The Ionian Islands are one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. The weather, the history, the friendliness of the locals all add up to a memorable visit to this area of Southern Europe. If you like to relax on a quiet beach, or educate yourself with a browse round the vast number of ruins, or perhaps enjoy an al fresco meal, the Ionian Islands are the place for you.
For many of us of course, we know the Ionian Islands simply as the Greek Islands, that set of sunny holiday destination perched just off the west coast of Greece (and one to the south). A more traditional name is the Heptanese, the prefix ‘hep’ referring to the number seven. The Ionian Islands comprise seven major land masses and a number of smaller islands; the seven bigger ones are as follows, from north to south:
- Corfu (Kerkyra)
- Paxos (Paxi)
- Lefkas (Lefkada)
- Ithaca (Ithaki)
- Cephalonia (Kefalonia)
- Zante/ Zakynthos (Zakynthos)
- Cerigo (Kythira)
Cerigo is the only island on the south coast and not within the Ionian area (it’s in the Attica region) but we still regard it as one of the Ionian group. Although native Greeks probably inhabited some of the islands around 3000 years ago, ownership and control has passed from civiliisation to civilisation down the centuries. Briefly, over the centuries, the islands have been controlled by the Macedonians, the Romans, the Byzantines, Sicilians, the French, the Italians, the Venetians and the British.
Unsurprisingly this frequent change of ownership leaves the islands with diverse cultural influences and a plethora of historical sites and ancient ruins. The islands finally obtained consensual independence from Britain on May 2nd, 1864 and the ownership was transferred to Greece, as per the wish of the islanders. These islands are easy to get to – cheap airlines such as Jetstar abound in Europe so there’s no excuse not to visit.