I have worked in the marketing department at Sunvil for a year now and last month I was lucky enough to visit the largest of the Greek Ionian islands, Kefalonia on a familiarisation trip. Prior to working for the company, I already had a great passion for Greece, her islands and ancient history as well as taken holidays in Athens, Corfu, Rhodes, Zakynthos and Santorini. A large part of my working week involves updating content and images for the Greece pages on our website or putting together promotional email newsletters, so I’m very familiar with the names of the various resorts and properties on Kefalonia as well as the iconic images of cobalt blue seas, pine clad mountains and small colourful fishing boats in the harbour.
Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian islands, west of mainland Greece. It’s marked by sandy coves and contrasting landscapes – dry and rugged along with vast mountains carpeted with cypress trees. Its capital, Argostoli, is built on a hillside overlooking a narrow harbour. Kefalonia’s indented coastline is made up of limestone cliffs, bays and short strips of white sand, like Myrtos Beach in the north. Many beaches are only accessible on foot or via narrow twisting roads.
When the invitation to join my colleagues Claire and Allister on a familiarisation (FAM) trip came through, I was both delighted and apprehensive. Delighted because I was going back to Greece, to explore an island that I only knew through work projects and brochures, apprehensive because after so many years travelling to other parts of the world, would the ‘Greek island magic’ still be there? Would I still have the same emotive feelings from hearing the sounds of the cicadas coming from the olive groves, the clang of bells worn by the goats as they roam nonchalantly across stony roads and barren fields? Would the taste of a real Greek salad drizzled with gold-green olive oil, freshly caught grilled calamari or a bowl of tzatziki in a traditional taverna send me back to a place in time where you would never dream of photographing your food?
Only time would tell, my 06:30am flight was about to board…..
Details of your favourite property and why?
The Waterfront Apartments are located in a quiet street just five minutes’ walk from Fiscardo harbour. The honey-coloured stone facade with its vibrant green doors were a welcome sight set against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. The building was once the oldest and grandest Venetian building in Fiscardo and once inside the simple but comfortable charm of my apartment (No.3), it instantly felt like ‘coming home’.
The ample sized kitchen/dining room was well equipped and the double bedroom was simply but tastefully furnished. A bunch of freshly picked lavender had been placed upon the crisp white sheets of the bed to give that additional welcoming touch. Returning from dinner later that evening in nearby Fiscardo harbour, I was looking forward to my first night’s sleep. I left the bedroom balcony doors open, lit the small lantern on the outside table and drifted off to sleep with the sound of the sea gently lapping against the waterfront below.
Favourite viewpoint and why?
It took us 40 minutes to drive over the winding roads of the mountain range to reach the summit of Mount Aenos, the tallest mountain on Kefalonia, with an elevation of 5,341 ft. Most of the mountain range is designated as a National Park area and is covered with fir and pine forests. Once at the peak and literally above the clouds, the view was simply spectacular.
A few metres below the summit, known as Megalos Soros, are the remains of a once-famous temple to Zeus Ainissos, or Ainios, mentioned in the works of Hesiod. The mountain also supports a variety of wildlife including numerous herds of goats – and we had to stop or swerve on many occasions to avoid hitting them. Local legend has it that the goats of Aenos have gold teeth. Sadly, it’s just another Kefalonian myth, although something in their natural diet does give their teeth a golden glow. Almost as rare as the golden-toothed goats are the wild horses of Aenos. Some claim these are descendants of the wild horses of Thessaly others reckon they are descended from escaped or released livestock, which is the most probable.
On clear days like the day we visited, the views include Aetolia along with the islands of Zakynthos and Ithaca. It was a welcome break from the heat of the midday sun on the villages and beaches below and I’m not sure if the chill I was feeling was due to the high-altitude climate or simply from the breathtaking vistas below.
Favourite activity and why?
I had two favourite activities during my time on Kefalonia. The first being a high-octane trip to the neighbouring island of Ithaca by speedboat. There is a ferry that leaves Fiscardo harbour which is used by many visitors who wish to either take a day-trip or split their holiday between the two islands. As much as taking the ferry between islands on a Greek holiday is as traditional as eating a greek salad, the opportunity to feel like a celebrity speeding across the seas was one not to be missed. The short 15 minute journey was given an additional sense of glamour in that we simply had to step aboard the speedboat directly from the edge of the Waterfront Apartments, where we had been staying.
We soon picked up speed as the shores of Fiscardo disappeared out of view, and it wasn’t long before the cool, calm demeanour of my ‘celebrity experience’ disappeared under several drenchings from the waves of the boat. Damp but exhilarated, we arrived in the tranquil Polis Bay to begin our 2-day tour of Ithaca.
