The Greek islands have enchanted people for many years with their sparkling blue green water, dramatic coastlines and sunny climes. Kefalonia was the first Greek Island I ever went to, many years ago, and while I was captivated by it’s allure then, I felt that I had to visit other islands before I could really decide that this one was my favourite.
With over 200 inhabited Greek islands they say that there is an island for everyone. After visiting many others and finally returning to Kefalonia, I realised that this was indeed the Greek Island for me.
Kefalonia is one of the largest of the Ionian islands, a group that sit between Greece and Italy. With it’s lush mountainous landscape and good winter rainfall it seems to be a perfect cross between a traditional Greek Island and southern Italy. It was mainly a tourist resort for people from mainland Greece and Italy until the success of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin which was set and filmed on the island. However while holiday makers from the UK and Europe are coming as a result of this, it certainly hasn’t been ruined by the tourism like some islands.
Architecturally it is not as rich as other islands such as Santorini. While it originally featured beautiful Venetian inspired buildings, a devastating earthquake in 1953 brought down almost all of these, leaving only northern villages like Fiskado and Assos untouched. After the earthquake, 80% of the population left to start again elsewhere.
Where to Stay
Kefalonia is an island of villa’s as opposed to large hotels, which is one of the things that has kept tourism from over running the island. There is a villa or apartment to suit any budget and level of luxury with many having their own swimming pool, something that is highly recommended.
As we were a sizeable party we chose to stay in the gorgeous Aloni Villas in the fishing village of Agia Efimia. Beautifully appointed, these two adjoining two bedroom villas had all the mod-cons from DVD and CD players to wifi and L’Occitane toiletries. Surrounded by fragrant jasmine, honeysuckle and roses, with Bougainvillea cascade over the walls and pergola, the outdoor kitchen, BBQ and eating area were perfect for outdoor meals by the heated swimming pool. The gardens also have olive trees, lemons, oranges, figs and rosemary which was great for picking fresh and using to flavour the food for the BBQ.
As well as the welcome basket of fresh bread, wine and groceries, one of the owners Mario popped in to deliver freshly baked muffins and handpicked vegetables during our stay. The pool is cleaned every morning well before we were awake by the lovely George who we managed to spot once or twice in the two weeks we were there. And it was just a short walk into the village if we wanted to eat out or pick up supplies.
If you would like to all be in one villa, owners Tracey and Mario also have another villa with its own pool across the road. Another group of friends stayed in the lovely luxury stone villa Elia near the town of Vigli which was well appointed though more isolated than the Aloni villas so it just depends on your requirements.
Whether you are going to tavernas, seaside restaurants or cafes in the capital Argostoli, you will probably be eating off pretty much the same menu. Restaurants on Kefalonia offer standard Greek cuisine, Kefalonian specialities and a few international dishes (such as pizza, steak and chips and grilled chicken) so it is more about finding a restaurant who does these well or by recommendation. One restaurant that was just as good this time as it was ten years ago was Paradise Beach on the cliffs just outside Agia Efimia. Their seafood is gorgeous but make sure you leave room for their hot chocolate souffle for two.
Another wonderful choice is Alexandros at the top of the road down to Myrtos Beach. The couple who run it may not speak much English but they were welcoming and helpful and their seasonal specialities were simple but fabulous.
And don’t forget to buy some of the honey and olive oil that the islanders produce to take back with you as a delicious memory of your holiday.
This is not really a clubbing island but if you like a drink and some music, a lot of the tavernas will give you a place to party in high-season til the early hours of the morning. Teens and early twenties travelers tend to head to Lassi so there are some English bars in that area if that is your thing and the locals head to the nightclubs in Platia Vallianou, the main square in the centre of Argostoli.
There is a huge variety of beaches in Kefalonia, from rugged pebble beaches where you and your beau can be the only people there to long sandy beaches perfect for the whole family.
