DISCLAIMER: There’re an unbearable number of beach photos within this post that will most likely lead you to spontaneously book a holiday. I can take no responsibility for any unplanned spending that might occur…
For the past couple of years, I’ve been on a couple of holidays to Rhodes, a Greek island a short distance from the southern shore of Turkey. Whilst it ticked all the boxes for what I needed at the time – R&R, guaranteed sunshine, feta and olives (I don’t ask for much) – I definitely wasn’t getting an authentic Greek experience. I wanted crystal clear waters, bougainvillea clad buildings, moussaka and Meryl Streep popping her head out of picturesque windows singing Abba songs at full pelt.
In a bid to try a slightly different Greek location, I booked a week away to Kefalonia, an Ionian island to the west of the mainland. Any movie buffs (or indeed bookworms) will have heard of Kefalonia from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, a film adapted from the book by Louis de Bernières featuring Penelope Cruz, Nicholas Cage and Christian Bale back in the 90s. Following the films release, the island had a monumental boost in tourism. I really didn’t know anything about the island other than the fact it was steeped in history, prone to earthquakes and had a whole host of idyllic beaches. I sort of expected it to be overrun with tourists, as Rhodes was, but I was overjoyed to find that it was quite the opposite.
Kefalonia is stuffed full of natives who have an uninhibited pride about the island they live on. As the largest of the Ionians, there are only about 35k residents living there with tourism, agriculture and olive oil production leading the way in the economical drive of the island. The beaches are out of this world and whilst you can stumble upon small coves and hidden sandy nooks all around the shore, the two most famous ones, Myrtos and Antisamos, were absolutely spectacular – up there as the best I’ve ever been to (which isn’t really saying much as I am by no means a well-travelled beach bunny but you get the gist).
Originally I booked a hotel through Low Cost Holidays – it was a 5* (though be warned that most Greek 5* tends to be a seasoned travellers 4*), but shortly after booking, Low Cost Holidays went in to administration and consequently my booking was cancelled. Whilst I managed to get my money back (after 8 weeks), by the time I went to rebook, the hotel was full. After hours of TripAdvisor research, I started reading reviews for Trapezaki Bay Hotel – they were so good that I was convinced they faked all the reviews (seriously, just LOOK at these), so good in fact, that I booked it. The hotel isn’t fancy but has a home-away-from-home charm that is instantly welcoming. The warmth of the team and the outstanding service they offer shows you exactly what Greek hospitality is all about.
Kefalonia – The Facts
When To Visit – The season starts mid-April and ends at the start of October. Whilst you can visit outside of these months (the weather doesn’t tend to get cooler than 15 degrees), you’ll have to stay in a villa and be prepared to drive a decent distance to find restaurants and shops that are open, as a lot will close off season. I went the last week of September and everything was winding down but the weather was still around 27 degrees everyday. If you want busy and hot hot hot, June/July/August is your time to go – just make sure you get an air conditioned car and pack a decent SPF!
Where To Stay – I could happily stay in pretty much every area we visited (with the exception of Poros and Argostoli). It was all beautiful. Just when you think you’ve seen the best of the island, you end up finding somewhere else even more gorgeous. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, try Trapezaki, Agia Efimia or Assos. Skala is the place to go if you’re looking for a resort-style break (think rows of hotels, lots of tourist-geared activities etc). Sami is a good mix of both. Fiskardo at the top of the island is the “posh” bit, lots of boutiques, bars and fancy boats but exquisitely beautiful. Both hotels and rentable villas are plentiful throughout the island, so whatever kind of holiday you’re after, you’ll be able to find it.
Transport – We flew out with EasyJet from Gatwick and flights were reasonably priced. When you get there, be sure to hire a car. This is not an island with great transport links…in fact there aren’t really any. Our hotel organized our car hire but it looked like there were plenty of options to rent directly from the airport. Be warned that the roads aren’t easy. Kefalonia is in the heart of earthquake zone and as a mountainous island, provides roads that are certainly not for an unseasoned driver. If there are no drivers in your group, there are a ton of great looking organized tours to join, particularly full day boat expeditions which will allow you to see everything too.
I only had a hire car for 3 days so didn’t actually manage to squeeze in everything (leaves room for another visit…obvs) but I DID manage to discover some absolute gems. If you’re Kefalonia bound, don’t miss out on any of these
Melissani is an underground lake housed in a cave that was only discovered following an earthquake. The water is crystal clear (except for the bird poop, of which there is a lot…and my sister was lucky enough to have some land in her hair) and if you visit at 12pm sharp, the light that bursts through the roof of the cave, turns the water into the most magnificent colours. It’s unmissable. It’s 7 euros per adult for a 20-25min boat trip around the cave.
We almost missed out on a visit to this beach as we were running out of time but managed to squeeze in an hour of late afternoon sunshine and a swim. It’s not too far from Sami so make sure you tie in a visit to both. Pebble shoes are advisable (as with most beaches that I visited) unless you’re in to bruised soles and emerging awkwardly out of the sea…but there were a couple of buzzy bars/tavernas there and the water was bliss! For the fans of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, the Italian camp was based on this beach!
Myrtos fast became one of my favourite places I have ever visited within moments of arriving. Getting there isn’t the easiest of drives (up in to mountains and then all the way down) but it was SO worth it. We rented beds (it was around 10 euros for 3), which were ours for the day. I could’ve spent endless days on this beach and never tired of it.
This is a pretty port on the east coast of the island filled with small beaches and a handful of restaurants and bars where you can rent out boats (or moor up if you’re lucky enough to own one). We were advised by Maria (aka the Kefalonia Oracle) at Trapezaki Bay Hotel to head to Paradise Beach Restaurant for lunch. Maria told us it was the last restaurant on the stretch and just when you think you must’ve missed it (it starts to look quite residential), it appears. The views from the outdoor seating area are beautiful but the food was superb. We opted for a selection of small plates to share including some of the best calamari I’ve ever had!
At the north of the island, Fiskardo isn’t the easiest to reach from the south. We had to drive up some seriously high, winding roads (and back down) to get there but it was worth it. This town is steeped in colourful buildings, great restaurants and provides excellent people watching with all the posh boats mooring up. Instagram heaven.
You can spot Assos from afar on Myrtos beach but nothing beats getting up and close and personal with it. It’s small but beautiful. We had lunch at Platanos, the first restaurant as you walk in to the town (another great recommendation from Maria). I wish I had had more time there – the 2 small beaches in the town looked beautiful.
The other highlight from the trip was that I managed to knock another thing off of my 30 things before 30 list, with the help of the hotel’s owner, Niko. He popped me on the back of his motorbike and gave me my first spin round Trapezaki! It was like an exhilarating theme park ride but one that I would only ever repeat on a quiet road. How anyone does that on a motorway or in a city, I don’t know.
I’m definitely planning another trip to Kefalonia next year as I want to make it to Ithaca (the island just above) and the Lixouri side of the island, which is reachable by boat from Argostoli. If you’ve been to Kefalonia and have places to recommend, send ’em my way!
Best of the rest (the camera took quite a beating while I was there!)…