Kefalonia: Magical Greek Island
Mythical Paradise Islands of Kefalonia and Ithaca
Kefalonia is the largest of the seven Ionian Islands, situated to the west of mainland Greece. Lying only 2 miles off its north eastern coast is the much smaller, but highly significant island of mythology, Ithaca.
Having spent a special week near the northern fishing port of Fiskardo, it was truly wonderful to find a tourist destination that hadn't been spoilt by the addition of high-rise hotels and fast food eateries. But instead, the locals continued with their small boat fishing, as well as olive and goat farming - and even some vine growing and wine making.
Obviously, being a desirable holiday venue, it is amazing that the mountainsides remain unscarred, with only small, simple and tastefully built villas sparsely dotted around. Kefalonia is a 'magical island', and here is what I found on my travels.
All photographs © Rob Hemphill
Published on 17 Oct 2012
Selected as Lens of the Day on 18 Oct 2012
Myrtos Beach - Cobalt blue sea
It is probably best known for a beach scene in the film Captain Corelli's Mandolin filmed on the island in 2001. [See the video]
The many colors of blue, from the sky down through the water, have one in awe when viewing from this spot. The surrounding area is totally unspoilt. In fact, only when one is actually swimming in the sea, if one turns toward the horizon, a magnificent purple haze stretching right across the sea can be seen.
Experience From a Previous Visit...
...meant I had to return one day!
It was in 2010 when I first came to Kefalonia (Cefalonia), and experienced the charm and beauty of this small Mediterranean island. Probably not the charm that many would associate with a Greek island, but to a keen photographer, there were photo opportunities everywhere.
From pretty beaches and attractive coves, to peaceful villages, stunning scenery and small fishing harbours, everywhere had a postcard view. The people are friendly and keep themselves to themselves. I would guess that most of the population make their living from tourism in one way or another, but it is not that noticeable - which is lovely.
On this first visit, beaches were on the photo menu - as Kefalonia has so many really beautiful ones, so I set about trying to visit those that had been recommended to me by locals. And, do they have great beaches? Yes, they most certainly do. I'll try and include a few here!
Guides To Kefalonia
Fiskardo - Harbour Village & Port
The town of Fiskardo is situated on the northernmost part of the island. As a port, there are regular ferries to neighbouring Lefkada (Lefkas) and Ithaca, as well as to mainland Greece itself. The coast around Fiskardo is predominantly rocky with several pebble-beached inlets and coves.
Fiscardo is unique as it was one of the only places on Kefalonia that was left virtually undamaged during the great earthquake of 1953, which ruined most of the historic buildings on the island.
The town takes on a very different perspective at night as the lights from the old buildings, bars and restaurants combine to provide that magical Mediterranean atmosphere we all love. Of all the villages on Kefalonia, Fiscardo has a totally unique ambience, especially on a summer evening.
Images of FiskardoClick thumbnail to view full-size
Ever Visited Any of the Greek Islands?
Have you ever visited any of the Greek islands?
Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, John Hurt and Christian Bale star in this light-hearted film set in Kefalonia, based on the novel by Louis de Bernieres..
An unlikely romance ensues when Captain Antonio Corelli, the commander of an invading Italian army, with a jolly personality (Nicholas Cage), meets Pelagia , a beautiful but tempestuous Greek woman (Penelope Cruz).
Corelli's passion for playing the mandolin and singing with his battery of musical troops have the gentle effect of softening the head-strong Pelagia, whose fiance Mandras, (Christian Bale) heads off to war on the mainland.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin - "Heil Puccini!" - On Myrtos Beach
Romantic & beautiful village
This small, secluded village is situated a few miles north of Myrtos beach on the Assos peninsular. The village is nestled into the horseshoe shaped harbour and surrounded by dramatic coastal scenery of cypress forest hillsides and a cobalt blue sea.
The remains of an ancient Venetian fortress situated high up on the peninsular dominates the area. A well designed wide walkway allows the visitor to walk from the village up to the ruins, where spectacular aerial views can be experienced.
This rustic village has only about 100 inhabitants, which swells during the summer tourist months. Many people come to learn about the existence of Venetian architecture prior to the 1953 earthquake, as examples can be found in the national heritage fortress.
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A local man is seen setting out his wares at a scenic spot near to Assos beach, hoping that the casual visitor will buy. The goods for sale include fruit, vegetables and especially honey.
The terraced hillsides sloping above Assos used to be cultivated with cereal crops and grapes before the 1953 earthquake. However, these have long been abandoned, and now lie idle with perhaps the odd goat to be seen grazing among the undergrowth and olive trees.