The beaches in the south of the island tend to be sandy where as in the north they are rockier but more dramatic. The world-renowned Myrtos Beach (main picture) is one of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean. The combination of turquoise and blue waters and the white sandy and pebbled beach it is picturesque at anytime of the day. The water is crystal clear when you are swimming in it and the sunsets turn the beach spectacular warm colours of pink and orange in the evenings.
Another beautiful horse-shoe shaped beach is Anti Samos beach just south of Sami on the east coast. It was a relatively quiet long white beach accessed by a dirt track until the popularity of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (it was where Captain Corelli trained his troops) saw more tourists want to visit it. Although it is busier and more built up it is still a stunning place, especially if you are partial to snorkelling, and has a nice taverna at the back of the beach which is perfect for a bite to eat at lunchtime.
The best beach for families, I think, is the protected beach at Assos. This beautiful little village that spans the peninsula connecting the mount with it’s Venetian castle ruins to the main island create a shallow sheltered harbour. With it’s cobbled streets and Venetian style building that mostly escaped the ravages of the 1953 earthquake, it is perfect to spend the day with four or five tavernas to choose from for lunch, ice-cream parlours for the kids and a few shops selling tourist souvenirs.
For something different try Xi mud beach. It is not the prettiest of beaches but the red mud that can be gathered at the base of the cliffs is as good as any you will get in a spa. Locals believe it has medicinal qualities and recommend it for skin conditions. Mix it with the sea water and apply it all over your body and face for a fabulous mud treatment!
Being such a large island there is quite a lot to see and do. The Melissani lake cave near Sami features a crystal blue lake that sparkles in the sunlight where the roof of the cave has collapsed. The only way to explore the grotto is to be punted around the lake in a boat. These glide almost silently around the edge of the cavern. If traditional caving is your thing or you have children, the Drogarati Caves, also nearby will be a fun day out where they can learn the difference between stalagmites and stalactites.
Kefalonia is famous for their Robola, a light, dry, crisp wine whose citrus edge is refreshing in the sun. It is available all over the island from the supermarkets to the restaurants. You can also visit one of the wineries on the island. The Robola Producers Co-operative winery is situated near the Monastery of Saint Gerassimo and is open all year round. The Metaxas winery has won international awards for their Robola and is situated in Mavrata near Scala on the South east tip. Foivos Domaine is also open to the public, located on the Pali peninsula not far from Lixouri.
The picturesque fishing village of Fiskado in the North of the island is not only a popular place to stay but it is also great to visit as it is one of the few villages that survived the 1953 earthquake. Here you can see historic Venetian-style buildings that would have been the style across the island and the many cafes and restaurants that line the harbour are the perfect place for a long leisurely lunch in the sunshine while watching the yachting set come and go.
And if historical building are your thing, the climb to the ruins of the Assos Castle and Fortress are well worth the effort.
During the months of June to August you can see Loggerhead sea turtles. They come to sandy Mounda beach and other beaches along the south coast to lay their eggs and then about two months later the babies hatch out and make their way back to the water. Just remember to respect the turtles by leaving them alone, watching where you plant your beach umbrella and by dissuading the kids from building sandcastles and digging on these beaches.
Being an island there is nothing like a boat trip to truly see it in all its glory. Whether it is taking out a little tin dingy to an inaccessible beach, cruising between ports on a magnificent yacht or joining a cruise to see the sealife or neighbouring islands, it is something you really must do.
Ithica, the home of Odysseus in Homers classic and Lefkada an island north of Kefalonia attached to the mainland by a causeway are easy day trips by boat. On the way to Lefkada you pass Skorpios, the private island of Aristotle Onassis and the venue for his wedding to former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Although it is said that current owner Athina Onassis has little interest in the island, it is still interesting to imagine the joys of owning a private island as you sail by.
Car hire is necessary is you really want to enjoy what is on offer in Kefalonia. There are many hire companies but we recommend booking in advance and picking up and dropping off from the airport for the easiest way to start and finish your holiday.
Flights operate directly from London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol and Newcastle to Kefalonia during the summer months.
by Belinda Wanis
[picture credits: Visit Greece; nimariel]