The Ionian Islands offer perfect sailing conditions with moderate winds that are great for sailing holidays with the family. There are a multitude of cruising grounds for you to choose from. A yacht charter in the Greek Ionian Sea is very affordable. The culture and cuisine are beautiful and there is a vast number of historic sights and things to do. The landscape is much greener and lusher then in the other archipelagos in Greece and the area lies outside the reach of the strong Meltemi winds that occur further to the East. So let us tell you a bit more about this charterer´s paradise in detail.
Why is a yacht charter in the Ionian Sea so popular?
The Ionian Sea contains the seven main islands of Corfu, Paxos, Lefkas, Ithaca, Kefalonia, Zakynthos and Kythira as well as many smaller islands. The six northern ones are located just off the west coast of Greece and Kythira is off the southern tip of the Peloponnese. Although it is listed as one of the Ionian islands it forms part of the region of Attica. The Ionian Sea is bordered by southern Italy and Sicily, southern Albania and the west coast of Greece. There are several ferry connections to the Greek and Italian mainland as well as amongst the islands. Yet, they are very easily accessible by plane and you can fly to the international airports of Corfu, Kefalonia and Zakynthos or to Preveza on the mainland.
The historic area of the Ionian Islands is immensely popular with yacht charterers as well as large cruise liners due to their natural beauty and charm. Yet, they are also greener and more fertile than the other Greek islands to the East or even the adjacent mainland. Another advantage are the mostly moderate winds that are ideally suited for yacht charter holidays with the family. The infrastructure for sailors on the islands in the Ionian Sea is good even though the area is still quite unspoilt. You find the typical authentic Greek tavern with the wonderful Greek food, quaint harbours, amazing historic sites and easy sailing conditions. On top of it, bareboat charter in Greece is much less costly than in other destinations in the western Mediterranean. All this adds up to a wonderful cruising experience.
Some relevant info for an Ionian bareboat charter:
Location: Part of the Mediterranean Sea, south of the Adriatic Sea
Main Islands: Corfu, Paxos, Lefkas, Ithaca, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Kythira
Main airports: Corfu, Preveza, Kefalonia, Zakynthos
Country code: +30
Climate: Mild, Mediterranean
Which main charter destinations are there in the Ionian?
There are plenty of itineraries and islands to explore on a sailboat charter in the Ionian. If you fly to Corfu, the resort town and harbour of Gouvia constitutes a good charter base from which to move south and explore the other islands. It is situated 6 km from Corfu city and 7 km from the airport and can host up to 1,235 yachts with a length of up to 80 m. It features many services and shops and is often referred to as a natural link from the Adriatic to the Mediterranean Sea.
From Corfu it is only about 8 NM to beautiful Paxos. Right on the northern tip there is the lovely protected bay and town of Lakka with very good restaurants and shops. The main port of the island is Gaios on the east coast. It is a perfect natural harbour due to the islet just off the shore that creates a narrow and very protected channel with ideal mooring conditions. The lovely little town has restaurants, taverns and charming souvenir shops to offer.
Due south of Paxos is the small island of Antipaxos which is perfect for enjoying relaxed Greek island bliss. For instance, anchor and chill at Voutoumi beach with its turquoise water and white sand and find a laidback tavern where you can eat some wonderful Greek food with your feet in the sand. Sail about 25 NM to the South-East and you reach Preveza, another main charter base.
Preveza marina in Preveza town has a very good range of services and 500 moorings for boats up to 20 m. Larger boats can use Cleopatra Marina near Preveza and just 1.5 miles from the town´s airport `Aktion`, also called Lefkada Airport. It offers 100 berths for yachts up to 30 m.
For a road less travelled explore the beautiful estuary of the Ambracian Gulf, due east of Preveza. It is a gorgeous nature reserve with lagoons, marshlands and a lot of special wildlife. You can find good anchorages and there are two little ports named Menidion and Votsina.
Head only about 6 NM south from Preveza and you reach the northernmost beaches of Lefkas. This island has plenty of coves and beaches for you to explore. On the north-east shore you find the town as well as marina of Lefkas, or Lefkada as it is called too. There is a 50 m long bridge connecting Lefkas with the mainland, thus making it easily reachable from the airport. Lefkas Marina has 620 moorings for yachts up to 45 m length and a very good offer of nautical services. It is one of the most modern and superb marinas in Greece and there are supermarkets, cafés, restaurants, a swimming pool and much more.
From Lefkas you have a big choice of sailing territories in the form of a lot of smaller islands within reach as well as the main ones. To name just the big islands, there are Kefalonia and Ithaca, for instance, both just within a 6 NM reach of the southernmost tip of Lefkas.
