Who hasn’t heard of Odysseus? Or Ulysses, as he is also known by his Roman name. He’s the hero of Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey”. According to that poem, Odysseus was the king of the island of Ithaca, a small Greek island in the Ionian Sea. After fighting in the Trojan war, Odysseus tried to return home to Ithaca. It took him 10 long years to complete the journey…
While sailing around the Ionian islands, Ithaca is one of my stopovers. The whole island is drenched in Odysseus’ spirit with cafés, bars and hotels named after him and archaeologists trying to match the place names of “the Odyssey” with places of nowadays Ithaca. I am on a mission to step into his footsteps!
It has never been proven that Odysseus truly existed, but a good place to start on your own Odysseus hunt is the inland village of Stavros, half an hour walk from the little harbour of Frikes. It stands at an altitude of 110m above the sea and offers great views over Polis Bay and the nearby and more popular island of Kefalonia. On the main square there is a bust of Odysseus himself surrounded by a couple of maps, one showing the journey of Odysseus around the Mediterranean and another one trying to identify places on the island mentioned by Homer. An interesting start!
Walking up Pelikata hill I pass the archaeological site of what is supposed to be Odysseus’ palace. The site was only discovered in 2010 and some archeologists actually believe the palace to be somewhere further south… Due to a lack of funding, the excavations regularly come to a halt. There isn’t a great deal to see and you have to use a lot of imagination, but the peacefulness and views make it a nice place for a mythical stroll.
If you need a break from mythology, you can head for the small harbour of Kioni, where quay tavernas will bring you back to the joys of the 21st century. Kioni is built on the slopes of a mountain, with tiled roofs overlooking the picturesque port. Very few houses survived the big Ionian earthquake of 1953.
As everywhere in the area, the harbour can be pretty busy in summer with yachts. Once you walk into the little backstreets, the place is nearly deserted and you get a great insight into the daily life of the islanders: people sweep their front garden, a van passes selling freshly baked bread and water tankers make sure everyone stays well hydrated.
The next day I make my way to Vathy, which has been identified as the Homeric harbour of Phorcys. It is a sheltered harbour with houses on both sides of the quays, surrounded by green hills. The pastel-coloured traditional houses were rebuilt after the 1953 earthquake that destroyed nearly all of the island. Nowadays it’s a great place to spend an afternoon in a seaside café, drinking endless amounts of frappés.
For my last stop on the Odysseus trail, I walk up to Paleohori, the old medieval capital of Ithaca, dating back to 1500! The path leads to ruined stone walls and past byzantine churches with well preserved frescoes. All along the path, I am rewarded with beautiful views over the bay of Vathy and the sea! On the way back, I am once again reminded of Odysseus’ legacy, passing the “Cave of the Nymphs”, unfortunately inaccessible…
As you can see there are plenty of things to do in Ithaca! Have you ever read The Odyssey? What other mythical places did you explore?