Whatever was the region or the island, I have never heard of a biker who didn’t enthusiastically talk about his travels in Greece. As a matter of fact, visiting Greece by motorbike is very easy and pleasant. Country roads can climb up mountains or follow trails overlooking the sea, drawing an infinite number of curves through hills, olive groves, villages and wild nature. It’s not uncommon to venture along dirt or winding roads to reach incredible beaches or country villages where time seems to have stopped and where you will always find a handful of family-run taverns, fantastic views, kind, relaxed people who’ll make you feel like at home.
Certainly, like any other popular destination, there are plenty of tourist places you’d better avoid like the plague in high season. Each one of them, in every part of the world repeats the same pattern of overcrowding, skyrocketing prices and stuff set up for tourism that have nothing authentic. If you are careful enough to avoid the peak season, your Greek holiday will be off to a great start!
Greece is a unique country for the Mediterranean area: it owns something around 200 inhabited islands and ten times more if you count the uninhabited ones as well. The Ionians are a handful of islands in front of Italy, just below Albania. From north to south, the main ones are Kérkyra (Corfu), Paxoi (Paxos), Lefkada (Lefkas), Kefalonia, Ithaki, Zakynthos (Zante). I’ve never been to Zakynthos, but the first and last are probably the most frequented by a slightly more commercial kind of tourism.
Being Italian I have paid a visit to my neighbors many times, even though I have only explored a small part of this beautiful country. I recently set out to organize a tour through mainland Greece, which I heard is fantastic. And having friends on the island, I visited Crete a lot of times. But the first trip organized entirely as a motorbike tour was through the Ionian islands.
Planning a tour
Making plans for a motorcycle itinerary through the Ionians is not difficult. Each island is connected to the neighboring ones by ferries, each of which carries both passengers and vehicles. And Lefkada is so close to the coast that you can easily get there by crossing a bridge!
My tour did not include the islands of Corfu and Zakynthos. I think the first is a bit too touristy and the sea is not particularly attractive compared to that of the others. While the second one was a bit out of the way to be included in a few days tour.
You can proceed from north to south, starting from Paxos, then Lefkada and Kefalonia and maybe Ithaki. Or, if the ferry schedules don’t fit well with your travel plan, you can consider departing from the south, perhaps taking the ferry from Patra to Kefalonia or Zakynthos. In two years I have done both laps.
Of the main islands, Paxos is the smallest. It can be reached directly from Igoumenitsa, or from Corfu. It is a very popular destination, especially for tourists staying in Corfu. Apart from those two routes, there are no direct connections to islands and given the small size of the island your best chance for visiting it is avoiding crowded periods. Every person I know who’s been to the island has been singing the praises of Paxos, or Paxoi, one of the most beautiful islands in the area, if not the most beautiful. Also, the nearby islet of Antipaxos (accent on “i”) is uninhabited but without a doubt home to the most beautiful beaches of the region.
Certainly Paxos is a nice island. It has a number of small beaches scattered along its whole coastline. My favorite is definitely Erimitis. However, it does not offer particular points of interest or amazing itineraries for bikers. The village of Paxos is pretty and definitely worth a stroll, but, as with the rest of the island, it seems entirely devoted to tourism and is dotted with hotels and restaurants. Prices are obviously higher than elsewhere and apart from the aforementioned Erimitis, the other beaches are nice but not incredible. As I see it, Paxos can be ideal for a couple looking for comfort and services, a little less attractive for those looking for authenticity, nature and places to explore.
Lefkada is perhaps the most “Greek” of the islands of the archipelago. Tourism does not feel as intrusive as in other places, yet it is perhaps the most pleasant island to visit. Its western part is wild, less inhabited but home to the most beautiful beaches. There you will find a series of white, sandy beaches lying in between magnificent cliffs and a crystal blue sea. One of the most popular ones is Porto Katsiki with its massive cliff, in the shape of an amphitheater standing above the underlying white beach. Surely one of the most marvelous beaches in the region.
Another fascitanting and wild one is the nearby beach of Egremni: years ago the only way to access it at the end of a winding road was climbing a rope down the cliff. Afterwards, the island administration decided to build a metal staircase, nailed to the vertical cliff, that provides an absolutely spectacular way down. A funny thing is, many tourists walk down the stairs in sandals and flip flops, inevitably losing them along the way. Reason why there is a underlying net preventing them to fall down on the beach. Apparently, from time to time someone collects them: they are exposed on a wall short before the access to the staircase.
If you happen to travel through the middle of the island you might want to stop in Karya: though it probably turned into something more touristy recently, it’s a great example of what a greek mountain village feels like with its square full of taverns, tables, people eating or drinking during the whole day.
The large island of Kefalonia is very mountainous, its highest mountain is more than 1500m high with unique forests that are now included in a national park. Kefalonia is a very pleasant island, which you will probably find quite touristy in the southern area, around the capital Argostoli and Lourdata, but capable of offering a wide range of things to do and a variety of authentic and not-so-touristy places to explore. Lakes, caverns and the remains of past civilizations like the Byzantine, the Frankish, the Ottoman and the Venetian.
Sometimes roads run so high on cliffs or mountain sides that it feels like flying over the bay, with an amazing view over the mountains peaks, mixing with the blue of the sea and the sky.
If you are looking for beaches there is plenty of choice. No doubt the most spectacular one is Myrtos. A winding road leads down to a white pebble beach in front of a crystal blue sea, giving wonderful views at every turn.
If you are looking for a taverna, a few places where I had a great time: Ladokolla in Lixouri, Mpotsolos in the middle of the island and the Traditional Tavern Milos with its unique sunset view from the terrace (below).
Aside from the capital, Argostoli, with it nice bridge crossing the bay, the tiny and picturesque city of Fiskardo in the north and the castle of Assos are certainly worth a visit.
Ithaki or Ithaka, the birthplace of Ulysses, is a small, sparsely inhabited island located right next to Kefalonia. The only possibility to visit it is a ferry that connects it to the village of Sami. However, the ferry leaves in the evening and returns the following day. Which in fact requires you to spend at least one night on the island. While it won’t add much to what you can experience in nearby Kefalonia in terms of atmosphere, the beaches and hiking themes are plentiful, so if you can find the time it’s definitely worth a trip.
A few final considerations: in Greece I always felt relaxed and at ease, whether on the saddle of a motorcycle, on the beach or walking around a town. Going from one place to another through the countryside is always a pleasure: the roads are pleasant to travel, often deserted and the landscapes enchanting with an innumerable amount of beaches at disposal for you to explore. Small town and villages you will pass through, though they may look similar, always have at least two or three “tavernas” (small restaurants) tradionally run by a family, where you eat great, simple food and meet a lots of locals: if there is one thing I learned right away it’s that Greeks like to eat out so often so much. Many mountain villages have a central square invaded by tables and surrounded by taverns so crowded with locals that every tourist will feel like a member of that community.
So, if you are planning you next group or solo tour and you’ve never been, you should definitely consider Greece as a destination.