Our reporter Jules in Kefalonia (or Cephalonia) tells us about why this beautiful island should be on your list of 'must see' holiday destinations!
Having not had a personal holiday for 18 months, our recent escape to Kefalonia was long overdue! Looking for somewhere to escape the pressures of a busy life, and realising it’s been a few years since we returned to beloved Greece, I decided to check out Kefalonia as we sell so much of it to our clients and I knew that it is still a very traditional island, un-spoilt by tourism. Even though it's a popular destination, the peaceful surroundings seem to absorb people quite easily - even on a beach with rows of sun loungers it never seemed crowded. (Thankfully, the only 'English style' bars and 'resort' style hotels are close to the airport and not in the areas we use for our clients - and even there I think you'd struggle to find a karaoke bar or kids club ... hoorah!).
There are a choice of flights to the island (all on a Saturday) and we opted for the BA flight from Heathrow. Being collected at 4 am by our chauffeur (as he was worried about a closure on the M25) meant that we arrived four hours early … better than late I suppose! This made for a very long day, but a relaxing one all the same. Once on board we watched as the plane flew over the Alps and could see the mountains and lakes of Italy then the bright blue of the Ionian Sea as we lowered in towards Kefalonia …
Once through the arrivals hall, Ionian & Aegean Holidays (our partners on the island) met us and everyone was very efficiently boarded to a selection of coaches (there is an option to pick up your hire car from the airport if you prefer). The transfer to Fiskardo took around an hour with clients for Assos being dropped of first. As the coach wound up and down the cliff side with some shear drops visible I closed my eyes from time to time! Coloured bee hives dotted the hillsides and goats climbed easily up and down and rested in the shade of the occasional clump of trees. Looking down, we could see glimpses of hidden coves and the brilliant turquoise blue of the sea was dazzling.
Eventually, we got off the coach at Manganos, a tiny village just minutes from our villa and put our bags into our hire car. The car hire process here is all very casual! Following very accurate directions we opened the gates to Villa Astra and unloaded our luggage, by which time it was around 6 pm. Complimentary essentials in the villa included a (very welcome!) cold bottle of lovely local wine! A quick change and we headed into Fiskardo to stock up at the supermarket and get some supper.
Managing somehow to get to the bottom of a dead end road which appeared to be one way (!) we parked right by a supermarket and the man at the till very helpfully confirmed we could leave the car in his space while we ate and even put our chilled shopping in the fridge for us until later! The harbour at Fiskardo is full of a huge number of tavernas and restaurants – but they are all very low key and it’s a great atmosphere (apart from the annoying man with the squeeze box who seemed to make it his mission every night to play it far too close to people trying to enjoy their meal!).
Back to villa the fridge was filled with local fruits, dips, cheeses, wine, beer and yummy local yoghurt. Our favourite breakfast was eaten by the pool with coffee each morning – melon, yoghurt and local honey – heaven!
The first night was extremely hot as we couldn’t work out the air con (epic fail!) but next day managed to get it going… A word of warning, the Greeks don’t seem to like ‘comfortable’ beds and the beds in the villa were a bit like trying to sleep on a plank of wood… Booking at late notice we ended up with a 3 bedroom villa for the two of us, so took advantage by spreading out our belongings and moving to one of the other rooms where the mattress was a few extra centimetres thick!!
The view from our villa was completely mesmerising … being on the Eastern side of the island just south of Fiskardo, we were overlooking the sheltered Ithaca Channel. At sunrise there was nothing but goat bells and cockerels crowing (Just like my home in Suffolk but a lot warmer with a nicer view!)… In the evening the same could be heard with the goat bells clanging as they were walked back to their house and the sounds of the cicadas took over the night sky … (Turn the sound up on the video below and take yourself to rural Kefalonia ...)
Most of the villas and apartments we book for our clients are in the far north in the Fiskardo area or in Assos which is about 20-30 mins drive away on the north west side.
Although Kefalonia is a reasonably small island, take into account the winding roads… it’s very mountainous (particularly inland and to the north), so it takes a long time to get anywhere and if you suffer from vertigo, don’t look over the side of the cliffs and get someone else to drive!
We didn’t stray too far from the villa except two days out. One day we headed down the East coast and another to the capital, Argostoli. We took a top tip from our local rep and parked on the mainland side of the Drapano bridge (pedestrian) and walked the 5-10 mins across the lagoon to the town (from where we saw lots of fish and turtles!) as it's a bit of a bun fight to drive through town and even more of a challenge to park!
Dotted around the northern peninsula of Kefalonia are a variety of gorgeous, shady and peaceful beaches where the water is so clear it’s like looking into a fish tank! We had our own snorkels and loved swimming in the warm, blue waters, surrounded by shoals of fishes (I even saw an Octopus hiding under a rock!).
If you book your Kefalonia holiday with us, then I’ll tell you the best beaches to visit … 😊
Heading south towards Sami, we stopped at Melisani Lake … a lake of such pure blue it seems like it’s from a fairy tale! You can take a boat through the caves and into another lake and if you go around midday, the sunlight shines though the roof of the rocks… sadly, it’s VERY touristy, so we didn’t stay very long!
