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Paradise found.

DEEP in the Ionian Sea lies a jewel of an island unspoiled by mass tourism. Twinkling on a hilltop overlooking a tranquil, secluded harbour are four gemstone villas with views across the ocean to Scorpios, the tiny island bought by the late Greek shipping billionaire Aristotle Onassis to woo Jackie Kennedy, and where their wedding took place in 1968.

What makes the villas even more appealing is that each one comes with its own motor boat so you can explore the tiny bays and inlets you can't reach by road - as well as circling Onassis's private island.

Meganissi is one of Greece's best-kept secrets, and when the gods created it they must have been delighted with the result.

Prior to booking my holiday there it was an island I had never heard of - and neither had anyone else I knew.

But those people who are lucky enough to set foot on its shores keep returning, bowled over by the natural beauty, the friendly residents and the fact that, apart from visiting yachtsmen and women, tourists are few and far between.

In fact, as far as tourism is concerned it's very nearly the island that time forgot.

It's the very antithesis of larger Greek holiday islands like Corfu, Rhodes and Crete.

Meganissi has a population of just over 1,000 people spread between two hillside towns and the harbour town of Vathi, where specialist tour operator Travelux has the four identical villas with views to die for.

The villas are owned by a local family and each one has been named after one of their daughters. Ours, Constantina, stood like a landmark high on a hill at the mouth of Vathi harbour.

Built on three levels and with terraces on each, it has a panoramic view out to sea in one direction and an uninterrupted view of the harbour with its tavernas and bars in the other. It's a location it would be hard to better.

Each morning I would walk out on to the top terrace for breakfast and watch two fishing boats returning from a night's labour. And throughout the day there was nothing nicer than watching yachts coming and going, many pulling into harbour for lunch, others mooring overnight.

Constantina and her three sister villas each accommodate six people with one bedroom and one bathroom on each level.

Steep steps lead to a cleverly designed infinity swimming pool which appears to merge into the Ionian Sea below. As you swim all you can see is sky and ocean.

Because of it size and location Meganissi is not one of those islands you can just jet into. If it was, its uncommercialised allure wouldn't exist.

Bond-style Having said that, Travelux make the transfer to the island both easy and very special. My friends and I flew with Monarch into Preveza, where we were collected by two waiting taxis and whisked via a swing bridge on to the nearby island of Lefkada.

From there we boarded a speed boat for the James Bond-style journey to Meganissi, the high-powered boat leaving parallel lines of white foam behind us contrasting with the blue Ionian like contrails across the sky.

Fifteen minutes later, we arrived in Vathi harbour.

When I booked the villa I was given the choice of a car or a boat as part of the package and was glad I had opted for the latter as the island, which covers just nine square miles, is easy to get around by land using a local bus service but has bays which are only accessible from the sea.

I say 'bus' but the service is operated by a large van with windows which commutes between the two towns Katomeri and Spartakhori, and our base at Vathi.

Like a well-oiled clock it arrives at Vathi and Spilia - the port below Spartakhori - several times per day just in time to meet the ferry which makes the regular run between Meganissi and Lefkada.

The ferry trip costs just two euros each way and the journey takes around 45 minutes, making it a cheap and pleasant excursion.

The local "bus" charges just one euro for the island round trip and is an ideal if speedy - depending upon who is driving - way to see Meganissi. It zips through the narrow-streeted villages with barely an inch to spare on either side at times.

The waterfront at Vathi is made up of tavernas with a few supermarkets, be-hinwhich is a traditional village square where old men with worry beads sit and chat and children play.

Unusually, the walkways are crazypaved and so are some of the roads. To walk around is like stepping back in time to the Greece that existed before charter flights.

The harbour is very popular with people on flotilla holidays and yachts lie peacefully at anchor. Perhaps it's because of the yachting fraternity that Meganissi is an upmarket destination - casual but exclusive, like a mini St Tropez or Porto Banus.

When I went to the harbour to collect the keys to our motorboat for the first time I was told I could use the craft any time between 9am and 6pm - the keys would be left in the ignition.

When I told the owner of the boating company that there was no way could you safely do that in England he was genuinely surprised, unaware just how lucky he was to live in such a crimefree society.

But wherever you go on Meganissi you see cars and motorbikes parked with the keys left in the ignition. Even in other parts of Greece you would rarely find such a relaxed way of life.

In fact, during my week on the island I never ever saw a policeman.

This is a destination where tranquility reigns. There are no neon lights, no bars blaring out taped music. It's a place to kick back and chill.

Some days we went snorkelling, one day we walked up to Katomeri and explored the narrow streets and alleyways where local residents - many of the women still wear the traditional black costume - made us welcome.

But best of all we explored by boat.

The waters around Meganissi are generally calm and there was nothing nicer than following the coastline at a gentle pace, dipping in and out of the bays and coves.

In some there were expensive yachts at anchor and we exchanged pleasantries with those on board or just waved as we passed.

One day we pulled into the remote Abelike Bay, tied up and had lunch of freshly caught sardines and Greek salad at a deserted taverna before taking the slow way "home". On Meganissi you can switch off from the world for a while.

And that, surely, is how holidays should be.

things to do 5 1. DRINK in the peace and tranquility of this magical location from the luxury of your sumptuous villa. 2. EXPLORE the secrets of the island by bus. A round trip costs just one euro.

3. EXPERIENCE the bliss of the villa's very own infinity pool - just you, the sea and sky. 4. DISCOVER idyllic bays and coves from the luxury of your own motorboat. Alternatively, you could choose a car as part of your holiday package. 5. IMBIBE some Greek tradition by visiting unspoilt villages to meet the friendly locals or enjoy a relaxing meal at an attractive taverna.

fact file

For more details of. Travelux holidays or to get the 'Travelux brochure for 2009 / 2010 call 01580 765000 or visit website on

Prices with the ATOL. licensed company for a villa for six on Meganissi start from pounds 1,453. Prices for Constantina start from pounds 1,741 including boat or car hire, transfers etc. You can also buy a package including flights.

Monarch operates. Sunday flights from Gatwick and Manchester to Preveza (Lefkas Airport) during the summer with fares starting from pounds 199 per person. For further information on Monarch flights, Monarch Holidays or Monarch Hotels, visit


It is said to be the magical home of the gods. EDWARD STEPHENS is enchanted by the Greek island paradise of Meganissi.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Geographic Code:4EUGR
Date:Aug 30, 2009
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