The guests can enjoy walking around the town of Lefkada surrounded by beautiful colours and delightful smells.
But the town is more than the narrow streets, the street market and the seaside with the parks. The town of Lefkada nowadays covers a large area from the castle of Santa Maura to the northernmost point of the island, the cape of Gyrapetra. It reaches the settlement of Fryni in the south, the monastery of Faneromeni in the west and ancient Nirikos in the east. A huge area that is full of important monuments of the historic and religious tradition of the island, an amazing biotope reserve and endless beaches where green, blue and golden are the dominant colours.
From the floating bridge, the entrance to the heavenly island of Lefkada, the guests have the option to reach the town following the road on the left or drive for seven kilometres around Gyra, the road around the lagoon, and enjoy a picturesque route, an introduction to the rest of the beautiful aspects of the island.
If they choose the longer route, the guests will see the huge beach of Gyra on their right, a favourite place of the locals for a swim, the beach behind the impressive old building of the winery of TAOL (the winemakers’ and farmers’ cooperative) that was built in 1949. The whole scenery resembles a movie set as it is bathed with sunlight in the morning and full of mystic shadows during the sunset.
The endless beach goes on and extends in kilometres until its next organised part at the small settlement of Gyra, offering the opportunity to the guests to enjoy the sea and the beach wherever they want. The historic church of “Kimiseos tis Theotokou” (“Panagia tis Gyras”, Holy Mary of Gyra) is located there. It was built somewhere between 1460 and 1503. The original temple belonged to the ancestors of Aggelos Sikelianos, endured many earthquakes and is today a chapel of the parish of Agios Nikolaos of Lefkada. The icon of Holy Mary, the protector of the church, is a work of Tommaso Gen.
Further to the right side of the settlement there is the cape of Gyrapetra, the northernmost point of the island. Next to it there is the beach of Mili that was named after its windmills. Some of them still stand. Once there were twelve windmills, each one with its own name (e.g. Orlofis, Moskovitis, Syreggelis, Ntoulaveris, K’tanyhis etc). Their history goes back in the years of the Venetian Rule and the last one stopped working in 1954. This was also the place where the English (with the Greek officer Theodoros Kolokotronis) fought the French to conquer the island in 1810.
In 1992 a group of Austrians discovered that the beach of Mili was ideal for windsurfing and in 1999 a group of Italians used it for the first time for kitesurfing. Since then the beach has been one of the most famous destinations in the world for these two water sports. In addition, it is one of the many places in the western coast of the island where one can enjoy the wonderful sunset of the Ionian Sea.
The huge beach reaches Agios Ioannis, another of the locals’ favourite spots for a swim or an evening stroll, coffee and food at the seaside cafés and small taverns. This is the location of the small chapel of Agios Ioannis Antzoussis (d’Anjou).that gave its name to the region and the beach. Here, according to tradition, the first “prayer gathering” took place by Paul the Apostle, who, in his way to Rome, made a brief stop on the island. This may have been the oldest church of the island that was founded in the cave, upon which the now standing temple was built, probably in the third century AD. It was renovated, expanded by and named after the Frankish Angevin knights (from Anjou) who discovered it in 1331.
The broader region of Agios Ioannis is green clad, with many newly built houses and tourism enterprises. There are trails that start from this location and reach the settlement of Fryni and the monastery of Faneromeni, through the rich vegetation.
All along the route from the floating bridge to the beach of Mili, the guests can see on their left the big western lagoon of Lefkada also known as Ivari (fish farm) that together with the eastern lagoon form one of the biggest water biotopes of Western Greece. It is a part of the water biotopes’ complex of the Amvrakikos Gulf that is internationally important according to the Ramsar Convention. The lagoon of the Straits of Lefkada is a specifically protected area as said by EU Directive 79/409/EEC, the Barcelona Convention and the Greek Legislation, characterised as an area of outstanding beauty. It is a significant water biotope with rich flora, fauna and especially seafowls, with important resident and migratory species such as sea crows, herons, glossy ibises, shelducks, green-headed ducks and, of course, seagulls and pelicans. In the wintertime the lagoon is full of swans that prefer its temperate climate.
