Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian islands off Greece’s western coast and for many it is the most interesting. This has something to do with its size, since there are major differences in character between the villages and the terrain of the north and the south. The island’s size also helps explain another feature of Kefalonia, which is its air of self-sufficiency. Many visitors come to Kefalonia each summer to take advantage of the exceptional holiday villas scattered throughout the island and to enjoy its wonderful beaches. But not only is the island quite big enough to absorb them all with ease; the Kefalonians, while the most hospitable of Greeks and perfect hosts, clearly still have a life of their own independent of tourism. The result is that on Kefalonia there is very little of the ‘hard sell’ that has affected other parts of Greece.
The Kefalonians’ sense of pride in their island is, as the visitor quickly realises, well justified. First, there is the natural beauty. Like a number of its sister islands in the Ionian archipelago, of which it is the second most southerly, Kefalonia is remarkable for its greenness, from the fruit orchards and olive groves of the southwest – where there is glorious display of wild flowers in the spring months – to the fir trees and cypresses of the hillier north. The interior is rugged and quite mountainous, particularly in the very centre where Mount Ainos dominates the national park of the same name, while the coastline is edged with a profusion of fine, unspoiled beaches of glorious sand or fine shingle. Myrtos beach in the northwest is probably the best known (and most photographed) of them but from the secluded coves around Fiskardo in the north, to the sandy nesting grounds of the loggerhead turtle in the south, there is a succession of welcoming and relaxing beaches offering clear water and easy swimming.
Some of the Kefalonians’ resilience must be attributable to the great natural disaster that struck them in 1953. That year the island was hit by a major earthquake, which levelled many of the older buildings in towns and villages. With these went most of the elegant Venetian architecture for which the island had been known; only the great fortresses of Saint George, in the south, and Assos, in the northeast, survived as witnesses to Venice’s 400 year presence, along with one complete town, the picturesque fishing port of Fiskardo in the north. One good thing, however, did result from this tragedy: all new building undertaken on Kefalonia since the 50s has had to conform to the strictest building regulations. This has meant that the standard of holiday villas on the island far surpasses that in many other parts of Greece and indeed other areas of the Mediterranean. The villas on Kefalonia are not only constructed in wonderful locations, with panoramic views, but are built from the best materials and to the highest specification. Many them also have sizeable gardens, particularly in the greener, lusher south.
Unlike on some smaller Greek islands, a car is really a necessity on Kefalonia, since the distances are greater and few villas are within easy walking distance of a restaurant or shop. But here a car is a virtue, since it opens up the great wealth of interesting sights and experiences the island has to offer, from the great stretches of Scala and Lourdas beaches in the south, to the underground lake of Melissani near Sami on the east coast, the urban sophistication of the island’s capital, Argostoli, in the southwest and the pretty coastal villages of Agia Efimia, Assos and Fiskardo in the north – not to mention the spectacular “red beaches” of the Lixouri peninsula. It’s no surprise to learn that some visitors have been returning to Kefalonia every year for the last ten (or twenty) years. It has a lot to offer!
Argostoli & Lassi
Argostoli, in the southwest, is the island’s main town and has much to offer the visitor, not least the wonderful long sandy beaches of the Lassi area just to the south. These beaches are quite stunning and still completely unspoiled, offering another example of how Kefalonia has managed to preserve its most beautiful features over the years.
The town of Argostoli itself repays investigation. It has an attractive main square with a good selection of tavernas, a harbour which is worth wandering round and a large lagoon area with a walkway built around it for easy access. The town is well supplied with shops and has a couple of interesting museums, a famous library and numerous churches. Argostoli is not difficult to drive around but, as a small town, is also easily – and possibly best – explored on foot.
Argostoli has been described as one of the most attractive Greek provincial towns and lives up to its reputation, with plenty of trees, wide streets and a modern street plan. It is also the nearest town to the island airport, which is a short drive along the coast road to the south.
Named after the Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard, who died on Kefalonia, Fiscardo is the island’s northernmost harbour. A beautiful village surrounded by woods and scenic deserted bays, it is a popular port for visiting boats making their tour of the central Ionian islands of Ithaca, Lefkada and Meganissi. All three are visible from the hills surrounding this pretty little seaside village.
Fiscardo village and the surrounding area escaped the 1953 earthquake and so retain much of the character of old Kefalonia, including rare examples of the island’s pre-53 architecture. In 1973, this led to the village being declared a “traditional settlement” or conservation area. Any modern development was thus prevented, allowing Fiscardo to hold onto the elegant old buildings which give it such picturesque appearance.
