Kefalonia has some of the most spectacular scenery in the region, such as the Ionian’s highest peak, Mt Ainos with its famous fir forests, standing guard over sandy beaches of the south, spectacular caves in the east, magnificent sea cliffs in the west and the gentler beauty of the Lixouri and Erissos Peninsula in the north.
Combine all this with the Kefalonian people themselves, individual, genuinely friendly, possessing a marvellous sense of humour and it is easy to understand why so many visitors return year after year. There is something for everyone on this island. For the archaeological amateur detective there is recent evidence (though whisper this softly if you visit its smaller neighbour) that the island of Homer’s epic called Ithaka is in fact Kefalonia! There’s even an acropolis that predates its more famous counterpart in Athens. Venetian fortresses, British designed roads and bridges, certainly the island has a cosmopolitan history, much of which can still be seen today. History aside, perhaps Kefalonia’s greatest asset lies in its diversity.
For a family day out on a blue flag beach with all the conventional amenities, Lassi near the island capital Argostoli would be hard to beat. Perhaps the choice might be a secluded beach where ancient olive trees provide shade for a quiet read (or siesta!) with the blue waters of the Ithaka Channel at ones feet, then Foki Bay near Fiskardo will appeal.
You can also explore by car the unspoilt mountain villages of the interior, the fertile valley vineyards such as Robola or the high forests of Mt Ainos, then walk the incredible mule track from Assos that climbs the mountain behind. Maybe just stay at home, on balcony or terrace, contemplating the view, thinking about a swim in the pool or whether to eat in at your barbecue or out at a waterside tavern. Kefalonia is the home of Ionian Island Holidays, so we might be just a little biased, but we are glad to be sharing it with you!
Northern Kefalonia remains almost completely untainted by tourism and happily for us strict planning laws prevent the picturesque towns of Fiskardo and Assos from being overdeveloped. The majority of the hustle and bustle in Fiskardo comes from the vast array of boats that stream in and out of the harbour throughout the season.
With a combination of sailing flotillas, daily ferries and some of the finest quality yachts in Europe the people-watching potential is endless and many an hour can be spent in the harbour-front tavernas watching the world go by.
Fiskardo sits on a bed of limestone that buffered it against the earthquake of 1953 which virtually destroyed the island. It was only the northern part of Kefalonia that survived the devastating quake and as such Fiskardo boasts the island’s only remaining example of the attractive Venetian architecture of Kefalonia’s past. Two lighthouses, Victorian and Venetian, guard the bay and the ruins to be found on the headland are believed to be from an ancient chapel begun by the Norman invader Robert Giscard, after whom Fiskardo is named.
You can hire motorboats here and explore most of the Ithaka Channel – even go across to Ithaka if you want. There are diving courses and a marine adventure trip as well as cruises around the islands. The boats leave every morning and stop at various beaches and harbours on the way – some even go to the big sea caves on Meganisi, which are said to have been used to hide submarines during the war. If you’re into walking, there is a series of trails and tracks to follow. You could even buy a rod and line and catch your supper off the rocks around the harbour! There is a daily ferry to Lefkada and Ithaka.
Capital of the island since the 18th century, Argostoli today is a cosmopolitan blend of boutiques, coffee bars, jewellers and fine restaurants.
Originally built as a safe haven out of sight of potential invaders in 1757, the town became the capital due to its advantageous location. The changes the town has seen over the years have been immense, yet the style and design of the building and monuments today reveal little of the capital’s past. Rebuilding Argostoli after the tragic earthquake of 1953 was a rather hurried process after this catastrophic crisis wiped out the entire town and the buildings standing today reveal none of the town’s original Venetian splendour.
What Argostoli does boast however, is the style and elegance of a modern European city in microcosm, which is unique to the island and can be found nowhere else in the Ionian.
The town is a hive of activity all year round, but particularly in July and August when it attracts a multitude of tourists. Along a palm tree lined coastal road, fishermen can be found selling their morning’s catch at the fresh fish market which is visited by all of the local taverna owners to buy their produce. For fresh homegrown produce there is also an impressive fruit and vegetable market which is open every day in peak season.
The main square is lively and full of a range of tavernas and bars. Many relaxing hours can be spent absorbing the hustle and bustle in and around this ‘platia’, or alternatively the shops range from leather goods and local ceramics to handmade crafts such as lace, crochet work and the characteristic Greek ‘kourelia’ rugs in varying colours and designs.
