Lefkada town is the first place you come to as you approach the Island. It is sitauted on the north eastern corner of the Island, very close to mainland, to which it is linked by a causeway crossing the Lefkada channel and bordering on the lagoon.
Those who wish to visit the town first would do well to park somewhere near the Harbour, the main street of Lefkada is narrow and parking is not allowed.
Lefkada is impressive even as it first greets visitors, as they cross the narrow strip of dry land and the 50-metre long floating bridge from the coast of Aitoloakarnania. The bridge turns around on itself allowing small boats to pass through the canal of Lefkada.
The town began to spread westwards after the earthquake of 1971 and 1984 into a district formerly occupied by dense olive groves.
The most interesting feature of the route over the causeway to Lefkada town is the Fort of Santa Maura. The fort stands 1 200 metres to the north east of Lefkada. It was built in the early 14th century by Giovanni Orsini in an attempt to deal with the pirate raids which were the scourge of the Island. Standing as it does on an islet in the lagoon, it is an imposing ruin and an interesting example of the art of fortification in its time.
During the period after 1300 the new sity grew up around the walls of the castle, and it was separated into two parts : Chora, which stood to the west where the channel is today, and Alii Meria to the east, in the direction of Akarnania.
In the south eastern corner of the castle is the Chapel of Santa Maura, which for many centuries gave the name not only to the castle but to the entire Island.
In 15th century the Turks took the castle and hundreds of Lefkadans were butcherd. The church of St Maura became a mosque. In 1485, work began on an aqueduct with a length of more than three kilometres, and tousands of islanders were forced to help with the construction. The water was taken from the Megali Vrysi spring to the north west of the modern town, and eventually the aqueduct led to a kind of bridge with 360 arches which brought the water into the castle.
The castle of Santa Maura controls the passage from the mainland to the Island, and so whoever holds it is also master of Lefkada. As a result, it has always been the first point of attack by invading forces, and much of the island´s history has been written beneath its walls.
After the union of Lefkada with Greece in 1864, the castle was disarmed and its cannot removed.
On 30 March 1888 a tremendous disaster occured, the powder magazine caught fire and the explosion demolished all the buildings inside the castle, together with the church of St Maura. The explosion and the fire even put the town itself in danger.
The church of St Maura was moved from the ruins to its present position, and in 1891 a lighthouse was built on the Pantocrator bastion.
During the Festival of Speech and Music, in August, the castle of Santa Maura is used for many of the performances and it fills with life again, reminiscence of its past days of glory and splendeur.
Gyra is one of Lefkada’s most important natural beauties. This narrow strip of white sand embraces the lagoon on the north of the island and makes the landscape quite special. Gyra begins from the point almost behind the Kastro, creating Ammoglossa (sand tongue) and reaching as far as the other side, beyond the town.
The lagoon has a depth of 0,30-0,60 metres and is used for fish farming. Fish are bred in special, traditional wicker baskets and which grow within natural conditions. Lefkada also has a large lake that welcomes large masses of fowl and fauna every year. You will be able to admire herons, swans, wild geese and ducks.
The lagoon includes one of the most remarkable wetlands in the Ionian region which is protected under the Ramsar Convention as an internationally important wetland. It is also home to a large number of charming bird species such as gulls, herons, swans, wild ducks, wild geese, etc.
As we continue around the Gira in a westerly direction, we come to a group of windmills. There were originally twelve of them. In March 1810, the British fought here the battle which was to prove decisive for their occupation of the Island.
Immediately after the windmills is a turning to the right for the beach of Aghios Ioannis. Here, at the foot of the rock on the eastern side of the bay, is a church of St John Anthousis, which according to tradition, was the first on the Island. The chapel which stands here today is supposed to have been built by the knights of Anjou.
As we enter the town by the direct route from the bridge, we come to a shady square, open on two sides which contains the statues of three literary figures : Aristotelis Valaoritis, Angelos Sikelianos and Lefkadio Hearn.
This part of the town is interested for visitors because it contains most of the hotels, travel agencies, car rental offices and the Harbour facilities.
