Greece's islands are world renowned for their beauty. Santorini, in particular, has built a substantial reputation with its whitewashed cliffside villages and stunning sunsets. But there are a whole host of other islands where one can spend an idyllic vacation. A majority of the Greek islands are located in the Aegean sea on the eastern side of the country. However, our trips are focused on those islands in the Ionian, which is located on the western side and closer to my in-law's home. This past summer, our chosen escape was to the island of Kefalonia, where we spent three days exploring all that the island has to offer.
Where to Stay
Being a relatively large island, where you choose to stay on Kefalonia is an important first step to planning your trip. There are several towns to choose from, each having their own pluses and minuses. We stayed in Argostoli, the island's capital and largest town. It isn't the most picturesque but centrally located. Unless you're looking to explore every corner of the island, you may prefer the smaller towns of Sami, to the east, Asos, to the north, or Lixouri, to the west. If you're looking to stay within walking distance of a beach, Skala, on the east side of the island, or resorts near Xi Beach, to the west, are excellent options.
The sandy beach in Skala
We prefer to book our hotels in town and drive to the beach during the day. As is the case with most mediterranean countries, town centers come to life once the sun sets and the temperatures drop, making for lovely evening strolls after a good dinner.
In addition, most maps don't convey an island's topography and what at first may look like an easy 20 minute drive could turn out to be a nerve wracking expedition up and down narrow mountainside roads, which is no fun, particularly at night.
The Town of Asos
Sami and the Cave of Melissani
There are a number of activities unique to the island that are worth experiencing. A short drive from the town of Sami is the cave of Melissani. While the boat tour of the cave only lasts ten minutes and you'll likely wait in line for an hour, we found the experience to be well worth it. Note that noontime, when the sun shines directly above the cave's opening, is the best time to visit.
Lixouri and Petani Beach
Kefalonia is home to some incredibly picturesque white pebble beaches. While Myrtos beach receives the most acclaim, we prefer Petani beach on the western coast. The water is pristine and there are two restaurants on site where one can enjoy lunch, an afternoon coffee, or dinner. The town of Lixouri is a short drive away, has a nice town center and a number of hotels to choose from.
Also a short drive from Lixouri is Xi beach. Its unique and appealing feature is that it sits on clay. Digging in the beach's shallow waters, you can gather a handful of wet clay and indulge in an impromptu mud bath.
Another plus is the abundant number of sun loungers available for rent. Note that prices will vary as you move along the beach. So, if price is an issue, be sure to shop around before you settle on a spot.
Xi Beach Clay
If you love "wild beaches", you'll want to visit the coastline near Agia Effimia. Unlike Xi, Myrtos, and Petani beach, which are "organized", the coastline road that runs from the town of Sami to Agia Effimia, is flanked by small rocky coves.
As you drive along the coastline looking for the perfect cove, don't despair if at first you find them all to be occupied by other swimmers. You can always return between the hours of 2pm and 6pm, when many Greeks enjoy a late lunch and afternoon nap. Another option is to keep an eye out for narrow gravel pathways leading from the road down to the water. These pathways sometimes lead to less visible and thus unoccupied coves. They will be more difficult to access and require some degree of agility. But the reward, as we learned, is a swim in your own private oasis.
A small hidden cove near Agia Effimia
Where and What to Eat
Every island and region has certain foods that are proper to that area. During our stay in Kefalonia, two local foods that we enjoyed were Kefalonian meat pie and a local hard and salty Kefalonian cheese.
The island is also home to the Robola grape, a wonderful Greek white wine varietal. While our trip didn't allow for time to tour the local wineries, oenophiles should definitely consider a stop at the Gentilini Winery & Vineyard and other producers of Robola during their visit.
Fried peppers, pickled anchovies, "tomato balls",
and hard salty Kefalonian cheese at Kyani Akti
Where to eat is highly dependent on one's location on the island. If staying in or near the town of Argostoli, there are two restaurants, which offer wonderful food and beautiful views. The first is the dockside restaurant Kyani Akti. The menu is on the pricier side but the food is very good and the patio on the dock overlooking the water is lovely in the evening.
View from the dock patio at Kyani Akti
Just as lovely is Il Borgo, offering plush views and a charming pergola covered patio. The menu includes Kefalonian meat pie and other traditional dishes like moussaka and pickled octopus. The restaurant is quite popular so best to make a reservation.
View from the patio at Il Borgo
Kefalonian Meat Pie at Il Borgo
Pickled Octopus at Il Borgo
With so much to offer, it's no surprise that the island of Kefalonia is a top vacation destination for Greeks and non-Greeks alike. As we rode the ferry back to the mainland, we enjoyed a sunset that was so stunning, it was as if the island was wishing us a memorable farewell.