The island of Ithaka, also spelt Ithaca or Ithaki, is one of the Ionian group and the tiny island lies just four kilometres off Kefalonia's eastern coast.
Overshadowed by its more Overshadowed by its more celebrated neighbour, Ithaka has mostly escaped the notice of package holiday firms, but it's still a favourite destination for independent travellers and day trippers.
Ithaka is a sleepy little island – the ancient port was dismissed by Homer as only 'good for goats' – where time, when not standing still, often appears to be wandering about somewhat aimlessly.
Apart from the visiting yachts and ferries full of day-trippers, there is little to disturb the gentle, soporific Ithakan atmosphere.
The island is small, about 120 sq km, and it's almost split in two by a narrow hill ridge at Aetos, with peninsulas to the north and south.
The north has the better beaches and the more exciting walks while the south has the relatively busy capital port of Vathi and the more important historical links to Homer.
The west coast of Ithaka is rough and ragged with only a couple of decent beaches while the east is typified by rolling hills and farmland.
Many houses on Ithaka were destroyed in the earthquake of 1953. Ithaka is reputed to have an olive tree that is more than 1,500 years old.
Ithaka is neatly divided north and south by the wasp-waist ridge at Aetos. The north of Ithaka has the better resorts, the biggest villages and the more interesting walks. The north-west side coastline is rough and ragged with only a couple of decent beaches while the north-east has rolling hills and fertile farmland. South Ithaka is mostly barren rock and scrub with the south-west virtually inaccessible. The south is identified with sites mentioned in Homer's classic Odyssey.
Vathy port Ithaka
The south of the island is empty but for a few Homeric sites and the main port of Vathy or Vathi. The port has one of the most idyllic seafront settings in Greece, nestled at the end of a long, deep bay and embraced on three sides by steep hills.
The wooded islet of Lazaretto sits in the bay where a hospital was built in 1668, used as a prison in 1864 then demolished by an earthquake in 1953. All that remains today are trees and a picturesque, whitewashed church.
Despite the lovely setting Vathi itself has a utilitarian quayside lined with functionally bland buildings that owe little to the pre-quake Venetian architecture.
A preservation order has prevented unsightly building and protection from naked commercial development but the results are dull, and not enhanced by a large car park on the Vathy quay.
There is a small archaeology museum that displays what's left of island treasures that have not been carted off to Athens or long ago looted by European archaeologists.
The Folklore and Cultural Museum of Ithaka is behind the Agricultural Bank and has good exhibits of island life as well as photographs of the devastating earthquake of 1953.
Vathy is where most amenities are found – post office, bank, cash machine, bakery, mini markets and so on. Ferries leave for mainland Greece, Kefalonia, Corfu and Italy while excursion boats offer round-island trips, a good bet given the poor state of many roads.
There are several out-of-town walks to sites that claim a mention in the Odyssey.
Directly west of Vathy the huge bay at Aetos almost cuts Ithaka in two. Its dramatic setting, with the steep ridge above and towering cliffs behind, is somewhat offset by the scruffy, narrow, unkempt stretch of rock, stone and shingle that is the beach.
Despite its proximity to Vathy and a road behind providing easy access Aetos is often strewn with rubbish and detritus, either washed up on the waves or flung from the windows of passing cars.
The road runs behind Aetos beach for about a kilometre atop a high cement wall. The occasional tamarisk provides shade but it the beach is generally very exposed.
A forest fire that scarred much of the Aetos hillside is slowly reverting to its natural state.
The narrow mountain ridge at Aetos is a favourite place for walkers with views to the sea on either side and with the ruins of an 8th century citadel abandoned in Roman times.
Some claim this as the castle of Odysseus although the evidence is pretty thin. A waymarked path from leads from Aetos starting just behind the chapel.
On the opposite side of the ridge from Aetos, and facing west with views across the strait to Kefalonia, is the small port of Piso Aetos.
More of a ferry port than a beach resort, the tiny harbour has been enlarged to take bigger ferries which usually avoid the long sail around to Vathy on the other side of the island.
