of the Ionian Islands, Kefalonia has a land mass of 728 sq.km and
254 km of coastline. Its population is over 32,000. It is 56 nautical
miles from Patras. Its Capital is Argostoli, and
its main port, Sami. The highest point is Mt Enos (1627m).
This is a large island and its easy to escape
the tourists but it fills up in summer! Its biggest drawbacks are long
distances between places of merit over tortuous mountain roads and the
unfortunate cement architecture from the devastation of the 1953 earthquake.
Kefalonia is a beautiful, rugged and mountainous island with many diverse geological elements–subterranean caves, sandy beaches, unique fir forests.
plays host to loggerhead turtles and the Mediterranean Monk Seal, one
of the 6 rarest animals in the world. Kefalonia has a unique breed of horses. Additionally the island has many species of wild flowers and spice and
produces wonderful wines. The island is especially known for its Robola grape, which produces a lemony dry white wine. New wineries on the island are creating very good Greek wines.
Argostoli, Kefallonoa's Capital and the Lassi Peninsula
Big, busy Argostoli sits on a promatory jutting into Kefalonia's long and narrow bay. The bay's
deep waters making it an ideal port town.
Many boats are dry docked
here in the winter months.
Originally a smugglers' hideaway, it grew
by virtue of the protection from pirates afforded it by the Venetians
into a large warehousing port for the export of raisins.
Its narrow traditonal looking streets were actually destroyed by an earthquake in 1953. Post-quake
Argostoli received lots of financial help from Kefalonians living abroad
and was rebuilt as traditionally as possible under the circumstances. Photos of the destruction and rebuilding are housed in the Historical and Folk Museum. It has
a plethora of public buildings grouped around its central square. Platia
Vallianou and two of its famous bell towers have been rebuilt.
The Archeological Museum on George Vergoti St. which
runs parallel to the harbor, (8:30-3, closed Mon, fee.Tel: 28300) contains
many finds from around Kefalonia. Ivory and gold statues, votive offerings
to Pan from the Cave of Melissani, coins from the ancient city-states
and loads more.
The Historical and Folklore Museum on 12 Ilia
Zervou St. (9-2, closed Sun, fee) is particularly interesting
in light of the hints contained therein as to pre-quake Kefalonia.
Many pictures, maps, furniture, icons, memorabilia as well as
the Venetian's island records are on display.
structure to survive Kefalonia's earthquake intact in Argostoli was the British-built Drapanos Bridge. You can see the bridge from the waterfront.
Once over the bridge, the road passes,
on its way to Sami, via the village of Razata where a dirt road leads
up to the 7th Century BC ancient city of Krani or Paliokastro (old castle). Remains of a Doric Temple to Demeter and lengths of the
Cyclopean walls are to be seen there.
Peninsula on which Argostoli sits has a few sandy beaches, disco bars
and tavernas. It's traditional when visiting Kefallona to hike or bike around this tiny peninsula just north of the city. In its north there are Katavothres or swallow holes.
Geologists poured 150 kilos of green die down the holes to see where the water
emerged and found out fifteen days later across the island near Sami in the cave
lakes of Melissani and Karavomylos.
At the tip
of the peninsula is the Lighthouse of Aghio Theodori, a Doric Rotunda
funded by British High Commissioner Charles Napier. (picture above in the center)
A brisk 15 minute walk inland will
bring visitors to the WW II Memorial to the Italian soldiers who lost
their lives fighting the Nazis. To the south of Argostoli are some wonderful
beaches but commercialized with package tours–Plati Gialos and Makris Gialos.
Here are two of the island's most luxurious hotels–The Mediterranee and the
S. E. of Argostoli, Lavatho and Mt. Ainos
past the overbuilt Piati Gialos and Makris Gialos, the coastal road breaks
free and the village of Minies appears. Minies holds the ruins of a 6th
Century BC Doric Temple. You are in wine country in this area. Continuing
on will bring you to Avithos beach with red sand, and a few amenities
near the village of Svoronata. Just across the water is the islet of Dias.
of the oldest Olive trees on the island may found in the next village
of Domata where one tree can actually hold 20 people squeezed
within is hollow trunk. Olive trees can live a few thousand years.
