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Blick auf Ithaka, Ionische Inseln, Bild: hydra viridis / shutterstock

The Island of Myths: Ithaca

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The island of Ithaca, or Ithaki in Greek, is a relatively unknown destination for most visitors, although the name is probably familiar to anyone interested in Greek mythology. Ithaca was the home of Odysseus, the legendary Greek king who took ten years to return home after the end of the Trojan War. His journey is described in one of the epic poems of Greek antiquity, Homer’s Odyssey. It is a symbol of human struggles, temptations and goals, with the return to Ithaca marking the end of the adventure.

Today, modern Ithaca is a tranquil island, ideal for people who want to relax and enjoy nature. The island belongs to the Ionian Islands, which are located on the west side of the Greek mainland. While its most popular neighbours, Corfu, Lefkada, Kefalonia and Zakynthos attract many visitors, Ithaca does not seem to be on the itinerary of most tourists in Greece . It has about 3,000 inhabitants and has been inhabited since 4,000 BC.

Things to do in Ithaca

Port of Vathi on the island of Ithaca
The cozy harbor of Vathi, Image: Milan Gonda / shutterstock

When it comes to what to do in Ithaca, the simple advice is to relax, take it easy, and enjoy the moment. At the same time, it is absolutely worthwhile to explore the island. There are beautiful beaches around Ithaca, and the landscapes are breathtaking. To the south you will find the main town of Vathi, the main port of Pisaetos and some beaches. To the north, there are smaller villages, more beaches, and evidence that King Odysseus really lived here, most likely over 3,000 years ago.

The picturesque town of Vathi is located right in one of the most beautiful and safest harbours in Greece. It is a completely protected natural bay where hundreds of sailboats and private yachts dock every summer. Vathi is the only major city on Ithaca and has a population of just under 2,000 people. A delightful little place to stroll around, enjoy delicious food, a coffee or a beer overlooking the harbour. Here you will also find the only nightlife on the island. The village of Stavros is the main village in the northern part of the island and stands out for its large church. In the main square, you can see a model of Odysseus’ palace.

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In the north of Ithaca you will find two small villages, Exogi and Platrithias, which are quite close to each other. Exogi is located on the top of a 340-meter-high mountain and offers great views of the cliffs around Afales Beach and the Ionian Sea. It is one of the oldest surviving settlements in Ithaca, as many of the stone houses were built in the 18th century. Strange masks are attached to some houses, which are believed to keep the evil spirits away. It is believed that the palace of Odysseus used to stand in the area between Exogi and Platrithias, which is now an archaeological site.

Afales Beach in Ithaca
The beautiful beach of Afeles, Image: photo stella / shutterstock

Perhaps the most beautiful village in Ithaca is Kioni and is located on the northeast side of the island. It is atmospherically located on a green hill, overlooking the bay. Check out the old stone houses built among the olive trees and sit down for a meal or a drink in one of the small restaurants overlooking the marina. Or come here at sunrise and take a walk to this scenic viewpoint where you can see the island’s three windmills.

Like everywhere else in Greece, Ithaca is full of churches. The large monastery on top of the highest mountain on the island, Moni Katharon, invites you to explore. It is located at an altitude of about 600 meters above sea level, on the top of a mountain that Homer referred to as Nirito. It was built in the late 16th century. From the monastery you have a beautiful view of Vathi and the rest of the southern part of the island. Even if you are not interested in the monastery itself, you should definitely come up here, if only for the view.

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The coastline of Ithaca Island

From Platrithias you can reach the beach of Afales, a deep bay surrounded by steep cliffs. A little further away is Platia Ammos beach, which can only be reached by sea and is probably the best beach in Ithaca. King Odysseus definitely had good taste when it came to the view! If you’re in the area, be sure to grab a bite to eat at Yefyri restaurant. It is recommended to reserve a table in good time, but you can still try your luck without a reservation.

Ithaca has many beaches, some of which are easily accessible by car, while others are only accessible by a descent or boat ride. The beaches in Ithaca are very different from the beaches of the other Greek islands, as they are generally smaller and have more pebbles – but the water is just as clear. If you are staying in Vathi, the nearest beaches are Filiatro, Mnimata/Minimata, Loutsa, Sarakiniko, Dexa and Skino. Depending on the season, they can be well attended.

If you live in Stavros or nearby, there are many small beaches around the coast, however, you will need a car to get there. Poli beach is close to Stavros and you can reach it on foot as the only one.