Ionian Sea Hideaways

Ionian Sea Hideaways
By Ekaterina Larsson

          My family and I go to Greece each summer – normally different resorts on the Halkidiki peninsula. I have also been sailing around the Cyclades islands for ten days with friends, visited Athens and some smaller villages up in the mountains around Greece – keeping the explorer me quite happy! This year I decided to do something different and go to the Ionian Sea instead of the Aegean one. A friend of mine, married to a Greek guy, gave me tips about where to go and what to do. So we loaded the car and drove from Thessaloniki via about 20 tunnels through the mountains, all the way to Ammoudia. 

Ammoudia

Ammoudia is a small village with a lovely wide sand beach and the mythical river Acheron (Styx) flowing into the Ionian Sea. Suffice to say, we first spend some time in the hotel pool, then ran off to a taverna for some fish dinner. I ordered grilled octopus, which is one of my favorites! While waiting for the food, I walked down the pier along the river to the sea and sat down on a rock and watched the sun set into the sea. The waves were breaking  underneath me, German tourists were strolling slowly, I spotted some land in the distance, wondering if it was the island of Corfu. 

 

Image: Ekaterina Larsson

Image: Ekaterina Larsson

I proceeded to walk back to the taverna to enjoy my grilled octopus along with the house white wine. We did have a chance to sample a few of the restaurants in Ammoudia and I have to say they were all very good. They all offer something for free at the end of the dinner – a glass of ouzo or a plate of watermelon for the whole family. I even ordered a frappe at lunch time once at an empty taverna and got a lovely service. Plus the old Greek grandpas sitting at one of the tables were eager to talk to me in broken English mixed with some German. A very authentic experience! 

 

Image: Ekaterina Larsson

Aktaia Boutique Hotel

I am quite picky when choosing a hotel for vacations. Aktaia Boutique Hotel has a 9.7 rating on booking.com, lovely pictures and a swimming pool. I thought – my kind of hotel! I contacted the manager Dionisis to negotiate a rate, and I have to say, we were very happy with the value for money we received! The beds were comfortable, we slept on Coco Mat mattresses, could choose between feather pillows or natural rubber pillows. Or both. The bathroom had a full stock of small creams and shower gels, some organic olive based. The balcony was overlooking the garden so my husband sat there and sipped some ouzo some evenings.

 

 

 

Images: Aktaia Boutique Hotel

Breakfast was a nice buffet with high quality, locally sourced products – fruit and vegetables, homemade pastries and cakes, eggs and bacon. I feasted on watermelon and feta cheese, pears, blue cheese and walnuts! Our favorite table was the table by the pool. If we slept longer, a Finnish couple took it (yes, first come first serve). We even had lunch there one day – moussaka, and it was delicious! I got talking to Dionisis, sharing with him info about our trips and even asked to borrow a cooler bag for one of our boat trips. He obliged and was very service minded. The rest of the guests were German, Finnish, Norwegian, mostly families or couples around 35 to 50 years of age. We did say good morning to some of them and chatted a bit with the Norwegian couple. 

Image: Dionisis Moutzouris

Image: Aktaia Boutique Hotel

I totally recommend the hotel! I like hotels like that – small, high quality, a family feeling with a great service. They also won Hotel of the Year 2019 in Greece, awarded by the Global Travel and Hospitality Awards organisation, great achievement!

Beaches

My first order of business when on holiday is a beach! I normally like them small, not very crowded, even wild beaches, with clear water, a beach bar is a bonus. So after exploring Ammoudia beach for one day, I was ready to check out what is around. We went to Giannakis beach, just North of Ammoudia. It was a beautiful wild beach, we brought our own sun umbrella, the water was very blue, and though it had some stones on the shore, it made for excellent snorkeling! Two sailing boats were swaying on the surface, a dingy boat with four English tourists came around and waddles through the beach to the bar. We had lunch and beer at the caravan cafe/ bar on top of the beach, and I overheard the elderly English gentleman saying to the waiter he came here 25 years ago! Well, I waited too long to discover this place it seems! I sipped my Mythos beer and listened carefully looking at the sea. Sometimes life gives us these perfect moments, and they are to just enjoy!

