Lefkas, or Lefkada as it can be called, is one of the Ionian chain of islands that lie just off the west coast of mainland Greece.
Corinthians cut a canal through sandbanks connecting it to the mainland in 600 BC and Lefkas still only just qualifies as an island.
Holiday interest grew with the opening of Preveza airport on the Greek coast and a good road connection that paved the way for tourism.
It's not all been plain sailing. The east coast of Lefkas has suffered a rash of hotel building, especially around the holiday resort of Nidri.
The large, sheltered bays on the east and south coast of Lefkas make both Nidri and Sivota a favourite of yacht charter firms as do the heavily indented bays of offshore islets such as Meganissi.
On the much less populated west coast, rugged cliffs, rocky shores and exposed beaches are a magnet for the more adventurous while Vassiliki, in the south, is a world-class windsurfing centre.
Tourism has brought some unsettling changes to Lefkas, but none are too profound. Those seeking modern facilities in a traditional Greek setting should find Lefkas an attractive beach holiday destination.
Parts of Lefkas are quite astonishingly beautiful, notably inland where flower-strewn hill villages nestle in lush, green pine forests.
Like most of the Ionian chain of islands, the best Lefkas beaches are on the gently sloping east side. The west coast of Lefkas is mostly sheer cliff although there are notable beaches on the south-west at Porto Katsiki and a clutch to the north-west around Agios Nikolaos The main Lefkas beach resorts are at Nidri on the east coast and the noted windsurfing beach at Vassiliki to the south. The waters on the eastern shoreline are very sheltered, and the deep bays are a favoured stop for yacht flotillas. Increasingly fashionable are the islets that lie of the southern coast of Lefkas such as Meganissi.
The capital Lefkas Town, at the north-east tip of Lefkas, has suffered three significant earthquakes since 1948 and today's town is an odd, architectural mix of brightly painted houses, many of them topped with wood and corrugated iron to mitigate any future damage from seismic shocks.
Narrow streets help give Lefkas Town a village atmosphere, although the richly decorated Venetian churches, packed with works of art, add a cosmopolitan touch.
The main square is an attractive spot that splits the traffic-free shopping street in two. Cafes and tavernas surround the square which can become lively at night as the street sellers set up their stalls. More bars and tavernas line the harbour with views across to mainland Greece.
Ostensibly a port, there is little to be seen of the sea. Lefkas Town lies alongside a huge and sombre lagoon where a newly-built 650-berth marina is worth a stroll around. A series of fortresses along the causeway approach testify to the island's strategic importance in the past. The 13th-century fortress at Santa Mavra was worked on by Venetians, Turks and, most of all, earthquakes. An explosion in 1888 reduced many of its buildings to rubble.
Lefkas Town has four museums, the oddest being the Lefkas Phonograph Museum's collection of old gramophones. Other sights include the 17th-century Faneromeni Monastery set in pine woods on the hills above. It also boasts a wide variety of cultural events and festivals; it even has its philharmonic orchestra.
The town has no beach, but a four kilometre stretch of sand and pebble lies across the lagoon at Yra, also spelt Gyra; very popular with windsurfers. Daily buses leave for all the main island resorts.
The pleasing beaches, good roads and attractive offshore islets off the east coast of Lefkas have lured the big package tour operators, with the area around Nidri, the primary target of tourist development. Despite an idyllic setting, Nidri has bowed to the demands of cut-price tourism with fast food outlets and neon-lit music bars the order of the day. Many east coast resorts lie in sheltered bays and, as a result, are favourite stopover ports of call for yacht flotillas.
The port resort of Lygia, or Ligia, lies about five kilometres south of Lefkas Town on the main coast road. This busy road runs through the middle of the village and skirts the waterfront tavernas and bars.
Visitors staying in Lefkas Town often stop off here on the way to Nidri while holidaymakers based here will head to Lefkas Town for the night-life.
Visitors complain of a lack of choice, both in tavernas and their menus and many cafes will close in the low season. The Lygia beaches aren't great either – small patches of shingle, sheltered and quiet, with views across to the mainland and Agios Georgios castle.
Many pleasant walks thread through the pine woods and olive groves surrounding the resort, notably in the Paradisos area and the enticingly named Valley of Love (Kilada tou Erota).
Inland from Lygia and about 15 kilometres south-west of Lefkas Town is the mountain village of Karya, with a central square full of taverna tables laid out beneath a huge, shady plane tree.
Karya is worth a visit to see the local Karysaniki embroidery, once a vital part of the national island dress. Visitors are unlikely to glimpse the women of Karya village wearing the national dress today, except in village festivals, but the embroidery is on sale in the local shops.