Fresh fish is caught daily and appears on most menus wherever one eats, although the fishing fleets around the island have diminished in size. Tourism is by far the most important form of revenue with the majority of Kefalonians being employed in related industries.
Where's Your Base? - On holiday
Where would you want to stay while on holiday?
Journey To Our Perfect Villa
Along steep, winding roads
Having arrived at the airport in the dark, we had no idea where exactly our villa was, apart from that we had a 50 kilometre drive along narrow, twisty roads to get to the village. What made this exciting was that we had no idea what landmarks and scenery we were passing (actually passed Myrtos beach and Assos).
We encountered a small group of goats lying in the middle of the road, obviously enjoying the radiated warmth from the tarmac after a lovely blue-skied, hot day. They clearly knew that the traffic - all one car of it - would stop in time, and not run them over. In fact, they were very beligerant at having to move at all.
When we arrived at our destination, we had discovered a dream villa with a lovely owner, who made us very welcome. But, we still had no idea what views we might have - or even if we had one at all!
In a sleepy little ancient village
This was our villa facing towards the island of Lefkada (Lefkas) to the north and Ithaca to the east (see photo below). To wake up and have the sun blazing through the window with the amazing backdrop of Ithaca seemed so surreal - we were only 2 miles from this famous island of mythology.
We soon started talking about the stories of Homer's Odyssey, about Cyclops and Zeus, Athena and Penelope, and that Odysseus was helped to get back to Ithaca by the Phaeacians. The chatting then slowed down, as we all struggled to remember the mythical details. Have a look at Odysseus. But we still couldn't believe that we were a stones throw from this great island - we had to visit it by boat - and we did the very next day.
Our pretty location meant that we had access to so many gorgeous beaches, harbours and villages, and could find a wealth of attractive restaurants with tables only 3 feet from the sea all within a few miles of our villa. We had found somewhere truly wonderful, and just what my camera ordered!
Homer and the Odyssey
Why not have a good read and delve into the mythological tales of Homer, especially if you ever plan to visit this extraordinary part of the world.
Seeing where some of the tales are based made me hungry for information, and to think that Odysseus came from where I've just been, oh wow!
View of Ithaca
Photo: Â© 2012 Rob Hemphill
Classic Recipes from Kefalonia
Tassia Dendrinou's book, introduces Greek cuisine with a special feature on Kefalonia, its natural produce and local recipes. There are also numerous photographs of the island, taken by photographer Michael Kouvidis.
In my opinion cooking, apart from some basic rules, is all about love, imagination and soul. To me, a home is not a place filled with beautiful furniture and rich carpets, it is a place that is filled with the aromas of cooked food or baked sweets, especially on a holiday, a place where people gather around the fireplace or the table," says Tassia Dendrinou.
With her love of cooking and for the people who visited their tavern, she has this to say, "Fiskardo is, to me, the most beautiful and picturesque place in the whole world. It has the rare advantage of combining mountain and sea. With God's blessing, it had the fortune to remain intact after the earthquake in 1953. It boasts a rare natural harbor. During the summer months it combines two worlds: luxury in all its glory and natural beauty. I hope that this special feature on Fiskardo will make you love this place and those of you who did not have the fortune of visiting it will be tempted to do so as soon as possible."
Located 5 km SE of Agia Efimia
This underground lake was a great find, as it wasn't too well signposted. But as we had done our homework on it beforehand, it clearly was somewhere we wanted to visit.
Melissani, in Greek mythology, was the cave of the nymphs. The cave features a lake that is surrounded by trees, and during an earthquake over 5,000 years ago, the roof of the cave collapsed inwards leaving a gaping hole.
If one visits this lake when the sun is overhead and shining directly into the deep pool (about 39 m or 128 ft), a magnificent light cobalt blue can be witnessed in the water. The waters in the lake are brackish, being a mix of sea water and clean rain water. But how can this be and what's the geology?
In 1959, following dye tracing experiments, the water from the Katavothres on the other side of the island reappears in this lake - under the island. The cave is approximately 500 metres from the sea, with the water level being a metre higher than sea level. On one side of the cave, the brackish water rises up from the deep system and flows gently to the other end of the cave, and finally flowing through narrow crevices into the sea.
The stalactites in the cave are between 16,000 and 20,000 years old.
Visitors can board a few small boats to be rowed round the lake and experience the impressive acoustics in one of the chambers - yes, our oarsman started signing opera, and very good he was. It was an experience to be in the presence of the Nymphs.