A thin and narrow beach of rough pebbles lines the shore but few use it for bathing as it is barren and very exposed. A small cantina opens near the harbour in the summer months but there are no shops, toilets or other facilities.
The road north out of Vathy follows the bay to a narrow beach of coarse sand, pebbles and stone at Dexa, the beach upon which Odysseus is reputed to have landed on his return home.
Dexa is about two kilometres from Vathy so it's a popular spot for those staying in the island capital. A fair number of apartments have also been built here so Dexa tends to get fill rather early in the day.
The very narrow strand of pebble is backed by a low wall and there are clutches of tamarisk as well as olive trees where visitors can relax on shaded sunbeds. A small cantina opens in the summer.
At the southern end the road curves round to a small anchorage. Car parking can be a problem on the narrow road and a desalination plant nearby can, if the wind is right, produce an irritating hum.
Overlooking the bay at nearby at Loutsa are the ruins of a French fort built in 1805 where narrow tracks lead to even quieter coves.
On the headland, east of Dexa is the long and narrow beach of Skinos, set in very attractive woodland dotted with very exclusive Ithaka villa properties.
Skinos is approached down a dirt track and the pebble and stone beach seems to attract a good share of tidal rubbish that, being in such an isolated spot, rarely gets a clean-up.
The beach is very narrow and backed by a low stone wall and offers good snorkelling along the rocky shore. A pleasant place to hide away Skinos has shade from tall cypress trees but has no facilities.
Filiatro is a very pretty east-facing beach set in a medium-sized bay and serviced by a summer cantina. It is also the summer target of day trip boats that anchor offshore in the bay.
The water is shallow but footwear is recommended as the beach of pebble and stone has no sand under the water. Chairs and tables are set out under shady trees.
Car access is reasonable from the road east out of Vathy. Olive trees and tamarisk provide plenty of shade and there is a small campsite nearby.
The Sarakiniko bay gives it name to a couple of small shingle beaches separated by a rock outcrop into the sea.
One of the Sarakiniko beaches is dominated by a cement villa and it's also used to launch boats from a slipway so serious bits of boat rubbish can be strewn around.
The other option is a quiet, attractive beach in a sheltered bay. Olives and cypress provide shade but there are no facilities here.
The steep bank of pebbles can be uncomfortable to lie on but nearby sandstone slabs provide a good alternative.
There was once a German 'commune' at Sarakiniko than numbered about 200 people, but only a handful live there now.
The large and somewhat scruffy mountain village of Perachori sits above Vathy in an area where most of Ithaka island wine is produced.
Small tavernas open in summer although Perachori is very much a working, not a tourist, village. The ruins of fortified houses show this was once used by the residents of Vathia to escape passing pirates.
Terraces tumble down hillsides planted with neat rows of vines and every almost turning reveals a small citrus orchard or vegetable plot. The area is also known for its organic produce.
Visitors get unobstructed views over the whole south of the island and the offshore islets Nearby is the Monastery of Taxiarchis built in 1645 near the top of the mountain.
The beach atAgios Ioannis looks spectacular viewed from the cliffs above with a whitewashed chapel and an old windmill helping to complete the romantic scene.
Getting down to the shore is a problem, particularly if a descent is attempted before reaching the village of Lefki. There is dirt track but it's a precipitous drop.
Even the road from Lefki is difficult, with hairpin turns on a steep track that ends about 100 metres from the beach. A steeper path then leads down past the windmill.
Visitors will find a long narrow strip of pebble and stone with fine views across the straits but there is no shade and no facilities.
Polis is the only west coast resort on Ithaka that could reasonably be called popular with tourists. The medium sized bay of white limestone and shingle has a small harbour at the southern end with a taverna crouched beneath eucalyptus trees.
Polis lies below the main town of Stavros and, with parking on the beach, a taverna and plenty of sunbeds, it can get crowded.
Land behind is flat scrub so there is no shade. Tamarisks have been planted at the back of the beach but they are behind a fence.
A small harbour at the southern end has boat trips around Ithaka and to Fiscardo on Kefalonia. It was a ferry port before the expansion at Piso Aetos, just down the coast.
