In my last post, I write about a visit to the Ionian island of Kefallonia. Here I will share a few pics and observations from the second part of our trip, to the island of Lefkada.
One of the great advantages of Lefkada is that it is actually connected to the mainland by a bridge, making for easy access from Athens or Central Greece. Unfortunately, we learned that this is also a big disadvantage, since the land connection means that anyone in continental Europe can drive to Lefkada and, believe me, they do. From a perusal of the license plates on the island it would appear that half of Romania heads for Lefkada in early September. Along with large numbers of visitors from Serbia and Bulgaria, the Eastern European tourists filled the beaches and tavernas of the island, in this post-high season period that we expected to be relatively quiet.
We had been warned by our guidebook to get out of the town of Nydri, where our ferry from Kefallonia landed, as soon as possible, and this proved to be good advice. Nydri appears to be heavily oriented towards package tourism, with little of interest to offer. We made our way north to Lefkada town instead and found a picturesque harbor area and a unique architectural style, unlike anything I’ve encountered elsewhere in Greece.
Because of the frequent earthquakes throughout the island’s history, the townspeople developed a method of construction which uses sheet metal reinforcement over the masonry, which is then painted in bright colors, giving the downtown a distinctly tropical look. As we wandered the alleyways of the old town, I felt as if we could have been in the South Pacific or the Caribbean. The impression is enhanced by the jumbled, incongruous nature of the architecture, with lovely tall houses painted in bright yellows and blues set among a jumble of grey, rotting bare wood structures with porches that appeared ready to collapse upon unsuspecting pedestrians. Could not be more different than the Cycladic villages with their strict architectural codes, every building perfectly whitewashed, the shutters all painted in the same shade of deep blue, green, or red.
One does not expect to encounter rain on the Greek islands in early September, but the weather gods were not smiling on us. Fortunately, Lefkada town has a nice little archaeological museum that is perfect for a rainy day. It was there, however, that I learned something that to an oenophile and even occasionally practicing oenologist such as myself, was very disturbing. You’ll notice that, although the modern Greek word for wine is krasi, I don’t say that I’m a krasophile–the ancient Greek word for wine was, of course, oinos. I learned from an exhibit at this little museum that the word krasi is actually thought to have come from the word for “mixed,” as in “wine mixed with water,” which, apparently, is the way that wine was generally consumed by the ancient Greeks. It seems they enjoyed quaffing rather large quantities of the stuff but still wanted to be able to impress their friends with their rhetorical skills and poetry and whatnot. So I guess I can no longer scoff at the modern-day Greeks who often put ice cubes in their wine, a practice that I have always ridiculed. It is well-grounded in history, it seems.
By the way, I also learned at this museum that a symposium was, in fact, a guys’ drinking part, presumably mixed in with some intellectual banter for respectability’s sake–keep that in mind next time you’re invited to one of those academic gatherings.
Lefkada’s proximity to Italy also offers the advantage of a substantial number of genuine Italian restaurants on the island, something we don’t often find in Athens. We stumbled upon one–a little hole in the wall that proved to be a gem. The owner was a Napolitana woman who, despite having lived in Lefkada for two years spoke barely a word of Greek and only a few words of English. She seemed particularly pleased to be able to chat with us in our broken Italian and was delighted at the fact that we wanted our pasta al dente (having learned in our time in Florence that the word scotto! —always with an exclamation point–conveyed the worst possible culinary sin–overcooked pasta.) Despite the rain dripping through the flimsy plastic sheeting above us and the cramped sidewalk tables on a not particularly picturesque city street, we spent a lovely afternoon, enjoying our pasta with swordfish and eggplant, pasta with mussels, caprese with basil cut from the plant in the corner, and, of course, substantial quantities of white wine.
Having learned from our guidebooks that the island’s most remote and nicest beaches were on the east side of the island, we booked a room on that side, just outside of Lefkada town. We stayed at the absolutely lovely Mira resort, near the town of Tsooukalades, which I would highly recommend.
We took a drive down the beautiful coastal road on the island’s east side, making our way all the way to the southern tip to the spectacular beach of Porto Katsiki. Unfortunately, every other visitor to Lefkada had also been apprised of the beauty of this beach and, even in September, we were confronted with a mass of umbrellas, blankets, and people.
We had better luck with our visit to the mountainous central heart of the island, despite the iffy weather. We took a lovely drive through the mountains, mostly on good roads (although we did end up, at one point, on what is probably the most narrow, winding road I have ever encountered–more of a paved goat path than road–thank goodness we never encountered another car or I don’t know how we would have managed to get by.) We enjoyed a nice hike through olive orchards and fig groves, sheltering occasionally from the sun showers, enjoying gorgeous views at various points of the mountains and the sea below.
My bottom line impression, then is that Lefkada is a great natural beauty but, unfortunately, much of Europe has already made this discovery.