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Its economy may be in meltdown, but Greece remains a wonderful destination for open water swimmers, writes Lisa Stansbie…

Since ancient times, Greece has always had a special relationship with the sea that can be traced back to Homer’s

epic poem, The Odyssey, which is packed with maritime myths and fantastical sea creatures. Ever since, the sea has had a special place in Greek hearts, history and culture. On a more contemporary note, Greece undoubtedly has some of the most breathtaking and cleanest beaches in Europe. Spectacularly dramatic scenery rises above and out of turquoise waters. There is a multitude of exquisite locations to take a dip, or for the more serious swimmers, to take part in events. Because the Mediterranean is not greatly aff ected by tides swimming is a fairly safe activity. However, one safety consideration is occasional strong winds, which usually kick up in the aſt ernoon. These are more prevalent in the Aegean Sea, particularly during August, and they can produce less than ideal sea swimming conditions.

In and among the islands, though – clustered together as they are – there is a deal of protection from these winds.


Swimmers pass the scenic Valoret i Island


The Ionian Islands, also known as the 'Eptanisa', (meaning 'seven islands') are situated off western Greece. They are comprised of Corfu, Paxos, Lef ada, Ithaca, Kefalonia, Zante and Kythira. This area boasts some of the most beautiful swimming spots in the world. Kefalonia’s west side, with its famous Assos and Myrtos beaches (where Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was fi lmed) are pebbled, and are ideal for coastal swims. The brilliant turquoise waters here have a steep drop into the water, unlike some of Kefalonia’s sandy beaches. If you fi nd yourself in south Kefalonia, on the Lixouri side of the Island, visit Xi Beach. Uniquely, its sands are a brilliant red colour, and it is surrounded by soſt clay cliff s, which can be used as a full-body mud pack aſt er a hard swim! If you happen to have boat or kayak support, a swim starting from the island of Vardiani, which lies approximately 2km out into the sea off Xi Beach, is a great route. Kefalonia’s neighbouring island Lef ada is comprised of an archipelago of islands that are largely protected from any wind. Most of these islands can be reached by boat, and there are many organised day trips and local ferries available, particularly to Meganisi. The Ionian Islands are also known for their rich marine life; numerous species of dolphins and seals are likely to join you when you're on a swim. Protected loggerhead sea turtles, meanwhile, arrive to nest on six beaches on the island of Zakynthos, and in Mounda Bay in Ratziki, Kefalonia. If you really want to swim alongside the turtles, then head for Gerakas Beach on Zakynthos. If, however, you require something a bit more, shall we say, heroic, then you'll be glad to know Greece has a long history of marathon swimming races. The oldest event is the Toroneos Gulf Channel Crossing, which is approximately 25km. This takes place between Kallithea and Nikiti


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