Our expert travel writer, Kerry Christiani, has created a hassle free guide to Kefalonia to make your holiday an enjoyable one!
As anyone who has ever swooned over the scenery in the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin knows, Kefalonia is gorgeous – and it looks even better in real life. On this vast, mountainous Ionian Island, pine-cloaked heights and wild cliffs plunge down to white-sand beaches and coves scattered like horseshoes in a flint-blue sea. But the island has not let its cinematic beauty and brush with fame go to its head.
Kefalonia has successfully sidestepped the worst excesses of tourism and resorts remain low rise and low-key – whether you opt for sandy southern bays like Lassi, Lourdas and Skala, or ruggedly romantic northern coves near Fiskardo and Assos. Days unfold here in relaxed Greek fashion, with lazy beach mornings and drawn-out taverna lunches. Siga, siga (slowly, slowly), as the islanders would say.
When to go
Skip late July and August if you can, as temperatures and room rates are highest during these peak months. Resorts are less crowded and the weather hovers pleasantly in the twenties in May to June and September. August is festival month with a host of music, folk and wine celebrations held across the island.
Book in the early or late season for the best deals. Spring and autumn are ideal for fragrant mountain walks and you will have the beaches virtually to yourself. Winters are cool and rainy and nearly everywhere closes.
Getting the best deal
School holidays aside, there are good deals to be had throughout the season (Easter to September) on Kefalonia. Prices plunge due to competition in the low-season months when you might be able to snap up last-minute deals. Booking low-cost flights well ahead is advisable, as is pre-booking car hire.
It is well worth applying for the free EHIC card if you are a UK resident, which entitles you to emergency health care. Bear in mind, though, that the card is no substitute for comprehensive travel insurance covering routine medical care, theft, damage, loss and more. No vaccinations are required, but be sure to pack a high-factor sunscreen and bug spray.
Packing and Baggage
Avoid getting stung for excess baggage by checking the weight of your cases beforehand, or go light with hand luggage only. There is no need to pack a great deal for Kefalonia’s mild climes – light layers, swimsuits and shorts are perfect. Squeeze in essentials like sunscreen, mosquito repellent and batteries, which are more expensive to by locally than in the UK.
Getting to airport
Flights to Kefalonia run from Easter to roughly mid-/late September and grind to a halt in winter. In season, there are frequent connections from UK airports including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Cardiff. Major operators include Fly Thomas Cook, Thomson Airways and low-cost carrier easyJet.
Surviving the airport
For a hassle-free journey to the airport, consider taking public transport (National Express run coaches to most major UK airports) or pre-booking airport parking. Queues are to be expected at the big airports during peak holiday times – allow ample time or fly from a smaller regional airport.
Kefalonia airport sits 9km south of the capital, Argostoli, and the ride into town takes around 10 minutes. There are no public bus connections between the airport and centre, but shuttles trundle to island resorts; you can prebook yours with online companies including ResortHoppa, Skyblue, Sun Transfers and Airport Transfers. A taxi might be cheaper if there are several of you. For more flexibility, hire a car – you will find big-name operators such as Hertz, Avis and Budget at the airport.
Once you are there
Lined with Venetian mansions in pretty pastels, Fiskardo harbour takes on watercolour dreaminess in the softening light. Watch the sun set over an aperitif and big views by the waterfront. A mooch around the resort’s flower-draped lanes works up an appetite for dinner. As the bay starts to twinkle, choose a table at a sea-facing terrace to try specialities like Kefalonian meat pie and slow-cooked rabbit stifado.
Just a short hop from the airport, the seafront capital Argostoli has a good buzz and an untouristy feel. Follow the lead of locals and begin your evening with a volta (stroll) along the palm-fringed promenade and drinks on the bar-rimmed main square, Platia Vallianou. For an authentic Greek night out, hit one of the ouzeries, humble cafes serving ouzo and meze, appetizers like garlicky aubergines, feta and olives.
Practical considerations for planning an itinerary
Kefalonia may be an island but it is a big one and you can’t see it all in one go. Anyway, in summer it is simply too hot to rush and you should factor in down-time for lazing on the beach or by a poolside.