The harbour front is the main area of Fiscardo. Here visitors and locals take part in the customary evening stroll past the tavernas and cafes, where guests enjoy all variety of Greek food and partake in the traditional Greek pastime of people watching. The harbour is also a mooring place for visiting yachts and boats, whose arrival and departure add a further interest to the village. The village boasts a number of good supermarkets, shops and places of interest which are all well worth visiting.
In the immediate neighbourhood of Fiscardo are a number of wonderful bays which can easily be explored either by car or on foot. The intriguing coastline is a succession of small bays, with the woods running right down to the beaches. A little further afield are traditional inland villages such as Evreti, a great centre from which to explore the coastline, and – a little further – the fascinating village of Assos, which was built on the causeway leading to a small island just off the coast. The island’s most photographed beach, Myrtos, is also within easy reach.
Spartia is a small village about 20 minutes’ drive south from the capital Argostoli and 15 minutes from the airport. It has a couple of good tavernas and supermarkets and is within very easy reach of some of the best beaches in the area, including well-known Trapezaki and Lourdata to the east. There are also a number of good beaches along the coast towards Argostoli, to the west. In fact the whole southern coastline is easily accessible from this location: in one direction, the coast runs up to Argostoli while in the other the spectacular coast road runs between the Ainos National Park and a string of wonderful beaches all the way to Skala on the southeastern tip of the island. The beaches just before Skala are famous for the turtles that breed there during the main summer months.
This area of the island is perfectly situated for exploring with plenty to see and do only a short drive away.
Sami is the old capital of Kefalonia, and is nestled in a bay on the East coast of the island looking straight across to Kefalonia’s sister island Ithaka. It's a fairly low key port, with ferries leaving to the Greek mainland and Ithaka and a number of fishing boats. During the summer months there are many private yachts visiting together with a handful of tourist excursions.
As with the majority of the island Sami was destroyed during the 1953 Earthquake and was rebuilt according to strict earthquake regulations with some help from the British.
In 2000, Sami was the base on Kefalonia whilst they filmed Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Part of the harbour front was recreated into a pre war Argostoli, Antisamos beach was the location of the Italian army camp and the hillsides above Antisamos were used as the site of the village. Many of the locals were involved in the film, either as extras or behind the scenes. When the film was released, as a special favour to the Kefalonian people it was screened in Kefalonia before anywhere else in Greece.
There are a wide variety of tavernas and bars along the harbour front catering to every taste. It is the perfect place to dine on the fresh local produce and wile away a couple of hours. There are a number of shops in Sami, both aimed at the local community and visiting tourists. There is also a post office, ATM, police station and tourist information centre.
A beautiful horseshoe shaped bay 4 kilometres the other side of Sami, with a taverna, sunbeds and umbrellas. In high season there are also watersports from the beach.
An underground cavern reached by over 100 steps which houses many stalagmites and stalagtites. This large cavern has been the venue for concerts over the years as the acoustics are excellent and the temperature is a constant 18 degrees.
On the coastal road between Sami and Agia Efimia you will find the small village of Karavomilos. There are a number of restaurants and tavernas in Karavomilos including one on the waters edge and one that specialises in fish. There is also a minimarket and a bakery in the village.
In ancient times a shepherdess named Melissanthi fell into the lake whilst out looking for her sheep and a nymph also called Melissanthi drowned herself there because the god Pan would not return her love. The name of the Lake was thus determined. Opened to the public in 1963, it used to be an underground lake until the roof collapsed during an earthquake over 500 years ago leaving an opening through which the sun shines creating fantastic blues and greens in the water, which you can see close up as you are rowed around by one the boatmen. The water from the lake comes from Katavothres near Argostoli as was discovered when scientists were trying to establish where the water at Katavothres flowed to. They put some dye in the water and 14 days later it was seen at Melissani.
Take the road to Agia Efimia and you will find many pretty pebble coves along the way. One of them is called Agia Paraskevi (St Friday), a pebble beach with a grassy area where you can rent sunbeds and have something to eat and drink in the café. In July and August there is also an open air nightclub. Agia Efimia is a pretty horseshoe shaped harbour village. Everything is centred round the harbour, lined by a number of tavernas, bars and shops, which make for a very pleasant place to stop for a drink or meal and to watch the world go by. All the cafes and most of the restaurants serve breakfast and stay open in the evenings until the last customer leaves. You can order a meal at any time of day although the locals tend to eat a late lunch and dinner after 9pm.