The Ionian is probably the best known sailing area in the Med, being heavily sold as a beginners area and so attracting many flotilla sailors. From a charter perspective, the area could in fact be considered as two, with the northern Ionian served primarily by Corfu and the more southerly area by Lefkas. Others might consider that the whole western coast of the Peleponnese more truly constitutes the South Ionian but this rugged and more challenging area is rarely visited by charter boats.
Winds in the Ionian are light in the morning and rarely strong or long lasting in the afternoon. There are one or two bays where there can be a bit more breeze, as can also be the case where there are no islands to provide shelter, such as the stretch between Preveza and Anti Paxos.
Winds are generally better in the southern part, south of Lefkas, than in the north. You might get a few windless days in the south, whereas I have spent 2 weeks in the north without enough to sail on a single day!
The light winds are either the main attraction, or a major drawback, depending on your outlook. Strong winds do occasionally occur for short periods but by far the greater majority of visitors tend to complain about too little wind rather than too much.
Those inclined to stay out until later in the afternoon in the hope of finding more wind will then find the other main drawback of the area – it gets busy, except in summer when it’s very busy!! If you are happy to anchor off there’s plenty of room, and once everyone else has headed to harbour it can be very pleasant to stay out in a now quiet bay.
Personally, I think the number of yachts chasing mooring spots seriously undermines the area’s reputation as a beginner’s paradise. It’s quite intimidating for the less experienced to find they’re in a race for a mooring place, and the Saronic is much better in this respect.
On the positive side, there are so many places to see you could spend weeks cruising the area without seeing it all. These range from popular tourist towns like Corfu (which as tourist towns go, is not a bad spot), to small more rarely visited villages. Those on the smaller islands can be very peaceful once the day trippers have headed off home and even the larger villages and small towns on the mainland are by and large very pleasant stops.
If you’re sailing around the east coast of Corfu, or the area south of Lefkas you are spoilt for choice with numerous destinations within reach, and many route permutations. Even in the other parts, you are rarely far from somewhere to spend the night, making it a superb destination for those that like their sailing in short hops.
Corfu is well served by flights from numerous UK airports. Unfortunately, many of these are on Mondays or Fridays with only a few Saturday departures from Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and Manchester. The nearest airport for Levkas is Preveza. The service to here is more limited with flights from Gatwick and Manchester only, virtually all of these being on a Sunday.
With so few Saturday flights, many flotillas start on other days to fit in with the airline schedules. This does mean there are several yacht operators with boats running on cycles other than the usual Saturday – Saturday, so it can be a bit easier for bare boaters to find a boat with an alternative start date than in some other areas. In addition to the flotillas and bareboats, the area is home to several RYA sailing schools, and cabin charter is also possible.