KTEL buses shuttle between the towns and resorts. While they are reasonably cheap and efficient, you will usually be tied down to a couple of connections a day and journey times are significantly longer than by car. Buses are most practical for short hops, for instance the 10-minute ride from Argostoli to Lassi. For timetable and fare details, see the Kefalonia website. To explore the island at your own speed, it is really worth hiring a car, though bear in mind that the serpentine, cliff-hugging roads of the north are not for the faint hearted. Some of the loveliest coves can only be reached from the sea and boat trips to hidden bays and caves are offered in most resorts.
Costs in Kefalonia are pretty much in line with other Greek islands. The euro inevitably pushed prices up but savvy locals have been dropping their prices of late to draw custom and remain competitive. Given the miles of coastline it may come as a surprise that fresh fish is one of the expensive menu items and is often priced per kilo.
Kefalonia is justifiably praised for its beaches, which are among Greece’s finest. If you like your beaches pine backed and silky soft, base yourself in the south, where curving bays such as those in Lassi, Lourdas, Skala and Lixouri are lapped by shallow, turquoise water. These are the island’s most popular resorts, with a good mix of hotels, tavernas, watersports and a smattering of upbeat – but never brash – nightlife. Trapezaki is perhaps the quietest and quaintest of the south-coast bunch.
You will see a completely different side to the island if you base yourself in the more remote, peaceful north. Here hairpin bends swing down to pebble coves and a crystal-clear sea. The coastline’s hidden sea caves and fjord-like inlets are best explored by kayak. Fiskardo, fashionable among yachties, the postcard village of Assos and the whitewashed harbour of Sami are all great choices. Most breathtaking of all is the dazzling white crescent of Myrtos, often ranked among the world’s best beaches, though the sea can be too rough for swimming. Arguably just as lovely is hard-to-reach Petani on the west coast, still something of a local secret.
Heading inland are geological highlights such as the startlingly blue underground lake of Melissani and the cathedral-like Drogarati cave, a forest of stalagmites and stalactites. Minor roads weave through the mountainous interior, past tiny villages and goat herds, up to the silent heights of 1628m Mount Ainos, Kefalonia’s highest peak. From the summit you can make out the coast of neighbouring islands like Corfu, Zakynthos and Ithaka. Tie in a visit to the hermit’s cave at Agios Gerasimos monastery (dress modestly) with a free tasting at the nearby Robola winery, whose vines produce Kefalonia’s noble whites.
Kefalonia Hassle Free – the map
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Kefalonia’s small, single-terminal airport has limited facilities, with a cafe-bar and little else. That said you still need to allow enough time to clear check-in and security in summer when queues can be an issue. Avoid paying silly prices by bringing your own drinks and snacks.
For a lingering taste of Kefalonia, take home like Robala wine, honeyed muscat and almond sweets. All Kefalonia helps you recreate island recipes at home, from rabbit stifado to meat pie.
Rekindle your holiday memories by sharing your snapshots and stories. You can organise your favourite holiday snaps in albums on Facebook , TwitPic and Photobox. Or glean feedback from fellow photographers by joining the Kefalonia Flickr group.
- Visit Greece http://www.visitgreece.gr
- Agni http://www.agni.gr
- Just Kefalonia http://www.justkefalonia.co.uk
- Ionian Islands http://www.ionian-islands.com
- Greeka http://www.greeka.com
- Holiday Weather http://www.holiday-weather.com/kefalonia
Other useful sources of information
Foreign and Commonwealth Office Greece advice page: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/europe/greece
Simonseeks has some inspiring content on Kefalonia: http://www.simonseeks.com/search/apachesolr_search/kefalonia?as_q=kefalonia
Visit these Kefalonia forums for tips from locals, expats and fellow travellers: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowForum-g189457-i1615-Cephalonia_Ionian_Islands.html; http://www.holiday-truth.com/resortreport.php?region=Kefalonia; http://forum.holidaywatchdog.com/Greece-Kefalonia-Forum-M-2.html; http://www.greeka.com/forum/forum14.html