Getting to Lefkada
Getting to Leukada is a relatively pain free four and a half hour’s drive from Athens going via Patra, the Rio – Anti-Rio Bridge, up through Amfilohia and then over into Leukas Town via the above mentioned bridge. With the opening of the new Egnatia Odos, Thessaloniki is even closer, and lots of tourists fly in via the airport in Preveza, about a 40 minute drive from Leukas Town. However you get there, having a car is really essential if you want to get a true idea of what Leukada has to offer.
Walking in Leukas Town
Leukas town is a nice enough place to wander around for a couple of hours or even a couple of days. Highlights include the small archeological museum housed in the new city hall which holds finds all the way from the Neolithic to the Ancient Hellenic periods from various sites around Leukada.
The town also has many churches, mainly established in the 17th and 18th centuries. Keep an eye out for the church bells suspended from iron towers, built to withstand the frequent earthquakes that shake the island. Many of Leukas Town’s houses also display a unique deferral to earthquakes with the ground floors being built of stone and the upper floors being made of much lighter wood and sheet metal constructions, often painted in bright colours.
Lefkada’s eastern coast
Leukada’s eastern coast is a cosmopolitan kind of place with a couple of good sized marinas that pull in the European yachting crowd all year round. The towns of Nikiana and Nydri are bustling places full of restaurants and bars with the expected crush of tourists in the summer months. The beaches are nowhere near as good as those on the west coast, but they seem to keep the package crowds happy enough. It is from Nydri that boats may be taken to tour the smaller Prince islands opposite Leukada which include Sparti, Heloni, Madouri, Skorpidi, Skorpios and Meganisi.
While Nydri is not my kind of place, too busy and too commercial, the view of the islands and the Agia Kyriaki peninsula is pleasant enough for a coffee on your way further south.Driving down the east coast offers a number of short diversions on your way south. First up might be the ruins of ancient houses just outside Leukas Town, follow the brown and yellow signs to the left of the main road, you will probably be the only one there.
Once in Nidri other signs will point you right and 3kms out of town you will park to make the 400 metre walk to the Dimossari waterfall. The gorge itself is interesting enough, although the waterfall is not really all that, and swimming in the frigid pool underneath it with a bunch of other strangers doesn’t really tickle my fancy much. South of Nydri are more archeological sites including tombs and buildings dating to the pre Hellenic period. Many of the finds from these sites are now on display at the Museum in Leukas Town.
Leaving Nidri behind we take the road for Vassiliki, another town on the far south coast that is popular with package tourists and is known for good wind surfing in its sheltered bay. Smaller roads lead down to other beaches including one at Poros and the more secluded Ammouso, Afteli and Kastri beaches. Any of the south coast beaches are a good bet when the wind is up, all of them are in protected south facing bays which keep the sea calm. If you fancy another coffee, Sivota has a pleasant seaside with a number of cafes and tavernas.
Leukada has some surprisingly fertile valleys in its mountainous inner region and the area is well known for its good hiking opportunities with a number of small churches and ruined monasteries to visit. Our trip started in Nikiana and then headed up the windy mountain that leads to Kolivata and Alexandros. The corners are sharp, so take it easy, but you are offered fantastic views of the channel and the smaller islands off Leukada’s east coast.
Stops along the way included the small Hermitage of the Holy Fathers, a small cave like space underneath what seems to be a recently defunct nunnery. Apparently the three holy fathers came to Leukada shortly after the First Ecumenical Council of Nikaia in 325 AD and are now buried here.
Next up was the church of Agios Georgios just above the town of Kolivata. There is also the similarly named Agios Georgios Monastery a short walk up a roughly paved mountain path which we had the pleasure to visit on a herb walk organised by our friend Brigitte Roth. The monastery is long abandoned and in ruins with a small church still maintained inside its walls.