 

Image: Ekaterina Larsson

Image: Adriatic-route.com

Another day we drove to Alonaki Beach. It was quite windy but Alonaki is a great sandy beach with its own umbrellas. We chose to hang out with our umbrella, did some snorkeling and saw blue blue fish (wrasse). At some point I took my daughter up to the lovely beach bar with thatched roof for some refreshments. She fell in love with the little kitty lounging around there and we ended up spending three hours. Refreshment time turned to lunch time and beer time (for me). Comes to show that timelessness that can settle when you are on holiday, content with watching the blue sea forever and ever. I have one warning – do not hug a little kitty half naked – she scratched me on the neck so I put her down. The bartender told me he found her three days ago on the road and adopted her. Poor soul, must be still scared!

 

Image: Ekaterina Larsson

Parga

I have this feeling sometimes – I see a place and it makes my heart sing! Parga is one of these places – colourful houses lined amphitheatrically around the beach, a big sea boardwalk full of street vendors selling corn, ice cream, the stone walls framed by pink purple petunias and wrought iron lamps! It reminded me of Cinque terre, of a little blue jewel crowned with so much colour and beauty! I would say it looks more like and Italian town than a Greek one, and no wonder since it was part of the Venetian republic for a long time – 396 years to be exact. After some short French and British rule after that, Parga became part of the Ottoman Empire for 100 years. 

 

Image: Greekboston.com

Image: Ekaterina Larsson

 

On top of the hill is the castle of Parga, build in 11th century, burned down three times by the Turks, but rebuild three times, and ended in the hands of Ali Pasha of Ioanina. I climbed all the way up there, went through the stone gate with the winged lion of San Marco and enjoyed the view over the bay. They have a nice cafe there, so I recommend it for a lovely view and far from the maddening crowds on the boardwalk. Guilty as charged though, we did sit down at the red house Italian restaurant on the boardwalk – Ostria Parga. I picked some grilled prawns for dinner, which were quite tasty, with a glass of white wine, of course. 

 

Image: Ostria Parga

I ran up the stairs, avoiding the little streets with souvenir and clothes shops (they can be charming too), exploring the best spots and admiring the flowering of the capers. I swore I would come back another day and do just the best spots!

And we did come back another day. First off was an ice cream parlour stop to watch the people by the sea, then off to the Sail In Bar bar half way up the hill for some gin tonic and a beautiful view over the bay.  The very charm of the bay apart from the boats is the two small islands with a little church nestled among them – the island of Panagia or Virgin Mary. The bar is lovely and they do have some wild parties in the evenings, if you are up for that.

Image: Ekaterina Larsson

Image: Sail In Bar

Dinner was enjoyed on the terrace of the Avra hotel just a few steps up from the Sail In Bar. I ordered fish and it was super tasty, helped by the white wine and the romantic view from above! We rounded up the evening with a nice stroll along the beach, petting the street cats and I fell in love with the Villa Rossa hotel – a red colonial style house hotel at the end of the bay. Will stay there next time for a night or two, and hopefully out of peak season!

The River Acheron

If you love Greek mythology, you would love the river Acheron and going up to its source! In Greek mythology the river Acheron/ Styx is the river of the dead whereupon Charon delivers the souls of the dead to the Underworld. The river is also the place where Achilles mother dipped him as a baby to make him immortal. She was holding him by the heel though, thereby the Achilles’ heel, which remains nowadays to describe a vulnerability spot.

 

Image: Greece by a Greek

We drove up to the source of Acheron by car. The place is quite commercialized now with rafting and horse riding companies offering their services. We went on though, parked the car and walked a tiny path among stones and ancient trees, to what seemed to me an enchanted place, with very blue water amid the tall lime cliffs. The springs of Acheron are not in one place, the river is fed all along the gorge. I jumped into the clear, cold water and my daughter followed with me. Such an enjoyable experience! I hope we are immortal now, at least our legs! We walked back down the enchanted path, knotted roots and branched weaving marvelous figures all around us. So much to see and so much to discover! Stay tuned for Ionian Sea Hideaways 2!

 

Image: Ekaterina Larsson

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