The Ionian Sea and Islands

The Ionian Sea is the bit we know best.

Facts and Figures

But before we investigate further here are some background Facts and Figures.

First just to clear a confusion that I had, the name Ionian is nothing to do with Ionia which is somewhere else entirely. When spoken the difference is more obvious and 'Ionian' has the emphasis on the first 'o' whereas 'Ionic' has the emphasis on the second 'i'. Try it! Also the proper adjective for Ionia is Ionic, not Ionian.

The Ionian Sea is part of the Mediterranean Sea, south of the Adriatic Sea and is bounded by Italy, to the west, Albania and the Greek mainland to the east. The Greek Islands which comprise the Ionian islands are quite different from those in the Aegean as the history has been greatly influenced by the French, British and Venetians rather than the Turkish. Corfu even has a cricket ground!

The islands receive above average rainfall making them very lush, ideal for the olive groves, cypresses and wild flowers in springtime. The Winters are mild and wet but the summer months are hot. Great !

But Check the current weather in Lefkas yourself

The sea is the location of considerable seismic activity. The most recent big one was Centred between Kefalonia and Zakynthos, destroying a large number of buildings on both islands. An especially powerful earthquake, of 7.1 magnitude, occurred on August 12, 1953. Building damage was extensive and the southern islands of Kefalonia and Zakynthos were practically levelled. The islands were reconstructed from the ground up over the following years, under a strict building code. The code has proven extremely effective, as many earthquakes since that time have caused no damage to new buildings.

And here's an interesting fact: In the Ionian Sea, south of Greece, the Mediterranean reaches its greatest depth (16,000 feet [4,900 m]). Wow!

There are ferry routes between Patras, Greece and Brindisi and Ancona, Italy.

The Islands

Where did the name come from?

Previously the Ionian Gulf was thought to have been called the sea of Cronus and Rhea. Later it it supposed to have received it's modern name after Ionius who was either the son of King Adrias of Illyria (who gave his name to the Adriatic) or the son of Dyrrhachus. It seems that Ionius was killed by mistake in a battle and was buried at sea and hence the Ionian Sea.

The main islands in the Ionian Sea are (travelling North to South)

  • Corfu (Kerkyra)
  • Paxos (Paxi) with it's little sister AntiPaxos
  • Lefkas (Lefkada)
  • Ithaca (Ithaki)
  • Cephalonia (Kefallonia, Kefalonia, Kefallinia)
  • Zakynthos (Zante)
  • Kythira (Cerigo)

They were once known as the 'Eftanisos' or 'Seven Islands' for obvious reasons. The actual names of the islands can be spelled in a variety of ways just to confuse you. Again because of the various influences of different nationalities.

North Ionian

The area of the Ionian containing Corfu, Paxos and islands north of Lefkas are considered to be the North Ionian.

Inland Sea

The area of the Ionian enclosed by Lefkas, Cephalonia, Zakynthos and the Greek mainland on the east is called the Inland sea. It is a popular charter and flotilla cruising area.

South Ionian

The South Ionian is the area from Zakynthos down the west coast of the Peloponnese and round to Kythira

Corfu has the dubious privilege of being one of the first places in Greece to attract package holiday makers in the 1960s. Mrs. Smith beat most of them to it and did the proper hippy, back packing sleeping on the beach job.

Paxos is one of our favourite islands. It has great beaches, unspoilt by mass tourism and yet has plenty to keep you happy while on a visit


Lefkas is connected to the Greek mainland by a floating bridge and is only a 30-minute bus ride away from Aktion airport near the mainland town of Preveza. It has bustling tourist places and plenty of water sports

Kefalonia acquired an army of fans worldwide after the publication of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. I wonder how many were converted to Greek holidays as a result.

Zakynthos is another popular package holiday and has the unusual problem of combining mass tourism with nature conservation with the protected breeding ground of the endangered Loggerhead turtle right in the middle of the rather busy Laganas bay.

Ithaca is a more tranquil Island relatively untouched by major tourism and has the added romance of (possibly) being the home Island of Odysseus in Homer's tale.

Getting There

Cheap charter flights from many north European destinations bring the holiday hordes directly into Corfu, Kefalonia and Zakynthos.

Ferries and hydrofoils serve the islands from various departure points on the mainland and from Corfu you can take an international ferry to Albania or Italy (the latter is a popular option for island-hopping backpackers who head for Venice or Brindisi).


The culinary experience rounds off an Ionian journey: indulge in fresh, generous helpings of local dishes, served with a huge dollop of local filoxenia (hospitality).

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