The Ionian islands of Greece are scattered along the western coast of mainland Greece. Of 25 or so in the Ionian group, only four attract tourist visitors in any significant numbers. Corfu is the best known, followed closely by Kefalonia, Zante, also called Zakynthos, and Lefkas or Lefkada.
Their popularity with UK holidaymakers has been helped by international airports on three of the islands and another at Preveza on the Greek coast opposite Lefkas.
The Ionians are less well served by ferry services with, until recently, no direct inter-island services and little opportunity for island hopping.
Outside the big four, the most visited are small islands like Paxos, south of Corfu, Ithaca off the east coast of Kefalonia and Meganissi near Lefkas.
Other Ionian islets in the group that see some tourist activity, mainly through day trip visits, include Antipaxos, Kalamos, Erikousa, Mathraki and Othoni.
Most Ionian islands are noted for their fertile, green landscapes, the result of heavy winter rains. Although popular with package tour operators the islands are big and varied enough to offer less travelled spots, away from the mass-market crowds.
The Ionians have suffered more than most from earthquake activity, and many modern buildings have replaced the old Venetian homes damaged by severe tremors, notably on Kefalonia.
CORFU is the closest Greek island to the UK and popular with the Brits for decades – Corfy Town even has a cricket pitch. Many beaches suffer the effects of mass-market tourism, but less visited places offer sandy beaches without the ugly scars of Brits abroad karaoke bars and beer-swilled pubs.
PAXOS lies to the south of Corfu and is much more upmarket, a favourite haunt of Italians but, with just three resorts of note, can get overcrowded in the summer season.
LEFKAS has large, sheltered bays that make it a favourite of yacht charter firms. The gentle east cost has the resorts while the less populated west coast with its dramatic cliffs and exposed beaches are a magnet for the adventurous. Among the islets to the south is MEGANISSI, a soporific haven with a serpentine coastline and a popular day-trip destination.
KEFALONIA is one of the largest and promoted heavily by UK tour operators. Its main holiday resorts lie along the south-west coast where big sandy beaches sport the usual tourist facilities. The forested interior offer spectacular views and mountain roads reach the remote northern and eastern resorts. ITHAKA is a tiny, sleepy island off the east coast of Kefalonia that attracts independent travellers and day trippers.
ZANTE features heavily in travel brochures and it is a firm favourite for cheap package holidays deals. To the south are busy downmarket beaches while the north has quiet coves, rugged cliffs and green forested hills. Resorts vary from the near nightmare Laganas to idyllic beach coves that are a haven of serene tranquillity.