The so-called “Seven Islands” (there are actually many more than seven in the chain) off the west coast of Greece are a popular destination for European travelers hoping to take advantage of the balmy climes without surrendering the pubs, sporting events, and creature comforts to which they are accustomed. As a result, the Ionian islands (as they are now known) are a peculiar mix of cultures unlike anyplace else in Greece.
For starters, slightly heavier rainfall has resulted in a landscape that is greener than most of the country, giving it an Italian or even French feel. But it goes much further than that. Having once been a British possession (the United States of the Ionian Islands, as it happens), the islands retain a certain amount of leftover colonial culture (particularly in Corfu). Unlike the rest of Greece, cricket is regularly played, karaoke bars and ale houses abound, and it’s simple as shepard’s pie to procure fish and chips and a Sunday roast.
Travelers with more interest in an authentically Greek experience should make it a point to avoid the more popular spots. This is easy enough to do on the smaller, less inhabited islands, and also on Corfu, which at 33 miles long and a full 15 across is, er, packed with empty spaces. Of particular interest is the island of Ithaca, which is generally identified as the home of Homer’s Odysseus.
Most of the islands in the chain are craggy in places, and covered in trees and olive groves. The Ionians are also justly famous for their profusion of long, beautiful, sandy beaches. The chain is accessible by ferry and by air, as Corfu has a fully equipped international airport.