At the north end of the bay is the site of the former Loizos Cave where important religious artefacts were unearthed. Earthquakes have reclaimed it and the cave has collapsed.
Inland from Polis, and overlooking the bay, is Stavros, the capital village of north Ithaka at the foot of Mount Neritos.
Stavros, which means crossroads, also envelops the hamlets of Pilicata and Kalyvia and acted as a 'chora' in the 16th century to avoid pirate attacks.
A stern and imposing bust of Odysseus stands in the shady central platia and the village has several traditional old houses that survived the 1953 Ithaka earthquake.
Stavros has several good tavernas and cafes as well as a mini-market. Worth a look are the fine churches of Sotiris, Agia Varvara and Zoodochos Pigi.
Spoils from excavations at the former Loizos Cave are displayed in the tiny village archaeological museum, which also has finds from the Early Hellanic to the Roman periods.
Exoghi village, just north of Stavros, is one of the oldest on Ithaka and it's picture postcard stuff for the tourists with panoramic views over the countryside.
Many houses here may have fallen into disrepair but this is still a picturesque village in a picturesque spot with wonderful vistas down to Afales and over the sea.
Exoghi is noted for its three small pyramids built in 1933. The eccentric builder and his mother are buried under two of them.
The main village church of Agia Marina is well worth a visit, and there is a small cafe here with rooms for rent.
Visitors must travel to the very tip of the island to find another northern beach. Dramatic white cliffs enclose the deep inlet at Afales which sits a few hundred feet below the village of Exoghi.
Remote and relatively inaccessible it is rarely visited except in the high season. Those that venture here do so by boat and as the descent on foot is suicidally dangerous.
Visitors may be disappointed as this north-facing beach of stone and pebble tends to collect its fair share of detritus. There is no shade and there are no facilities here. It may even feel a little claustrophobic beneath the looming cliff.
Over the headland and about four kilometres from Afales is a stone beach at Marmakes reached along a dirt rough dirt track.
Sheer drops to the sea along a narrow, unfenced and crumbling dirt road invites visitors inclined to the suicidal. Most arrive by boat or along a goat track from Frikes, good reason to appreciate why Marmakes beach is often deserted.
There are moves afoot to improve the road which may open it up to more visitors. The stone beach is very attractive, with an offshore islet sporting a tiny chapel to add romance to the setting.
Trees line the shore and there are walks through the groves of olive and citrus behind. There are no facilities here, but that may change when the road improves.
Frikes is a major holiday resort in the north of Ithaka, along with its neighbour Kioni which lies just around the headland.
Though tarted up in recent years Frikes retains plenty of Greek charm with cafes and tavernas are strung around a dainty harbour and a sleepy village luxuriantly planted with bougainvillaea.
Streets are so narrow that a one-way system operates for traffic. Ferries from Lefkas arrive in the morning and Frikes is briefly busy with arrivals before settling back its sleepy ways.
Normally soporific to a fault, feuding between local families adds a certain edge to village life and festivals have been known to end in drink-fuelled village punch-ups.
This is a good base to explore the island with splendid countryside walks along cleared coastal trails. The bay to the south offers a string of small coves and beaches, most of them easily accessible from the coast road.
The beaches are all much the same, small pebble and stone coves with no facilities. One of the best, and nearest to Frikes is Kourvoulia, a narrow scoop of shingle along the roadside.
Kioni is the premier resort on Ithaka and it shows. It's a picture postcard idea of a Greek island resort with smart houses and apartments climbing the hills around a secluded horseshoe bay.
Well-heeled holidaymakers parade around the harbour before setting into one of several waterside bars and tavernas. Cars are banned from Kioni village over the summer.
Kioni is so cute it should be cheesy, but it somehow manages to marry authentic charm to the demands of tourism. This comes at a price, reflected in the opulent yachts moored in the bay.
Those who tire of tavernas can visit tiny coves at the mouth of the bay, windmills on the headland or walk donkey trails in the hills.
The beach sits below the windmills, a steep, short and narrow bank of pebble and shingle with overhanging trees at one end. A beach cantina opens in high summer.