Secret Alternatives to Busy Marinas for Sailing Around the Ionian Islands of Greece

Stunning Porto Vromi Anafonitria is the perfect antidote to Zantes busy resorts
Stunning Porto Vromi Anafonitria is the perfect antidote to Zante's busy resorts | © Igor Tichonow / Alamy
Damien Gabet

These aren’t the Greek Islands you think you know. Unlike the confetti of rocky beauties sprinkling the Aegean, these seven are larger and more deeply marked by Roman and Venetian history. They’re also cooler and greener, with olive and cypress trees galore, and plenty of safe harbours. But how to slip through the tourist net and sail to more secluded, appealing moorings than behemoths such as Corfu’s 1,235-berth Gouvia? Slide into cruise control and follow our guide.

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Órmos Lákka Marina, Paxos

Lákka wins the prize for the most chilled out of Paxos’s three main towns. Its globe-shaped harbour is protected by hills from which endless olive groves extend inland. Órmos Marina can fit boats of up to 60m (196ft) in length and 5m (16ft) in draft, but only offers water. Step off-board directly into its waterfront tavernas to sample straight-off-the-boat dishes such as cuttlefish with scallops. The streets show off the town’s Venetian heritage, while nearby is sandy Harami Beach and the lighthouse-topped headland beyond.

Paralia Afales, Ithaca

Need a break from your odyssey? Try Ithaca, the homeland Odysseus spent 10 eventful years trying to reach. Recreating Homer’s epic requires a suitably dramatic anchorage, and Afales Bay is definitely that. Rugged cliffs to one side, olive groves the other, Afales even finds space for a pocket-sized beach, Paralia Frikes. Frikes is covered in the same white pebbles that floor the bay. Together with exceptionally calm water, these produce visibility of up to 40m (130ft), which will enrapture snorkellers.

Paleokastritsa Harbour, Corfu

It’s bare bones, but so very attractive. Sheltered by rocky peninsulas – one topped by an old monastery – Paleokastritsa’s waters are limpid and calm, except when strong southerlies blow. Still a working fishing port, berths aren’t guaranteed. Water, fuel and groceries also have to be brought in. While all this might seem off-putting, try your luck. Its utter loveliness and attractions – such as Blue Eye Cave (a vivid sea cave eating into the cliff) and sandy Paleokastritsa beach – make it worthwhile.

Koumaria Beach Harbour, Kefalonia

In an archipelago rich with beautiful, secluded anchorages, Koumaria Bay competes with the best. Plunging deeply into northwest Kefalonia, it’s so broad and sheltered that almost any boat will find an uninhabited patch of blue to toss its anchor into. Look for lazily drifting loggerhead turtles as you take your tender (or swim) to your chosen patch of shore. While broad, depths are often as low as 5m (16ft), so approach beaches with caution. Seals and mountain goats also love it here.

Ássos Marina, Kefalonia

This is peak Ionia. Tiny Ássos is surely the most dreamy village on the archipelago’s most attractive island. Inhabited by fewer than 100, it sits on a narrow spit leading to a high promontory crowned by a grand, incomplete Venetian castle. Ássos has its own beach, with shallow, clear waters perfect for snorkelling and spotting loggerhead turtles. With several berths for boats of up to 60m (196ft), drawing no deeper than 10m (32ft), the marina is as basic as the pastel-coloured town around it.

Nafpaktos Marina, Bay of Corinth

On the mainland it may be, but this ancient port is still fantastic for exploring the Ionians. Everyone from the Athenians to the Crusaders and Ottomans have left their fingerprints here. You’ll moor behind Venetian defensive walls, as long as your boat is no longer than 16m (52ft) and draws no deeper than 3.5m (11ft). While here, check out the Venetian castle and the statue of Don Quixote author Cervantes, who lost a hand here fighting the Ottomans in the Battle of Lepanto.

Nikiana, Lefkada

Fancy avoiding the 620-berth marina at Lefkada’s capital, Lefkas? Anchoring at serene Nikiana, a fishing village 9km (6mi) south, on the island’s east coast, is just the tonic. It’s basically a working fishing village with a little more space for yachts. The no-frills marina berths 10 medium-sized boats. Yes, it’s a one-street town with a few tavernas and a pebble beach, but it’s within easy distance of beauties such as Desimi beach and Vasiliki, the island’s most fetching village.

Porto Vromi Anafonitria, Zakynthos

Zakynthos (or Zante) is great if you skip the southern resorts. For another idyllic Ioanian anchorage, set course for Porto Vromi Anafonitria on the island’s northwest. Sheer cliffs plunge into the Ioanian blue on each side, forming a flawless natural harbour. The narrow sandy beach at its northern end is licked by limpid waters that deepen quickly, allowing anchorage close to shore. Two impressive sea caves – The Face of Poseidon and the Heart Cave – provide photo ops as you glide in.

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