Ithaca is proud to have maintained, without compromise, its traditions and cultural heritage. Thus it continues to show respect for values that have endured for generations. An integral part of this tradition is island festivals and the part played by music in these.
The contemporary expression of this tradition are the ‘Panigyria’ of Ithaca, which are organised by local cultural associations and held each year in the squares to honour and celebrate the Saints of the island who have, historically, ‘cared for’ the islanders. During the summer, especially, these local festivals and celebrations are a place and time for not only the local people, but also for Ithacans from abroad, to meet and to feel that they are giving life to earlier memories in a celebratory, reflective and sentimental mood. But also, visitors to the island, be they Greeks or visitors from abroad become so enthusiastic about this form of celebration that it is difficult to separate them from the ‘ locals’ as they enjoy themselves fully.
On Ithaca, there is an historic affection for European dances; the waltz, tango, foxtrot and others that they are always included in the programme alongside island, traditional and Rebetika music and songs, creating a truly unique atmosphere to enjoy in a carefree summer.
It is our wish that we all can meet at one of the ‘Panigyria’ in Ithaca for many summers to come to share the pleasure of unlimited hospitality and unbridled pleasure which, in the final analysis, is life’s most precious gift!
30 JUNE (HOLY APOSTLES) – FRIKES
The season of summer Panigyria begins in Frikes, famous for its picturesque harbour, calm bay and traditional waterside taverns and shops.
Visitors to this festival are very largely foreign visitors from the yachts and sailing boats that fill the harbour and gather from across the world. However, the traditional music, which transports you to another era, the dances, good food and excellent wine, all help to break down any borders and all are joined in a special celebration that inevitably lasts until the morning.
17 JULY (AGIA MARINA) – EXOGI
Exogi is, with its panoramic views and houses that seem to float on the side of the evergreen mountain, the most enchanting of villages in Ithaca. The festival, in celebration of Agia Marina, is held in the small square next to the village church.
Ascending the road that snakes its way up the mountain, one can look back at the coloured lights shining in the valley below and into the night. An unforgettable sight and site remembered alongside the camaraderie and joy of the celebration which takes visitors through the night, often to sunrise…
220 JULY (PROPHET ELIAS) – KIONI
Kioni, the most famous of Ithaca’s villages, on this day, witnesses its inhabitants visiting the chapel of Prophet Elias. This church is built on a rock by the seaside-unusual, as chapels to this Saint are almost always found high on mountain peaks! The most pleasant journey to the church is by small boat and is followed by the Holy Liturgy on site to celebrate the Saint.
The very same evening, the ‘Panigyri ‘ is organised by the seaside, almost literally on the pebbles of the beach. Here local products and foods made by the neighbouring taverns and cafes are enjoyed with local wine. The live orchestra, playing its repertoire by the water’s edge, ensures a night of fun and unique memories. There is no need to remind visitors that this fun lasts until sunrise!
WINE FESTIVAL – PERACHORI
Not surprisingly, the wine festival is the largest festival celebration in the southern part of the island. Perachori seems to hover over Vathy, clinging to the side of the mountain and, ultimately, providing unforgettable vistas of Vathy in the distance.
The famous Perachori wine seems to flow incessantly and dancing to a live band invariably lasts all night. The event is held on the last Saturday of July every year in the yard of the old Primary School. Although wine is offered freely to all visitors, there remains a small, symbolic charge which is levied for participation.
55 AND 6 AUGUST (TRANSFIGURATION OF THE SAVIOUR) – STAVROS
This ‘panigyri’ lasts for two whole days and, as such, is the longest and largest of the summer loved by all visitors, local and foreign.
The central square of Stavros is where the event takes place and it bursts with energy, dance and friendship where food and drink accompany the enjoyment of the non-stop live orchestra music. For many, these two days are the definitive ‘summer in Ithaca’ moments, a community celebration with a tradition of over 100 years.
14 AUGUST (EVE OF DORMITION OF VIRGIN MARY – PANAGIA) – ANOGI
This celebration is a very special one defined by its location in this charming hamlet and held in the grounds of the world-famous Byzantine church and looked over by the church’s bell tower.
The organisation of the ‘panigyri’ is undertaken totally by the hospitable villagers. They offer visitors wonderful roast dishes and as much of their own wine as can be drunk. Visitors never fail to be impressed by the local hospitality and energy as every year the dancing and socializing lasts until the sun rises.
15 AUGUST (DORMITION OF VIRGIN MARY – PANAGIA) – PLATREITHIAS
The 15th of August ‘panigyri’ unofficially brings to a close the summer celebrations on the island. This is an especially significant festival as, on this day, the whole of Greece celebrates, and the 15th of August is seen by many to mark the peak of the holiday season. So, for many of the participants, local and visitors, there is a special air that blows which resonates with saying ‘goodbyes’ to the summer and promises to meet again next year.
The large square of the village is an ideal place as it is roomy, hosts a live band, welcomes barbecues and hosts pop-up bars to enjoy a drink before dancing and finally saying ‘adio’ to friends old and new.
As sharing final memories of the summer is a lasting pleasure, this festival never ends before dawn.
8 SEPTEMBER (NATIVITY OF VIRGIN MARY) – MONASTERY OF KATHARA
This panigyri is not widely known to visitors but is much loved by Ithacans! On this day, the Monastery of Kathara and the Panagia (Virgin Mary) of Kathara are celebrated and, as the patron saint of sailors and to those who have left their homes to create new ones abroad, she is the Patron of Ithaca.
In times past, this festival was exceptionally well attended as it involved a live orchestra and much dancing in the courtyard of the Monastery. For reasons of ecclesiastical protocol it is now held at the foot of the bell tower which affords the most stunning panoramic view of Vathy and its surrounds. It is fair to say that this view ‘takes your breath away’ and it can be enjoyed in good company, with background music and, as the night draws in, visitors feel that they are seeing the island through the window of an airplane.
No visitor will ever forget this evening and for every Ithacan it will hold a special place in their heart!