The Ionian island of Meganisi is easy to reach from the UK and has unspoilt beaches, turquoise waters and glorious Greek summers. It’s closest neighbour is Skorpios, formerly the private paradise retreat of Aristotle Onassis. Yet somehow it’s never been on the tourist trail. Read on to discover things to do on Meganisi and a luxury Meganisi villa for a stylish Greek island escape.
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The Greek island of Meganisi, also spelt Meganissi, is tucked like a teardrop between the sheltering arm of Lefkada island and the west coast of mainland Greece. You have to look hard for it on a map and it’s often missing completely from lists of the more famous Ionian isles, strung like pearls along the Greek coastline from Corfu to Zakynthos. Yet Meganisi is an absolute jewel of an island, untouched by large scale development or mass tourism.
I’ve been keen to explore Meganisi, so during my visit to Lefkada last autumn I hopped on the local ferry to take a closer look.
I travelled to Lefkada as a guest of Ionian Villas who hosted my stay on the understanding that I would write an honest and unbiased account of my trip. All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.
How to Get to Meganisi
Ok. So perhaps this is why Meganisi isn’t more of a household name. The ONLY way to get there is by the car ferry from the port of Nidri on Lefkada. There are no ferries to Meganisi from Athens.
And Meganisi doesn’t have an airport.
To be completely honest, the island of Lefkada doesn’t have an airport either. But that’s really only a technicality because Lefkada is linked to the Greek mainland by a causeway road.
Nearby Preveza airport, which lies in Epirus on the north west coast of the Greek mainland, is just one hour by car from the Meganisi ferry at the port of Nidri on Lefkada.
We flew British Airways from London Heathrow to Aktion National airport, Preveza Greece. The flight time is around 3 hours 20 minutes.
We picked up our rental car at the airport and drove the very straightforward route from Preveza to Lefkada island. It takes around 45 minutes to drive from the airport to Nidri on Lefkada.
A car ferry from Nidri serves the route from Lefkada to Meganisi. Since Meganisi is just 4 nautical miles from Lefkada the crossing only takes 25 minutes. A car costs approx 13 euros, while it’s a couple of euros per head for passengers.
On the day we travelled at the end of September, the Nidri to Meganisi car ferry ran cockcrow early at 7am or in time for lunch at 12.15. In busier months an additional ferry crosses at 10.15am with a couple more in the afternoon. Had we missed the last ferry back at 6.30pm we’d have had to stay the night, or find ourselves a private taxi boat back to Lefkada.
Private Transfer to Meganisi
The other obvious way to get to Meganisi is by private speedboat. Ionian Villa’s island manager, Ergi, often organises private transfers for clients on a two-centre stay, or guests on Lefkada who’d like a day trip to Meganisi or just lunch at a favourite restaurant there. So it’s easy to book a transfer that fits your own schedule.
Plan a Visit to Meganisi
Scenario 1: You fly into Preveza airport in the morning, pick up a car, drive to Nidri on Lefkada, hop on the Meganisi ferry, arrive at the island and check into your stylish villa. You can then spend the next week or two quietly congratulating yourself on ‘getting away from it all’ in the most time efficient and hassle-free way imaginable.
Looking for villas on Meganisi right now? Click here to see a stylish Meganisi villa with a view. It sleeps 6 with a private pool, wonderful sea views and beaches close by.
Scenario 2: After a few days of ‘getting away from it all’ you become fidgety. If this is you then I recommend a two-centre stay combining Lefkada and Meganisi.
Lefkada is a larger and livelier island and has plenty of activities on offer. Vasiliki Lefkada is famous for its propitious winds for sailing and windsurfing, and you’ll also find SUP, mountain biking, hiking, paragliding and stunning beaches on Lefkada. It has multiple villages, shops and wineries to explore too.
Scenario 3: Like us you are happily vacationing on Lefkada but would enjoy a day out exploring a nearby island. Read on for how we spent our day on Meganisi.
A Day Trip to Meganisi
My friend Fiona and I were staying at Vasiliki on the south west coast of Lefkada. The wonderful Elena, who is manager of Akonita villa on Meganisi, had offered to meet us at the port of Nydri and spend the day showing us around her island. Obviously we jumped at the chance.
Elena had been absolutely right. The early ferry is a must if you want to see as much of Meganisi as possible in one day. And the beautiful daybreak views on the journey, passing secluded Skorpios, make the early start worth it.
NB Allow good time to find a parking space at Nidri port. Luckily Elena was there to help me find a spot, then run back to the dock to catch the ferry in the nick of time. Even laidback Greek islands have parking restrictions.
Where to go in Meganisi
Some geography: Meganisi is an island of just 20 square kilometres with around a thousand inhabitants. Incongruously the name means literally ‘big island’ since Meganisi is the largest of a cluster of smaller islands.
