Ionian Islands is the complex islands in the Ionian Sea, beyond the west part of mainland Greece. The comlex consists of 7 main and many smaller islands, therefore also called “Seven Islands“.
The Ionian Islands are a group of islands in the Ionian Sea, west of mainland Greece. They are traditionally called the Heptanese, which means “Seven Islands” (“Heptanisa” in Greek, or “Eptaneso” in Italian), but the group includes many smaller islands along with the 7 principal ones. These islands range from large to tiny and from world-famous to extremely obscure. Like all the Greek island clusters, they have their own personality, character, and appearance. The classic Ionian landscape features lush vegetation, making these islands greener than their Cycladic counterparts. The Ionian Sea is a rich shade of blue so these islands offer a more intense color palette with deep, emerald green landscapes offset against stunning cobalt water. Historically and culturally, these islands have a strong connection to Italy. Corfu, in particular, is influenced by its Venetian ancestors and Corfu Town, the capital city of the island, has a very distinctly Venetian flair. As a distinct historic region, they date to the centuries-long Venetian rule, which preserved them from Muslim conquests for the Ottoman Empire, and created a distinct cultural identity with many Italian influences.
Even the most popular of the Ionian islands offer plenty of non-touristy places to visit and their laid-back atmosphere makes them a great option for family vacation. At the same time, several all-inclusive resorts near the sea or villas in peaceful locations make the Ionian islands an excellent choice for those seeking a luxurious getaway. In addition to visiting landmarks, seafront settlements and stunning beaches, the biggest Ionian islands are also suitable for a more adventurous vacation, with opportunities for watersports, hiking and more!
The Ionian islands are located west of the Greek mainland, in the Ionian Sea, close to the sea border between Italy and Greece. The group consists of over 20 islands in total, although most of them are small uninhabited islets. The biggest ones that attract the most visitors are Corfu, Zakynthos, Kefalonia and Lefkada, that are touristically well-developed, followed by the calmer Ithaca, Paxi and Kythera (the main 7 ones). In addition, small and more secluded islands such as Meganisi and Mathraki are lesser known, alternative destinations with a limited number of facilities.
Located on the western side of the country, the Ionian islands have been strongly connected to Italy in terms of history and culture since the Venetian occupation period. Apart from their unique architecture, the Ionian islands are known for their lush green nature and wonderful beaches, with emerald waters and an exotic landscape. In the 4 biggest ones are the liveliest (Corfu, Zakynthos, Kefalonia and Lefkada) and the most popular holiday islands while Ithaca, Paxi and Meganisi are ideal for calm and relaxing holidays.
The Ionian Islands became part of the modern Greek state in 1864. Administratively today, they belong to the Ionian Islands Region except for Kythera, which belongs to the Attica Region. There is a debate about whether or not Kythera, the furthest island to the south located off the Peloponnese, is part of the Ionian complex or not. Administratively it is listed as part of the Attica Region, but in terms of exploration we consider it part of Peloponnese; its remote location makes it one of the best secluded destinations in Greece, with traditional villages and unspoiled beaches!
Destinations of the Ionian Islands
Corfu or Kerkyra, is a Greek island, part of the Ionian Islands in the Ionian Sea; it lies in the northwestern corner of Greece and is among the greenest and the most beautiful islands in the country.
Gastronomy of Ionian Islands
Cuisine of the Ionian islands, is the cuisine of the Ionian Islands region; it a cuisine with dinstict character, as it has more influences from Italian cuisine than can be found in any other part of Greece, due to the long period of Venetian rule in the Ionian Islands; at the same time, the region is the only one in Greece never been occupied by the Turks, therefore the influence of esatern culinary traditions is limited.
Despite the tourist development of the Ionian islands, the inhabitants are still involved in agriculture and continue the traditional activities related to the fertile land. The Ionian islands are known for the large variety of products among which is the pure olive oil, the local wines, the figs, the thyme honey with its aromatic taste, the unique liqueur, the meat, cheese, and the tasteful legumes. Fish is another product which is highly consumed around the Ionian; the fishing settlements of Corfu island, Kefalonia island and other islands are still the major centers for the distribution of the fresh fish.
Ionian tradition is famous for homemade sweets, like mandoles, spoon sweets, fruit liqueur which show the agricultural activity of these islands. The art of wine-making plays a major role in the Ionian islands since the 15th century. Tasteful wine varieties that are widely credited for its excellent quality and strong flavor can accompany all meals. Ionian products are available in large quantities in the local shops of the islands.
