Kefalonia is known to the modern world for two things: the film “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” starring Nicolas Cage, andbased on the story of the wartime massacre documented in the book of the same name by Louis de Berniere. Secondly, in 1953 the island suffered a severe earthquake and nearly all its fine Venetian style buildings were destroyed.
My place to renew
For me Kefalonia, described locally as “The Island of Dreams” is a place where my sleeping moments consistently revived deeply subconscious memories, and I would awake marvelling at being freshly aware of parts of my life I had totally forgotten. Was it the clean fresh air, the gleaming sea, the gentle wind, and the smell of pines, that conspired to sensitise me enough to shake off the protective shell around my battle hardened brain? It’s possible. Kefalonia is a small island of 45 by 35 kilometres but it truly is the kind of place where you can be at peace with yourself – and certainly the gentle and dignified Greeks who live there are at peace with the visitors who come to admire their stunning land.
“Kefalonia is a small island of 45 by 35 kilometres but it truly is the kind of place where you can be at peace with yourself.”
How to get there
I flew from Gatwick on a charter flight with Monarch, which took about four hours. Most of the flights going into the small airport near Argostoli are charters that fly during the tourist months. In the winter, the journey requires a flight to Athens, and then a 45 minute internal flight to Kefalonia, or a bus ride from Athens that goes via Patras on the ferry to Sami and then on to the Argostoli airport at Kefalonia.
Where to stay
Although Kefalonia has not been developed as a resort island, there are clusters of hotels, particularly around Lassi and Sami. Sami is where many of the town scenes in “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” were shot, and is a cosy place with a pretty harbour and beach. However, it is the yachting community who have long known of Kefalonia’s hidden secrets, and the northern town of Fiskardo, which retains some original Venetian architecture that make it a truly chic Mediterranean destination (and with prices to match).
Just north of Fiskardo is the best hotel on the island; the Emelisse, which has a Spa. The location is sensational, high up and overlooking the emerald waters of the Ionian sea, with a view to the rugged mountains of neighbouring Ithaca. From the poolside terrace restaurant the little sail boats scudding down below between the islands look so tiny that the view creates an illusion of flying.
www.arthotel.gr telephone +30 26740 41200 category Splash Out
Near Argostoli, I visited the Museum Hotel George Molfetas, named after a poet and run by his grand niece Katerina, who has filled the rooms and restaurant with family artefacts and heirlooms. All six rooms have modern bathrooms, and are situated around a small courtyard below the Possada restaurant, which serves local specialities. Staying here would be a very authentic Greek experience and Katerina would be a vivid guide and link to the way of life and community.
www.georgemolfetas.com telephone +30 693 7014758 category “Won’t break the bank”
I chose to stay with an English couple, Jane and Patrick, in their beautiful B&B overlooking the sea down a quiet track south of Argostoli. Nothing was too much trouble and Jane’s breakfasts were a gourmet extravaganza. The house is modern and comfortable, with a stunning swimming pool in an oasis of peace. From the house, we could stroll down farm tracks to several beaches; one night we walked to an excellent taverna on Avithos beach. It was all unspoiled and restful.
Telephone +30 26710 68320 category Budget
Jane and Patrick host Yoga weeks at their villa twice a year, with Yoga Teacher Nickie Broadfield. For details of the next trip see www.nickieb.co.uk
“Lovers of Lord Byron may be interested to know that he wrote Don Juan on the island. He sailed from Kefalonia on his disastrous mission to free Greece from Ottoman rule.”
What to do
I was very fortunate to be attending Nickie’s Yoga week so mornings and evenings were happily spent on Jane’s terrace doing Yoga with a view of the sea.
However, I did explore the island and can recommend the following places to visit:
- Lovers of Lord Byron may be interested to know that he wrote Don Juan on the island. He sailed from Kefalonia on his disastrous mission to free Greece from Ottoman rule, and landed on the mainland, where he promptly died of fever. Near Jane and Patrick’s village there is a memorial to Byron marking the garden of the house where he lived.
- The Melissani cave near Sami is very pretty, with an astonishing blue lake, and it is worth taking the short boat ride to explore it.
- At Skala, also near Sami, there is a 2,000 year old roman mosaic, which is very well preserved and depicts a wonderful bull.
- Fiscardo is a must, and en route to it along the breathtaking West coast mountain road of the, stop off in the tiny picture postcard village of Assos, overlooking an idyllic and tranquil little bay, and have a coffee by the sea.
- Also on the road is Myrtos beach, which has sand as white and turquoise water as perfect as the Maldives. This beach featured prominently in “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” but to reach it is a long drive down a very windy road. You can admire it from a viewpoint on the road above.
Where to eat
I highly recommend the restaurant Spiaggia, which is on the beach at Vatsa. It is well worth the drive to meet the owner Spyros and his English wife, and sample petaloxortara – which is seaweed in oil and vinegar while sitting in a sort of Robinson Crusoe hut with your feet in the sand and a duck under the table.
My Greek food favourites are Korfades, which are courgette flowers and leaves in batter, and courgette balls with feta cheese. Greek cuisine relies on seasonal fresh vegetables and I now cook aubergines with everything. The aubergine pate that you can buy locally is divine. At the restaurant next to the stunning castle in Ayios Yeoryios I tasted an unforgettable spinach pie.
Kefalonia is a place of pilgrimage to the shrine of St Gerasimos who was known as a teacher, a healer and a water diviner. He founded a Monastery on the island, which is thronged with visitors on 16th August when his relics are paraded.
If you haven’t been to Kefalonia yet you must go. You won’t regret it. Sweet dreams.