Ithaca is the smaller one of both and has gorgeous bays to anchor in. The very protected harbour town Vathi is a popular destination and the Odysseas Marina offers 72 berths for boats up to 20 m as well as many services.
Kefalonia with its capital Argostoli has many sandy coves and rugged limestone cliffs. For instance, head to impressive Myrtos beach on the north side with stunning white sand and aquamarine water that is set between two mountains. There is a cave you can visit as well.
You encounter just as breathtakingly beautiful beaches in Zakynthos, or Zante, that lies only approx. 10 NM south of Kefalonia. The so-called Shipwreck Beach on the north-east side has crystal-clear water, a shining white pebble beach and is surrounded by dramatically high rising cliffs. Zakynthos town is big and offers plenty of sights and things to do plus the international airport is near-by, making it easy to stop or start your sailing or motor yacht hire in the Ionian Islands there.
What are the prevailing weather systems for sailing in the Ionian?
A north-westerly sea breeze, the Maestral, moderates temperatures from afternoon till sunset. The area of the Ionian does not have very strong winds which is why it is great for family sailing holidays. Summers are long, hot and dry. July and August have an average of 12 hours of sunshine per day. There are no significant tides.
Summary of the weather conditions for sailing a yacht charter in the Ionian Sea:
Month with highest average temperature: August, 25.5°
Month with lowest average temperature: January, 9°
Month with highest average precipitation: December, 167 mm
Month with lowest average precipitation: August, 7 – 11 mm
Average wind speed in summer: 2 – 5 Bft.
Months with highest average water temperature: July/August, 25°
Month with lowest average water temperature: March, 14°
Main season: May – October
How much is a yacht charter in the Ionian Sea and what are the different charter types?
You can rent a 12 m sailboat, for instance, from about 1,400 € a week. Prices rise according to size, model and equipment of the yacht. Flotilla charter is as popular as ever. You can do bareboat or skippered charter, and choose between catamaran charter and sailboat or motor yacht hire. You could go for a day charter. And another option is luxury boat hire that comes with a lot of extras and a crew according to your specific needs.
What activities besides sailing are there on a bareboat charter in the Ionian?
Visit the Corfu Classic Yacht Race, a two-day regatta in September where you can watch traditional and contemporary classic sailing yachts compete in front of the beautiful city and fortress of Corfu.
If you have time in between sailing trips, check out the historic Old Town of Corfu within its fortifications. It really is a must-see and a maze of magnificent narrow cobblestone streets full of good shops and restaurants. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and has a lot of old Venetian architecture as it was under Venice´s rule for long time. The massive Venetian fortress, or old citadel stands separate on an artificial islet and is wonderful to behold. From there, you have a splendid view over Corfu. Then there is the huge new citadel, of which you can do a tour and pass through the medieval corridors and fortifications. It is situated looming over the north-eastern part of the city and from there you can see far over the sea and watch sailboats and luxury yachts go by. The Spinada square in the centre is one of the largest in Europe and you can stroll along its green spaces and monuments or have dinner in one of the restaurants there. Give the nightlife a try, especially along Gouvia´s coastal road with its many bars and clubs. Alternatively, the towns of Kavos, Sidari, Ipsos and Dassia have good options for going out. The Achilleion palace in Gastouri on the east side built by empress Elizabeth of Austria has a very pretty interior and exterior and is well worth a visit.
Head to the ruins of the ancient city of Nicopolis 7 km north of Preveza. It used to be a splendid town built by emperor Octavian and the impressive remains as the theatre, city gates and thermal baths as well as the museum are highly interesting for anyone who likes history.
Should you not be too tired from your day on the charter yacht, visit Argostoli with many bustling streets and shops as well as the bell tower in the centre.
Do a wine tour in Kefalonia where you are taken around to different wineries and can learn about the different grape varieties and wine making processes.
You could also pay a visit to the wineries in Lefkas. Or visit the largest resort on the island, Nidri – a sheltered port with views across to Skorpios which was formerly owned by Aristotle Onassis. 20 km south there is the windsurfing centre of Vasiliki, and further south is Cape Lefkada, where allegedly the female Greek poet Sappho leapt to her death.
While you are on a boat rental, do water sports like sea kayaking / canoeing, water-ski, wakeboarding, diving, snorkeling, parasailing, fishing and many more.
Go turtle or dolphin watching, for instance on Marathonisi, where there are a lot of amazing loggerhead turtles.
What is the procedure for sailing around the Ionian on a charter yacht?
If you hire a yacht in the Ionian, you either need a skipper´s licence or proof that you have sufficient sailing experience. There are some very professional yacht charter providers specialized in bareboat or crewed yacht charter and motor or sailing boat rental.