IONIAN ISLANDS

IONIAN ISLANDS

Just to the west of mainland Greece, the Ionian Islands are renowned for their medley of rugged mountains, rolling farmland, shimmering olive groves, and pristine beaches, all surrounded by an endless expanse of clear, blue water. The islands are a favorite among vacationing Brits, Italians, and Germans, as well as ferry-hopping backpackers heading to Italy.

To catch a ferry to Italy, buy your ticket at least a day ahead; be sure to find out if the port tax (‚5-6) is included. International Tours (is-26610 39 007) and Ionian Cruises (26610 31 649), both located across the street from the old port on Veni- zelou, can help with your scheduling woes. Ferries go from Corfu to: Ancona (20hr. daily, ‚58); Bari (9hr. daily, ‚46); Brindisi (6-7hr. 3 per day, ‚30); Trieste (24hr. 4 per week, ‚52); and Venice (24hr. daily, ‚57). Schedules vary; call ahead.

CORFU

Ever since Homer’s Odysseus washed ashore and praised its lush beauty, the seas have brought a multitude of conquerors, colonists, and tourists to verdant Corfu. Those who stray from the beaten path, however, will still encounter unspoiled, uncrowded beaches.

CORFU TOWN AND ENVIRONS. Corfu Town (pop. 31,000) enchants with its two fortresses, various museums, churches, and winding streets. South of Corfu Town is the exquisite Achillion Palace; take a bus to Gastouri (30min.; M-Sa 6 per day, Su 4 per day; ‚0.90). The lovely Paleokastritsa beach, where Odysseus supposedly washed ashore, lies west of town; take a KTEL bus to Paleokastritsa (45min.; M-Sa 7 per day, Su 5 per day; ‚1.60). A short walk from there will bring you to the hilltop monastery Panagia Theotokos. KTEL buses also run from Corfu Town to Agios Gordios (45min.; M- Sa 5 per day, Su 3 per day; ‚ 1.50), home to impressive rock formations, a beach, and the Pink Palace Hotel 0, which is immensely popular with American and Canadian backpackers. The Palace has an impressive list of amenities, including tennis courts, a nightclub, massages (‚11), clothing-optional cliff-diving (‚15), and various water sports. They also run buses to Athens (‚38 from Pink Palace, ‚47 from Athens), that bypass Patras. ( 26610 53 103; www.thepinkpalace.com. Breakfast, dinner, and ferry pick-up included. Internet ‚2 per 30min. Rooms ‚ 19, with AC and bath ‚25.)

Ferries run from Corfu Town to Italy (see above) and Patras (6-7hr. 1-2 per day, ‚25), and high-speed catamarans run to Kephalonia (3hr. W and Sa 9am, ‚38). KTEL inter-city green buses depart from between I. Theotaki and the New For-tress; blue municipal buses leave from PI. San Rocco. The EOT tourist office is at the comer of Rizopaston Voulefton and I. Polila. ( 26610 37 520. Open M-F 8am- 1:30pm. Free maps and info.) The Association of Owners of Private Rooms and Apartments, I. Polila 24 ( 26610 26 133), has a complete list of rooms in Corfu Town. Hotel Hermes , G. Markorka 14, centrally located across the bend from the police station, has a verdant entrance and low rates, (is-26610 39 268. Singles ‚28, with bath ‚33; doubles ‚33‚44; triples ‚50.) To Paradosiakon O, Odos Solomou 20, serves traditional food highly recommended by locals. (Open daily 1 lam-mid- night. Entrees ‚4.10-8.50.) Restaurant Rex , Kapodistriou 66, one block back from the Spianada, has long been famed as one of the town’s best. (Entrees ‚7.40- 14.) The undisputed epicenter of Corfu Town’s nightlife is the Disco Strip, on Eth. Antistaseos, 2km west of New Port. Postal Code: 49100.

KEPHALONIA

Mountains, subterranean lakes and rivers, caves, forests, and more than 250km of sand-and-pebble coastline make Kephalonia (pop. 32,000) a nature lover’s paradise. Its profound beauty, fought over by the Byzantine, Ottoman, and British Empires draws and humbles a diverse crowd. Argostoli, the capital of Kephalonia and Ithaka, is a lively city packed with pastel buildings that climb the hills from the calm waters of the harbor. Argostoli offers good shopping and nightlife, as well as easy access to other points on the island. Buses leave from the south end of the waterfront for Sami (2 per day, ‚3) and Fiskardo (2hr. 2 per day, ‚4). Internet is available at Cafeland, on Andrea Choida in Argostoli. (26710 24 064. ‚5 per hour, ‚2.50 min. Open daily 9am-llpm.) Hotel Tourist , on the waterfront near the bus station, is a great deal. ( 26710 22 510. All rooms have balconies. Singles ‚30-36; doubles ‚46-52.) iiMister Grillo , near the port authority, offers large portions and live Greek music. (Vegetarian options. Entrees ‚6-14.)

Sami is 24km from Argostoli on the east coast. Stunning views stretch in every direction, from the waves crashing on the beach to the green hills cradling the town. Sami is close to the underground Melissani Lake and Drogarati Cave, a large cavern filled with stalactites and stalagmites. (Cave open daily until nightfall. ‚3, children ‚1.50.) Fiskardo, at the northern tip of the island, is the most beautiful of Kephalonia’s towns; take a bus from either Sami (lhr. 10:15am, ‚3) or Argostoli (2hr. 2 per day, ‚4). Buses from Fiskardo stop at the turn-off for KMyrtos Beach, one of Europe’s best. (Beach 4km from turn-off.) Ferries run from Sami to: Patras (2V hr. 2 per day, ‚12); and Brindisi, Italy (July-Sept. daily, ‚35). Hotel Kyma , in Sami’s main plateia, has spacious rooms. ( 26740 22 064. Singles ‚18-28; doubles ‚26-55; triples ‚31-66.) Postal Code: 28100.

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