There’s this place I know. It’s at the southern end of a flamingo-flanked canal winding through the wetlands that separate Lefkada from the Greek mainland. The canal is unremarkable, but bear with me. You cruise past the wading birds and the old guys fishing, through the channel markers, by a ruined Venetian fort. Look ahead, breathe it all in. This spot, for me, holds a promise of adventure.
To port are the Acarnanian Mountains, looking barren and beautiful. Before you, the Ionian islands are lush and green from winter rain, their edges white with sand and lapped by turquoise sea. The sailing here is forgiving: the conditions are moderate, there’s a reliable afternoon breeze, shelter is plentiful and the water is as clear as glass.
The hardest part is choosing where to go. Most islands are an easy day’s sail from Lefkada Town, but this area lends itself perfectly to a meander – and why not, you’re on holiday. Off to starboard on Lefkada itself is Ligiá, home of decent fish tavernas. And consider the mainland. Roughly an hour south, to port, lies Varko, an ideal swimming spot, with a laid-back beach bar. Under an hour’s sailing to the north-east is the colourful harbour and lively town square of Paleros, where the distinctive ridge of the 1,100m-tall Serekas mountain sweeps up from the waterfront and turns flaming red in the sunset.
To the south-west, sits quiet Meganisi island, blessed with deep coves and numerous wooded walks. On your way there, dawdle past Skorpios, the private island where Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis (the chapel holds the family tomb). Or make for Kalamos, where Port Leone’s abandoned village lies baking in the sun, empty since a 1953 earthquake sent people running.
If you dream of quiet beaches, carry on south to Kastos (make sure you have food and wine – most boats moor near tavernas so independence increases your chance of isolation) and look for one of the many coves lining its eastern coast. The small town makes a great stop, too.
A jaunt further south is Atokos island, where wild pigs bathe in the sea and the wind rushes to meet you. West is beautiful Kefalonia, popular but often so busy that I prefer little Ithaca, just over the strait. Kioni, on its east coast, is pretty, and Vathy, the main town, has an outdoor cinema, good sourdough in the bakeries and scooter hire – Ithaca is easily explored in a couple of days. There are tourist attractions, but they’re reached along dirt tracks and potholed back roads – the islanders don’t tend to push the Odyssey connection. On my last visit, the cave of the nymphs was a deep treacherous hole, blocked to stop people plummeting in.
A better use of time is to hike to the acropolis of Alalkomenes and gawp over the isthmus of Aeothos and the northern half of Ithaca. The highlight though is always getting back to the boat and on to that crystal water, where colourful fish dart around the shade of your keel. For freedom and adventure, nothing beats being at sea.
Sailing boat charters from Sunsail Lefkada cost from £1,530 a week in May for a 34ft (two-cabin) craft, or from £2,055 in a flotilla. ICC licence (equivalent to day skipper) required. Skippers can also be hired