found in most resorts and villages.
Rooms will be harder to find in July and August as holiday companies can block book accommodation. Vassiliki is also besieged by windsurfers in the summer months and rooms can be rather hard to find. There is a campsite nearby at Kariotes, a couple more in Dessimi Bay and large sites at Vassiliki and Agios Nikitas. The east has better roads than the wilder west coast. Rooms can also be found inland villages such as Kalamitsi and Athani.
Castle of Santa Maura
The castle is unmissable on the edge of the canal bridge that connects Lefkas Town to the mainland. The medieval fortress was built around 1300 and added to by Turks and Venetians. A tour of the castle walls and bastions around sunset gives romantic views over the town and lagoon. It has suffered damage down the ages including a fire in 1888 and bombing in World War II.
Sappho's Leap is located in the far south on a promontory of stark white cliffs at Cape Lefkatas. The wild and beautiful spot is thought to be where the poet Sappho threw herself on the rocks below, a victim of unrequited love. The name is taken from the vertical cliffs of white limestone that plunge into the sea. The lighthouse was built in 1890 on the ruins of an ancient temple.
Panagia Faneromeni Monastery
Located on a high wooded plateau to the west of Lefkada Town there are spectacular views. Inside is a museum with some rare Byzantine icons, a tropical garden and even a small zoo. According to tradition, St. Paul the Apostle once preached here.
Karya is the biggest village on Lefkas, set high in the mountains and known for its cool breezes, mountain springs and rural setting. It is noted for its embroidery, a tradition started in 1948 by a one-handed woman called Maria. The history is displayed in the Karya Folklore Museum which is housed in the former embroidery school building.
The offshore islets of Lefkas are the destination for daily boat trippers. Some like Madouri and Skorpios are privately owned and visitors are not welcome. The biggest and best is Meganissi, about 6 km from Nidri, which attracts large numbers of day visitor. Meganissi has three villages and impressive sea caves. The port at Vathi has waterfront tavernas and a few shops while Spartahori has a pebble beach, some tavernas and shops.
Lefkas has wet and windy winters that are typical for the Ionian islands. They help create a fresh, green spring that lasts well into the summer. The island warms quickly from March to May and high summer temperatures last until the end of August. Summer thermometers rise from 18°C in May to 28°C in July and hover in the mid 30's after that.
October is warm but by November short days and low temperatures herald wet weather when rainfall can be higher than the UK and temperatures fall to 9-10°C while strong winds blow through January and February.
Holiday charters fly to Preveza International (PVK) on the mainland Greece. British flights, mainly from Gatwick and Manchester, arrive and depart on Sundays. Facilities at the airport are limited and it can get congested. A daily bus service runs from Lefkas, Preveza and Vonitsa and there is free parking for cars. The journey from Preveza to Lefkas Town takes about 30 minutes. There are regular daily domestic flights from Athens and there are international flights to nearby islands of Corfu and Kefalonia with ferry and road connections but connections are not good and journey times can be considerable.
There are lots of ferries from the Italian coast to Igoumenitsa, near Lefkas. Ferries leave Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindis and the main ferry firms are Minoan, Anek and Superfast. It's a two hour drive from Igoumenitsa to Lefkas Town. On Lefkas there is a daily ferry from Nidri to Fiskardo on Kefalonia via Ithaca. Daily car ferries also sail from Nydri to Meganissi .
Lefkas is the only Greek island where you can take car without boarding a ferry thanks to a new underwater tunnel and the Rio Antirio bridge. KTEL runs daily buses from Athens and the journey takes about five hours.
There are several buses each day from Preveza-Aktio Airport. Buses run from Lefkas town to all the main east coast resorts. Bus services to west coast villages are less frequent. Download Lefkas bus timetables in English from a pdf file here.
There is a taxi rank in all the popular resorts on Lefkas. In Lefkas Town it is located on Agios Minas square and in Nidri it is on the harbour front.
Whether you are an experienced diver, a beginner, or just a snorkeler, Greece has a seabed for you. Andy Cornish swims in one of the world's best aquatic park.
Set on a pine-clad hill above the capital town of Lefkada, the Monastery of Faneromeni, dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Panagia) has panoramic views over the whole area.
The fortress of Santa Maura may have suffered earthquake, fire and bombs but it still stands guard on the island of Lefkas where a narrow bridge links the island to mainland Greece.
Meganissi lies six kilometres south of the major Lefkas holiday resort of Nidri and excursion boats attract plenty of day trippers to taste the delights of this sleepy offshore idyll.