The Financial Times presents the Ionian Islands as an idyllic destination for those looking to purchase a holiday home in Greece in quieter places than destinations like Mykonos and Santorini.
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Describing the virtues of small Ionian islands like Ithaca, Ileana von Hirsch, who owns several houses on the island and runs villa rental company Five Star Greece, notes that “there are no crowds, no weekend visitors, no day trippers”.
The British newspaper notes that, like many of the smaller islands, Ithaca’s charm lies in the quiet bays that dot the coast, home to quiet harbours, quiet swimming beaches and small hillside villages with whitewashed stone houses.
The Corfu variety
On Corfu, the most developed island, house prices vary significantly by location. The most expensive enclave is Kommenos Bay, with a crab-shaped shoreline whose elevated villas offer southerly views of Corfu’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Homes here can easily fetch €4 million, with prices double those on the beach, according to Marcus Gondolo-Gordon of Property Vision, a specialist rental-buy broker in Greece. “And his neighbors are likely to be Greek shipping billionaires or a Russian oligarch, mooring their yachts in the nearby Gouvian marina.”
On the southern tip of Corfu, which is wilder and has far fewer seaside tavernas, average prices for comparable houses drop by around three-quarters, according to Gondolo-Gordon.
Green, milder temperatures, more rain
As the Ionian islands are spared from the strong dry winds that blow further south-east, the FT continues, they tend to be greener than Aegean islands like Mykonos. While US buyers tend to prefer the Aegean, Gondolo-Gordon says Europeans, particularly those from the UK and Scandinavia, make up the largest proportion of their buyers in the Ionian Islands.
They prefer cooler summer temperatures, are more tolerant of higher winter rainfall, and enjoy the similarity to popular Italian locales like Tuscany, he says.
Several centuries of Venetian rule left the Ionian Islands outside the Ottoman Empire, which occupied much of present-day Greece from the 15th century. He left his mark on the architecture, and many of the islands still have Italian names alongside the Greek ones. “You can look at the narrow old streets and imagine Venice,” Norwood says of Corfu’s Old Town.
While Norwood and his wife prefer the peace and quiet of their rural location, they travel to Corfu Old Town for its good selection of Greek restaurants and colorful local life, especially valuable during the quieter periods of Christmas and Easter, he says. . .
“This is a city with its own local economy that is active all year round. It has not been deforested for tourism, like many cities on the Greek islands.”
Paxos, the smallest main island in the Ionian, is only 10 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide at its widest point. Its characteristic white limestone rocks give way inland to ancient olive groves, interspersed with dense, dark forests of Cypriot trees. Dry stone terraces, abandoned mills and old farmhouses dot the hills. Apart from these more remote locations, houses are available in Gaios, the island’s capital, Lakka at its northern tip, and in tiny Logos, a sleepy fishing village.
“If you want sandy beaches with services, organized water sports, fancy shops and international restaurants, Paxos is not for you,” says von Hirsch. “But it has some of the best preserved and most picturesque villages in the Ionian Islands.”
“Less windy summers also favor boaters. It’s much more about coastal culture – boat hopping from taverna to tavern in quiet bays – than the fine dining and nightlife of places like Mykonos.”
city and interior
Even in Corfu, whose booming tourism industry has spawned huge apartment and hotel developments along the coast, homeowners looking for a quiet Ionian idyll have plenty of options inland. Norwood’s previous home was in the hills overlooking Kassiopi, a coastal town and resort in north-east Corfu, and his new project is also nearby.
After his wife worked in the local tourism industry more than 30 years ago, the couple, who live between Greece and the UK, were drawn to the island for its easy direct flights and storied past.
It was his birthplace [αείμνηστου] Duke of Edinburgh [πατέρα του βασιλιά Καρόλου Γ’] and you can go watch cricket in Spianada,” he says, referring to Corfu Town’s elegant grand square, which includes a cricket pitch. Of Greece’s 13 cricket teams, nine are based in Corfu, according to Othona Nikitas, president of the Hellenic Cricket Federation. “The game is played in many schools and we play it all year long, indoors and out. Lots of Brits come over for the summer and play while they’re here,” he says.
The number of damaged or abandoned houses in Corfu means that those interested in buying a house have a lot to choose from. Those looking for smaller renovations could opt for one of the Venetian-style houses in Corfu Old Town. “These growth opportunities are really interesting. It is completely different from spas in Spain or Portugal,” she says.