Famous the world over as the home island of Homer’s mythical hero Odysseus, Greece’s Ithaca is an iconic island. But Ithaca is so much more! With a lush carpet of greenery, dotted with quaint villages and offering exotic beaches, Ithaca oozes an abundance of charm!
The epic island home of the wandering Odysseus may be famous in world literature, but this hidden gem is mostly unknown to tourists. A forested, hilly island with a jagged coastline, sailors love its sheltered harbours and swimmers adore its emerald waters, and you can discover places with wonderful names, such as the Cave of Nymphs and the Fountain of Arethusa.
The only way to immerse yourself this magical place is to explore it fully. Ithaca’s most picturesque villages are Vathy, Kioni and Frikes. It is interesting to note that these villages managed to retain their traditional identity despite the development of tourism. Vathy, in particular, is the island’s centre of activities and the location of most Ithaca hotels.
As for Ithaca’s beaches, they share the same exotic setting as their Ionian neighbours! Filiatro, Sarakiniko and Agios Ioannis are three of the island’s best beaches. However, if you’re searching for a more secluded alternative, head to Gidaki beach!
Apart from relaxing and recuperating, the best things to do in Ithaca are swimming, hiking and sightseeing. The medieval village of Anogi, the Cave of Loizos and Katharon Monastery are among this island’s ‘must-see’ places.
ITHACA CULTURE AND FESTIVALS
Unlike the Greek mainland and the islands of the Aegean, which have been influenced or impacted by Turkey over the centuries, Ithaca has been more strongly influenced by Italian. This is evident in their language, cuisine and the island’s architecture. However, like the greater part of Greece, Ithacans’ religious roots are Orthodox Greek; they enjoy the ritual of attending church and priests on the island enjoy the respect and reverence given to them.
The obvious difficulties facing a community living on a small island have made Ithacans resourceful in their daily lives and welcoming to visitors, who bring a slice of the outside world to their villages. Ithaca is still worlds away from take-away food and shopping complexes, existing instead on bread baked in wood-fired ovens and then taken on the road, house to house; gypsies selling their wares from the back of their trucks, fruit brought in by ‘Manaves’ from the Peloponnese and larger neighbouring islands by men who drive from village to village enabling the locals to access that which the rest of the world takes for granted. The simplicity of life is astounding and difficult for many, particularly the elderly, though even they will clamber through the groves to collect olives from the trees. Here being self-sufficient is a necessity and not an ideal, and that is demonstrated through their determination to remain resident on the island despite the rest of the country offering greater comfort and opportunity.
Strong family values represent the core of the entire community. The extended family is still as deep rooted in Ithacan culture as it ever was, even with the modern world tempting to influence it into adopting 21st century yuppiedom.
Few people on Ithaca celebrate birthdays, but almost everyone celebrates their ‘Name Day’. This custom stems from the Greek Orthodox religion, in which all children are baptised with a name that’s acceptable to the church. These include the names of Saints or names with a holy quality to them. If you have wondered why everyone is called Dimitri or Yiorgos, this is the reason. Over the past 15 years, western celebrations of birthdays have slowly crept into Ithacan culture, but ‘Name Days’ still take precedence.
The Ithacan Summer is filled with celebration. It’s a perfect opportunity to party with the locals and everyone is welcome. Join in the dancing, eat pork straight from the spit and watch dawn break over Ithaca as you enjoy the festivities of the ‘Panighiria’ festivals.
Other events that are celebrated on Ithaca include the Wine Feast in August at Perahori, a small village nestled in the mountains above Vathy, and Ithaca’s Festival of Theatre, including a contest for plays being performed for the first time, which is held in Vathy each May.