Helena Lucas MBE Explores Change in the Ionian Islands

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Helena Lucas MBE, Paralympic Gold and Bronze medalist, recently headed off to sunny Lefkas for a late season sailing holiday, revisiting some of her favourite childhood haunts in the process and seeing how the sailing area has grown in the last 20 years. Here’s her story.

The perfect time of year

My husband Steve and I have just got home from an amazing week sailing around the Greek Islands in the South Ionian with Sunsail.

I can thoroughly recommend October as a time of year to escape before winter sets in. It’s far less busy than the summer months and the temperature is perfect. During the day we were sailing in shorts and T-shirts, and in the evening enjoying the sunsets with a glass of wine and just a sweater on. The night time temperatures made it really pleasant to sleep with no fans needed, and also no mosquitoes! The afternoon temperatures also meant it was not too hot to explore the Islands and go for some walks, something I would never do in the height of summer in 30 degrees! We did find the wind didn’t normally come in until 13:00. I’m not sure if this is typical for the time of year or just a coincidence, but it means you can just find a nice bay to anchor in, have a lunchtime swim and then enjoy an afternoon sail onto your final destination.

The next day we headed off for Meganisi and Port Atheni where we moored up on the Quay alongside some long term cruisers and got some great tips on places to visit. Port Atheni is a lovely spot with lots of nooks and crannies to anchor in. It’s very peaceful, with just the one taverna, Niagas, in the bay. In the afternoon I decided to have a little explore and head up to the town of Katomeri. I quickly reached the town, so decided to head down to Port Vathi a really pretty little harbour with several tavernas and bars.


Relaxing onboardVliho bay Taverna’s behind 

The start of our journey

I went to the South Ionian with my family a couple of times when I was little, and I was intrigued to see what I would remember and how much it had changed. The first day we sailed to Nidri and carried on past the town and Tranquil bay until the channel opened up into this amazing bay called Vliho. It’s so peaceful, great for anchoring and with 4 tavernas to choose from makes an idealic first night.

Little Vathi

A quick throwback

It was at this point the little explore turned into a more epic hike of the Island! A couple of bays further round is Spartahori, a place I remember from my childhood. This is probably because of a couple of events that happened that have stuck in my memory. Firstly, the shower at the well. Normally we would go to the local taverna for a shower, but the only taverna in those days was up on top of the hill in the little village, so we were told we could shower at the well. This all sounded rather exciting at first until I experienced the icy cold bucket of water chucked over me by Dad. I don’t think I bothered to wash my hair that day.

I also remember waking up in the morning to Dad moaning that his swimming trunks were gone and that the local fisherman must have taken them. I strongly doubt this, as the rest of the family were slightly relieved they had disappeared. The more likely scenario is Mum ‘accidentally’ didn’t peg them out too well…

My final Spartahori memory is the taverna on the hill, Taverna Lakis (still going strong, it seems!). It’s a good old climb up there these days, so to a 10 year old probably felt epic. There was no menu, you got what you were given which was chicken and chips, but it was a fantastic evening with dancing on the tables, concluding with the conga in and out of the restaurant windows. There was also the Greek tradition of smashing plates, but that might have been one of the tipsy flotilla sailors accidentally dropping their plate!

Remember your walking boots

Already moored up on Meganisi in Port Atheni, and with so many places to visit, I thought it was unlikely we would stop off in Spartahori, so decided to walk there along the coast road to try and find the well and see how much the place had changed. It was a bit further than I had thought, three bays further in fact! Time was ticking on and I had said to Steve I would only be a couple of hours, so I decided to start jogging. I can advise that flip-flops don’t make the ideal hiking shoes and are certainly no substitute for trainers, however it was worth it because the views along the way were beautiful!

View while walking to Spartahori

Well, well, well...

Eventually, I arrived and found the well.  Not quite the centrepiece it had been, the well is now rather overgrown and padlocked up, saving anyone else from cold shock syndrome.  There are now several tavernas in the bay, but the walk up the hill to the pretty village is so worth it for the view, and you can now enjoy a well earned drink at one of the rooftop bars.  The tavernas also now serve more than chicken and chips!

The Well at SpartahoriThe view from the village

The breathtaking scenery

One sail not to miss is down between the islands of Ithaka and Kefalonia. This stretch of water is surrounded by breathtaking scenery. After a wonderful day on the water, we anchored in AY Euphemia. Here, there is a walk across the island to the western shore which looks amazing. Unfortunatley I didn’t get time to do it because it’s 5 miles, so a 10 mile round trip; not feasible unless you can get a taxi the other end to bring you back.The biggest difference I noticed from my childhood is that the Islands have become more developed, with more tavernas, bars, and small supermarkets to support the tourism out there. The nice thing though is the character of the islands has not changed, they have kept their unique Greek culture and style.

The channel between Kefalonia and Ithaka

A must visit; Sivota

One of our favourite places was Sivota.  Funnily enough we had been warned off going there by the long term cruisers we met in Port Atheni, saying it was really busy.  Luckily, we ignored their advice and even though we arrived the day all the flotillas returned, there was plenty of room to anchor in the bay.  Sivota is a pretty town tucked away in a lovely bay, with lots of tavernas to choose from and a nice beach to swim off.  We enjoyed a cocktail during happy hour at the yacht club, before having what we think is the best Greek dish we have ever tasted, Seafood Saganaki.  You must try it!

Sivota

All in all, we had another fantastic holiday with Sunsail, we can’t wait to go back and visit all the other islands and bays we never got to see, and will certainly be booking in October again!

Find out more about Lefkas and the Southern Ionian here. If you want to hear more from Helena, click here to read about her BVI adventure.

 

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