The northern end of the island is wide with a deeply indented coastline like the petals of a flower. The southern part of the island narrows sharply, like the flower’s stem.
To the north east those petals of land stretching into the sea have created deep fjord-like inlets. This haven of sheltered bays and little coves helps make Meganisi special.
The ferry docks at Spilia on the north coast, close to the main harbour village of Vathy or Vathi. Two more scenic villages make up the island community: Spartochori high on the hilltop above Spilia, and inland Katomeri, the main village and island’s capital.
The island is lushly green with olive groves, pine trees and cypresses. Trees grow right on the waterline with branches shading the edges of the pebbly beaches.
Several of the best beaches of Meganisi are easily accessed by road but for the rest you’ll need a boat or a good pair of walking shoes.
Car hire is a must if you want to explore the island properly, though you can also hire scooters and quad bikes. And it’s worth getting up high to enjoy some of the island’s magnificent views.
Nowadays the small community focuses on agriculture, fishing and tourism. But Meganisi has had a more eventful past. Dating back to Neolithic times, the island is called Taphos in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. Greek myths also suggest that Polyphemus, the one-eyed Cyclops, son of Poseidon, had a cave on the island where he kept his sheep. You can see the cave of the Cyclops above Spilia beach.
Ruled in turn by the Venetians, the French and the Turks, Meganisi developed a bit of a reputation as a refuge of pirates and rebels. Its people were involved in the 1821 Greek Revolution and one of the most powerful leaders came from the island.
Why Visit Meganisi
These days there isn’t a lot happening on Meganisi – and that is the whole point of visiting. It’s a quiet little island community. But it also happens to have a fringe of lovely small beaches, dazzling blue seas and glorious Greek weather. It’s the perfect place to not do very much at all.
You won’t find a lively nightlife here or any big hotels. Shops are at a minimum. Beaches are mostly unorganised. You’ll still find traditional architecture in the small villages of the island.
But Meganisi caters perfectly for visitors who come in search of that elusive lowkey super-relaxing vibe. Stylish villas with breathtaking views are tucked into the curvaceous coastline. Villages are Instagram pretty. Restaurants serve fresh fish straight out of the local waters. The famously blue Ionian sea is pristine and crystal clear.
If you’re in the know, you know. Sailing boats touring the Ionian islands moor up in Vathy. Mega yachts quietly drop anchor off secluded coves. Regulars putter around in little day boats and come back to the island on repeat. No one shouts about it, it’s a bit of a secret.
Things to do on Meganisi
Although I maintain that Meganisi is a wonderful place to do as little as possible, it does still have ‘things to do’!
Number one would be to hire a boat to explore its many little hidden beaches and coves. Lots of them can only be accessed from the sea. You can find motor boats, as well as power boats or yachts to charter, with or without a skipper, depending on your qualifications. Pack a snorkel and a picnic, or moor up at a waterside taverna for lunch.
Ergi and Elena can also arrange sea kayaking or island hopping trips for their guests.
You might want to check out Meganisi’s most famous ‘sight’: the cave of Papanicolis. The second largest cave in Greece this is a limestone karst formation in the cliffs on the west coast of Meganisi. It’s big enough that over the centuries it’s been a refuge for boats in storms. Allegedly, during World War 2, it was a hiding place for the Greek submarine, Papanikolis, too.
You can only access this cave from the sea. Boat tours will take you to the entrance whilst kayakers can go right inside to see the stalactites and land on its secret beach.
Meganisi has wonderful restaurants in each of its villages. And you’ll enjoy the freshest of seafood from local fishing boats that land their catches in the island harbours.
If you’re staying at Villa Akonita on Meganisi, Elena can provide a chef to cook lunch for you. Or you could book a traditional Greek cooking lesson in your home and try your hand at some of the delicious local recipes.
For our visit Elena had planned a round-the-island tour which began at the pretty harbour of Vathy. In high season this is a lively hub where private yachts moor up beside local fishing boats. The area is popular with yachts touring the Ionian islands and the modern privately run Odyseas Marina on the edge of Vathy caters to these visitors.
But the harbour was peaceful on the morning we visited. After quayside coffees we wandered through the quiet village lanes past artlessly weathered shutters and a vine casually draped across a road.
Then we set off, past peaceful Atherinos, a small bay where a couple of local fishermen were working on their boats.
Fanari and Limonari beaches
Our first stop was Fanari beach just 10 minutes from Vathy and close to Katomeri. This is one of the most popular Meganisi beaches with brightly coloured beach beds under straw parasols and a beach bar that looks like it’s lively. But on this day at the end of September Fanari was practically deserted. We chatted to a couple who told us they visit every year.
We were tempted to linger at Fanari, paddling in the shallows and watching the early morning autumn clouds give way to blue sky.
