Lefkas (or Lefkada as it is known locally) is truly a hidden gem. It lies 5 hours north of Athens or less than an hour south of Preveza airport in the Ionian Sea. It is the only Greek island you can drive to without hopping on a ferry as a short causeway connects the island to the mainland. As you head from the airport, emerald, forest clad peaks rise dramatically ahead and you pass a shallow lagoon teaming with pink flamingos and an array of other wading birds. Beyond the main town of Lefkada, dreamy sedate inlets, mountainous interiors, dramatic cliffs, glittering white beaches and quaint traditional villages await.
Whilst the island is not overrun by tourist coaches and giant resorts, it is most definitely a magnet for British yachting types. Independent and flotilla sailors pack the bars and restaurants in their distinctive yellow hoods. You will not have to wander far to find them sharing stories over drinks at dusk or long lunches beside calm bays that dazzle in the sun.
You can easily laze away a few weeks on Lefkas working on your tan. However, if you really want to explore the island, what follows should provide plenty of inspiration. These are my top tips for great places to visit during a holiday to Lefkas.
Lefkada town (allow an afternoon)
To come to Lefkas and ignore the main town would be criminal. It is a melange of dilapidated Caribbean style homes and the regal Venetian architecture of many Italian towns. Rusting ornate balconies, reminiscent of New Orleans, attach to ramshackle dilapidated corrugated upper stories in shades of pastel. Sturdier lower stories constructed from traditional stonework are painted in a variety of bright hues. The town is a fascinating mix of rich and poor, bohemian and palatial.
This architecture is a unique style designed to protect residents against the perpetual threat of earthquakes that are frequent in the area. In fact, on our latest trip we were awoken at 4am one morning by the earth moving in a 3.5 quake! Personally I think it aims to monopolise your camera lens as a vast array of picturesque scenes fight for your attention. From narrow alleyways brimming with flowers, to shuttered houses in greens and peaches, scintillating views of the glittering water, and the hustle of bars and cafes spilling into pavements, this town is a smorgasbord of delights. You may even hear haunting singing as you wander past open church doorways.
The town is encircled on three sides by the sea and lagoon. Yachts line the harbour walls, a stone’s throw from the seafront crammed with bars and restaurants that entice with delicious aromas of barbecued chicken and other local dishes.
Gyra lagoon walk (allow half a day)
You can combine this walk with time spent wandering the streets of Lefkada for a full day out. The walk from town circumnavigates the lagoon, is around 5.5 miles and flat as a pancake. Head north from the parade of café bars by the tiny hump bridge where locals sip frozen expressos. Follow the road as it veers to the right to skirt the lagoon.
Shortly after, you pass schools on your left and get your first glimpse of the bird life that inhabits the lagoon. It is home to a wealth of migratory birds including flamingos, herons, pelicans, swans and ducks. It forms part of the largest wetlands of western Greece and is part of the Natura 2000 network. The flamingos arrive from Africa in October and stay for up to five months. They create huge colonies, of up to 30,000 birds and feed mainly on shrimp and aquatic plants. It is this diet, that contains a natural pink dye called canthaxanthin, that is responsible for their pink and orange hues.
They are fascinating to watch as they wade jerkily in the shallow waters of the central lagoon. Their legs flex like collapsible tables – all gangly limbs beneath an engorged body of pink and orange feathers. Closer to shore, grey herons squawk noisily and ducks glide fearlessly beneath them.
Agios Ioannis Beach
As we come to a junction by Agios Ioannis beach the road turns sharply to the right sandwiched between the beach on one side and the lagoon on the other. Tall reeds offer protection for the birds and flamingos of the lagoon whilst crumbling windmills line the beachfront. There’s little in the way of civilisation so take plenty of water. This stretch has no coffee bars or restaurants and is entirely untouched but is a pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of town.
Lefkada island swing bridge
A sturdy fortress greets us as we approach the road slicing through the lagoon. A narrow canal carves a passage through the causeway and a swing bridge offers the only point of access to the island. It glitters in the sunshine and clatters noisily with the endless stream of cars, trucks and lorries coming and going. It has rightly become a tourist attraction in its own right. Every hour between 8am and 10pm it puts on a fascinating display of engineering not to be missed.
We happen to arrive just before the hour and take a seat on the canal bank in the hope that we will see it open. Out to sea, we can see a parade of yachts slowly making their way into the canal and before long a loud alarm pierces the serenity. It sounds like an alarm to alert residents of impending doom, an earthquake or some other cataclysmic event. Instead, this is the bridge’s way of announcing its imminent closure. The barriers descend and the two side ramps rise like wings. Slowly, the floating bridge swings open to create a narrow passage for the queuing boats to pass through. Their skippers seem equally as fascinated as us and many video or photograph the bridge going through its manoeuvres. The last boat slips silently through and the bridge operator reverses the process.