The tour around the outskirts of the town continues at the plain of Lefkada with the Venetian olive grove and its newly built suburbs. The olive grove was created in 1684 because the Venetians that ruled the island wanted to olive tree cultivation in the Ionian Islands. It is reported from various sources that over 44000 olive trees were planted in less that one hundred years. The grove is one of the favourite locations of the locals for a stroll and it has been praised by national poet Aggelos Sikelianos in his poem “Alafroiskiotos” (“The Light-Shadowed”) where it is called “Divine Olive Grove”.
Along the paths one can find scattered chapels and among them Panagia ton Vlahernon (Holy Mary Vlaherna), a historical small church that was founded in 1740. On the southern outer wall there is a built in plaque that reports that on the Carnival Sunday of 1821 twelve warlords and highly esteemed persons from Lefkada and Roumeli (the region of the Greek mainland across Lefkada) gathered there to take an oath to fight for the liberation of their country.
Another noteworthy place is also Kouzounteli or Kouzoumpei with plane trees and traditional cafés that serve the refreshing soumada (the Lefkadian refreshment drink made of bitter almonds). The name of the area dates back to the Ottoman Rule. Walking there and having a drink was the favourite habit of the old time “Braneli” (the residents of the town) and there was also a field for the traditional game “amply” that was played only at the town and not at the rest of the island.
The settlement of Fryni is the south-western edge of the town, with beautiful houses, small churches and “Asvotrypa” (Badger Hole), a cave where important findings of the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic Age were excavated. Passing through the settlement, on the way up the monastery of Faneromeni, the amazing view is really breathtaking. Holy Mary Faneromeni, the protectress of the island, is built at a green clad spot with a clear view to Gyra and the whole of Lefkada’s plain. It is said that there was a shrine dedicated to goddess Diana at the site.
There are lots of traditions about the founding of the monastery. One of them claims that an icon of Virgin Mary was revealed at this location and thus the name Faneromeni (Revealed) was given to it. A small church was built to house the icon. It is also reported that after the First Ecumenical Council five Fathers of the Church came along with the Bishop of Lefkada Agatharchos. Two of them settled in the monastery and built the first cells, expanded the temple and organised monasticism in Lefkada. The monastery took its current form in 1734 during the Venetian Rule. The icon of Virgin Mary (1887) is a copy of the old miraculous icon of Faneromeni and it was painted at Mount Athos. The iconostasis was constructed by Efstathios Prosalentis junior and the icons were painted by Hristodoulos and Thomas Zografou from Ipiros. There are two museums hosted at the monastery, an ecclesiastical and a maritime.
On the eastern side of the town there is an area called “Perivolia” (Orchards) that was named after the tree gardens of the lords that were located there in the past. At the location “Megali Vrysi” (Great Fountain), on the village towards the south-eastern villages, there is the church of Zoodohos Pigi, built in 1735. Quite far from this location, an extended archaeological site begins that includes ancient graveyards and the ancient town of Lefkada (Nirikos) and covers the eastern edges of the hill “Koulmos” and reaches the seaside of Kalligoni, which is the south-easternmost suburb of the town, but also further to the south, covering the village Karyotes and reaching Lygia.
Furthermore, on the coast of this side, at a location near the contemporary Marina, the first salts pans were made during the time of the Tocci in the island and there was the first mention of salt trade in 1415. In some points one can still spot the ruins of the ancient walls of the town and the old pass to the coast across the channel.
The history, the nature, the culture, the tradition, all the unique experiences will remain unforgettable in the minds and hearts of the visitors no matter what time of the year they choose to came to the island.
* The Cooperative of TAOL was founded in 1915 as a Winemakers’ Protection Fund and followed the common history of the cooperative movement in Greece with a huge significance for the local society, not only financially but in a broader social and cultural way, with all sorts of activities and contributions.