Ithaca, Greece

Jun 01, 2018 - Sea Cloud

In the early morning on a clear, warm day, the Sea Cloud anchored in Ithaca, the second smallest island in the Ionian Sea and home to the legendary Odysseus. We walked ashore where the statue of Odysseus was awaiting to welcome us! Ithaca is small and rugged, but still one of the best-kept secrets of our journey, and a place with a long maritime tradition. Vathy, the main port and capital, is a small, quiet town hiding in one of the most concealed and protected natural bays of Greece. In the old days, it allowed hiding from pirates, but nowadays it means protection from the strong winds. It’s a tiny port, and many sailboats prefer it, coming to enjoy the landscape and the legends associated with cunning King Odysseus, the “man of many devices."

Our buses drove through the windy roads of the northern part of Ithaca and Mount Neritos. The landscape was green—full of low vegetation but also pines, olives, and cypress. We drove past the beach where Odysseus landed after 20 years away from home, and we made it up to the Kathara Monastery, founded in 1696.  The view from the elevation of 1800 feet down to the south and the Bay of Vathy was spectacular! Lord Byron had also visited the precincts, but there was very little from the original buildings after the disastrous earthquake of 1953. However, we did see the miraculous icon of the birth of the Virgin Mary in the main church that was loaded with votive offerings in the form of jewelry, silver and bronze plates with representations of body parts and people for whom the dedications were made, along with chandeliers, candleholders, and a small silver ship hanging from the ceiling.

Our picturesque drive continued through the village of Anogi. A few minutes later we reached Stavros, the second largest town on the island, with 250 inhabitants. We stopped in the central plateau—a square with the main church, Greek kafeneia (cafes), a map of Odysseus’ journey, and a bust of the man himself. Stavros is very close what some archaeologists believe are the ruins of Odysseus’ Palace, a Mycenaean 13th-century-B.C. palace complex, and possibly the very home to that Odysseus strived to return as his faithful wife Penelope with her son Telemachus tried to keep suitors away from the throne.

After enjoying our iced coffees, local sweets (baklava and kantaifi!), and juices, we drove back to Vathy, following the road on the steep slopes of the mountain and enjoying spectacular views of the neighboring island of Cephalonia, the island of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

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About the Author

Smaragda Touloupa

Cultural Specialist

Born in Piraeus into a family with roots in Macedonia, Greece, “Smaro” majored in sociology at university, then received an M.A. in cultural heritage theory at University College in London. She also completed a three-year course of study at the School of Guides in Athens. She has been guiding university, museum and other groups in Greece since 1998. She is fluent in Greek, English and Italian, and is a member of the World Archaeological Congress and the Initiative of Heritage Conservancy. Smaro enjoys reading, travelling, trekking and — still — studying!

About the Photographer

Massimo Bassano

National Geographic Photographer

Massimo Bassano has worked as a freelance photojournalist since 1990. His work appears in National Geographic Traveler and National Geographic online edition, as well as many publications throughout Europe. Massimo's photographic subjects know no bounds—his recent assignments have covered social issues, international travel, fitness and health, fashion, and portraiture. In 2004, he was awarded a Ph.D. in journalism from the Italian Association of Journalism.

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