There are displays of Lefkas embroidery, along with other household artefacts, at the Museum of Folklore on the edge of the village and more examples are at the Museum of Folk Art in Lefkas Town.
The traditional hill village of Lazarata is north-east of Karya and surrounded by craggy cliffs, olive groves, towering cypress and lush mountain scenery.
Like Karya, the village has a traditional shady square with tavernas and cafes. Visitors should look out for the two notable churches of Agios Dionissios and Agios Spiridonas, the latter with an impressive tower and an 18th-century belfry.
Lazarata is a good area for walking, and every turn seems to offer a stirring view of red-roofed houses, neat vineyards, olive groves, citrus plantations and lush woodland. Lazarata is an ideal spot for a traditional rural Greek holiday.
South of Lygia and about nine kilometres from Lefkas Town is the tiny fishing village of Nikiana spreading along the coast road with densely wooded hills rising behind.
A string of sand and pebble beaches lies beyond the small harbour, none too notable but all pleasant enough, with an olive draped foothills backdrop and mountains beyond.
Waterfront tavernas serve good food and, although visitors can't see the sunset in this east-facing resort they can enjoy the sight of mainland hills reddening in the evening.
Nikiana has a mini-market and a few shops. It's very popular with Italians, especially from June onwards when they crowd the beaches. There are many pleasant walks in the surrounding hills.
Regular buses head north and south, although they can be crowded with tourists travelling between Nidri and Lefkas Town. Excursion boats also leave daily to offshore islets such Meganissi.
Just off the main road to the north is the small shingle beach at Episkos where there are a few villas and a beach cantina.
Nidri is 17 kilometres south of Lefkas Town, and it is now the island's biggest holiday resort in a handsome setting at the mouth of the long Vlycho Bay.
Once the playground preserve of billionaire Aristotle Onassis, Nidri remained undeveloped until his death in 1975 after which the locals made up for lost time.
Now noisy tavernas line the Nidri seafront, part of the former beach was used to build a new quay and hotels have sprung up all over the flat, marshy ground behind.
Delightful corners still exist in the village centre, but the resort is now mostly geared to cut-price tourism with a plethora of cafes and music bars as well as a couple of nightclubs.
Beaches are to the north. Beautiful settings and knockout views must be offset by long, narrow, crowded pebble beaches artificially enhanced by lorry loads of imported sand.
Nidri is a busy yacht and boat centre with the annual Ionian Regatta, in late September, one of the highlights of the Mediterranean year.
Excursion boats leave daily for local islets and the many secluded coastal bays of Lefkas. There are also ferries to Ithaca and Kefalonia.
Inland from Nidri, the countryside is relatively flat, so cycling is popular and useful walking trails etch the hills beyond. Trips to the Vafkeri waterfall are advertised, but the water turns to a trickle after May. The falls get better higher up, but the going can be tricky.
German archaeologist Wilhelm Dorpfeld was alone in claiming Nidri, not Ithaka, as the site of Odysseus' palace. He lived and died in Nidri, and a statue of him stands on the quayside.
The seaside village of Vlicho, or Vlycho, lends its name to the large bay that has Nidri on its north bank and the heavily wooded Geni peninsula curving around to the south.
Vlycho has a pleasant string of shops and tavernas and is handy for the pebble beach at Dessimi, found down a dirt track from the village.
A large and popular campsite has grown near Dessimi beach so it can get a bit crowded in the high season but it is still a pleasant spot overlooked by pine trees and citrus groves.
Tavernas, bars and a minimarket cater for the campers, and Lefkas cruise boats often include Dessimi on their round-island tours.
The Geni peninsula has attracted upmarket holiday companies offering select villa holidays overlooking the pretty Vlycho Bay.
The village at Geni gives its name to the peninsula, and it's a friendly traditional fishing village with several waterfront tavernas.
The long arm of the Geni peninsula is a tranquil area of dense hilly woodland and olive groves facing the busy resort of Nidri to the west and the popular offshore islet of Meganissi to the east.
This is a suitable escape area for those who find the Nidri a bit too noisy as it is only a five-minute crossing by boat or a 15-minute drive around the bay.
The south coast of Lefkas is a jigsaw of inlets nestling beneath pine-cloaked hills. To the east is Sivota, a favourite of the yachting flotillas, and, in the west is Vassiliki which hosts the world windsurfing championships. Beyond Vassiliki is the wild, windswept peninsula that ends at Cape Lefkas. A good road gives easy access to many beaches, but they get steadily worse as you head south.
The village of Poros is full of narrow alleys and beautiful traditional houses built on the steep wooded slopes and overlooking the attractive Rouda Bay, with the islet of Arkoudi offshore
About 25 kilometres south of Lefkas Town, Poros has a population of just 300. The nearby church of Analipsi has some remarkable icons including one of the Virgin Mary that dates from the 17th century.