Meanwhile, impatient truck drivers rev their engines animatedly and disgorge bellowing fumes. It’s like a game of chicken as the bridge reopens. Cement trucks and lorries edge forward poised to nudge cars out of the way in their quest to traverse the bridge. Satisfied, we rise and continue our walk across the causeway and back into town where we enjoy a hard earned drink at one of the seafront tavernas.
Driving south on the east coast
The drive from Lefkada to our villa in Vlicho is utterly sublime. Switch back roads hug the hillside with dramatic views of inlets and coves reminiscent of Lake Garda. Ornate villas line the roadside and yachts dot the coves and bays.
Around 20 minutes south of Lefkada is the bustling seaside planet of Nidri. Whilst Nidri lacks some of the charm of other villages on the island, it has plenty of eating and drinking options. Unless you like revisiting the same restaurants every night, Nidri is a lively option for those seeking great seafood, cheap cocktails and fabulous views of the inlet.
The bays of Nidri and neighbouring Vlicho are especially beautiful at sunrise and sunset. Still, emerald waters nestle below forested hillsides which lead to the dramatic peaks of the island interior. These mountains tower high above the coast, topped with scree and rock, their barrenness in direct contrast to the greenery of the rest of Lefkas.
Sunrise in Nidri
From our villa, perched on the hillside, we are treated to an extraordinary explosion of colour each morning. Shortly after 7, the inky black bay and the peaks beyond seem topped by a halo. A distant sliver of pale orange starts to appear and beyong the hills of the Geni peninsula to my right a glow of warm orange and gold climbs silently upwards. Shades of pink and red bathe the bay in a kaleidoscopic sunburst. The lights twinkle which in the village and on yachts resemble little stars.
Vlicho is little more than a fishing village whose main occupation seems to be centred around the boatyards that occupy much of its shoreline. There’s a smattering of bars and restaurants including the Vlicho yacht club (Guinness lovers, this is the place for you!) and the Restaurant Fish Tavern Aimanani. This seafront restaurant serves succulent feasts of octopus, swordfish and other seafood at extremely reasonable prices and is well worth a visit.
The bakery in Vlicho is another highlight that serves strong coffee, delicious smelling bread and enticing pastries. It’s a short wander from our villa along the seafront with early morning mist hovering above the placid waters.
Just a short walk from Nydri village is the Dimosari Canyon where gushing waterfalls plunge into shady lagoons surrounded by moss clad oak trees. A pleasant hike follows the river up the mountainside for nature lovers and the shallow pools are a great place to cool off in summer.
A further twenty minutes south, a left turn takes you to the tiny crescent shaped cove of Sivota. Dark green waters swirl around a promenade packed with tavernas, bars, shops and bakeries. It’s a cute place to linger and enjoy a cold beer or a cocktail. Note the Sivota Bakery Café offers incredible crepes but it is advisable to share!
Of course, any trip to Greece would be incomplete without a mention of beaches. You will be spoilt for choice on Lefkas with a huge selection of often deserted beaches (note, we visited in October). Not all are worthy of a visit however so if we don’t mention one, it is likely because we were not impressed by it. Many beaches in Lefkas are remote, very pebbly and rocky and with little facilities and for the most part we have excluded these.
As a word of caution, many of the beaches require long, winding drives down the side of a mountain. Signs continuously remind you that you risk imminent death due to the potential threat of rock falls from the unstable mountain side. As if to ram home the point, huge boulders bulge from the safety nets that line parts of the road and debris lingers on large swathes of the road. Nevertheless, the following beaches are ones that we feel are worth the risk.
East coach beaches
This beach is a charming little cove with clear turquoise waters at the end of a potholed road on the peninsula of Geni. It sits next to a campsite and taverna and in October is delightfully uncrowded.
West coast beaches
The beach of Porto Katsiki is the jewel of the island and absolutely not to be missed. A long hairpin road descends the mountain to arrive at a small plateau with parking and a cliff side taverna. From here you can gaze in awe at the dramatic white cliffs tumbling into aquamarine waters. Descend the stairway to walk the cool pebbles beneath the cliffs and take a dip in the refreshing sea.
It is simply stunning so I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves.
Reached by descending a long winding road that leads to a small plateau that serves as a car park in season. Out of season, simply park on the road and follow a small footpath that leads to the beach. For anyone with mobility issues this beach will be inaccessible due to the nature of the entry point. It is small rocky cove with turquoise waters where waves crash dramatically against the rocks.
This beach neighbours Kavalikefta to the south. To reach it you will need to park slightly further up the hill where a track descends from the road. The track is muddy and uneven but leads to a long stretch of sand and shingle scattered with huge rocks. Megali Petra in deed translates as big rock so definitely this is a beach that is aptly named.
This beach is further north on the West coast and much more accessible. This means however that it is more commercial with rows of sun beds lining the beach and a selection of bars on the seafront road. You can pass the time here admiring the soaring efforts of paragliders as they swoop above the bay and rock face.
South coast beaches
Atheli beach is a small sliver of sand at the end of another dusty track nestled at the bottom of densely forested slopes. It’s tiny but worth a visit if you want privacy and a chance to swim in crystal waters
In summer a bar and restaurant opens on the beach but when we visit in late October it is closed.
