Aerial view to the bay of Vathi, Ithaca, Greece
Aerial view to the bay of Vathi, Ithaca, Greece (Credit: Photo 269699532 | Ithaca Island Greece © Popartic | Dreamstime.com)

Ithaca the island home of legendary king Odysseus

“As you set out for Ithaca, hope the voyage is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery” Cavafy

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The second smallest of the seven main Ionian Islands, Ithaca, is situated south of Lefkada and northeast of Kefallonia. Worldwide famous as the homeland of Odysseus of Homer’s epic Greek poem The Odyssey, Ithaca is one-of-a kind island, a timeless symbol of homecoming and resilience. A place of inspiration, where one can find peacefulness, purity, a sense of harmony. This enchanting island is also renowned for its paradisiacal green landscape, exotic beaches with emerald waters, villages with traditional character,  rich cultural heritage and serene atmosphere. It offers a plethora of activities and experiences suitable for history enthusiasts, nature lovers, adventure seekers, or someone seeking a relaxing retreat. “Keep Ithaca always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for” wrote the great Greek poet Constantinos Cavafy. It may have taken Odysseus 10 years to get home after the Trojan War and on his return and he was recognized only by his faithful dog, but that doesn’t mean you should, too.

.AT A GLANCE
Regional unit’s capital:  Vathy Regional unit’s area: 117.8 km2 Regional unit’s population (2021): 2,862 Density: 24/km2



MUNICIPALITIES

ITHACA

.HISTORY

Ithaca has been inhabited since the 4th millennium BC and its long history is strongly connected to the myth of King Odysseus, the Greek hero of Trojan Wars who took 20 years to return to his home island, and immortalised in Homer’s epic ‘The Odyssey’. Since around the 3rd century BC, a cult of Odysseus seems to have been worshipped at sites like Polis bay. The Greek geographer Strabo, writing in the 1st century AD, identified Homer’s Ithaca with modern Ithaca. A series of conquerors (Roman, Byzantine, Norman, Venetian, French, Russian, Turkish, English) left their mark on the history and culture of Ithaca. The Romans occupied the island in the 2nd century BC, and later it became part of the Byzantine Empire. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the region is subject to incursions by the Normans, who eventually took the island in 1185. After a short Turkish rule, Ithaca fell into Venetian hands (1500–1797) and was subsequently occupied by France. It  became a part of the Septinsular Republic, a French possession again in 1807, until it was taken over by the United Kingdom in 1809. Ithaca, with the other Ionian islands, joined the Kingdom of Greece in 1864 .During the Second World War, the island suffered from the Italian and the German occupation. In 1953 a devastating earthquake destroyed centuries of built heritage, with some exceptions. From the 1960s, growing tourism  reaches the Ionian Islands and Ithaca, offering new economic opportunities.

The statue of Odysseus at the port of Ithaca island
The statue of Odysseus at the port of Ithaca island (Credit: Smoxx78 | Dreamstime)

.POINTS OF INTEREST

Vathy: With its charm and traditional Ionian architecture, the capital of Ithaca, is built amphitheatrically around a deep and sheltered bay with a narrow entrance. It features a picturesque harbor, picturesque streets, colorful buildings and a range of charming shops, cafes, tavernas and restaurants.

Lazaretto: Historic islet in the bay of Vathi and a former sanatorium and prison. All buildings were destroyed on 1953 earthquake. Currently there is a small 17th century church of Saviour Christ on the islet.

Monoliths of Anoyi: In the medieval village of Anogi, you’ll find upright stones (menhirs) the tallest of which goes as high as 8 metres.

A view of Ithaca (Credit: Jean Housen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Cave of Nymphs: Also called Marmarospilia, this natural cave is linked to Odysseus as legend has it that he hid here the presents that were given to him by the Phaeacians. It is located at an altitude of 190 meters above the beach of Dexa were the Phaeacians abandoned him while he was asleep.
Odysseus Trail: The hiking path takes you through scenic landscapes and offers breathtaking views of the island.

Loizos Cave: A center of worship of the Mycenaean civilization, as evidenced by the findings that include statues of deities such as Artemis, Athena and Hera. A clay mask of the 1st century A.C. writing “ΕΥΧΗΝ ΟΔΥΣΣΕΙ” (= “a wish for Odysseus” in Ancient Greek) was found in excavations. Although the cave partially collapsed during the 1953 earthquake, its historical significance remains undiminished. A piece of the mask is now housed in Stavros Archaeological Collection.

Archaeological Site of Aghios Athanasios: Also known as the “School of Homer” this site was identified in 2010 as the possible palace of Odysseus. It is situated on the eastern slopes of the mountain of Exogi.

Ancient town of Alalcomenae: On a hill above the modern small village of Piso Aetos, you will find remnants of ancient walls, tombs, and the impressive Cyclopean walls.

Kioni and Frikes: Two picturesque villages, having managed to keep their traditional identity despite the touristic development. 

.BEACHES

Panoramic photo of a beach in Ithaca Greece
Panoramic photo of a beach in Ithaca Greece (Credit: Photostella | Dreamstime)

Filiatro: The closest organized beach to Vathi, Filiatro is surrounded by lush greenery. The small calm family-friendly beach comes with  rich-blue and transparent waters and white pebbles.

Skinos: This is a secluded, non-organized pebbly beach with lovely emerald-green waters and
lush greenery around it.

Gidaki: A long isolated beach lapped by Caribbean-like turquoise waters and white shiny pebbles but no tourist facilities. Pine trees reach the shore.

Gidaki beach, Ithaca, Greece (Credit: Jnkoste | Dreamstime)

Platia Ammos: One of the island’s few sandy beaches  Platia Ammos rich-blue waters can only be reached by boat from Frikes or Kioni. Accessed only by boat.

