The Ionian Islands forma Greek wine region located in the Ionian Sea along the west coast of Greece. This archipelago stretches over 275 km of land. The northernmost island of the group is Corfu and the southernmost island is Zakynthos which sits off the Peloponnese Peninsula. One of the Ionian islands is Ithaki which is famous for being the home of Odysseus from Homer’s epic Odyssey. In his writings, Homer writes specifically of the wines from the islands of Cephalonia and Corfu. These writings suggest that viticulture on these islands dates back to at least 2500 years ago. The wines of the Ionian Islands are made using mainly native grape varietals such as Kakotrygis, Vertzami and Robola.
The Ionian Islands of Greece have a rich history of viticulture that extends back over 2500 years. The most important era in the development of viticulture on the Ionian Islands is undoubtedly the Middle Ages and the Islands were ruled by the Venetians. During this time, the industry grew dramatically until the 20th century. At this time, a major earthquake, a phylloxera outbreak and an increase in emigration meant that the number of vineyards on the islands decreased significantly.
Today the Ionian Islands are known for producing small quantities of excellent quality Greek wines. The production of wine on the islands very rarely exceed what is demanded by the locals and the visiting tourists. As a result of this, very few Ionian wines are available on the international market or on the mainland of Greece.
Terroirs of Ionian Islands
Theclimate of the Ionian islands is Mediterranean with hot summers and milder, rainy winters. The islands are situated on the windward side of the Pindus Mountains which means that they receive far more rain that other Greek islands. This high level of rain makes the landscape exceptionally green and provides plenty of irrigation to vineyards. The vineyards of the Ionian Islands are mainly planted on the Islands’ south face mountain slopes, exposing them to high levels of sunshine during the day and cool temperatures at night. This helps the grapes to keep the perfect level of acidity as they ripen.
Ionian Island soil consists mostly of free draining limestone. This soil gives the vines strength and ensures that the grapes that they produce have highly concentrated flavours.
On the Ionian Islands there are three appellations, all of which are on the island of Cephalonia. These appellations are Robola of Cephalonia, Muscat of Cephalonia and Mavrodaphne of Cephalonia. All of the Ionian appellations produce only single varietal wines – the most famous of which is the dry white wine of the Robola of Cephalonia.
In the Robola of Cephalonia appellation, fresh, light, aromatic and citrusy white wines are produced. These wines have a high minerality, are medium bodied and have excellent oxidation.
In the Muscat of Cephalonia appellation, the most commonly produced wine is sweet white wine made from Muscat Blanc and Petits Grains grape varietals. The Muscat of Cephalonia muscat wines must be made using either sun dried grapes or fortified grapes.
The Mavrodaphne of Cephalonia appellation is known for the production of sweet red wines. These wines have a full body and a deep red colour that makes the distinct from other sweet red wines made in Greece.
Corfu Old Town is located on a peninsula along the coast of the island. The small town was first established during the Angevin Rule in 1267 and was then enclosed by thick walls, guarding the two castles that overlook the ocean and the surrounding ocean. Following this, the town was occupied by the Venetians from 1386-1979 during which time the town flourished. The venetians developed Corfu Old Town into a thriving economic centre until their fall in 1797 when France took over control of Corfu, followed by the British who ruled for 50 years. Today Corfu Old Town serves as a living museum of Greek history. There are a number of impressive attractions including the old and new fortresses, the palaces of St Michael and St George, a number of wonderful church buildings, and the Spainada park.
Corfu Museum of Asian Arts – The Most Unique Museum in Greece
The Corfu Museum of Asian Arts is located inside The Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George and is the only museum of its kind in Greece. This museum was established in 1928 and is solely dedicated to the arts and cultures of India and the Far East. The Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George in which the museum is housed, is the largest and most significant relic of the English rule of Corfu. For those interested in learning more about Asian arts, the museum is home to a number of spectacular collections including a Chinese art collection, a Japanese art collection and a south east Asian art collection.
Byzantine Museum in Zakynthos – Journey Back to Pre-earthquake Zakynthos
The Byzantine Museum in Zakynthos is the largest museum in Zakynthos and was built after the major earthquake of 1953. The museum manages to perfectly capture what the island was like before the earthquake, based mainly on photography from this time. Along with these photographs, the museum also contains Byzantine carvings, icons, shrines, paintings and murals from the 15th-17th centuries. The Byzantine Museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 08:00 – 15:00.