Our return trip took us down to Perigiali and past another ruined monastery, that of Evangelistria or the Kokkini Ekklisia (Red Church), named for the red clay used to build the original church in the mid 1500’s. The Monastery is in ruins and a good chunk of the main wall is being held up by a wooden supports with signs telling of a reconstruction project with amounts in Drachmas(!). I’m not sure how long those walls are going to hold up, better get there while you still can.
The West Coast of Lefkada
Leukada is probably most well known for its stunning west coach beaches which are long, mainly covered with small pebbles and feature beautiful turquoise waters that are unique to the Ionian islands. Driving from Agios Nikitas to the lighthouse at the far southern tip of the island is a nice day trip which takes you past all of Leukada’s famous beaches including Kathisma, Kalamitsi, Gialou, Egremni and Porto Katsiki. All of these beaches are ‘organised’ meaning they are stuffed full of loungers, umbrellas and cafes. Egremni with its 300 steps down to the beach and Porto Katsiki with steep picturesque cliffs pushing it into the sea are considered some of the world’s best.
Travelling with baby meant we didn’t feel like climbing steps, so our first stop is the easily accessible Kathisma Beach about 5 kms south of Agios Nikitas. The beach is backed by a number of well developed café/bar type places and an tavern at the far southern end. I would imagine that in July and August Kathisma beach might be a bit unbearable. In mid September, even though the umbrellas are still out, there is literally hardly anyone around. The beach is about 2 kilometers long and we shared it with about 50 others on a Saturday morning when we figured there would be a few locals come for a swim. We tried the tavern that night after watching the sunset, it was ok, a bit pricey, but with a nice sea view.
After popping through the mountain village of Athani we headed to a Gialou beach, less umbrellas and less people. The beach has a number of shack type places offering coffees, beers and sandwiches which are all shut. One of them seemed to be opening as we left. The beach is again about 2 km long and there is all of 15 people on it, heavenly. The waves were a bit up and we have heard that if the winds and waves really pick up to be very careful. The beaches on the west coast can be wild and the undertow can be strong, no matter how good a swimmer you are, be careful, and always keep your things a good way up the beach, big waves can come out of nowhere and snatch your shoes, towels and baby toys in a flash.
Following the road further south takes you to a fork, going right takes you to the famous Porto Katsiki, left takes you all the way down to the lighthouse at the islands southern tip. We choose left, but not without stopping for a quick coffee in the café at the side of the road. It sits literally on top of the cliff with a stunning, vertigo inducing view of Egremni Beach from way way up.
The trip down to the lighthouse is pleasant, with the terrain getting steadily more rocky and wild as you go further south. The lighthouse offers lovely views south to Kefalonia and has some sad looking ancient stones that were part of an ancient temple. The lighthouse itself looks like its slowly falling apart, although it is still fully functional.
Agios Nikolaos Monastery and the dirt road to Vassiliki
Deciding to take the adventurous route back we stop to quickly visit the Agios Nikolaos Monastery, built in the 17th century although the current building are more recent and it is very definitely locked after a number of items were stolen from the church (by a local who was apparently nabbed sometime later while trying to transport or flog them. Across the clearing from the Monastery gates are a bunch of square stone cubicles, apparently ancient beehives.
Back on the paved road and heading north, another dirt road leads off to the right and it looks like it cuts along the mountain and will save you a good 30 minute trip back up and around to reach Vassiliki. We tried it in our trusty Hyundai Getz and had no problems. The road looks like it has had gravel recently laid in some sections and is on the whole in good shape except for a couple of tight squeezes along high cliffs if you happen to meet someone coming in the opposite direction. Arriving in Vassiliki needs celebration with another coffee to prepare for the drive back to Agios Nikita which will take the best part of an hour.
- Do go in September
- Do rent a car and explore.
- If you like walking and want to learn a bit about native herbs and plants phone or email our friend Brigitte Roth and take one of her Leukada Herb Walks (in german).
- If you want a recommendation for a place to stay, Elenaki Apartments above Agios Nikitas offer good value and are in a lovely peaceful olive grove with open verandas ideal for small children and small groups. Aggelos will be sure to give you the 15 minute rundown on what to do during your stay if you ask.