Kefalonia : nestled in hillside pines
Photo: Christopher Goss
Kefalonia is one of the Ionian islands located off the west coast of Greece and a close neighbour of Corfu, Lefkas and Zante.
Kefalonia holidays appeal strongly to families thanks to several good, sandy beaches with safe, shallow waters.
Most of the big beach resorts lie to south-east while scattered bays around the coast are often home to some remote beaches of truly memorable beauty.
Kefalonia is the largest of the islands that lie in the Ionian chain that trickles down the the west coast of mainland Greece.
The island came to international notice as the setting for the best-selling novel and Hollywood movie 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' and it has enjoyed a significant boost in tourism in recent years.
The recent package holiday popularity has so far failed to dent Kefalonia's natural charm and geographical beauty. Wild horses still roam the forested hillsides and rare loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs on its more remote beaches.
Kefalonia is the most mountainous of the Ionian islands, with Mount Ainos soaring up to 1,626 metres and blanketed in a rare species of pine tree. The heavily indented coastline has many attractive bays and the rocky coast is peppered will small, pebble and sand beaches.
Kefalonia is fortunate in combining several startlingly beautiful beaches with some magnificent mountain scenery and a couple of exciting subterranean caves and lakes.
Kefalonia has some of the best holiday beaches in the Ionian islands but the island is large and the beaches are widely spread. The main beach resorts are found along the south-west coast at Lassi, Lourdas and Skala.
The beaches range from the wide sandy expanses on the south coast to the staggering cliff-drop beauty of Myrtos in the west and the upmarket picture-postcard charm of the port of Fiskardo in the north.
Other island beaches are relatively remote but are attractive enough to warrant the journey. Beaches at Myrtos and Antisamos in the west are astonishingly beautiful while other coastal resorts like Aghia Efimia and Fiskardo ooze Greek charm.
Beaches on the Pali peninsula grow more popular each year but again, they are relatively isolated. Kefalonia regularly picks up a clutch of annual Blue Flags awards for its safe, clean beaches.
A popular diversion for Kefalonia beach holiday visitors is the neighbouring island of Ithaca, a peaceful haven of tranquillity. It lies nearby to the east, just a short boat ride from the port of Sami .
Castle of St George
Between the resorts of Argostoli and Lassi is the well preserved Venetian Castle of St George (Agios Giorgis) with coats of arms decorating the massive bastions. The original castle was 12th century but the ruins are Venetian and date from 1500s. There are panoramic views of the coast from the ruins and a cafe supplies the basics. The nearby monastery of Agios Andreas has some very good 17th century frescoes.
Down some 120 steps are the impressive limestone caves of Drogorati, full of stalagmites and stalactites. The main cavern, first opened in 1963, is big enough to host the occasional orchestral concert. The largest area is called 'Sala of Apotheosis' a reference to its very good acoustics.
Melissani underground lake
Boatmen take visitors around an underground lake with a collapsed roof that allow light to illuminate the brilliant aquamarine waters. Melissani is also called the Cave of the Nymphs after ancient artefacts that were found during archaeological excavations in 1951. The water, a mix of salt and fresh, is about 100 feet deep and fed by underground rivers that emerge at Kalovethres. Midday is the best time to enjoy the spectacular blue light effects.
Set in a beautiful bay Assos castle is now listed as a European Heritage Site. Assos Castle dates from 1593 and has 2 km of walls that circle the hilltop in a rough rectangle dotted with five bastion towers. The castle was once used as a prison farm until 1953 and about 200 families lived there until it was abandoned in the late 1960s. There are magnificent views of Assos village below.
Be sure to taste the island's Robola white wine famous across Greece and beyond — the island's hillsides are covered in vineyards which grow the Robola grape and you can enjoy a free tasting at the winery.
The surge in popularity of Kefalonia holidays in recent years has plenty of hotel building, notably along the south-west coast. The resort at Lassi has the most accommodation, from luxury all-inclusive to modest rooms.
The holiday beach resorts at Lourdas and Skala have lots of newly built hotels and apartments. There are campsites at Katovathres, near Argostoli and at Karavomilos near Melissani.
The holiday season starts in April and May with temperatures around 20°C and the odd shower. The long hot summers on Kefalonia can see peak season holiday temperature hit 30°C while coastal breezes keep humidity low.
Daily summer sunshine lasts for 12 hours from June to August, while rain is minimal. October has temperatures around 18°C and seven hours sunshine daily. In winter, Kefalonia temperatures drop to 12°C while heavy rains help to keep Kefalonia green all year round.
Kefalonia International Airport (EFL) is 14km south of the island port capital at Argostoli and handles 400,000 visitors each year and numbers have been rising in recent years.Olympic Airways has daily flights from Athens all year round . There is basic shopping and two tavernas outside. It's 9km to the main holiday resort at Lassi and about 45 km from holiday resorts at Skala and Sami.
Kefalonia has good ferry links although there are no direct ferries from Athens. Daily ferries connect Patras to the port at Sami and they also leave from Sami to neighbouring Ithaka. A ferry from Fiskardo in the north leaves for For Lefkas and there is a ferry link from Pessada to Zakynthos. Daily ferries sail between mainland Killini and Argostoli and an hourly ferry from Argostoli is the quickest way to resorts at Lixouri and the Pali peninsula.
Beach resorts are widely spread around the coast of this large and mountainous island. While roads are generally good driving can be difficult along precipitous mountain passes and around hairpin bends.
Kefalonia buses are infrequent and many visitors choose to hire a car. Regular services run between Argostoli and Lassi , Poros, Sami and Fiskardo. Travel agents offer tours of Kefalonia and other islands.
The taxi centre is at Argostoli near the central square. Rates are given by the meter but drivers will offer a standard rate for popular island destinations. As usual, always agree the price before getting in the taxi. There is also a radio taxi service.
Kefalonia is not just a holiday island of sea and sand, it also has some very impressive monasteries that are not only in delightful settings but also house some important relics.
The word 'stunning' is often overused in the world of travel writing. Very few vistas can be described as truly stunning, but the fortress at Assos is certainly a contender.
The Castle of St George or Agios Giorgios is one of the best known and most visited historic sites on the Greek holiday island of Kefalonia with panoramic views in all directions.
At Melissani Lake cave in Kefalonia light streams through an open roof to a shimmering blue lake of almost ethereal beauty. Melissani Lake is an astonishing sight at any time.