Lefkada is the fourth largest island of the Eptanisa cluster and home to some of the most dramatic beaches in the world. Surrounded by electric-blue water, the island is also renowned for its wild olive groves and natural beauty.
Lefkada is connected to the mainland by a small hanging bridge making it easily accessible to visitors.
Yet despite its accessibility, unique beaches and sophisticated capital, Lefkada feels, for the most part, distinctly untamed by the tourist’s footprint thereby inviting exploration and the learning of its fascinating stories for any who care to listen.
Lefkada (lefko: white in Greek) is aptly named for the white rocks of Cape Lefkata on the southern tip of the island. According to legend, the famous poetess Sappho jumped from these cliffs, ending her life, following her lover’s rejection. The poetess was probably a visitor to the ancient city of Nirikos, whose ruins can still be seen on the island.
Though small, Lefkada took part in great historical battles in ancient times, including the naval battle of Salamina during the Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War on the side of Sparta and even the campaigns of Alexander the Great. As the years continued, Lefkada existed in obscurity until 1293 when it was given as dowry to John Orsini, who built walls in order to protect the capital from pirate raids.
…like kitesurfers and windsurfers, that travel to Lefkada for international races and events organised during the summer months.
However, Lefkada is unique among the other islands of the Eptanisa cluster in that, due to its geographical position, it is the only one that fell under Turkish occupation.
Much later, the Ionian islands were united socially and politically under the Venetians who allowed the locals some autonomy and whose influence on the architecture, dialect and lifestyle remain today throughout the seven islands. Lefkada was then occupied by France and the United Kingdom until the much desired unification with Greece in 1864.
Fortunately, there are over 60 beaches on the island to choose from, though most are accessible only by boat. Many offer round-the-island boat cruises departing from the old port, stopping by postcard-worthy Lalaria Beach. Accessible only by sea, the trademark of Lalaria are its white wave-kissed pebbles and the steep rocky formations that tower imposingly over the beach. Koukounaria Beach is considered to be the third best beach in the whole Mediterranean.
The result is an enchanting capital, picturesque and colourful, inviting you to lose yourself in its winding streets and taste its exquisite local dishes in small tavernas. The locals’ favourite place to unwind is Agios Spyridon Square in the heart of Lefkada Town. The square is often a hive of activity, playing host to religious processions during Greek Orthodox feast days and dramatic performances during the island’s annual summer arts festival.
Don’t miss the chance to pick up a jar of delicious thyme-infused honey from roadside vendors nearby.
The former capital, Karya occupies the centre of the island. Here, the enormous plane trees and surrounding wooded hills will make you forget entirely that you are on a Greek island. Karya’s main square with its traditional architecture and pastoral feel offers an alternative experience to that of the white beaches.
Enjoy the views of the valley below before choosing a luxury souvenir at one of the embroidery shops for which this village is renowned.
Try pedaling through country roads to reach places of exquisite natural beauty inaccessible by car, including the amazing waterfalls of Nidri.
Finally, while on the island do not forget to taste the local dishes, like savory maridopita, rice pie, boiled clams and, of course, fresh fish. The cuisine reflects the island’s tradition and heritage, with dishes like sofigado dating back to the Venetian period.
Ancient ladies dusting their porches and sipping Greek coffee, old grandpas engaging in games of backgammon as grandchildren play by their side and young men and women treating themselves to local delicacies. Join them and reward yourself for your wandering efforts with a spoon sweet or, better yet, an ice-cold ouzo.
Introduced to the rich and famous 50 years ago by Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis when he bought the nearby island of Skorpios. Today visitors can cruise from Nidri around the nearby islands and unwind by drinking cocktails or tasting local varieties of wine at this cosmopolitan port.
Everywhere around the island the crystalline blue waters gently sweep the pristine white sand, making Lefkada a tranquil beach haven. The one beach you simply must not miss is Egremni, undoubtedly the most dramatic of the island. Despite its recognised status, the beach is rarely crowded thanks to the 355 steps that visitors must aim to climb.
It is an arduous descent indeed, yet the sands and water below more than compensate you for your effort. Porto Katsiki beach on the south of the island is equally breathtaking with, thankfully, fewer steps to brave. Pefkoulia and Kathisma are more family-friendly beaches, easily accessible, featuring turquoise waters and shady trees that overshadow the sand.
The Gyra lagoon, Hortata and the marine region between Lygia and Cape Lefkata, including the nearby islets are three regions in Lefkada that are protected by NATURA 2000 and more than worth the visit for their unique landscapes and natural scenery.
The many cultures and conquests shaped the island to become what we know it today, each occupation force adding their own cultural and historical thread to the multicolored tapestry that is Lefkada.
January 8, 2020