"The Sea is the last free place on earth."
Ernest Hemingway via Humphrey Bogart
*Nothing in this article has been sponsored, discounted or gifted
Setting off, alone, into the blue is one of the very best feelings.
Getting the children along too I thought might be more life-saving headache and screen-grappling nightmare, but it turns out no-one is impervious to the hypnotic thrill of the open water and a vessel to plunge through it on. My youngest was 5 when we first slept on board a boat for a week, and I wish we hadn't waited. The sea becalms the teens as much as the toddlers and all children adored it.
Greece was all the beautiful I expected with much more of the ridiculously glittering clear blue bays. Empty coves we happened upon for lunches that were decidedly Caribbean.
We booked nothing in advance, apart from the boat, and even though we were there late July, high-season, nothing was overrun or overbooked and arriving at a restaurant at 11pm one night we were still fed.
There were plans made and places picked out we wanted to get to, but the joy of being on a boat on holiday is that you just go wherever you feel like, things change, the weather moves, life happens and restaurants twinkle at you from the shore.
This is the route we took, which works as a week's sail here, so I hope that helps with a broad plan for anyone wanting to do this area, but the rest might help if you're going anywhere else.
It's where we stopped, largely, on the way, but names of bays I don't have and isolated spots that we stumbled upon aren't precisely plotted here, they're for unearthing as you go. Wherever you sail you'll find somewhere you don't want to leave and might not know exactly where you are.
THE FOOD - FETA FETISH
Eating is a crucial part of holidays. We plan the day around where we're having dinner or what we can buy for lunch. We ate like kings all the time but I've written up any of the notable treats.
I was initially, sceptical about the food, but despite feta featuring in every meal, it was fairly faultless. Fresh fish was hunted out in the local restaurants, and we bought anything we liked the look of to make ourselves. Scrambled eggs with feta and onions might have been the discovery of the holiday.
No entertainment arranged, no screens mentioned, everyone jumping off boats, reading, swimming, eating, spotting dolphins or singing under the sunshine on the sea all day long. With evenings ashore or watching a movie or at anchor in a quiet bay skinny dipping, listening to the waves and drinking Retsina, it's so much less work for more bliss than most holidays.
For our itinerary on this Ionian trip, see below. For general kit and info for sailing holidays, see appendage.
Boat Charter: Ivan and Eva at Ocean Charter
Fast, efficient and the best value for any boat we've looked at. They can find you whatever you want from luxury speed boat in the Caribbean to skippered sailing charter in Turkey. A small business that will find you what you want and help you with whatever you need, can't recommend them highly enough.
And he has very kindly offered a 10% discount for anyone booking from here: OCEANLLH
We have used them for this yacht charter in Greece, as well as the year before sailing around the Aeolian Islands from Sicily, Italy, and will be sailing with them again this year.
My husband is prone to asking endless questions about boat finishes and rope lengths, none of which they've minded so far.
A Blissful Week in the Ionian
CORFU to LEFKAS by boat, in a leisurely fashion.
With sailing intel and itinerary from the skipper in italics.
We had two families, and six children under 11, so we were aiming for beauty and bliss but without too many days of lashing ourselves to the boat and sailing for hours on end. We came equipped with our own skipper, my husband happens to have been across the Atlantic a few times under sail which helps with boat holidays, so just rented the boat "bare-back".
And he will be giving the sailing itinerary, I'm just filling in the pictures and lunch spots. And happy jigs like this about sailing holidays.
I get over excited by the local food scenes, planning what to make and what is on offer and having a chat with the local foodies makes me very happy. So we made lunches on the boat in bays, suppers at anchor but also in villages and harbours we went out for lots of our meals too.
But the boats do come with any able bodied beings you could want; a skipper, any crew you want, including cooks, cleaning/shopping help etc.
Sailing, swimming, lunching and languishing was our basic aim, we had an end point to reach, but we took it at a relaxed pace, with small children and much discussion on the best bays, restaurants, winds to get us there, this was a relaxed sailing holiday not one for clocking up the nautical miles.
CORFU - GOUVIA - PAXOS
45 minutes to Gouvia
After loading the boat up with provisions and a talk through the boat, there's only time to get to the closest bolthole out of the more commercial harbours/charter bases.
A swim in a bay nearby then a bit further to arrive in a crescent shaped bay, Lakka on Paxos for sunset and supper.
PAXOS - ANTI-PAXOS
4 hour sail - protected from any swell for most of it.
PAXOS - ANTI-PAXOS
Three different spots - all good shelter and holding and enough space.
Lazing in LAKKA for breakfast, Paxos
Sailed down the East coast of Paxos to stop for a swim beyond GAIOS in a little bay with a sandy beach, spaces to anchor or go stern to.
MONGONISI, south Paxos, for late lunch
Fresh sardines, grilled prawns, calamari and the feta that follows us.
Swim at Voutoumi Beach
The smaller and very beautiful Anti-paxos for the night.
ANTI-PAXOS - LEFKAS - CEPHALONIA
The only tough sail of the week.
Long leg from Anti-Paxos to Lefkas exposed to the swell - 5 hours on a confused sea. Kids seasickness was cured by dolphins.
