Kefalonia – 2 weeks of rustic relaxation
After booking any foreign trip, I tend to think that part of the build up is googling your destination every few days, looking at the weather, researching things to do whilst you are there and foremost, to make that hole in your bank account seem less troubling by connecting it to the amazing adventure that is coming your way.
By my usual standards I arrived in Kefalonia woefully underprepared – my pre-googling for this trip had mainly concerned searches determining what would happen should the Greek economy go ‘pop’ whilst we were there, rather than finding anything to do.
And I’m glad.
Glad that I was unprepared for the incredible beauty that Kefalonia possesses that is (and that the Greek economy plodded on too, of course!)
Our trip was 2 weeks, smack bang in the middle of August. A time likely to be annoyingly crowded you’d think, but this turned out to be no problem – Kefalonia was pretty quiet. Perhaps the economic uncertainty had deterred people, but since it meant that often the nearest sunbathers on the beach were often 200 metres away, I rather enjoyed the peace. Little things like both of us being able to go in the water at the same time rather than somebody having to stay to mind our beach bags were worth their weight in gold – it’s something that just wouldn’t happen on the Costa Del Sol!
Indeed, Kefalonia seems to have become a little bit forgotten these days; overshadowed by the party island of Zante to the south and not perceived to be as cool as Kos or Santorini. I think that is entirely part of it’s appeal.
Some have said that May and June are the best times to visit the island as it is then that the flowers tend to blossom making the island look gorgeous. That may be true, but Kefalonia in August was stunning too.
Our hotel was in the southern town of Skala. It’s a nice place to spend time with plenty of decent restaurants, a few nice bars and a generally relaxed vibe. Great for lazy days in other words! It made an ideal base for us to go and explore different parts of the island – and that’s the thing with Kefalonia… it would be a wasted trip if you don’t get out and see the island. With that in mind lets run through a few places that should be on your list…
Karavomylos is first up and you’ll find this pretty little shoreline next to Sami on Kefalonia’s eastern coast. The main reason you’ll head to this part of the island is to go to the Mellousinni caves, but it shouldn’t be your only reason as Karavomylos offers stunning views of the bay across to Ithika. Crystal clear waters lap at the pebbly shoreline with beautiful trees set just back from the waters edge. It’s perhaps not a place that is ideal for sunbathing, but if you like the idea of stopping for a dip somewhere and just taking in some incredible views, this is a great place! Just along the shore you’ll find a café bar which offers a nice shaded place to relax and enjoy the views. The café bar is next to the jetty, which acts as a drop off point for tour boat parties heading to the Mellousinni caves (read more about them later) .
Top tip: Drive the beautiful coastal road from Skala in the south to Agia Efimia and use Karavomylos as your pitstop along the way. The breathtaking views from the road will put you in the mood for a dip!
Myrtos Beach is probably the most famous beach in Kefalonia and it is easy to see why. The incredible bright blue sea around Myrtos is a product of the limestone and marble cliffs that the beach backs on to. It’s something that really does have to be seen to be believed, whether that is from the beach itself or the numerous viewing points on the roads above. As you’d expect of a beach voted Best Greek Beach 12 times, it can get busy – It’s the only place on our otherwise quiet trip that I would describe as packed. On the day we visited the sea was very rough. Myrtos’ location and steep beach means it can be more susceptible than other Kefalonian beaches to high waves – my partner and I actually rescued two Swedish women who had got into trouble in the waves whilst we were there –worth bearing this in mind, especially if you are taking kids. Another thing to note is that the stones that make up the beach are very sharp, so you’ll really need to have flip-flops on at the very least. These are however, minor notes about an otherwise incredible spectacle. The easiest way to get there is probably by car if you can with parking on the beach itself. A few local busses also offer services from Agia Efimia in the summer time.
Top tip: Try to go either early in the morning or later in the evening when the crowds have died down.
