Somewhere in the Ionian Sea just north of Kefalonia and several nautical miles south of Corfu lies Lefkada, lesser known than its two neighbours but still with plenty to shout about. This Greek island, connected to the mainland by a causeway, offers 335 square kilometres to explore, some of the best beaches in Greece and the perfect jumping off point to discover the wider Ionians.
Where to stay
We based ourselves in the small and pleasant town of Nikiana at the stylish Crystal Waters. A small complex of beautifully designed, white wash rooms and apartments set against a lush mountain backdrop. The hotel offers 3 pools (including a swim up bar), pool bar, main restaurant and shisha corners We opted for the Presidential Suite with private pool (built more as a plunge pool rather than for laps, but it’s the perfect way to cool off after a day in the sun) with two ensuite bedrooms, lounge, kitchen and terrace.
On closer inspection, most of the rooms are of a similar standard and the grander naming conventions refer more to the size of apartment than any additional luxuries (ours was meant for four). The interiors are a thoughtful curation of local artisan pieces resulting in minimalist paired back chic, but swanky enough to feel spoilt. The hotel’s restaurant Duende provides arguably the best food, service and setting in Nikiana and, as we discovered, is perfect for a small wedding party too! Crystal Waters provides an ideal location: set back from the main bustle of Nikiana but still stumbling distance from bars, restaurants and beach.
Nikiani itself is fairly unassuming, with little to write home about – a small strip of convenience stores, a bakery and a few bars make up the central hub. By day head to NV beach bar on Nikiana’s small sand and shingle beach and share a sundowner on the swing beds over the sea. By night check out the handful of bars and tavernas at the diminutive marina: Taverna Pantazis serves up traditional greek fare by the bucket load, washed down with €4 local wine and Ouzo (we requested the wine list!). All the bars and restaurants on the marina are of a similar standard and each offers up a pleasant waterfront location – we took advantage of Apico’s generous happy hours and the fresh fish and excellent service at Taverna Katerina.
If you’re looking for somewhere more lively, either base yourself in, or take a 10-minute taxi ride to Nydri further south along the coast. Nydri is your full blown tourist centre with a bustling strip, long marina and an abundance of bars and restaurants jostling for your attention. The coolest spot by far is Maraboo Beach Bar boasting comfy loungers set at the end of the bay and one of the best daiquiris we’ve had in a while. If you’re feeling hungry, head to Restaurant Panorama and share their famous mixed grill for two, you won’t be disappointed.
If a traditional picturesque Greek village is more your cup of tea, then you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere more idyllic than Agios Nikitas on the North West corner of the island. Small but perfectly formed, this pocket sized fishing village is positioned on one of Lefkada’s prettiest beaches and offers a handful of tavernas, bars and delicious ice cream parlours to pick from. Equally Sivota in the South East provides similar vibes.
Exploring the island
For the best beaches on the island, if not in all of Greece, hire a car and get yourself over to the pristine long white stretches of the west coast.
Milos Beach is virtually untouched and only accessible via boat from Agios Nikitas or on foot via a fairly strenuous hike. Halfway there, you may be questioning your life choices but as you scale down the steep cliffside you’re welcomed by a beautiful large cove of white sand and shingle with a handful of loungers and brollies. Pack your suncream, snacks and anything else you might need as there are virtually no facilities on the bay.
At the other end of the scale if you want luxurious loungers, all day service, facilities and a beach side pool and jacuzzi head to Copla Beach Club on the equally attractive Kathisma Beach. Two loungers, a brolly and safe box cost €25 for the day which in our mind is well worth it and a steal in comparison to the rates on say Mykonos.
Pack a change of clothes and head to either Amente Cocktail Bar or Rachi Restaurant for sundowners and evening sustenance. Rachi offers one of the best sunset spots on the island with breathtaking, uninterrupted views out across the Ionian sea and the chance to quite literally dine in the clouds.
Further south are Egkremni and Katsiki beach: both offering Instagrammable cliff backed, wide coved beaches. Katsiki offers a small selection of shops and cafes by the car park at the top of the cliff but everything else you need for the day you’ll have to carry down with you, as like Milos, the bay itself is untouched. If you’re looking for peace and quiet be warned that with Katsiki’s beauty also comes the tourists, both by car and by sea, and all the main tourist boats stop in for half an hour and make their presence known by booming renditions of Zorba the Greek – the first time is quite endearing, the third or fourth less so.
If you’re into water-sports and looking for a spot of action then the large port town of Vasiliki is the place for you, or stop off at Lefkada town to join one of the main sailing flotillas.
Nydri is the perfect jumping off point for exploring the surrounding islands by boat – Ionian Boats has a brand new fleet of boats to hire for novices like us, with no experience or license. Set sail and explore the surrounding Lefkada coastline and neighbouring islands of Meganissi and Scorpios. Moor up at Vathy on Meganissi for your fix of a traditional Greek marina, cobbled streets, waterfront restaurants and enough superyachts to shake a millionaires stick at.
Also from Nydri, board the main ferry and take the 1hour 40 minute sail over to Kefalonia to spend the morning exploring the picturesque port of Fiskardo and the array of cute independent shops and local eateries. If you’re only there for the morning head straight over the hill and take the twenty minute walk (or short taxi) to Emplisi beach, a beautiful small cove surrounded by pines and turquoise clear waters, be sure to quench your thirst from the small shack at the back of the beach, quietly pumping out sunny tunes to accompany your Mojito or cool Pimms.
We flew direct from London Heathrow to Aktion Preveza airport with BA, visit Crystal Waters to book your stay, room rates cost from €100 per night in low season, to €560 per night during high season – check out their newest Armonia Sea View Suite on “The Hill”.