Followed by an easy 1.5 hour hop.
We upped and left early as the children slept below - good idea if you want to get miles under your belt, bad idea if its rough as they donor fare well below deck!
Milkshakes and Cappuccinos in Vasiliki after a long, early sail and some seasickness - see captain's note above. But half an hour of dolphins playing last the bow of the boat made up for the swell.
Pretty sail on to Cephanlonia and arrived at the quietly bustling beauty spot, Fiskardo, on northern tip nestled into Ithaka.
We fell in love with the bougainvillea strewn hamlet and rows of pretty restaurants lining the stone streets, and canned whatever our plan was, deciding to stay for the night.
Coming in for supper at a restaurant with tables spilling out to sea wall, at the end of the bay.
CEPHALONIA - ITHAKA
3 hours via caves and bays and paddle boarding stops.
From now you are on the inland sea. Islands shelter you from the swell. Good sailing in all winds.
Breakfast on Fiskardo was where the delicious Strapatsada were first tasted - a feta whipped egg dish with herbs and onions that is a perfect hot morning feast, with a salty tang and a soft, fresh egg finish.
Strapatsada and charts to plot for breakfast
I fell in love with this, and got the recipe from the owner, it's classic Ionian breakfast and I adore it so I wrote it up as I like to make it now we're back home: Strapatsada Recipe
Lunch and swim in Polis beach, Ithaka
No space if you come in late. We anchored in the middle of the bay with 70+ metres of cable out in 20+ metres of depth. But safe and comfortable for the night.
ITHAKA -ATOKOS - KASTOS
2 hours between each. Ending at Kastos - a small harbour that we squeezed a large boat into.
We loved Kuoni on Ithaka, and stayed for breakfast and a swim and a walk around to explore.
Greek breakfasts often looked like this. Some mutation of greek yoghurt, honey, nuts and chopped fruit could be found everywhere, and was reliably delciious.
Here a classic sundae bowl serving surrounded by the Ithakan dream, Kuoni, Ithaka.
As a coeliac, finding these local rice-based beauties nestling amongst the pastries was an exciting discovery:
So we ordered one, a sweet, sticky mouthful with a cinnamon and clove hit that was a glory in the heat.
Rovani, rice, honey and spices
Rovani is an Ithacan specialty. A deliciously sticky rice cooked in a tray with honey, I dug up some of the classic local recipes here:
Swim and Lunch, another blisteringly brilliant sea in a bay, ATOKOS
Lunch at anchor in a bay as beautiful as these tomatoes
Sailed on to KASTOS mariner for the evening, dinner and the night.
Sparsely populated and less chi-chi than other spots, but beautifully calm and peaceful.
KASTOS - MEGANISI
2 hours sailing to a beautiful lunch spot.
We spent a long morning languishing, kids in the sea, on boats, and boards, two mothers found ourselves a quiet breakfast alone, next to the restaurant we'd had dinner at the night before, with a spectacular view.
Breakfast with a view in Kalamos, Kastos.
5 minute walk up the hill to a windmill with the view back across to the islands behind.
Lunch often looked similar, this was a great one, Meganisi.
The restaurant in a Bay in Meganisi with mooring for boats, overlooking a pretty beach bay.
A late lunch that turned into a lazy afternoon watching the children on the sandy beach, exploring on paddle-boards, and making plans for the next sail.
Ending the day in Port Kastos, dinner in a fish restaurant for a change.
MEGANISI - KALAMOS - SPARTOCHORI
Hugging the coast and stopping in all the caves and bays we liked the look of. Ending in the harbour below Spartochori.
We dragged the kids onto dry land and walked up from the harbour a steep winding road for 20 minutes to a peach of a village atop.
Views aplenty, buzzing restaurants and bars to regroup in before heading back down the hill refreshed.
SPARTOCHORI - PREVESA
2.5 hours early morning through a narrow canal at the top and under a road that closes on the hour to lift up and let boats through, back to harbour and the airport home.
Things for the boat that make life easier. For the sailors and plotters as well as the loungers and watchers.
The Sailor's Bible
The book by Heikel on whatever area you're sailing in is the only way. In detail, and up to date information on coastlines, bays, restaurants to stop at as well as rocks to look out for. You need this:
Waterproof covers for phones with lanyards to swim with:
A tiny piece of kit that makes hot boat life very happy. Keeping drinks cold is definitely tech. A freezing rod that sits in wine bottles to keep them cold. I pack mine always.
Just because I much prefer not drinking out of plastic glasses all week - most boats standard. These work as wine beakers or water glasses and I love mine.
Swim vest to keep on anyone small or less confident swimmers:
All had a rash vest for snorkelling, paddle boarding, being in the water all day:
Suncreams are needed littered all over the boat, I love this one and prefer the unscented:
Or the spray on one which glides on more easily, and is great for speedy mass children application.
And the Aftersun:
My favourite suncream that has a lovely tint to it, so you need wear nothing else.
Sand stone do the best stick of tinted zinc block, to daub on noses and cheekbones to keep sunburn at bay.
And another crucial ons for Lips
A website with some perfect Ithacan recipes that were coaxed out of the locals to write down, including my rice honey dream, Rovani.