Fiskardo looks like what would happen if Disney built a Greek fishing village. It’s a beautiful place which seems a little bit out of place in Kefalonia as it is so well presented – most other places in Kefalonia have more of a rustic quality. This is perhaps not surprising as the town has had a lot of success marketing luxury villas and apartments to the rich and famous in recent times. However, if you haven’t won any Oscars (yet) you will still enjoy the immaculately painted pastle-coloured buildings, often with ornate decorations that circle the main port area which is home to a great variety of resaurants and yachts. Most of the north of Kefalonia is designated a UNESCO world heritage site, and as such the road network hasn’t really been developed for many years – as Fiskardo is well served by ferries and boat trips and these are perhaps the best ways to get up to the town with a minimum of fuss.
Just south of Fiskardo is one of the prettiest beaches in Kefalonia – Foki. It may seem strange to say, but one of the best things about Foki is the walk down to the beach from the road, which is a picturesque trail leading through an olive grove surrounded by long grasses and wild flowers. Roll out your beach towel under a tree and gaze over the bay to Ithika. The waters are crystal-clear and this is one of the better places in Kefalonia to snorkel, whilst the beach itself is clean and often quiet. All in all Foki beach is everything a beach in Kefalonia should be.
Top tip: Being the only large port in the north of the island means Fiskardo is well served by ferries and tour boats. Use these rather than driving up here.
Assos is a beautiful town on Kefalonia’s northwestern shore. We drove there and I feel the experience may have taken a few years off my life. Single track roads, endless hairpin bends and ‘enthusiastic’ local drivers may have made the journey a hair-raising experience but the rewards are plentiful when you arrive. To be honest there isn’t a huge amount actually in Assos but it is one of those places you should go simply because it is very very pretty. For the best experience park at the top of the village and take a stroll down to the portside for a drink and some food whilst chilling and enjoying the view.
Top tip: Yes, everybody might do it, but it is worth stopping at one of the viewing points on the road down to Assos to view the town from above. It’s a lovely view, and will also give your car’s brakes a chance to cool down after the relentless hairpin bends.
One thing to note about Kefalonia is that it’s not just a coastline – even though 90% of people won’t stray inland at all on their trip, it is worth getting away from the sea and the sand to enjoy some sunny inland views. We found the road from Poros to Sami via Tzanata to be particularly pretty, driving through gorges, olive groves and valleys peppered with tall cyressa trees. Hikers will enjoy a trip up Mount Ainos, the highest point in Kefalonia, which offers incredible views over the southern tip of the island and neighbouring Zante – Just remember to take plenty of water if you go up there.
Top tip: It is pretty, but it can be difficult to find shops and petrol stations for large stretches of the interior of Kefalonia – stock up and fill up before you head out.
Agia Efimia is somewhere worth visiting, even if you are just passing through – We stumbled across this pretty little place whilst driving up towards Myrtos beach. For my money this is the prettiest little harbor on the island, with crystal clear waters and pretty buildings. In 1953 most of Agia Efimia was destroyed by a powerful earthquake. The previous settlement was mostly located further inland (for protection against raiding parties in the past) so a lot of what you see down by the Mediterranean is from 1953 onwards. Back to the modern day though and you’ll find Agia Efimia is has a good few restaurants making it a great place to stop for a meal. More active folk will find the Yellow boat hire, based in the town, a neat way to explore the less accessible parts of the nearby coastline at your leisure. They offer a variety of boat sizes and, as usual, you have to pay extra for the fuel you use, but it is a very easy way to have a fun day out.
There wasn’t a place that I didn’t enjoy visiting in Kefalonia, but there were a few places that perhaps weren’t quite the full ticket. One of these was Horgota Beach (Captain Corelli’s beach). This shoreline features in a few scenes of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. As such, lots of tour boats stop here and often use it as a selling point for their tour. These tours are often a great way to get around and are well worth the money, but don’t go to this beach thinking it will look like it did in the film – it doesn’t. A large metal fence now borders most of the beach, ruining the view and preventing access to the trees behind. There are the remains of a jetty there, but not the one that features in the film, as this was constructed especially for it. Most tour boats tend to use this beach as a ‘swim stop’ which is fine as it does offer a nice place to cool off on a hot day, but don’t let a visit to this beach be the defining reason you choose to do a boat tour or not.