But we had more of the island’s beaches to see so we pushed on. At Mikro Limonari beach we stopped for a swim. It’s the smaller of two neighbouring coves, Megalo Limonari is the other, and again we shared the white pebble beach with just a handful of people. The crystal water was perfect for swimming or snorkelling around the rocky edges of the cove.
A diver emerged from the water with flippers and a catch of octopus, the biggest excitement of the morning. So we sat with fresh orange juices from the canteen, gazed over the azure sea and started to think idly about lunch.
West coast beaches
It’s easy to slow down on Meganisi. There’s a scent of island herbs in the air, the jingling of bells from grazing goats, a couple of cows in the middle of the road. No one is in much of a hurry….. Except we had an agenda and places to see, so we hopped back in the car and made the short trip across to the western part of the island.
Here we stopped at Agios Ioannis beach and watched kayakers paddle past the little chapel that gave the beach its name.
Legend has it that raiders once wrecked the monastery of St John on this site. Miraculously, an icon of St John that had been thrown into the sea was caught in a fisherman’s nets and saved. In the 1800s the church was rebuilt with the help, it is said, of funds from the Tsar of Russia.
A little further up the coast we stopped again at Ammoglossa, a spit of shingle beach, close to the road with views across to the island of Lefkada.
Meganisi villa with a view
What if we wanted to stay the night – or better still a week? Elena took us to see Villa Akonita for a taster of Meganisi home comforts.
Akonita would be my choice for a family get together. It’s an airy modern villa on the hillside above two beaches on the north coast of the island. It sleeps six, with three big bedrooms and a large stylish living area that opens out onto the terrace.
Beyond the private pool is one of those inimitable Ionian views of the sea shading from turquoise to indigo, flecked with white sailing boats. The dark outlines of Skorpios island and Lefkada lie in the distance.
Akonita has access to two little beaches just a few minutes walk away. The nearest is semi-private, shared only with a couple of other villas and occasional passing boats.
A couple of hundred metres further is Herniades beach. This was empty when we popped in to see it: a narrow strand wrapped around by greenery, with trees almost dipping into the water at the rocky edges.
The pretty hillside village of Spartochori is about 1 km away: 3 minutes in the car or a 15 minute walk. Spilia port and beach is about the same distance.
Akonita’s local village is Spartochori, a proper little Greek village with traditional character. We meandered through winding cobbled lanes of whitewashed stone houses with brightly coloured flowers spilling out of pots.
Then, unexpectedly, we came out at an Italianate belvedere with a ravishing panoramic view. Spartochori stands high on the hill above Spilia beach and port. And in fact you can walk between the two.
It was past lunchtime and the scent of grilling was in the air. You can eat very well in Spartochori but from the viewpoint we could see Spilia beach below us and the sea beckoned.
So we drove down the hill to the waterside taverna in a perfect spot by the beach. Here we ordered a meze of saganaki, octopus, courgette fritters, white beans in tomato sauce, Greek salad and beers. We watched tiny fish darting around the quay and had a last quick dip in the sea before catching the ferry back to Lefkada.
How to Book a Villa on Meganisi
The family-run villa agency Ionian Villas has 35 years experience in the Ionian islands of Greece. They can advise you on the perfect villa from their portfolio as well as the island that’ll suit you best or a combination of islands for a two-centre stay. An expert local manager helps ensure your stay goes smoothly and the team can organise your transfers, car and boat hire and an in-house cook.
The Ionian Legend of Io
As we ate at Spilia taverna and gazed out over the bright blue Ionian sea, Elena told us the Greek legend of Io.
Io was a beautiful girl who was spotted by the god Zeus. He seduced her, but then quickly turned her into a white heifer to hide her from his understandably angry wife, Hera.
But Hera was one step ahead of Zeus and sent a gadfly to torment Io. In her efforts to escape the stinging insect Io the heifer roamed far and wide. She swam the Ionian sea – hence the name – and eventually arrived in Egypt. Here she was reunited with Zeus who turned her back into a girl.
Back at our car beside the beach, we heard a clattering of hooves and cries of ‘Marie! Marie!’
A heifer dashed into the car park and trotted around, head in the air, until she was neatly cornered by her relieved owner. No-one seemed unduly concerned. Meganisi is like that. And perhaps a gadfly had been responsible….
Thanks to Elena (on the left), the super-helpful manager of Villa Akonita, for our fun day out on Meganisi and for some of these photos too
Please note that all visitor information here is for guidance only. Please check the relevant websites for the most up to date information eg. accommodation details, tickets, entrance requirements, opening times etc.
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About the author Nancy is a former women’s magazine editor who lives in London and is mum to two 20-something boys. In Map&Family she shares info and inspiration for curious travellers: ‘grown up’ trips for singles and couples as well as families travelling with teens and young adults.
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