In the nearby village of Pirgi are ruins of an ancient olive mill and the remains of a Venetian castle. But most visitors come here for a look around before heading for the popular beach at nearby Mikris Gialos.
The once 'hideaway' sands of Mikris Gialos, sometimes spelt Mikros Yialos, lie below the hillside village of Poros.
Tucked away at the end of Rouda Bay, the beach now houses a huge restaurant-cum-beach bar complex that packs in the summer visitors by the hundred.
Strings of duckboards cross-cross a sand and pebble beach that's chock-a-block with sunbeds while music blares out from the beach bars. It's a beach to enjoy if you don't mind the crowds.
Mikris Gialos is dominated by the Rouda Bay Hotel beach complex with its apartments and studios, tavernas, snack bars, sunbeds, a children's playground and lots of watersports.
A small campsite near the beach has a swimming pool, parking and restaurant. There are plenty of other acceptable tavernas nearby.
At the head of the next deep inlet lies the sheltered anchorage of Sivota, a firm favourite with the boating set. The resort boasts a bevvy of fish tavernas to satisfy the yachting crowds, most of them lining the long quayside on the west side of the bay.
Nestled in a picturesque wooded valley about 33 kilometres south of Lefkas Town, Sivota has a small, scruffy pebble beach at the end of the harbour. It is much quieter by day than it is at night when the sailing set comes out to play.
Tavernas overlook the harbour, taking full advantage of the celebrated views across the bay, with olive groves and wooded hills behind. They liven up at night and weekends thanks to the regular and repeated arrivals of summer yacht flotillas.
The island's highest peak at Mount Stavrotas has been eaten away by quarry firms and now looks badly scarred, and below is Vassiliki, or Vassilikos, about 38 kilometres from Lefkas Town and the island's main watersport resort.
Vast numbers of windsurfers take to the water at Vassiliki Bay in high summer where the local geography ensures the bay is often calm in the mornings and breezy in the afternoons.
The long beach is gently shelving, but stony and rough, while the bay is ideal for surfers, with the water thigh deep for many metres out. In July and August, the bay is often packed and surfing clubs and rental outfits abound with boats and catamarans for hire.
Vassiliki has a pleasant harbour with a ring of quayside tavernas serving good food and even a disco for the surfing youngsters.
A campsite sits nearby and beachfront hotels cater mainly for younger visitors. Daily cruises leave to Ithaca and Kefalonia and boats offer day trips to Lefkas beaches and local islets.
Vassiliki is on the east side of the bay, while the west side is known as Ponti. Pleasant walking trails follow the coast and cycling is popular in the flat countryside.
A short walk south along a coastal path reveals a small and attractive beach at Agiofili which has no facilities but is a regular port of call for day trip boats.
Wilder and windy, the west coast of Lefkas has the island's best beaches although many require a steep climb down the cliffs to reach them. Tamer in the north-west, they get progressively wilder as you head south. The reward for those that tackle the narrow hairpins are staggering views from the cliffs and sensational beaches that must rank among some of the best in the Ionian.
The road west out of Lefkas Town threads through Tsoukalades, a pleasant but unremarkable village with a small and equally unremarkable beach at Kaminia, before reaching Agios Nikitas, one the most attractive resorts on the north-west coast.
The beach of sharp white sand and pebble is about 12 kilometres from Lefkas Town. It's flanked by hotels and tavernas and is quite small so it soon gets busy, especially in high summer.
The beach road is traffic-free so visitors must park at the top of the hill where spaces can be in short supply on busy summer weekends.
It is quite a long walk to the beach, past all the cars parked at the side of the village road, presumably illegally.
Surrounding hills are covered in olive groves and pine forest and several small apartments dot the landscape.
Boats leave Agios Nikitas daily for surrounding beaches throughout the summer, notably to nearby Milos beach.
A little further north still is Pefkoulia, a long wide strip of coarse sand backed by shady pine trees that is much less busy. It can be reached by car with parking on the main road. There are a beach bar and taverna and it can also be called, confusingly, Agios Nikitas.
Just over the hill south of Agios Nikitas is the coarse sand and pebble beach of Milos, one of a trio along with Agios Nikitas and Kathisma, that form one of the finest stretches of sand on Lefkas.
Access is along a dirt track over the headland from Agios Nikitas, sometimes steep and with rocks to climb, but many agree the 20-minute walk is worth it.
Above the beach is a stone windmill, built in 1741, converted into a cafe and bar. It is reached by road and there are some steep wooden steps down to the beach. The natural alternative is a taxi boat from Agios Nikitas.