Other points of interest include the archaeological and folklore museums, which are well worth a visit, not to mention the numerous silver and gold boutiques for which the island is famed!
The largest tourist resort on the island, Lassi is located only ten minutes south of Argostoli and boasts an attractive stretch of sandy beaches and range of restaurants. This is the busiest area of the island and as such is probably one of the least
charismatic, although it is excellent for water sports, such as ringos, water skiing and pedaloes. Bathing is safe with a lifeguard service on most of the main beaches.
This coast is also famous for a remarkable escape story from World War II. An allied submarine was on patrol in the area and sunk. It came to rest on the bottom of the sea over 100 metres down. All of the crew drowned, except one man who managed to survive, swimming to the surface. The whole island was swarming with Germans, but the local people hid him and eventually helped him to escape.
Of course, Hollywood made a film about this story which was released 25 years ago this summer! The film is called Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
The village of Lourdas is largely undiscovered although in recent years some of the larger tour operators have begun to pick up on the appeal of this charming resort. With a long stretch of sandy beach and a small selection of waterfront tavernas this attractive resort is an ideal day out for beach lovers. The village is fairly isolated and boasts an attractive mountain backdrop which makes an ideal spot for some pretty sunsets.
A scenic but busy resort located on the Southern coast of the island, Skala is a blend of old and new – in fact quite literally, as the ‘old village’ of Skala, destroyed by the earthquake, is located directly behind the new village and resort. Although much of the old town was destroyed in 1953 by the quake, it is still worth a stroll through the remains, which reveal a wealth of history of the area, with the old wash house and spring, bell tower graveyard and olive press. The resort has a very popular sandy beach which is particularly good for water sports, but not good for those wishing to escape the crowds. Further along the beach a breeding sanctuary for the endangered sea turtles native to the area can be found.
A selection of around 20 tavernas and restaurants in the new village make the resort a good choice for an alternative evening out. Just outside Skala, on the coastal route towards Poros, you will find the ancient temple dedicated to Apollo, which dates back to the 7th century BC and the pretty church of Saint George rebuilt from the pre-classical building.
Poros is an attractive harbour town on the southeast coast of the island, which like some of the other southern based towns of the island has become slightly more crowded in recent years due to the increase in tourism.
With a good choice of waterfront tavernas and restaurants, Poros gives access to Killini on the mainland by ferry, also to the island of Lefkada and is a good stop off point when traveling around Kefalonia. The shingle beach is fairly small and can get crowded in peak season.
Sami is a major port with regular ferries to Ithaka, Patras, Astons and also summer departures to Italy. The town is a popular but low-key holiday resort.
Shingle beaches are also the more secluded option of the picturesque Antisamos Beach, located just over a mile eastward up a pretty mountain road.
Like the majority of settlements on the island, Sami was destroyed in the earthquake of 1953 and as such does not portray much of the traditional style architecture of the island, although there are plenty of pleasant waterside tavernas and bars
to choose from. In spite of the town’s modern appearance, Sami played a highly significant role in the island’s history. The town is arguably the most important of the four ancient cities of the island and was inhabited at least until Roman times.
As a city state it minted its own coins, which highlights its significance and size during that period. Sami is mentioned by Homer as a participant in the Trojan wars and also as the place of origin of many of Penelope’s suitors. In 187BC during the Roman invasion, the inhabitants of Sami retired to their fortifications and put up a fierce resistance until they were eventually overcome.
Although little of the town’s turbulent history remains, visitors can still view the old ruins of Agios Fanentes Monastery on the hilltop enjoying stunning views of Sami Town. The monastery contains stones of the ancient acropolis of Kyathis and is well worth a visit.
Drogarati Cave is an understandably popular tourist attraction on the island and definitely worth a visit if this is your first time to Kefalonia. The underground cave has been formed over the course of 150 million years, although it was only actually discovered last century. The formations of the stalactite and stalagmites are illuminated so that visitors can view their fascinating range of colour and shape. The acoustics inside the cave are spectacular and since 1963 the cave has been developed with interior lighting so that a number of concerts can be held there during the year for audiences of up to 500 – Maria Callas is even said to have sung in the cave! This area of Kefalonia is riddled with cave and the resistance fighters in the war used many of them to hide in.