This beach near Vasiliki is an absolute delight. It requires a drive along a potted and rock strewn road, or a lengthy walk. Ladies, wear a good bra as you will be bouncing around uncomfortably otherwise! It’s a small cove with rocks jutting from the water. The pebbled beach descends sharply into the sea but the colour of the water but dazzling shades of aquamarine, blue and turquoise dance across the bay mesmerising visitors.
It is another pebbly beach with a little hospitality shack in summer but no services in October.
Once you have feasted your eyes on as many beaches as you can endure, you may wish to explore neighbouring islands. Your ability to do so is determined by ferry schedules which become infrequent at best beyond September. However, the ferry to Meganisi runs daily and is worth an afternoon outing.
The ferry is an absolute steal at just €1.90 per person each way. If you wish to take a car then it is an extra €12.90 but well worth it as the ferry docks in Spiro port where there is little entertainment. Only a shaded bar and small store occupy the port but take the road to the left and head to Valty.
Valty is a quaint village centred around a harbour of shimmering water, bustling tavernas and brightly coloured flowers. A lemon painted church takes pride of place in the centre of the village. Flags sprawl across the street outside and alert you to the gravity in which the Greeks treat worship. A few taverns and shops line the harbour and provide a pleasant place to pass a few hours basking in the sun.
Note ferries in October only run three times a day at 7am, 1.30pm and 4pm, so unless you want a very early start day trippers will only have a few hours on the island. This is sufficient however to take a short drive.
The trip to Meganisi is worth the effort for the spectacle of the ferry journey alone.
Watching the ferry fill is a fascinating experience. Cars, cement trucks and a whole myriad of lorries and other vehicles reverse in turn into the tightest of nooks and crannies. On our 1.30 ferry, deckhands ensure that they cram the entire car deck full of vehicles off to offload their wares. We watch as deckhands direct them into the tiniest of spaces. On more than one occasion a truck looks perilously close to swiping a car or other lorry but miraculously no collisions occur.
On the return journey, the efficiency is even more remarkable. Initially we are confused by the timings as the return timing is just 30 minutes after the outbound. The journey takes 30 minutes and it took over 30 minutes to load the ferry on the outbound journey. How therefore can the timings be correct? Amazingly, on the return journey the smattering of vehicles load in record time and the ferry departs shortly after arrival.
Nidri to Meganisi crossing
The ferry weaves slowly around the headland and into the open waters between Lefkas and Meganisi passing the tiny island of Thila and the bigger island of Skorpios. The latter island has an exotic and contentious back story. Bought by Onassis, the shipping magnate in 1963 for €11,000, it was to the 24 year old daughter of a Russian billionaire in 2013, reputedly for a mere $153 million. Plans are underway to develop part into a luxury resort.
This map shows you the locations of all the destinations highlighted in this blog and allows you to determine driving distances to the various destinations.
Where to stay in Lefkas
Note, we visited Lefkas in two consecutive Octobers, the first in the height of the pandemic. These prices reflect the circumstances at the time and prices will vary.
You can search for options to suit your family circumstances on either Airbnb. Use code REFERRAL-PPPLL to get £19 off a stay.
Dynasty Villas in Sivota.
These villas are luxurious albeit not spacious and have fantastic views of the bay and island. Each has its own pool and access to a private tennis court for the sole use of occupants of the three Villas.
We stayed in the Villa Fallon which is a 3 bedroom property with two king size rooms downstairs and a twin room upstairs and cost around £800. The villa is up a rutted narrow lane and is just one of three gorgeous properties. Each have panoramic windows in the lounge allowing guests to take advantage of the stunning views to the village below and out to the islands. It’s nature at its best – forest clad hillsides, charming tavernas and awe-inspiring views in every direction. In October, mornings are fresh and evenings definitely need a jacket, but it is truly an oasis of peace.
The villa is a 1km walk from Sitova which is an ideal place for eating and drinking and minor supplies.
Crystal Villa in Nidri
On our second visit we opted for a private villa in Vlicho on the outskirts of Nidri. We booked through hotels.com and selected this location as it is a relatively flat walk to the town of Nidri and the bustling seafront promenade rammed with restaurants and bars serving cocktails, fresh seafood, crepes and waffles.
Our villa had 3 bedrooms, a private pool and cost less than £1,000 for a week in October. It’s around a 25 minute walk along flat roads into Nidri and 5 – 10 minutes into quieter Vlicho.
How to get to Lefkas
British Airways flies direct to Preveza in Summer. Other airlines including Easyket and Ryanair also fly from the UK. If you want to learn how to earn tons of airmiles to be able to purchase British Airways business class flights for just £1 check out ‘Which is the best airmiles credit card in the UK?.
You can also drive from Athens which is a 5 hour journey crossing the Corinthian Canal.
If you have any plans to visit Lefkas, hopefully this itinerary will help you make the most of your stay. However, if you have any other awesome tips, please do comment below as we would love to hear from you.