Lu Heikell has spent over a quarter of a century exploring the islands of Greece by boat and claims Lefkas remains one of the best

Lefkas island in the Ionian Sea is one of my favourite places in Greece. For land travellers it is one of the few islands easily reached by car and represents the end of the line without a ferry ride. For sailors though, it is something of a crossroads, linking the northern islands of Corfu and Paxos to the inland sea bordered by Ithaca and Cephalonia to the west, and Zakinthos to the south.

It is a stepping-off point for those heading west across to Italy, or east into the Gulf of Patras. There are numerous safe havens and on the back of this, it has long been a yachting hub. More recently Lefkas has developed into a major yacht charter centre.

I first landed on Lefkas the best part of a quarter of a century ago, before the marina was built, when yachts were hauled out on a sledge in Christos’s boatyard on the edge of the lagoon opposite the town quay. We moored up bows-to on the little mole off the town quay where yachts lay among small fishing caiques and local runabouts.

I explored the town that was, and for the most part remains, a delightfully ramshackle place where the wood-framed houses were only two storeys high and designed to withstand the not infrequent earthquakes by using corrugated iron sheets as walls on the upper floor. Of course, modern steel-reinforced concrete is the material of choice for more recent buildings, but you will still find fine restored examples of older houses in the labyrinth of narrow streets around the main square.

One morning we were enjoying a frappé in the harbourside cafe when the table started jiggling around. I jumped up to grab my glass. ‘Crikey,’ I squeaked to Rod who was seemingly unmoved by the experience, ‘what’s going on?’

‘Earthquake,’ he replied, ‘but only a little one!’

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His upbringing in New Zealand meant he was somewhat accustomed to occasional tremors while I, from the south of England, was most definitely not. Thankfully most quakes here are mercifully mild, and I am less alarmed when the earth moves these days.

Over the years I have returned to the island many times. Friends have settled here, and their children grown up here. Charter companies have gone from running 30-footers to 45-footers and more. The quaysides are now full to bursting with yachts.

I have seen Lefkas marina built, Vasiliki too, and in the last few years any number of new pontoons have sprouted from quaysides around the island to better accommodate the latest sailing visitors. The sight of dozens of yachts emerging from the south end of Lefkas canal into the inland sea, unfurling sails and heading off on their own odyssey, never gets old.

This year, after several years’ hiatus, the Southern Ionian Regatta was ‘reloaded’. It dates back to 1978 when a few charter skippers initiated an informal race from the Meganisi strait around Arkoudi and into Sivota for an evening of celebration. It was great to see this tradition revived, and thanks go to the new race committee for getting it back on the Lefkas sailing calendar. It takes place in the third week of September, so put it in your diaries.

‘It must have been lovely back then,’ new visitors will often say, and yes, it was, but as places grow around you, it is easier to see that they remain special. Lefkas still holds a very special place in my heart.

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