We enter Derpfeld St to the right of the large sea-front hotel. At first it is a little alley with souvenir shops and restaurants on both sides. It soon leads into the town´s main square St Spyridon Square. This is a pleasant open space with cafes where the local drink „soumada“ (made from almonds). It is ideal as a place to sit and relax on a warm summer evening, all through the good weather. Traffic is banned from the main street every evening. The church of St Spyridon stands on the norht western side of the square. Visitors will notice at once that the churches of Lefkada differ from those of the mainland. Instead of the ususal Byzantine style with its domes, here the buildings are long and low, with doors at the side. The churches from Lefkada like those of all the Ionian area, date from Venetian times and the local architecture was strongly influenced by Italian models, as a result, the sculpture on the facades of the churches reminds us more of the Catholic West then the Orthodox East.
The bus-station lies approximately half-way along the road to the left from the end of the bridge.
You will find the Post Office, the banks and the exhibition of local handicrafts along the main street.
As you walk along the main street after the square, you will note the variety of shops beneath the pleasant arcades. It is literally possible to buy everything from a computer to a bell to put round the neck of a goat. Further along, on the left, is a church of Christ Pantocrator. Near to this church, about half-way along the main street, you can turn down narrow Mitropoleos St. This is the location of the police station and a little further along the modern Cathedral.
The area to the north and south of the main street in Lefkada town are crammed with little houses, very few of them more than two storeys high, lining narrow alleys. Each house has its own microscopic courtyard, full of flowers. The upper storeys of these houses are usually made of brick and wood for protection against earthquakes. The underlying structure is then covered with metal sheeting, giving the entire area a light and airy feeling.
The main street ends at the church of St Minas, in the square by the same name. Here, every morning is a market where farmers from the suburbs of the town and outlying villages sell their products.
As we approach the town of Lefkada from the direction of Vonitsa and reach the causeway, we see on our right the ruinous chapel of St Nicholas on the islet of the same name, close to the shore in shallow water.
A little further along, a steep path up to the left leads to the chapel of St John, bilt in a cave which must once have been used by a hermit. There is a superb view from here.
Lefkada’s sights include:
• The Archaeological Museum of Lefkada, whose collection includes finds from Early and Mid-Bronze Age graves at Nydri, the necropolis of the ancient city of Leucas and from various other areas on the island.
• The Gramophone Museum is a small private museum with gramophones, records, rare everyday objects, and decorative items. It was put together by a local dedicated collector.
• The Municipal Library is housed in a neo-classical building. It has a large number of books and rich collection of post-Byzantine icons primarily in the Ionian School by artists such as the Ionian Island hagiographers Doxaras, Patsaras, Roussos, etc.
• The Haramoglios Special Lefkadiaki Library houses a collection of books and other documents either written by residents of the island or referring to issues directly related to Lefkada. This collection has been listed in the Guinness Book of Records.
• The Church of Panaghia ton Vlachernon lies in the middle of green forest of olive trees. On the last Sunday of the Orthodox Carnival, 1821, the chieftains and dignitaries of the Greek Mainland gathered there on the initiative of Ioannis Zambelios (eminent member of the ‘Filiki Etaireia’ in Lefkada). It was there that they confirmed they would participate in the national struggle for liberation and would immediately declare revolution in their areas by taking an oath on a copy of the Holy Gospel, which has survived to this day.
• Kouzubey is home to two traditional coffee shops which have survived in the shade of the centuries old olive trees, towering plane trees, and poplars. These coffee shops serve up traditional Greek fruit preserves, delicious fried potatoes, a vanilla flavoured dessert and soumada. Amid the quiet reigning over the olive grove, time comes to a standstill at these coffee shops.
• Faneromeni Monastery: on the lovely hill which crowns Lefkada town, lies the Monastery of Panaghia Faneromeni, the island’s patron. It is built on the site of the ancient temple of Artemis. The miraculous icon of the virgin which is housed by the monastery was made by the Athonite monk Benjamin Kontrakis in 1876 on Mount Athos.
The Folklore museum has many fine hand woven materials and examples of traditional clothing, among other interesting exhibits.