I felt a similar way about the Melissani Caves, which are usually a stop on boat tours heading up the eastern coast of the island. Now don’t get me wrong, these caves are very pretty inside, especially when the light hits the water, but it is worth mentioning that the boat tour of the caves does only last ten minutes at most. They are pretty, but also pretty expensive for the amount of time you are actually in there. I’d best describe them as one of those things where if you really want to see it, you’ll probably really enjoy it, but if you are feeling half hearted to begin with, save yourself some money and just head to the pretty little dockside bar at Karavomylos and relax with a beer until the tour party returns.
Hit and miss stop-offs aside, boat tours are a great way to see the island, especially if you aren’t a fan of seat-of-your-pants motoring. As you may have gathered, I didn’t particularly enjoy driving on the Greek roads… in fact I feel the grey hairs that have emerged on my temples in the months since may be a reflection of road trips to explore the island that were themselves, hair raising. As previously covered, hiring a car can be a good (if expensive) way to see some of the beautiful inland areas of the island. Just remember that the roads, as you might expect, don’t seem to have been invested in for a long time, with frequent and sizeable pot-holes often littering the road. Usually these pot-holes are covered with wooden pallets to make motorists aware of them, but some aren’t, making the roads a tricky place for motorcyclists, especially after dark. It is also worth watching out for lines of rocks placed into the roads – these denote that the road surface has been undercut and that it may not be safe to drive over. Roads are generally single lane, usually narrow, poorly signed and populated by insane drivers who think nothing of overtaking you on a blind corner of a mountain road. Some say you haven’t lived until you’ve almost crashed into a coach that’s driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid a pot hole on a high mountain pass. I would disagree with this!
In terms of essential items to take, being a reasonably remote island with a captive market of tourists, I’d advise that you stock up on your toiletries and suncreams before you get there; it’s not as cheap as you would expect it to be and we found the choice of sun protection to be a little limited in some of the island’s shops. This could be an issue if, like me, some suncreams can cause irritation and you have to use a more specialist brand – it really is best to just stock up before you go as the shops tend to just sell the major brands.
We took a Cabin Max Oxford and Camden with us as hand luggage. These were an easy fit for Ryanair’s hand luggage policy and the Camden also came with a detachable toiletries bag that was ideal for carrying our suncream, lip balm and insect repellent around in when we were out and about. We actually put the this toiletry bag inside an Aquabourne San Remo floatbag for trips out to the beach, as this was more than capable of holding a few towels, water and snacks, whilst still remaining lightweight.
As we were searching for relaxation when we headed to Kefalonia, we decided to leave our phones in our room for the majority of our stay, instead buying a Polaroid IF045 Compact Camera for £35 from Currys for any pictures we might have wanted to take. This was a great idea. Nope, a £35 camera is not going to produce the best pictures you’ve ever seen, but for the price the quality was good. The camera is also pretty tough, reasonably light and waterproof up to 3m, which is enough for most people. Arguably, the best thing about buying this cheap camera was that it meant that our phones could be locked in the hotel safe – no phone there wanting you to check it, no sand getting into the speakers and also no worrying about leaving your phone on the beach if you want to go and mess about in the sea! In this digital age, it was seriously liberating and I would wholeheartedly recommend this approach – you are on holiday after all.
Back to Kefalonia and I think it is important to say how friendly and helpful the Greek people were. Tourism is the lifeblood of Kefalonia and we really did feel welcome as visitors, whether we were out having a meal, or just buying supplies from the local shops. The staff at our hotel (Porto Skala Village) were incredibly nice, preparing a birthday celebration for my partner one evening and also doing little things like stopping to offer us a lift home when they saw us walking back to the hotel with all of our beach equipment. One thing that I really grasped when we were there was how much the local people cared about what sort of an experience you were having. We walked past a local eatery every day and every day they asked about what we had been up to, what we had enjoyed and also advised us on things to do next; they genuinely want you to have the best time and have great pride in their island.
In summary, if you want a relaxing, rustic and a little rough-around-the-edges getaway then Kefalonia could be the perfect place for you. Yes, it can be a little bit of a step back in time, but I actually think this is quite charming when so many other Mediterranean holiday destinations have become faceless. More than anything though, go to Kefalonia to appreciate the friendliness of the local people and to witness how in love they are with their island. After just 2 weeks exploring it, I must admit that I came back totally in love with it too.