Perfect Weekend: 48-Hours in KefaloniaBy Suzi Malin
You can’t help but fall in love with Greece; the people are warm (as warm as the climate) and welcoming, and there is nowhere more spiritually lifting, beautiful and magical than the Ionian isles – a seemingly endless expanse of beautiful beaches, cobbled streets and beach side restaurants, all drenched in emerald green and azure blue. If you’re planning a trip, here’s what you need to know:
Kefalonia: The Background
Kefalonia is the largest of the seven Ionian islands; it’s famed for being the setting of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which tells the story of the cruel Nazi occupation during the Second World War. In the film, 5000 Italian soldiers were tricked into surrendering their arms, and then murdered by the Nazis, as told by actors Penelope Cruz and Nicholas Cage in the film.
The island is shaped by rich history stretching back to the Romans in 187 BC who used Kefalonia to capture mainland Greece. The Normans occupied it in 1082 followed by Venetians, French, Russians, Ottomans and then the British occupation. You can check out many of the treasures of the past in archeological finds from Roman, Mycean and Hellenistic period housed in Argostoli in The Archeological Museum of Kefalonia.
Kefalonia: Where to Stay
Apollonion Resort and Spa
This spacious, contemporary hotel and spa is set in wonderful grounds close to the beach. It’s the perfect place for relaxing, where you can smother yourself in wet red clay sand – famous for its healing properties. The hotel has a great pool area, which overlooks the restaurant, that serves wonderful buffet breakfasts as well as themed dining nights. Come for the pasta night, it’s truly delicious.
In the evenings, the place livens up. There’s a bar with live music late into the night, perfect for taking in the great view of the pool and sea beyond. For pampering, there’s a wide range of spa treatments – from collagen and hyaluronic treatments, to raspberry and lychee facials and orange and cedar oil body massages. When you get peckish, wander down the road to the newly opened XI restaurant and enjoy sautéed squid with sweet cherry tomato jam or the black Angus steak with eggplant purée.
Take a jeep safari into Mount Ainos National Park from Lixouri and make sure to pop into Mavroidis, a lovely family-run cafe in the square, first. Here you can try traditional Kefalonian fare, such as sweet treats made from almonds and sesame seed. As it’s family owned, the hospitality at this fourth generation cafe is beyond compare.
At the foot of the mountains in the Omala Valley is the convent of St Geronimous, who lived reclusively in a cellar. The remains of their patron saint after whom the convent is named are housed here; you can visit this convent year round, but it’s particularly special on the 16th August (his name day) when St. Geronimous remains are paraded in their casket prior to festivities of music, dancing and drinking.
Visit the wine making industry attached to the monastery and buy wines from different presses. The entire area is famous for its production of wine and organic olive oil; we sampled delicious Liocharis organic olive oil from a fourth generation of growers, whose spotlessly clean farm is nestled on hillside overlooking the sea. Do not leave this island without your green first press olive oil, it’s truly food of the gods.
For something active, try horse riding in this area before your ascent to the top of Mount Ainos. The black fir tree which populates this region is a protected species, hence why this has been made into one of Greece’s 10 National Parks, and is perfect for exploring on a horse.
The views from the top of Mount Ainos are spectacular, and well worth the rocky ascent. If you are lucky you will also see herds of wild horses whose legs have grown short to accommodate the terrain whilst their manes and tails have grown long.
Visit one of many charming, peaceful fishing villages. We went to Katelios and also to Poros where you can hear a pin drop in the silence of the cafe overlooking the sea. Rent boats, sea bikes or canoes from here, and five minutes away in the tiny seaside town of Skala there are lots of water sports and glass bottom boat tours.
Although the the island has 100 beaches – many isolated and hidden away in little coves – the most famous of them all is Myrtos beach which is north of Argostoli, the capital. Myrtos is famous its white sand and small white pebbles which reflect the light and increase your holiday tan. Swimming in cool, clean turquoise water has to be the closest thing to heaven and umbrellas, sun beds and beach canteen all available.
Go to the Melissani caves where the effect of an earthquake opened up an extraordinary cave dating back 150 million years with stalactites from 16.000-20,000 years ago. Excavations have revealed effigies of the nymph Melissani (from 3rd century B.C.) who committed suicide because she failed to attract the God Pan. The cave has a lake 39 metres deep – go at midday when the sun is directly overhead and the whole cave is lit with blue light which creates a floating, magical illusion.
Not to be missed is the medieval fishing village Fiscardo – it’s the only one of its kind, since the villages of the rest of the island were destroyed by the earthquake of 1953. Eat at Vaso’s for the the most wonderful food, where the famous master chef and owner, rustled us up a mouthwatering lobster dish after copious Greek starters.
Although this is a busy schedule, make time to pop over to Odysseus’s island of Ithaca, the second smallest of the Ionian islands where you can enjoy fresh seafood caught that day and eaten overlooking the harbour. Wander round the chic shopping area, check out the private beaches and stunning mountain views. Absolute heaven.
Travel to Greece with Discover Greece – see more of their destinations and travel ideas here. Fly with Aegean Airlines – they have daily flights from London to Kefalonia and Kefalonia to London. Stay at Apollonion Resort & Spa in Lixouri, Kefalonia.
Photo credits: Shutterstock