Left, is the Church of the Virgin with some rather ostentatious
real gold baroque decor.
village of Kourkomelata is just about all new construction and
financed by Kefalonia's wealthy ship owner Mr. Vergotis. The next village Metaxata hosted Lord Byron for a few months while he polished
up Don Juan and pondered his role as a member of the Greek Committee.
the west lies Lakidra, the most important village of the area,
rebuilt largely by French donations. Here were discovered, in the
suburb of Kallithea, near the Church of St. Nikolaous the Aliprantidon four Mycenaean tombs also thought to be by some archeologists the Tomb of Odysseus.
Inland Villages of the Plain of Omalos
North of Metaxata is the
seat of old island administration, the Castle of Aghios Georgos (Open June-Oct, 8:30-7, Sun 8:30-3, closed Mon). This castle spreads extensively over the 320 meter hill and commands a view of
the mountains and surrounding plains. First built by the Byzantines and
then rebuilt after the ousting of the Turks by the Greeks and Venetians
under Nikolas Tsimaras in 1500. It once housed 14,000 souls within its
Just below the Castle is
the one time Byzantine Convent of Aghios Andreas. The earthquake of 1953
shook the walls to reveal 13th century frescoes under the whitewash. The
church is now the Museum of Agh. Andreas Monastery (Mon-Fri, 9-1:30/5-8,
Sat 9-1:30, closed Sun) and houses icons, religious tracts, and
a donation of immensurable value by the Princess Roxanne of Epiros–the
sole of St. Andrew's right foot.
The breadbasket Plain of Omalos lies to the east and the Monastery
of Aghios Gerasimos, the islands patron saint. His bones rest in
a silver reliquary in the small church built over his hermitage. Pilgrims
from all over Greece worship here. The Si.Ro.Ke. winery is just opposite
and sometimes open for wine tasting.
Megas Soros (1628m) is the highest peak in the Ainos Range of mountains
its airs are the most rarified of all the Ionian islands. The Argostoli-Sami
road branches towards its summit and ascends to 1300m and the tourist
pavilion from which you may hike to the top. From here on a clear day
may be seen the whole shebang: The Peloponnese, Corfu, Zakynthos, Lefkada
A unique species of black fir, Abies cefalonica covered
these slopes at one time but due to two major fires and exports nine-tenths have been lost. The trees now form the Mt. Ainos National
Park. The forests were so extensive that ancients called the island Melania or "the Dark." An ancient, almost extinct, breed of wild horses also roams
Just below lies the 8th Century BC Temple
of Aenesian Zeus where still lie the bones of animal sacrifices.
Lixouri and the Paliki Peninsula
From Argostoli, ferries make the trip
across the strait to Lixuri in about half an hour. Lixouri is known for its sense of humor and for being home to the poet and satirist Andreas Laskaratos. Lixuri is now a working community,
the highlight of which is the elegant Iakovatos Mansion. An
icon museum and library, it is one of the few survivors of the earthquake
and offers a revealing look at how beautiful things must have been compared to
what they are today. On the west side of town, its hours are 8-1:30 Mon-Fri,
Some nice local, non built-up beaches
are accessible from the peninsula: Aghios Spyridon, Michalitsata, Lepeda are all sandy. From the village of Mantzavinata a dirt road leads
south to a long stretch of golden sand and Palliki's best known beach
Xi which features umbrellas and tavernas.
Just to its south is the now stationary Monolith of Kounopetra. It used to vibrate before the quake. To the north are the villages of Kaminarata, Delaportata and Damoulinata.
The beach of Petani has nice white sand and almost is deserted. At the
northern tip of the peninsula is beach Aghios Spyridon II.
The South Coast of Kefalonia
There are loads of good
sandy, sheltered beaches to be found here in the lee of Megas Soros including Spartiaand
Pessada. Below Karavados village, Lourdata is the most popular and longest
beach. This beach is also beginning of the Nature Trial, funded by the WWF. A 2.5
hr walk which encompasses most of the island's fauna and passes the
ruined Monastery of St. Francis of Assis founded in 1218.
Kato Kastelios is a small resort with a pretty beach curving along Mounda Bay. Just below Ratzakli village is Potamaki beach and a nesting place for protected
loggerhead turtles. Please leave the turtles to themselves!
The village of Markopoulo,
just inland, is the yearly scene of the appearance of thousands of harmless baby snakes with
small crosses on their heads. The appear at the beginning of August and disappear
into the church by the altar near the silver icon of the Panagia Fidon (Virgin of the Snakes). At least that's what they did before the quake.