Sarakiniko: Pebbled with incredible green-blue waters and partly-organised it is located close to Vathy.

Aspros Gialos: One of the premier beaches with trees all around and impressive rock formations. White pebbles and turquoise waters. Be prepared to go down a considerable number of steps  to get there.

Marmakas: Located on the northernmost spot of the island, this is an isolate, moderately sized white-pebble beach with clear, blue waters.

Kaminia: Nestled inside a small bay, on the southeastern part of Ithaca, this deserted beach comes with green-blue waters. Driving on a dirt road (1.5km) is required to get there but it is worth the effort.

.GASTRONOMY

Olive tree Ithaca
Olive tree on Ithaca that is claimed to be at least 1500 years old (Credit: Channel R at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The local cuisine is characterized by Ithacan virgin olive oil and aromatic herbs such as rosemary, thyme, savory and oregano. Fish recipes dominate the gastronomy. The most celebrated specialties are “savoro”( fish fried in olive oil and marinated in rosemary, dark raisins and vinegar) and fried fish with garlic mash. served with boiled leafy greens. Try “gana” (squid cooked in a pot with its ink and wine). Meat lovers will enjoy Chicken Cherepa, cooked in “Cherepa”, a traditional cooking cap. “Jeria” (goat or lamb liver cooked in a pan with eggs) is another beloved dish as well as “rago”, a kind of ragu with lamb or goat and tomato sauce and garlic. Vegetarians will love “lachanopita” a pie made with a selection of wild and cultivated greens, dill, rice and olive oil wrapped in filo pastry. Ithacan feta from a local breed of sheep, will impress you. Last but not least, the sweet trademark of  the island is rovani, made of rise, honey and olive oil baked all together in a deep pan.

.WINES & SPIRITS

Viticulture has a strong character in Ithaca and the island is home to two main varieties of wine: “Mavrodaphni” ( sweet, red) and white. There are 16 indigenous grape varieties. Papadiko, is the most popular. Avgoulato, Koritsanos, Gulina, Mavroudi, Kotsilia, Koufaki, and Bouboulli are also renowned. It is worth asking for them.

.SHOPPING

High-quality honey, especially the honey of “alifaskia” (sage)
Sweet fruit preserves (grated quince, bitter orange, fig and berry)
Jams (cranberry, pear, and quince)

.FEASTS, FESTIVALS & EVENTS

Many “panigiria” (open space local festivals with food, drinks, music and local dances) take places on Ithaca’s villages throughout the year, providing an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and traditions. The biggest one is held at Stavros village on August 5th & 6th..RELIGIOUS SITES

.RELIGIOUS SITES

Kathariotissa Monastery: The historic monastery of Panagia (Virgin Mary) tis Kathariotissas, patron of Ithaca, was build around 1700A.D. on 600m height, offering amazing coastal views.  feast day every September 7.

Church of St.Mary Anogi: Partially built 700 years ago at an altitude of 500m, the Church in Anogi, is covered with Byzantine style frescoes.

Panagia Spilaiotisa chapel: In the southern part of Ithaca over the bay Antri, Panagia Spilaiotisa also known as Panagia in the Caves, is a small chapel  situated in a small cave. One of the top religious attractions to visit.

Church of St. Eustathius: Built around 1800 in Vathy. The church’s murals covering the temple draw the attention of the pilgrims.

Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary: The Old Cathedral of the Island is located in Vathy and was built in 1800.Wonderful sculpted wooden temple, of Byzantine art of 1793 and a tall bell tower.

Of great importance are also the Temple of St. John the Baptist at Kioni (18th century), the old church of Panagia in Perachori, and the temple of Saint Raphael in Perachori.

.MUSEUMS

Odysseus coin
Head of Odysseus wearing a pileus depicted on a 3rd-century BC coin from Ithaca (Credit:Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Archaeological Museum: Findings from the Mycenaean through to the Roman period. Coins, small statues, ceramic vase fragments, jewelry, and other everyday items unearthed from various locations on the island.

Stavros Archaeological Collection: An archaeological collection of findings from the Stavros region and northern Ithaca. The exhibits span from prehistoric times (3rd millennium B.C.) to the Roman era.

Maritime and Folkloric Museum: Housed in a building that once served as a generating station, the museum features paintings and photographs of Ithacan-owned merchant ships, nautical instruments, naval uniforms and other artefacts highlighting the centuries old nautical tradition of Ithaca. Visitors to the museum are also able view complete settings of bedrooms, kitchens, and sitting rooms, as well as photographs capturing the 1953 earthquake, traditional clothing, embroidery, musical instruments, workshop tools, and other historical artifacts.

.ACTIVITIES

Aerial photo of a moored yacht boat in Itaca, Greece
Aerial photo of a moored yacht boat in Ithaca, Greece (Credit: Aliaksandr Mazurkevich | Dreamtime)

The waters on Ithaca’s coastlines sparkle a breathtaking emerald ideal for watersports and boat tours. Unwind by the water, or go snorkelling, scuba diving, sea kayaking, sailing. With its 27-kilometre long and 6.5-kilometre large mountainous surface, the island is also an excellent destination for hiking and mountain biking.

.ACCOMMODATION

Ithaca offers a variety of accommodation options. Luxury resorts, art hotels, boutique hotels, luxury villas with private pools, guesthouses and Bed & Breakfasts, Rental Apartments and Studios, budget-friendly hotels, to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience during your visit.

.TRANSPORT

Ithaca has no airport. The closest airports are those of Kefallonia and Aktio-Preveza.
The island has three basic ports (Vathy, Piso Aetos and Frikes).  The 3 ports serve routes to mainland Greece, as well as more islands and islets in the Ionian Sea.

TO DO & TO GO