A walk to Gyra and Ai Giannis
A very pleasant stroll starting out from the town of Lefkada is round the western lagoon, the walk around Gyra. It is 7 km long and the great attraction is that all along the views are exceptional, a pleasure for nature - lovers. The lagoon and the town lie to the east and to the west is the vast stretch of the Ionian Sea.
The starting point can be the bridge, the notional extension of the Agora, heading to the exit from town. Another enjoyable destination is to take the road leading to the fort, with the western lagoon on the left and the channel on the right. The road runs straight and is a walkway and a cycling track.
Some wooden shacks/boathouses can be seen, still standing in the lagoon, which belong to fishermen who work in the municipal aquacultures. Do not cross over the bridge, turn left and a few metres on you will see the eye-catching red-coloured summer residence of the distinguished Kalkanis family and on your right the building of Lefkada’s Wine Production Cooperative.
When the island was under Turkish rule, there was a very long bridge with 360 arches crossing the lagoon from the shore to the Kalkanis villa. It was an aqueduct carrying water to the fort. You can see traces of the piping on the bottom of the lagoon.
The building of the Wine Production Cooperative (TAOL) on the other side of the road belongs to the local farmers’ cooperative, which is one of the oldest in Greece and has a long history. The best part of the walk begins after passing this building. Along the asphalt road, there is the iridescence of light reflected on the lagoon on the left, the low sand dunes on the right and in the distance the Ionian Sea’s thousand shades of blue. This is where the little scented white lilies grow in the summer. These grow in the wild all over the Mediterranean, as do the yellow flowers of the colocynth (wild cucumber) of Dimitris Golemis’s song. A few minutes’ walk further and the thin strip of land comes into sight, with its abundant greenery. This is Gyra, the small settlement of fishermen who tend the lagoon’s fishery.
Following the lane leading to the hamlet, you will end up among the yards of the houses and in front of you find the church of Panagia tis Gyras. The church was consecrated in 1503 by the priests Stamatis and Athanasios Soundias. Today the church is a dependency of Agios Nikolaos in town. In the church’s interior, the ceiling is in the familiar sky-blue of Western churches. The iconostasis is simple, with fine-quality iconography. Under the carpet covering the floor are the marble grave stones of some of Lefkada’s famous sons such as the poet Angelos Sikelianos and other eminent citizens.
Back on the asphalt road, turn left and continue towards Lefkada. Four windmills, on the right, still survive out of the 12 that once stood there. Most of them had Russian names such as Orloff, Metzikov, Moskovas and until at least the mid-20th century they still ground cereals – mainly wheat – which in the old days used to come in large quantities from Russia or the Danubian Principalities. This is the very spot where, on 9 March 1810, Greek fighters under Theodoros Kolokotronis, an officer in the British army at that time, landed with the British troops and defeated Napoleon’s Frenchmen who had occupied the island.
In the summer, the Miloi area is thronged with hundreds of surfers who come from all over the world to kite and wind surf. From May to September, this particular beach is exposed, almost daily, to north-westerly 4-6 Beaufort winds, ideal conditions for experienced and skilled sports-men and women. International kite surf competitions take place in Lefkada in recent years.
On the way to Lefkada town, we come to the crossroads for Ai Giannis beach, one of the island’s loveliest. Along the entire stretch of this road and also along the western length of the island the sandy shore is suitable for a swim: it has Lefkada’s characteristic fine-grained white sand and pristine seas. There are hidden rocks in some spots only, making the first steps into the water difficult, but once beyond these it is pure joy. One more peculiarity: If you dig a hole by the waterside, brackish – but drinkable – water wells up. This is just one of the enjoyable walks you can take when, depending on the weather, the light, and the season, it can be a completely different experience, changeable as the reflection of the town and hills in the usually glassy waters of the lagoon.
There is a sign at the end of Ai Giannis beach showing the way to the church of the same name, also a dependency of Agios Nikolaos. Here Akylas, a companion of the Apostle Paul was the first to preach Christianity. He was followed by Bishop Irodion, who ordained Sosion, Lefkada’s first bishop and founder of the first Christian place of worship on the island in AD 64, in a cave of these rocks. It is said that the existing church was built by the Angevins, whence the church’s name Ai Giannis Antzusis. The steps leading from the church go to the Stavros estate.