Now villagers pick them up to protect them from motorists and gawkers, put
them in glass jars and after the service deposit them within the church, which
was rebuilt in exactly the same spot as before. They disappear just as in
pre-quake days. The unfaithful claim that the church is simply on the reptiles'
migratory route, while the faithful point out that the snakes fail to appear
when the island is in trouble such as the year of the earthquake (1953) and
during the German occupation.
Skala is the biggest resort in
this section of the island with all the amenities but still not too overblown. Inland, above Pastra are the remains of the ancient city of Pronnoi
with little to be seen. Close by, however, in 1992, at the hamlet of Tzanata,
archeologists discovered the main contender to the Tomb of Odysseus status deep below (7m) a vineyard. These 12th Century BC finds are called the most
important ancient tombs in western Greece. There were bones, sigil's and
gold jewelry. Unfortunately they can't be viewed, since they are all under study at the University of
From Tzanata the road
descends through the Poros gap to Poros where ferries link to Kilini
on the Peloponnese. This was originally the port of the ancient town of Pronnoi.
Poros has a beach and is under development.
The Port of Sami and Northern Kefalonia
Sami is a utilitarian port
town with its own beach and campsite but little else in the way of interest. Ferry traffic goes from Sami to Patras, Corfu and Italy.
People often stay overnight here because the nearby caves and beaches are worth a visit. Four km east is one of the nicer beaches of the eastern coast: Andisamos. Because it has only has a small cantina, Andisamos keeps the crowds at bay. It's in a lovely green setting backed by hills.
is near the village of Chaliotata and its magnificent Dragarati
Cave (open dawn-dusk, fee), which has
many orange and yellow stalactites and stalagmites. One of its hollows is so big and
the acoustics so good that opera singer Maria Callas preformed a concert
here and occasionally concerts are still held.
more expensive, prettier and better cave is the Purple Cave or Melissani Cave,
a half hour walk from Sami. This is the one connected to the swallow
holes across the island and thought by some to be the Cavern of the
Nymphs referred to by Homer. This subterranean cave-lake has vivid blue waters in a channel leading to the enclosed section where the nymph Melissani drowned herself when she was spurned by Pan. Sunlight filters down through a hole
in the roof making it rather attractive.
are a variety of other undeveloped caves available to spelunkers in
the Sami area but are dangerous to the untrained. Angela cave near Poulata is reputed to be the best.
Evfimia is a small coastal village with two hotels at the base of
Kefalonia's northern most appendage and where ferries to Ithika and
Stakes may be boarded. There are some decent pebble beaches off the
road from Sami heading into town. Above it, and spared by the quake,
is the traditional village of Drakopoulata. Close by are other
traditional villages clinging to the slopes of Mt. Agh. Dinati. The
soil has a particularly high mica content and causes the teeth of grazing
goats to turn silver in color.
Up the Coast to Mytros, Assos and Fiskardo
From Argostoli the road north towards
the island's tip reveals one beautiful scene after another. Aghia Kiriaki has the first good beach, below the village of Zola, and sits at
the elbow joint linking the Paliki peninsula to the rest of the island.
Eight km on, Myrtos Bay has a good pebble beach, a pricey cafe and sunbeds
but no afternoon shade. Its three km below the village of Divarata. Perhaps the best view of Myrtos for photographic purposes is along the road north to Fiskardo. From that high vantage point, you can admire the white sand, blue water and tall limestone cliffs of Myrtos.
Assos is perhaps the prettiest spot on the island and here were filmed many
of the sunset scenes from the movie Captain Corelli's Mandolin. The whitewashed and pastel houses of Assos straddle the isthmus of a peninsula. This
tiny fishing village of 85 residents gets overwhelmed in season and the reasons
are obvious. It sits at the bottom of a steep and winding road tucked in the
cranny of the isthmus and a a huge rock topped by a Venetian castle. No beaches
exist but there are small coves accusable by boat. The Castle may be reached after a serious climb but is worth it for
the views. A car can get you up as well. The village was destroyed in the
earthquake but rebuilt by French funds which did a pretty good job in keeping
with its natural surroundings. At night when the day trippers leave, it returns
to its small Greek fishing village persona, although many yachties may berth
there for overnights. The castle is in a state of ruin but quite a bit remains.
