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Region C - Epirus, Corfu, Lefkada

Two Ionian islands, the coast of Epirus and Yiannina

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With its varied landscape and important landmarks, Western Greece has much to offer the traveller. In the north, the main focal points are gracious Corfu, for years an international holiday centre; the lively port of Igoumenitsa; and Yiannina, a city brimming with history and tradition. As you head south, there are other treats in store: Parga, the jewel of the northwest coast; the towns of Preveza, Vonitsa and Amfilochia on the shores of the gentle Amvrakia Gulf; and the unspoilt island of Lefkada just offshore. We'll start this section of our tour in Corfu, the island of the Phaeacians, which has had a multifaceted history from the seventh century B.C. up to our own day. Despite its enormous popularity with tourists, its has managed to presserve its own inimitable atmosphere and lively rhythm of existence ablended matchlessly with the beauty of its scenery and the "joie de vivre" of its citizens.

You can get there by ferry, either from Igoumenitsa or Patras (or directly from Italy's Adriatic ports), which docks at Corfu town, unquestionably one of the loveliest in Greece, as you'll soon discover the moment you set foot in its delightful, flagstoned streets or stroll around the Spianada, or Esplanade.

Bisecting the eastern coast of the island, Corfu consists of the old city - a romantic medley of vestiges of Venetian, French and English rule with an unmistakeably Greek touch - and the more modern outlying districs and vines masks the harsher lines of contemporary architecture.



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District capital and for centuries the heart of Epirus, Yiannina manages to combine the contemporary with the old, modernity with history and tradition. Built on the shores of lake Pamvotis, Yiannina's old districts evoke the legends and stories associated with Ali Pasha, governor of the are during the late 18th and early 19th century. Generally, the town is filled with echoes of Turkish occupation, which lasted until 1913. There are mosques and minarets (one mosque is now the municipal museum), a castle (part of it housed the Christian population) with the archaeological museum nearby, the 16th century Cami of Aslan Pasha and a number of folk art museums and libraries.

A trip to the middle of the lake is a must. It you're bored by Byzantine churches and monasteries (including the one where Ali Pasha was assassinated), you can always feast on the eels, trout and crayfish served at the island's taverns.

More local colour can be found by strolling through the market district, where you may still see silversmiths making the delicate filigree jewellery for which Yiannina is renowned or buy examples of Epirote folk art. Don't miss an opportunity to try the area's baked sweets, its cheese and cream pies, or its meat cooked gently for hours sealed in a clay casserlore. Or just sit by the lakeside and admire the view.

But there's more to Yiannina than urban pleasures. It's surrounded by high mountains, the scene of many battles throughout the centuries, not the least of which were fought during World War II and the Greek Civil War. Now the quiet peaks are ideal for excursions into some of the most stunning countryside in Greece.


The Ionian coast

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Heading back to the sea, we return to port of Igoumenitsa to take the coast road. The shores of the Ionian, the west coast of the Greek mainland, have more to offer the visitor than pretty beaches and magnificent sunsets. Near Igoumenitsa is the nice beach of Plataria and the Syvota islands, a yachtsman's paradise. The excellent scenic road then lures you on to Parga, a picturesque village set near a succession of thickly wooded coves; the combination of emerald hills and scattered islets, sapphire waters and a ruined castle is a romantic's dream.

Stepping into the still more distant past, we take the road to Mesopotamo and the ruins of the Necromanteion of Ephyra. Here on the banks of the river Acheron and the shores of Lake Acherousia was a city dedicated to the dead, a sanctuary to Persephone and Hades, and one of the entrances to the Underworld.



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Leaving the castle (a mixture of Frankish, Turkish and Venetian construction) on our right, we approach the canal that separates the northeast tip of the island from the coast of Aitoloakarnania, which can be crossed either by chain ferry or pontoon bridge.

Proceeding south for a tour of the island, we take the road down the east coast, which passes some traces of early - all that remains of ancient Leukas - and the fishing villages - resorts of Lygia and Nikiana before arriving at Nydri, Lefkada's best known holiday spot. Taverns and cafes line the waterfront, which has one of the most idyllic views in Greece: nearby, cypresses rise out of a tangle of lush vegetation framing the lagoon like harbour, while offshore the sea is dotted with verdant islets like Sparti, Skorpios, once Onassis's favourite haunt; Madouri, where the famous poet Valaoritis lived; and Meganisi, the biggest, accessible, accessible by launch. The German archaeologist Wilhelm Dorpfeld, whose grave lies opposite at Agia Kyriaki, believed Lefkada to be Homer's Ithaca, and there are ruins of a prehistoric city nearby.


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