Ithaca (also known as Ithaki) is one of the Greek Ionian islands
sandwiched between the larger and better-known island of Kefalonia and the west coast of Greece. It's the least developed and arguably the most beautiful island in the group with pretty pebble beaches and a mountainous interior speckled with pine forests, cypresses, olive groves and vineyards. Strict conservation laws controlling development and a lack of the long sandy beaches which appeal to most "sun and sand" holidaymakers have kept mass tourism at bay. But hikers and discerning tourists seeking an escape from the mid-summer holiday hordes will love this green and tranquil island which was the much loved kingdom of Homer's mythical hero Odysseus.
You can reach the island by ferry from the mainland port of Patras or fly into neighbouring Kefalonia's international airport and catch a ferry to Ithaca - the two islands are separated by a narrow strait which is no more than four kilometres at its widest point. The cliff top drive up the west coast of Kefalonia to the lovely fishing harbour of Fiskardo (where you take the boat over to Ithaca) is one of the most spectacular journeys in the Ionian Islands.
Whichever route you take to the island, your journey time is guaranteed to be shorter than that of Odysseus who spent 10 years battling to return to his homeland after his heroic exploits in the Trojan Wars. His adventures were detailed in the Odyssey which was one of the epic works of the blind poet Homer (one of the greatest literary figures of the ancient world). Odysseus overcame tempestuous seas, attacks by vile sea monsters and the shenanigans of a cunning siren in his efforts to reach his kingdom and the arms of his long-suffering wife Penelope.
Ithaca island's sites associated with Homer's Odyssey are among its top visitor attractions - though you might find the walks to reach them rather more rewarding than the sites themselves. There's a wonderful walk from the capital Vathy to the Arethoussa Spring, in the south of the island, where Odysseus allegedly met his faithful swineherd Eumaeus upon his return to Ithaca. A shorter walk to the west of Vathy takes you to the Cave of the Nymphs where our hero stored a treasure trove of gold, copper and rich fabrics. As for the disputed site of Odysseus' palace - you can take your pick of the excavated site on the road between Piso Aetos and Vathy or the more likely site above Stavros in the north west corner of the island.
If following in the footsteps of Odysseus doesn't particularly appeal, you'll still find rambling through the countryside or exploring well worn tracks on a scooter a rewarding experience, especially in the north of the island. Tiny Frikes, in the north east corner of Ithaca, is a charming fishing village wedged between two steep hills, and pretty Kioni, five kilometres down the coast is also worth a visit with its picturesque harbour, good tavernas and some fine examples of pre-20th century architecture which survived the devastating 1953 earthquake. You'll some lovely pebble beaches between the two villages