Further around the bay we passed through Sami and up and over the hills behind it to Antisamos Bay, which is where many scenes from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin were filmed. It’s a very long beach and there are several beach bars and a free car park and sun loungers. So we spent a few hours here before making the long drive back to our villa. Along the eastern shores we stopped to buy some lovely local honey from this friendly chap!
Back through the busy port of Ag Efimia we struggled to find the mountain road but eventually after a few very serious switch back bends we climbed up to the top of the hills around Mount Kalo with far reaching views and eventually back down through tiny rural hamlets. Just before joining the road back towards our villa we stopped in a very small taverna, which just had 3 elderly men sitting in the shade chatting. I thought it was closed but the owner said we could have a drink if we were quick as he had to drive to Sami to collect his wife at 6 (it was only 4.30!) so we said we won’t be long and he appeared to be worried about us sitting at a table by the door, then we looked up and could see why – above us there was a very busy swallow nest with at least 8 youngsters in it and a pile of mess on the floor below! Turned out that there were another couple of nests under the veranda but they seemed empty and the adult swallows coming in to feed appeared to be squabbling … I think that somehow, all the babies were in one nest! Very odd (but very cute!). You could tell we were in a ‘locals’ café … a half jug of local wine and a complimentary plate of cheese and tomatoes was a princely sum of E3.60!
One day, I met our local rep in Assos, as I wanted her to show me around. We visited Cavos Inn and Cosi’s Inn (popular with our clients) and a few of the villas. Assos is certainly a picture postcard location – especially from the road above. It sits in a sheltered bay with Assos Castle on a hilly peninsular guarding it – and if you want to walk to the castle, do it early in the morning as there is no access by vehicle and it gets extremely hot! There are only a handful of tavernas here and a tiny beach (which is fabulous, but I can imagine in peak season it would be extremely busy!).
Each night we searched out a different taverna, always looking for recommended authentic locally run places. We had some amazing seafood and made a point of trying traditional Kefalonia recipes (which were really yummy!). The local wines were superb and the main vineyard is Robola – you can visit the factory in the hills from Argostoli but again, it’s quite touristy and the wine is on sale in every supermarket, including tiny village shops, so you don’t need to go to the vineyard itself. The original, traditional Robola white wine still comes in it’s hessian sack, so it’s easily recognised.
On Sunday evening, we crossed the road (a tiny lane flanked by stone walls) from Manganos and over to the west coast to see the sunset. An advantage of the northern peninsula of Kefalonia is that it’s very narrow, so easy to travel from east to west, follow the sun during the day and visit the many tiny little beaches and bays here. Arriving at the ‘end of the road’ at Alaties Beach, we found the ‘Acqua’ beach bar – I thought I’d arrived in a haunt from my overlanding days in Africa, it had a very mellow vibe to it, shells and dream catchers hanging from the roof and lovely mural maps of the world (in the same sepia design as our TWJ illustrations!), the owner, Stefan, was a large jolly chap with a feather in his ponytail who stood on the rocks at sunset and did a ‘salutation to the sun’…
It was here that we had our first taste of the local liquer ‘Tentoypa’ which they gave us complimentary, it was sort of like Tia Maria but with undertones of cloves… So I bought some from the tiny grocers shop in Manganos but had trouble trying to explain what I wanted – The owner spoke no English, so I pointed to the shelf with similar bottles to what I thought it was and said that it was a brown colour and she dragged me to the herbs and spices shelf and pulled out cinnamon and cloves and sniffed them ... Yep, that’s the one! This is what I love about travelling, you don’t need to speak the same language you can work things out with a bit of friendly banter … eventually!
I should make reference to the famous Earthquake of 1953 … Kefalonia sits to the east of a major tectonic fault and has suffered many quakes and natural disasters in its ancient history. But the earthquake of 1953 devastated the whole island, the historic buildings of Argostoli fell to rubble and only Fiskardo in the far north retains some original Venetian architecture as it was protected by some limestone rocks. Most of the families living in Kefalonia at that time lost everything and moved overseas, children were evacuated and many of them settled in America or Australia. In recent decades, these families have returned to their island home, bringing with them their fortunes and re-building family businesses and homes which is lovely to see.
Whilst there, I read a novel which was about one of these families and followed the story from the days leading up to the earthquake and immediately after to the present day with the younger generations returning to their roots. It was great to be able to visualise the island as I read about it!
On our last day, we drove to a lovely hidden beach, a short walk through a pine forest took us to a sheltered rocky cove from where we saw a dive boat further out to sea. Snorkelling around the rocks then drying off in the sun, with some local Robola wine was the perfect end to a beautiful week on the captivating island of ‘Cephalonia’!
CONTACT US FOR THE BEST CHOICE OF VILLAS, APARTMENTS OR SMALL HOTELS ON THE CAPTIVATING GREEK ISLAND OF KEFALONIA!
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