The magical beauty of the Corfu Paleokastritsa Monastery
The Paleokastritsa Monastery is located in Paleokastritsa on the Greek island is Corfu. This beautiful monastery is located on a green hill above the beautiful beach of Paleokastritsa on the north west of the island of Corfu. The large monastery complex is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and dominates the landscape of the region. The history of the Paleokastritsa Monastery dates back to 1228 but the current complex and residences of the monks was built during the 18th century.
The location of the monastery provides breath-taking views of the surrounding areas, islands and ocean. When visiting the museum, visitors can also spend time in the small monastery museum that houses various holy books, Byzantine icons and other relics. Inside the monastery there is also a working olive oi press.
Live the Island Life
Natural Places to explore on the Ionian Islands
Due to their incredible natural beauty, the Ionian Islands are the most popular island complex in Greek. The bright green scenery and incredible beaches make the Ionian Islands the quintessential island paradise.
Melissani Cave – The Cave of Melissani in Kefalonia
The Melissani Cave is located just outside of Sami in Kefalonia. The cave is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Greece. Inside the cave there is a magical world of lakes, trees and forests that transform visitors into a completely different place. The cave has a B shape with two major chambers separated by an island in the center. The roof of one of the chambers has collapsed, letting sunlight filter into the cave. The best time to visit the Melissani Cave is in the morning or the evening when the sun’s rays give the lake an ethereal quality. Enjoy a boat ride through the cave and experience its otherworldly magic.
Skorpios – The Legendary Island of Onassis
The island of Skorpios is located next to the island of Lefkas in the Ionian Archipelago. This island was famously bought by Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis in 1963, who then begun its transformation. As part of this transformation, sand was brought in from surrounding islands to great more beaches, trees were planted and harbour facilities were developed to host VIP guests from around the world. Today visitors require a special permit to visit Skorpios Island but can also enjoy the magnificent views of the island from a cruise boats that depart daily from surrounding islands.
Porto Timoni Beach – The Most Beautiful Beach of Corfu
Porto Timoni Beach is a unique double beach news the village of Afioas on the west coast of the island of Corfu. The two beaches of Porto Timoni Beach form two bays – one facing the Agios Georgios resort and the other facing Mathraki Island. The beauty of the beaches are thanks to the bright turquoise colour of the water contrasting against the bright green surrounding hills. To access the Porto Timoni Beach there is a path that needs to be followed from Anemos café for 400m. The beaches of Porto Timoni are made of small pebbles and rocks and visitors need to bring along all of their own beach facilities.
The Delicious Flavours of the Ionian Islands
The cuisine of the Ionian Islands is directly related to the fertile soil and heavy rains of the ialnds, making anything that is planted grow with great success. The local dishes of the islands are hearty, rustic and inviting. The cuisine is filled with rich flavour and sauce – perfect for pairing with one of the excellent local wines.
Fritoura – Deep Friend Deliciousness
Fritoura is a dessert that is originally from the island of Zakynthos in the Ionian Archipelago. This Greek favourite is made with finely ground semolina flour cooked in water until it is creamy and thick. This mixture is then poured into a deep tray and left to set. Once it is set, it is cut into rectangular shapes that are deep friend until they are crispy and golden. Before the dessert is served, it is coated with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. Fritoura is served at almost all special occasions in Zakynthos and represents the true taste of the island.
Bourbourelia – Ioanian Vegetable Soup
Bourbourelia is a local vegetable soup that is prepared using a number of mixed beans. The most commonly used ingredients in this soup are lentils, beans, chickpeas and fava beans. These ingredients are then cooked together and seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil. Traditionally, Bourbourelia was served mainly in Cephalonia but today it is popular across the Ionian Islands.
Bourdeto – Rustic and Comforting Saltwater Fish
Bourdeto is a traditional, rustic and heartwarming Greek dish that is made of saltwater fish in a tomato sauce. The tomato sauce is given even more richness with the addition of onions and spicy paprika. The origins of Bourdeto are on the island of Corfu where it is prepared with a range of different local types of fish, although the most popular fish to use if Scorpionfish. Before serving, Bourdeto is finished off with a splash of lemon juice and is accompanied by potatoes or slices of home-made bread.