Look for the local “feta” in Kefalonia (although legally it cannot be marketed as such, but as “white cheese in brine”), and for Prentza, a spicy cheese flavored with summer savory. Don’t leave Lefkada without some of its peppery salami and a bag of local lentils. The stars of Zakynthos are its ladotyri, a cheese aged in olive oil, and its PDO sweet and fleshy raisins; Corfu’s PDO jewels kumquat (in a liqueur or as a sweet preserve).
In Ionian Islands you will find PGI Olive Olis in Corfu (“St Mathew“), Zakynthos and Kefalonia along with excellent six PGI wines, all in Kefalonia.
Everywhere, you’ll find traditional sweets such as pasteli (sesame-and-honey snaps), mandolata (nougat with nuts and merengue), and mandoles, made with almonds, honey and sugar.
Sofrito, a veal stew which hails from Venetian times, pastitsada (beef cooked in a rich tomato sauce and served with thick pasta) and bourdeto (fish in a spicy tomato sauce) are the signature dishes of Corfu, along with other casseroles cooked inouminto, meaning without water but with lots of fresh grated tomatoes.
Zakynthos’ culinary highlights include rooster in tomato sauce served with pasta and grated ladotyri, and eggplants cooked in a delicious vinegary, garlicky sauce. The manestra (a vegetable stew with a velvety egg-lemon finish) is also delicious. Kefalonia’s octopus pie is to die for, while in Lefkada they make a whitebait pie that will have you licking your fingers.
** with the hlep of greece-is.com
Local products & dishes
Products & dishes of Corfu
- Bianco, fish dish
- Bourdeto, fish dish
- Bourou-bourou, pasta soup
- Niokos, type of orzo (pasta)
- Poulenta (Polenta)
- Salado, local salami
- Noumboulo, pork tenderloin
- Polpettes, meatballs
- Fogatsa, type of bread (similar to Tsoureki)
- Colombina (type of tsoureki)
- Bolsevikos, dessert
- Mandola (dessert)
- Ginger beer (Tzitzibira)
- Kumquat drink
Products & dishes of Lefkada
- Frygadeli, lamb meat
- Sofigado, meat (lamb or veal) with vegetables
- Salami Lefkadas
- Tsigaridia, greens
- Galatopita (dessert)
- Soumada, drink
Products & dishes of Zante (Zakynthos)
- Boutridia, vegetables
- Bourdeto (with meat instead of fish)
- Sofigadoura, vegetables (optionally with meat)
- Polpettes, meatballs
- Sgatzeto, goat meat
- Zante currant
- Frigania (dessert)
- Fritoura (dessert)
- Rafiolia (dessert)
Products & dishes of Kefalonia
- Andrakla (salad)
- Pissara (salad)
- Bourbourelia, mix of cereals and legumes
- Kreatopita (meat pie)
- Prentza, creamy cheese
- Sofigado, meat (lamb or veal) with vegetables
- Tsigaridia, greens
*** sweets common in all Ionian islands, are pasteli and mandolato.
Sightseeing & exploring
Most people travel to the Ionian islands during the summer, which is the best season to savor time at their sandy beaches, including the world-famous Shipwreck Bay in Zakynthos. The Ionian seashores are characterized by crystal clear turquoise waters and an amazing natural background, full of dense vegetation! At the same time, they offer countless opportunities for nature exploration, at amazing locations such as Melissani and Drogarati caves in Kefalonia and Nydri waterfalls in Lefkada. The natural scenery of these islands makes it possible to combine sea and mountain vacation in one go!
Apart from the rich culture, visitors to the Ionian islands are also attracted by the wonderful beaches. Myrtos beach in Kefalonia, Porto Katsiki beach in Lefkada, Navagio Beach in Zakynthos are the most characteristic beaches of the Ionian Sea and they are frequently included among the best beaches in Greece and in the world.
Another important aspect of the islands is their unique architecture that you won’t find in any other location in Greece. Many fortresses, churches, mansions and historic buildings were constructed during the Venetian occupation period of the Ionian islands. Corfu Town is, hands down, the most prominent example of Venetian architecture, while Kefalonia offers some of the most impressive monasteries. Medieval monuments are scattered all around the islands, while the charming Ionian villages and towns will easily steal your heart!
The Old Fortress of Corfu, the Castle of Santa Mavra in Lefkada, the Venetian Castle of Zakynthos, the Castle of Saint George in Kefalonia (and the Castle of Kythera) are typical examples of Venetian fortification architecture. As for the smaller islands, including Ithaca and Paxi, these are quite popular for day trips and island hopping by visitors who are staying on one of the bigger islands. These small gems of the Ionian Sea are mostly known for their exotic beaches and lush nature alike. It is also possible to approach a few of the uninhabited islets by boat to swim in the most secluded beach waters.