Written by Lynsey Oxton
I’ve just come back from a week on the gorgeous Greek island of Kefalonia. I love this place! This was our second visit (having also gone in 2015) and it was exactly as remembered: tranquil and super pretty with lush mountains and the brightest of blue seas. It’d be fair to say that we didn’t get the best weather that Greece usually offers, but on the plus side, this forced us to venture out and explore more of the island!
We stayed in Villa Theo, one of two newly developed ‘Forest Villas’ accommodations in Potamianata, a 30 minute drive North from the airport. We received a warm welcome from the owners who kindly provided us with a bottle of local wine and a whole host of other welcome treats, including delicious home cooked pastitsio!
The villa was spacious, immaculate and modern, with attractive stone walls inside and out and all of the amenities you could ever need (even Netflix which turned out to be just what the doctor ordered when it rained!). Outside, we had a sun terrace, fantastic private pool, barbecue area and views into the forest!
If at the end of reading this blog you think you might venture out to Kefalonia, Villa Theo is an idyllic base. It was perfect for the two of us (though it’s worth noting that it does sleep up to 6). We found this little gem through a well known travel site, but you can also book directly with the friendly owners at www.forestvillaskefalonia.com
The villa was within easy walking distance of two local tavernas, a small but perfectly adequate supermarket and a bakery. It was also only a short €5 taxi ride into the picture-perfect Agia Efimia harbour, where we ate most nights.
As we usually do, we hired a car for our holiday. Just a short ten or fifteen minute drive from the villa was the well-renowned Myrtos Beach, allegedly one of the best in the world. From a distance, you’d be right to assume it’s all white sand, whereas in actual fact, the beach is a mix of soft sand and pebbles.
We were lucky enough to be in the company of only a handful of people on the beach – perhaps because it was out of season, or possibly because it was a bit overcast on the day we went. I believe it’s an entirely different place in the Summer months, when pop-up cafes and sunbeds begin to emerge along with the masses. Surrounded by impressive mountains and with clear blue turquoise sea, it’s something you’d be silly to miss if you’re on the island.
If visiting the beach inspires you to take to the open waves yourself, you can rent your own boat from Agia Efimia (or indeed many other places on the island). Like most, we were enticed by the promise of sailing into secluded bays and coves that cannot otherwise be reached. The 30 horse-power engine is the best boat you can hire and this will set you back about €100 for the day, with petrol. A few tips from experience: this boating lark isn’t as easy as it looks in the brochure and ‘dropping anchor’ is a very tricky business for us amateurs! Oh – and be careful because the water can get really choppy!
From Agia Effimia, we took the road out to Sami – a quaint harbour village (now famous for Captain Correlli’s Mandolin) – where we stumbled upon the impressive Drogarati Cave, brimming with age old stalagmites and stalactites. The cave was discovered 300 years ago and due to having great acoustics, hosts orchestral concerts throughout the year. Oddly, it has a constant temperature of 18 degrees, irrespective of what the temperature outside is. The cost to visit this enchanting cave is just €5.
Just a short distance from the cave was the Melissani Lake (or ‘Nymphs Cave’ as it’s also known). This was a spectacular subterranean lake, discovered following an earthquake in 1953 which collapsed the roof of the cavern and exposed the crystal waters below. Despite it being absolutely stunning with the best reflections and iridescent colours I think I’ve ever seen, it also felt a bit eerie. Myth suggests that the nymph Melissani committed suicide in the lake as a result of unrequited love. For the €7 fee, you get to be rowed around the lake by a singing boat man and it’s as close to Venice as I’ve ever been! The experience lasts around 20 minutes and it’s an absolute must see.
Venturing North up the island, we found ourselves is Assos, another small fishing village with colourful houses and a venetian fort, standing 1.8 km up in the mountain. We had our lunch in the harbour and decided we would ‘walk it off’ and go and see the fort. The climb was easy (even in flip flops!), thanks to a helpful stone path winding through the pine trees. I’m by no means an avid historian, but the views looking down to Assos on the way up were definitely worth the trek (and I got my step count up for the day).
The road from Assos leads up to the prettiest of all villages – Fiskardo. Famed for its harbour, it welcomes fishermen, day-tripping sea folk and many a cruise ship full of eager tourists wanting to sample the fresh seafood from the harbour-side tavernas. Interestingly, Fiskardo is the only place on the island that was unaffected by the earthquake and it’s clearly kept much of its original charm (despite being a tourist trap).
Fiskardo is a great place to have a walk around on a lazy afternoon and grab a gelato (or a cocktail if you’re in the mood). You can go snorkelling or rent out a kayak for a few hours – or simply moor up your own yacht for the evening, if you’re lucky enough! The thing I love most about Fiskardo is the vibrant colours at every turn.
On the whole, Kefalonia, despite its status as the largest Ionian Island, is a quiet place out of peak season (July and August). This makes it the perfect destination for holiday makers who just want to relax in one of the most picturesque places you can find, without hoards of people getting in your way. If you like cats, however, there are plenty of them about. If they are not snoozing in doorways, they will be at your feet in the restaurants, wanting your dinner.
The island is also known for its mountain goats, which can be seen high into the forests, as well as casually hanging out in groups on the bends of cliff roads – scaring unsuspecting drivers. Apparently they can be quite vicious so approach with caution!
South of the island in Argostoli (Capital and home to the airport) is where you will find perhaps the most ‘life’ (that and the beach resort of Scala, which we didn’t get chance to see). Argostoli is most definitely geared towards those who want a harbour, a beach and a plethora of shops, restaurants and bars on their doorstep. It’s also where you’ll find the super-yachts and the island-hoppers who drop in for the weekend. Argostoli has the largest population on the island (around 10,000), as can be seen by the houses that fill the coastline.
As Kefalonia’s Capital, it has had much more money invested in it than other more traditional villages; with a modern shopping plaza, coffee shops galore and ‘fun activities’ for tourists such as (slightly over-priced) paddle boats that look like cars. If Argostoli isn’t your base, it is an interesting place to visit and ideal to wind away a few hours if you’re on a later flight home. My only regret was not getting there in time to see the ‘famous’ loggerhead turtles who follow the fishing boats into the harbour each morning (the closest I got was the soft toys in the gift shops). Maybe next time?
Not only did we manage to see a lot, we also managed to eat and drink an awful lot more! I adore Greek food as a rule and the Kefalonian restaurants, whilst they don’t exactly ‘wow’, do not disappoint either. As I said earlier, we tended to eat locally, mainly in Agia Efimia so that we could both enjoy a few drinks and leave the hire car at home. I can definitely recommend ‘To Perasma’, ‘Spiros’ and ‘Finikas’ for the best traditional dishes. ‘Carena’ is also great for a cheeky cocktail (or five), with friendly staff and cosy outdoor sofas.
If you’re wondering what to choose from the extensive menus you‘ll find in all tavernas, I can recommend the local lamb kleftiko, moussaka or the Kefalonian meat pie – not forgetting a traditional Greek salad to start! Prices are very reasonable (between €3 and €6 for a starter, €8 and €12 for most main courses, €3 for a large local Mythos beer and €6 to €8 for a litre of house red!).
A good tip to leave you with: For a taste of the Med back in Blighty, sprinkle oregano on your chips and dill on your salad…..trust me.
And one more: whilst May is not typically known for having too many rainy days, we definitely got the best sun when we visited previously, in June. According to the locals, September is the ideal time to visit Kefalonia – the summer crowds are gone but the sun shines on!
Like Greece? Why not read my blog on Charming Crete