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My Great Greek Adventure: Lefkada, the Bridge to the Mainland

The National Herald

Lefkada - Porto Katsiki beach. (Photo by Stamatina Mylonas)

In the northern Ionian Sea, the waters are full of islands and hidden paradises. One such place is the island of Lefkada. It is located across from the mainland city of Preveza in the northern region of Epirus. The charm of Lefkada is its close proximity to the mainland. It is reachable by crossing a man-made steel floating bridge called Agia Mavra, which spans only a few meters over the shallow water. So while you still have the option to, you don't necessarily need to take a ferry boat to reach Lefkada. Depending which town you are planning to visit, the island is one of the largest in Greece so exploring the entirety of it will be best over a longer stay.

The Ionian culture was influenced by the many tribes and people that passed through and reigned over this land. Through archeological finds, civilizations are believed to have inhabited Lefkada dating back to around 8000 BC. Although it is located on Greece's western border, the armies of Lefkada are recorded to have participated in the most famous battles in our history, marking their name and the legacy of their island during the Battle of Salamis, the Peloponnese War, and the campaigns of Alexander the Great. Despite its history of occupations and struggle with neighboring powers, Lefkada's name clings to its Greek origins by symbolizing the vast white cliffs that form its lands.

By nature, Lefkada was actually connected to the mainland. Although not blocked by massive expanses of land, there was not always a smooth passage through the shallow swamps and marshes that characterize a large portion of this landscape. Around the 6th century BC the Corinthians made the first efforts to create a passage through the narrow space between the island mass and the mainland.

The National Herald

Lefkada town. (Photo by Stamatina Mylonas)

The history of Lefkada is visible immediately before you begin the pass its artificial canal. The ruins of Agia Mavra Castle border the road that leads to the bridge by the same name. As with many similar ruins throughout the region, they date back to the time of Venetian rule. The excitement only increases as you effortlessly enter the official borders of Lefkada without even getting out of your car. The bridge is narrow and simple, but simultaneously magnificent and vital to the charm of the island. As you cross, to the left you will see a wide expanse of swamps, but directly to the right is the turquoise-watered beach. Right at this entry point is the main town on the island, which is called by the same name. Lefkada town is conveniently developed and has all the amenities you would find in a major city. As is the case on other Greek islands, there is an established walking road. It is named `Ioannou Vela' and it is full of various shops and restaurants. Along the road, each adjoining alleyway leads down blocks of picturesque apartment buildings with classic architecture. Among the modern day shops, keep your eyes peeled for old world churches and the small details that offer glimpses of the past.

You could get more insight into Lefkada's history by walking along the town's seaside edge towards the Archeological Museum. Situated at one edge of Aggelou Sikelianou street, the museum also doubles as a cultural center with its own fully equipped outdoor theater. Right next to the museum is a long dock that doubles as a leisurely walkway around the bay's waters. Beyond the bay and the town center are the crystal blue beaches that set the Ionian apart. The most famous beach on Lefkada is Porto Katsiki, a white pebble paradise tucked at the base of the equally white cliffs of the mountain. Located on the very southwestern point of the island, the beach is a popular tourist destination with visitors from near and far. As you travel down the west side of the island on your way to Porto Katsiki, you will pass by an endless display of exotic beaches. Most of these have long shorelines, which become more full of pebbles and rocks as you head south. Kathisma Beach is one of the first you will pass off of the main road Odou Lefkadas, and it is especially popular later in the day for its perfect view of the sunset.

The National Herald

Lefkada beach. (Photo by Stamatina Mylonas)

Lefkada is a spacious and mountainous island, so each corner has its own unique vibe. The southern side feels much more traditional and close-knit. Vasiliki is a charming village with a small port that offers trips to the nearby island Kefalonia. This side of Lefkada is very green, with flowers and trees reaching all the way to the seaside. The mountains are still steep though, so search in town to find taxi boat services to these secluded and pristine beaches. There is something about the southern town Sivota that leaves a lasting impression. It is very small and concentrated alongside the miniature docks lining the sea. In a little alcove between the twists and turns of the mountain, the gathering of buildings remains secret. A handful of tavernas line the walkway around the water, and provide some of the most fresh and authentic dishes to be found on the island.

As you make the full circle around the island, you are sure to pass the second largest town, Nydri. Here the port is especially busy and crowds can occasionally fill the narrow streets. Boats travel to and from nearby islands like the mythological Ithaki. This is the hub for tourist shops and markets, catering to the diverse tourism that comes to Lefkada. But it remains authentically classic and warm. The people are kind and happy to be living in this corner of the sea, their paradise. It was so popular that the legendary Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis purchased the small island just across from Nydri down. Skorpios, as it is named, welcomed the biggest names of the twentieth century to the parties along its beach. Think Marilyn Monroe, Pablo Picasso, and of course Jackie O. It just goes to show the allure of the Ionian and how much value it holds to call it home.