The cliff top offers spectacular over the bay while the beach below is a long and deep stretch of coarse sand and pebble. It slopes quite steeply and the sea can get quite choppy if there is an offshore breeze. The southern end, where there are some excellent caves, is much favoured by naturist bathers.
The sands at Kathisma are among the most popular on Lefkas, wide and deep for more than a kilometre with pebbles along the shore and pure sand out to sea.
Not blessed with much shade it still has interesting rock promontories and caves to explore and a couple of large rocks in the sea at the southern end where nudists tend to congregate.
Kathisma often makes it into the top ten of the Med's most beautiful beaches and it's easy to see why with its long, deep, flat sands and attractive rock formations. The sand can be steeply shelving though, so watch the children.
On the main section of Kathisma are tavernas and bars with swimming pools. Many visitors will linger to enjoy the sunsets from the west-facing tavernas.
There are plenty of sunbeds and the beach has a young and lively feel, with volleyball and tennis courts. In the summer there is paragliding from the cliffs.
Regular buses run from Lefkas Town and parking is available although demand can rocket at weekends when visitors arrive in droves.
Several beaches are reached by walking south along the shore from Kathisma. All of them are relatively remote and without facilities but it makes an excellent route for walkers.
Of note are tiny coves at Giadoros and Theotokos, a mix of sand and shingle shaded by pine trees, and at Stous Pilos where several beach coves are daisy-chained along the shore.
The highlight of this stretch of coast is the village of Kalamitsi where attractive stone houses nestle among almond and olive groves.
Along with neighbouring Drimonas, Kalamitsi was once a much larger settlement and many homes are now derelict, although both villages have a taverna and kafenion.
There are 13 old stone windmills nearby and as many chapels in the hills. A small and attractive beach lies at the end of a three-kilometre dirt track with large rocks along the shoreline and a cantina and a few sunbeds in high summer.
The west coast of Lefkas is mostly rock and cliffs until you reach Gialos, or Yialos, beach near the village of Athani.
The road drops out of the village down a steep and narrow road with several death-defying hairpin bends to reach a car park and a couple of seasonal cantinas.
The long beach of Gialos, or Yialos, is of pebble and shingle stretching south. There are a few sunbeds near the cantinas but little else. Another cantina is tucked away on a dirt track to the north.
Gialos beach stays in shadow until noon and the pebbles, like many beaches along the west coast, dip very sharply into the sea.
A three-kilometre dirt track drops away from the road south of Athani and snakes down to a small car park at the beach of Egremni.
From there it is more than 300 steps down a long wooden staircase that starts at the clifftop taverna and ends on the long and deep beach that appears to stretch for miles.
There are sunbeds at the bottom of the staircase and, astonishingly, a makeshift cantina in the summer.
Egremni itself is never crowded but even more secluded spots can be found both north and south, although the southern end has the higher number of coves.
Egremni is for those seeking solitude and a suitable alternative to the more popular Porto Katsiki, although it's not recommended for children – not only because of the steps but also because the sea gets deep very quickly and currents can be powerful here.
The water at Egremni beach also tends to be a little cloudy, so it's not all that great for snorkelling.
The spectacular white beach at Porto Katsiki is an astonishingly beautiful sight and one of the most attractive on Lefkas.
Access has improved with a recently asphalted road to the top of the cliff where a large car park awaits. But it's 40 kilometres from Lefkas Town and high summer traffic jams are not unknown on the narrow road. There are also excursion boats from Nidri and Vassiliki.
A narrow staircase of around 100 wooden steps is built into the white limestone cliff leading to the thin strip of white pebbles and sand. The beach is shaded by overhanging rocks in the morning but the sea so bright that the shadows of anchored boats darken the seabed.
Porto Katsiki beach is also a heat trap in the afternoon, with virtually no shade and no toilet facilities. There are other small coves along this stretch of coast but they are unsignposted, difficult to reach on foot and they have no facilities.
A landslide in 1999 caused a section of the soft limestone cliff to collapse on the beach, but it is now quite safe. Since recent road improvements, the beach has become very celebrated and very crowded in the high summer.
At the southern tip of Lefkas island is the remote and barren Cape Ducato, or Cape Lefkas, where the white cliffs drop abruptly for 70 odd metres into the sea.
It was from here that the poet Sappho is said to have leapt in despair over unrequited love – the original Lover's Leap so to speak.
Lunatics and criminals were also once thrown from the cliffs as a cure for their afflictions – sometimes with live birds attached to slow their descent. Followers of local cults have also made sea plunges from this spot.
Cape Lefkas is a long drive from Porto Katsiki on a road that gets progressively worse as it crawls south. The lighthouse is the prize at the end of the journey and from the headland, visitors can see Kefalonia on a clear day.