Let’s start with the bad news; the bad news is that the scheduled ferry services to Ithaca have made such losses over the last few years, that no-one wants to run the ferries, and the government is too poor to subsidise them, so getting to Ithaca by car is almost as much of an epic adventure as any journey to Ithaca ought to be.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
The good news is that Ithaca now has fast, reasonably priced and reliable water taxis to carry travellers swiftly across the channel from Kefalonia, so in that sense, the trip has never been easier – London Ithaca door to door is now 5 hours. Much faster than driving from Athens. No material to speak of for a modern day Homer to work with at all.
Some new tips for once you get there, having braved the Laestragonians and Cyclops…
What to eat?
Hani – the spectacularly situated restaurant and cocktail bar on the spine of the island with views down both sides to both seas – the new chef there has made a huge difference and we can now whole-heartedly recommend it – it as always friendly and charming and beautiful, but now one also eats really well.
Ithaca Mare – a heart-stoppingly picturesque setting down in Vathi on the water, under giant old eucalyptus, with the village lights twinkling across the bay and little fish swimming up to the table hoping for bread pellets and whitebait crumbs. New management new name and a perfect place for a romantic dinner a deux.
Imioro – In the main plateia, my children and their local friends recommend this as the best place for take away or a quick meal of pita bread stuffed with souvlaki or roast pork from the spit – plenty of Tzatziki and chips to go with it.
While the young ones are having fast food in the Plateia, grown-ups can go up to Perahorio, to Vennos, where the terrace must rate as the terrace with the best view anywhere, even better than Hani’s. Just fervently hope that the owner has some local red wine from the village to give you.
What to wear to go out to dinner?
Homer and Co in the back street behind the Plateia has an eclectic mix of mainly Greek and Ithacan delicacies for the table – plus Greek handicrafts – dresses, bags, shoes, cushions – whatever has caught the owner’s eye. Presented with pride.
Veronis Art – On the corner of the Plateia, Athanasios Veronis makes fresh, chic and inexpensive earrings, bracelets and olive leaf tiaras – and will make things to order for the next day. I buy masses of his things for myself – friends in the UK Ooh and Aaah over them, and they make great presents.
How to wind down before bedtime – Mirsini Veronis offers 3rd Degree Reiki and full body massage – +30 6938885410
What to go to sleep in? George Simiris in the Plateia in Vathi still stocks lovely embroidered bed and table linen. I know of one stately home in Yorkshire where each grand Victorian bed is lovingly draped with Ithaca embroidery. Some stuff is made in China, ask for the good things…
How to work off all that food? Some sublime walks can be organised – trainers and socks advisable – the topography of Ithaca with its mountainous indentations, fjords and small outlying islands, and translucent water, its 1000 year old olive trees and dense herb growth, make this a hiker’s paradise.
People watching: Who is there to see you all dressed up and in the right restaurant with your shopping bag full of monogrammed linen and rare Olive oil?
Ithaca is a magnet for mega yachts and sleek sailing boats – the Qatar royal family, Greek shipowners, John Terry, Tony Blair, Hollywood royalty all float in regularly, Villa Skinos and Ithaca AA have some pretty stellar residents as well, though they are not often seen out and about…
And for a bit of Culture and Moral philosophy?
The Martha Graham Troupe has forged an alliance with Ithaca, and the Dance troupe will be there on July 10th. Plans are afoot to found a Martha Graham school of Modern Dance, thanks to the generosity of some philanthropic Ithaca summer residents.- Make a pilgrimage up to the Church of Anoghi to see the 16th century frescoes – completely unknown. You have to telephone the coffee shop of Anoghi ahead of time to get the key. Look out for the totally gorgeous Saint Mercutius who allegedly slew the dastardly Emperor Julian the Apostate – not so sure of his saintliness but George Clooney move over… At the West end of the Church, check out the corrupt priests being shoveled into the maws of a giant whale at the last Judgement, while a lot of dismal- looking Blesseds wait in a very un-Greek, patient queue to get into heaven.
As an elderly lady told me yesterday, “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls have to stay in Ithaca”
I am so in the queue with the bad girls…