Drogarati cave is 144ft below ground level and the diameter ranges from 100ft to 120ft. Tourists can enter the cave for a small fee and view inside. The tour is unguided, and the cave is slightly damp under foot so suitable footwear is advisable – it is not recommended for those with walking difficulties.
Just two kilometres north of Sami is the village of Karavomylos, where you can find the stunning underground lake beneath the Melissa Caves.
Again, as a first-time visitor to the island it is worth seeing, the lake is situated in the heart of the caves and due to a collapsed roof directly above, is one of the most visited sights of the island. The water actually comes from the sea at Cape St Theodoron near Argostoli on the other side of the island.
If you go to the main platia in Karavomilos, there’s another small lake beside the sea with a water wheel and a good taverna. Karavomilos means Boatmill in Greek. There’s a good shop for postcards, ice creams etc. To enter the cave, twenty steps lead down from the entrance to a landing platform where boats can be taken on a small guided tour inside which is certainly worth taking. The tour lasts ten minutes – a small fee is charged throughout the summer.
The pretty port of Agia Efimia is located on the east coast. This town was one of the island’s most important trading places before the earthquake of 1953, but nowadays is one of the main summer bases for flotilla yachts. Only thirty-five minutes’ drive from Fiskardo, the town has a small selection of shops and waterside tavernas and a narrow stretch of shingle beach and boasts wonderful views out across the Ithaka channel.
The journey between Argostoli and Fiskardo is the most spectacular ride as the road rises into the Evmorfia foothills and beyond Agnonas, clinging to sheer cliffs as it heads for Dhivarata which is the stop for Myrtos Beach. This is the most dramatic beach in the Ionian islands and has not only been voted by the Sunday Times as one of the top 5 beaches in the Mediterranean but is now also famed as the setting for the Hollywood epic Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
With its combination of pure white sand and pebbles and amazingly clear waters, the beach is a stunning picture postcard sight from the mountain roadside above. In peak season Myrtos gets fairly busy and has very few shaded areas so it is worth taking an umbrella or visiting later in the afternoon to escape the glare of the midday sun. There is one beach taverna and in peak season sunbeds can be rented. Weaker swimmers and children should take extra care, as the beach shelves very steeply and the current is deceptively strong, although there is a lifeguard patrol.
The atmospheric village of Assos is a haven of peace and tranquillity, positioned on the small isthmus between the island and a huge hill crowned by a ruined Venetian fortress.
The history of this area is rich, and the fortress dates back to 1590, once protecting sixty public buildings and 200 private houses from the threat of pirates. The old prison, inside the castle has just been restored. When the British ruled the island in 19th century, the Greeks revolted, so the British to regain control, imprisoned the main offenders in the fortress. Unfortunately, these same men were the local farmers and the soldiers began to run out of food. The prisoners came up with a clever scheme. They suggested that they should be allowed out during the day to work in their fields and return in the evening back to their cells. The soldiers got their food and wine, the farmers their money and everyone was happy with the arrangement! It was used for this purpose until 1953 when the earthquake struck the island.
One of the first ruins to see when entering through the top gate is the Catholic Church of St Marcos built originally around 1604. There are other ruins still around; including that of the Governor’s house – part of the inside is still used by local farmers but the public are excluded.
From the upper gate follow the track as it winds down through the interior of the castle to reach the lower gate. From here you will find a footpath which descends gently around the hillside and there is a point where it closes with the upward track and is easy to cross over, if preferred.
Fortunately, in spite of its unique natural beauty, Assos has remained relatively undiscovered and untouched by the main influx of tourism to the island. A handful tavernas can be found in the village with a small selection of shops and a mini- market for everyday needs. There is a short stretch of shingle beach with good swimming in the harbour and caves to explore at the other side of the bay.
VILLA ACCOMMODATION IN KEFALONIA
We have a complete offering of fabulous accommodation options on the island of Kefalonia, with villas and apartments of various sizes located in the North and South of the island. We know Kefalonia very well, this island is not another Greek Island, for some of the team it is their home where the family originates from. The island offers so much.
For more information about exploring Kefalonia Island and our selection of villa holiday options, speak to our team on 0208 459 0777 or firstname.lastname@example.org.