My second favourite activity also involved boats and water, although this was a more leisurely, sedate experience. Melissani Lake Cave is located northwest of Sami on Kefalonia, about 5 km southeast of Agia Efthymia and northeast of the capital, Argostoli. During the first exploration in 1951, an ancient lamp, which is now on display in the Archaeological Museum of Argostoli, was found here. The excavations of 1962 produced few but important relics of a former Minoan culture on Kefalonia. Oil lamps, plates and figures show the god Pan and several nymphs. This is, why the cave is sometimes called Cave of the Nymphs. The lake was named after one of the nymphs, the nymph Melissanthi.
The complete tour which takes approximately 20 minutes, is done by boat, first making a round trip around the first hall with the hole in the roof. Then the boat passes the island on the opposite wall, where a small channel exists. This channel is too narrow to row, but there is a rope at the wall and the gondolier pulls the boat through.
The second hall is a huge cavern with an arched roof, which was also formed by a collapse. This cave is more to the centre of the island, and because of the slope of the hill, the overlying rock is still thick enough. The second chamber has numerous big stalactites and stalagmites and is like being in an underground neolithic cathedral.
Where you ate your best meals?
To be honest all the meals we had during the week, were very, very good. From the lamb kleftiko at a harbourside restaurant in Fiscardo on the first evening to the simple but ‘oh so tasty’ gyros – a greek pita flatbread stuffed with grilled chicken, salad and tzatziki, eaten on our last evening in Katelios. But for the whole ‘real Greece’ experience it had to be dinner at Taverna Karavomilos. Located next to Karavomilos Lake and directly on the beach with views of Sami, this had all the elements of the perfect Greek dining experience.
Primarily a fish & seafood restaurant (which is pretty much most of the restaurants on the Greek islands) and with many of the waiters being local fishermen, we were expecting great things from this well recommended taverna. We arrived just as it was getting dark and the tables in the garden next to the beach were lit with small lanterns. Even the large fish heads with their yellow painted eyes, stuck to the trees didn’t distract from the charm of this waterside delight.
Many of us have taken holidays to Greece and I’m sure we all have fond memories of sitting outside on a warm evening with the aroma of hot coals and grilled meat or fish wafting from the kitchens of a local taverna. As soon as the food arrived, memories of past holidays came flooding back. Our meze consisted of grilled calamari and large succulent prawns, grilled tuna steaks, courgette and aubergine batons in a light, crisp batter, saganaki (fried feta cheese with honey), creamy tzatziki , greek salad and chips! To accompany the feast that lay before us we were served glasses of fresh lemon juice sweetened with a little sugar and the customary glass of ouzo. The sound of expectant chatter soon turned to a contented silence with only the sound of knives and forks on plates and the sea in the background. Insisting that none of us could eat another mouthful, the arrival of bowls of greek yoghurt with a sour cherry compote, courtesy of our hosts, we devoured our desserts without hesitation and in continued silence.
If you’re in Kefalonia this summer and are near Karavomilos, I would personally recommend this lovely taverna. If you’re after good fresh ingredients, locally caught fish, simply but carefully cooked, in a sociable atmosphere and at a very reasonable price then you won’t be disappointed. I would suggest booking a table later in the evening, around 9pm, as that’s when the locals tend to sit down for dinner and you really will get the local dining experience. Oh, and if you want the 100% real Greek experience, on Wednesday evenings they have live Greek music and dancing!
What were the highlights of your trip?
My love affair with Greece had been rekindled! The whole trip had bought back so many happy memories of holidays to Greece accompanied by new sights and sensations. I really cannot recall a similar trip where travelling across an island, at every turn you’re greeted by a stunning vista – from the majestic mountain landscapes adorned with their spear-like cypress forests, the dazzling blue seascapes fringed with white sand & pebble beaches or the vibrant garlands of bougainvillea trailing across balconies and walls. My highlights were simply the colours, the smells (the jasmine, oregano, pine forests, the sea) and new memories.
General feel of the area?
My trip to Kefalonia was really rewarding, especially as it was my first visit. The island has remained remarkably unspoiled and taking a holiday here can feel like you’ve stumbled upon some kind of secret. The island boasts a contrast of landscapes and scenery from Fiscardo in the north with its South of France cosmopolitan vibe, sleepy Agia Efimia on the north-east to the wooded landscape of the imposing Mount Aenos in the south. Its villages and resorts across the island have something for all ages, whether you’re an experienced Grecophile or someone who is tempted by the photogenic images of vibrant blue seas and tranquil villages, to experience Greek island life and the real Greece for the first time.
Sunvil has a range of holidays to Kefalonia between May and October. Outside these months, temperatures drop, rain comes, things quieten down and many of the bars and tavernas begin to go into hibernation mode. August is the hottest month, but if you can get away in May or hold out until September or even October, you’ll find less crowded beaches, more reasonable mid-20C temperatures but still a warm welcome.
Written by Jonathan Lewis, Sunvil marketing