In a region of island stunners, the largest in the Ionian Sea shines beacon-bright. How could it not, with its plump green landscapes, untrodden beaches and wonderfully friendly residents. There are many natural wonders on Kefalonia, among them caves, cliffs and the only fir forest in Greece. Animal lovers can spot sea turtles and wild horses, too. Delicious fresh food and quality wine only add more incentive to come. Here are the main reasons you must visit Kefalonia.
The capital of Kefalonia is the heartbeat of the island, even though it was devastated by the earthquake of 1953. Painstakingly, the people have built their city back. The streets are lined with cafes, restaurants and quaint shops – for the best shopping, take a wander along Lithostroto street, where storefronts spill over with unique handmade souvenirs. All in all, this is an easy city to explore, but you might rather do as the islanders do and people-watch in Kabana Square.
One of the best-loved beaches on Kefalonia is in the west, at Antisamos. It is fully set up for tourists, with sunbeds, changing rooms, cafes, bars and restaurants. The water is transparent, and the shore is covered in smooth pebbles (water shoes recommended). Flickering with silvery shoals, it is a particularly great spot for snorkelling, while scuba divers love it for the Roman shipwreck offshore. If you’re a movie buff, you might recognise it from the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001).
For a real sense of what life is like on Kefalonia, head out to visit the beautiful villages that pepper the island. Most are by the sea – notably Agia Efimia and Sami, both Instagram-worthy, with their brightly painted buildings and neoclassical architecture. Others – Peratata and Kourkoumelata – are laden with impressive fortresses, mansions and churches. You’ll want to rent a car and explore the whole island, stopping to chat with locals for more sightseeing tips.
The winemaking tradition on Kefalonia dates back to Neolithic times and is very healthy today, thanks in no small part to the Greek grape variety, robola, which grows here. It makes a light, citrusy white that pairs perfectly with the wide range of fish and seafood dishes served locally. The wineries are concentrated in the central and southern parts of the island, and those that are family-owned are open to visitors for tours, tastings and idyllic strolls through the vineyards.
Mounda Beach is the best place to catch a glimpse of loggerhead sea turtles. Tucked down in the southeast corner of the island, the beach is an ideal place for the young to hatch and make it to the sea, even though development in the area has threatened their existence. Great efforts are now taken to protect this precious species, ensuring a safe place for the turtles to lay their eggs. If you don’t make it here, you can spot adult sea turtles in the port of Argostoli or on boating tours.
Long considered one of the greatest in the world, Myrtos Beach is up there among the unmissable sights on Kefalonia. You arrive to witness waters of unfathomable blue and smooth white rocks beneath your feet (have suitable footwear, as there is no sand). The view from the summit, as you wind downwards towards that eagerly awaited dip, is breathtaking. Stop along the way for the perfect shot. There are umbrellas and sunbeds available to rent as well as a snack bar.
For a truly unforgettable experience, attend a concert or event among the stalagmites and stalactites of Drogarati Cave. The acoustics of this curious landmark create perfect amplification for the music of the orchestra – which is a good thing, as the “venue” can host crowds of up to 500 people. If no events are scheduled while you’re visiting, come anyway to admire a unique Greek natural wonder that is estimated to have formed 100 million years ago.
The highest point on the Ionian Islands is Mount Ainos, notable for its thick coat of fir trees. So concentrated – and imposing – are these that the landmark was christened Monte Nero (Black Mountain) by the Venetians. There are trails through the deep green for nature lovers and hikers of all levels, and Ainos is covered with hundreds of flowers and plants. If you’re really lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of the semi-wild horses that inhabit this place.
Photographers and nature lovers need to join a boat trip to Melissani Cave – ideally to arrive at midday, floating in via a small tunnel, when the sun is right above and the whole spectacle is illuminated. How, you ask, if this is a cave? Like sinkholes in Mexico, it is open to the sky and thick with vegetation along the rim above you. Sunlight pouring in creates the illusion that the boats are floating in mid-air. This is a magic place, and, in mythology, it is called the Cave of the Nymphs.