During WWII, 1,500 Italian troops were lined up and shot by the Nazis here.
The road continues north to
Cape Ather and passes several villages on the way to picturesque
Fiskardo, (pop 100) which was
spared the earthquakes wrath but has turned into a trendy over-hyped tourist
attraction with little charm in season. There are one or two shingle beaches
to either side but better ask the way. There are many over priced tourist
shops. Off season is the time to visit Fiskardo, not July or June.
Drinking and Dining
In Argostoli, the
areas around the fruit market by the harbor have several good unpretentious
tavernas: Taverna Diana, Patsoura and Tzivas near the fruit market. Near the Folklore Museum are two garden restaurants
with excellent food and traditional specialties: O Mezes and Sto Psito.
In Platia Vallianou, the central square of Argostoli, El Greco, Kefalos and Caliva are dependable.
Most of the nightlife is in Argostoli.
Some of the oldest tool and
artifact discoveries in all of Greece have been discovered on Kefalonia.
In Fiskardo at the northern most tip of the island in particular, items
over 50,000 years old have been retrieved. Somewhat later inhabitants
seem related to the elusive Pelasgians who also occupied parts
of Sicily, Epirus and other Aegean islands long before recorded history.
Many of the skulls found on Kefalonia show death by violent means.
was introduced by the Achaeans via the Peloponnese in the 14th C BC.
The main city seems to have been Krani near Argostoli. A major Mycenaean
tomb has been discovered near Poros just across from Ithika and archeologists
are hoping to discover the Palace or Tomb of Odysseus there.
Homer never refers to Kefalonia however, and many think that the island
was part of the Kingdom of Odysseus and therefore known as part of Ithika.
Herodotus and Thucydides
make first written reference to Kefalonia and its 4 independent city-states
of Sami, Pali, Krani and Pronnoi all of which opposed Athens and were
allied with Corinth.
The Byzantine period
was good for Kefalonia, despite many piratical incursions from Sicily
and as far away as Spain. The Normans under Duke Robert Guiscard
unsuccessfully attempted to rest control of Kefalonia from the Byzantines
but were rebuffed. The Duke died of fever in the current yacht haven of Fiskardo, which is actually
named after him, but Grecianized. He was the terror of his day who sacked Rome and made emperors and kings quake in fear.
The next 760 years
found Kefalonia a victim of the machinations of the Normans, The Vatican
and the Venetians who were the most successful. Their Pirate-Robber-Count
Matteo Orsini founded a particularly heinous dynasty at the end
of the 13th Century.
In 1483 the expanding
Turkish Empire captured Kefalonia only to lose it again in 1504 to
the Venetians and their Spanish allies under Gran Capitan Gonzalo Fernandez
de Cordoba who captured the the fort of Aghios Georgos and slaughtered
the Turkish garrison. After repairing the fortress the nearby town became
the Venetian capital but was destroyed and later abandoned after the
earthquake of 1636. Argostoli became the capital in 1759.
The nascent Greek
War for Independence brought Lord Byron to Kefalonia in 1823
as an agent for the London based Greek Committee. He subsequently went
to Messolonghi to lead troops against the Turk but was smitten by fever
and died. Greeks love Lord Byron and name many of their children 'Vyron'.
Even a whole neighborhood in Athens (Vyronas) is named after
The British occupied
Kefalonia and the Ionian islands for many years after the Turkish withdrawal
and when in 1849 the Kefalonians revolted and demanded union with Greece.
In 1943, during WW
II, upon Italy's surrendered to the Allies, the occupying Italian Acqui
Division joined the Kefalonian Greeks in fighting the Nazis and for
eight days fought off the invasion until all were subsequently massacred
in mass executions ordered by The Furher himself. Greeks call them the Martyrs of Keffalonia. Their bodies were burned to hide the evidence
but estimates are that between 5 000 and 10,000 Italian soldiers were
For 5 days in August
1953 Kefalonia was rocked by a series of earthquakes. In all, 113 tremors turned
almost all of Kefalonias' 350 villages and towns into rubble with the
force of 60 Atomic bombs emanating from the very first quake. Europe
rallied, as did the many Kefalonians who lived abroad and money came
pouring in to help the survivors and to rebuild.