Stylist’s Lisa Smosarski avoids the tourist track and discovers idyllic, untouched beaches and a surprising foodie hot-spot.
“I’m off to Lefkada next week,” I tell my well-travelled friends. I am met with a sea of blank faces. “It’s an island,” I say. “An Ionian Island.” Nothing. “Um, sandwiched between Kefalonia and Corfu,” I add, trying not to reveal I just Google Mapped it.
One by one, their faces light up. That’s the thing with Greece. Some of the islands are great big show-offs – yes, Kefalonia (“I was in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”), I’m talking to you – which means the shy guys like Lefkada get a bit neglected.
So let me give you an overview: Lefkada is one of the seven main Ionian Islands and the only one attached to the mainland, accessible via a floating bridge. It’s pretty small; we drove around the perimeter in a day. Oh, and it’s beautiful. The island has sea so utterly shimmering and clear that on some days, the glittering turquoise waves seemed almost neon in colour, and it’s littered with tiny coves at the foot of lush, green mountains. Most of the terrain is too mountainous to build on, which means that, aside from Lefkada town and the other tourist centre, Nidri, the island has retained its undeveloped charm.
Unsurprisingly, our trip was all about the stunning beaches. The west coast offers the best bays with small coves that gently slope into the warm Ionian sea, but they can be a bit of an adventure to get to. Porto Katsiki, in the south-west of the island, lies at the bottom of 100 (exactly – I counted) steps, but I would have tackled 200 to get there. The crystal waters and white shingle beach made this one of the most idyllic beaches I have basked on.
Dive into the blue at villa helena, with its breathtaking views.
Exploring a new beach every day is all part of the fun. My favourites were Agios Nikitas, a small family beach at the end of a taverna-lined road; Vasiliki for watersports; and Kathisma, one of the few places you could drive right up to and it’s home to numerous beach club bars. Obviously neither are mutually inclusive.
There is one other must-do. A short drive from Nidri are some stunning waterfalls, where you can swim (or paddle like us) in the lagoons before stopping in the chill-out bar at the foot of the falls for a happy hour cocktail.
Although there are hotels available, most people self-cater in Lefkada and we spent our week at Villa Helena, a blue-shuttered three-bedroomed holiday home near a village called Tsoukalades. Built into the hills, the villa was surrounded by olive groves and green trees, and could easily have housed three couples, so for a family of four (two of which are tiny), it felt generously big. We ate breakfast on the lavender-scented terrace, stargazed in the hammock, swam in the infinity pool and fell in love with our idyllic setting.
You can opt to luxe up your stay and not cook, clean or shop once. We treated ourselves to dinner one night and our in-house chef for the evening, Frosso, cooked the best squid I’ve ever tasted. It proved that Greece is fast becoming a foodie destination. Rachi in Exanthia (rachi.gr), a mountain village taverna with a terrace where we watched the sun set; and Sappho, a beachside restaurant in Agios Nikitas, where we ate stuffed squid and prawn spaghetti, were both seriously good.
Lefkada may be less famous than its neighbours, but it’s packed with charm, delicious food and beaches that make it an unforgettable place for a week in the sun.
Stylist travelled to Lefkada with Think Ionian Islands (thinkionianislands.com, 020-7377 8518), the new branch of The Thinking Traveller group. Villa Helena is available for rent exclusively through Think Ionian Islands; it sleeps six people and costs from £1,570 per week.