Kefalonia’s economy is primarily based upon a combination of local agricultural production – mainly olive oil – fishery and tourism, although the island’s notoriety as a tourist destination did not occur until the mid-1990s.
Kefalonia is also known as the backdrop for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, a novel by
Louis de Bernières, set during and after the Italian and German occupation of Kefalonia during the Second World War that features the story of the assassination of the Italian troops who refused to surrender to the Germans in September 1943 and shares the story of the occupied Greeks, the resistance movement and the murder of many of the Italian Acqui Division who refused to disarm to the Germans after the Italian government agreed to cooperate with the Allies. The book was later turned into a film, featuring Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz, and was shot mainly in the costal port town of Sami, which was recreated to look like pre-earthquake 1940s’ Argostoli.
The island is most noted for its beautiful rural landscape, largely green and mountainous, with beautiful unspoiled beaches. Because of the island’s late introduction to tourism, Kefalonia hasn’t seen the same level of overdevelopment that has occurred elsewhere in Greece and now Kefalonia is gaining a reputation for being a warm and welcoming place for travelers seeking a relaxed destination to spend their holidays. The island is a perfect travel destination for anyone interested in sightseeing – with many museums and historical sites – beachcombing – with exquisite beaches available throughout the island – or just chillaxing, getting into a holiday groove, while enjoying Kefalonia’s friendly laid-back hospitality.
VILLA EROS, OLD SKALA AND SKALA BEACH RESORT
In exploring Old Skala, you will discover the remains of the original church, the large mechanical olive press and the vestiges of many old houses, buildings and agricultural terracing that were part of the original village, but tragically destroyed in the 1953 earthquake when all the remaining local inhabitants evacuated relocated to what is now the beach side resort of Skala. The local shepherd, who must have been a young boy at the time of the quake, can often be seen standing near the old church looking after his herd and pondering out to sea. Characteristic of all Kefalonia, he always has a smile and a wave for passersby.
Villa Eros is located on the east side of Old Skala, at the end of the concrete road, just adjacent to some of the remains of agricultural terracing that grew and provided food crops for the locals and Kefalonians from other villages alike. There are several lovely walks just beyond Villa Eros that show just how populated and productive the old village must have been.
In August, every year, the remaining quake survivors and their descendants commemorate the memory of the lost villagers with a festival up in Old Skala with an open pit barbeque and ceremony overseen by the local Greek Orthodox Church. The celebration goes on well into the night and has been known to cause the odd “traffic jam” with all the local vehicles parking and vying to get as close to the action as possible!
The resort of Skala is known for its lovely beaches and several of the local hotels and beach bars rent sun-loungers and umbrellas for daily hire, also offering snack lunch and beverages on the beach, served directly to you on the beach. Some of the Skala beach area can be quite pebbly upon entry to the sea. You can find “swimshoes” to purchase at several of the local shops which make it easier to get in and out of the sea.
Along the seafront you will find several upscale restaurants, traditional tavernas and bars, all sporting a spectacular sea view, overlooking the Ionian, the Peloponnese Peninsula and Zakynthos (Zante). If you are interested in a day-trip to Zante, Ithaca or Fiscardo, you will find Captain Vangelis’ Cruises booking and information area located next to The Anassa Hotel. Water sports, jet ski and small boat and pedallo hire is available from Dolphin Ski Club which is located on the beachfront, as well.
On the main “high” street, and the surrounding small side-streets, leading down to the beach, you will find a wide and varied choice of shops, restaurants, bakeries and local food markets, all of which are open until late, every day of the week, during the season. There is also a butcher shop located just off the high street, near to Captain’s Bar and Veranda. Some of the clothing/souvenir shops close during the afternoon periods but others remain open from mid-morning through until late in the evening. There are also small local markets right on the beach road out toward the direction of Poros and on the road leading to the Roman Villa ruins. In summer 2016, the national Greek supermarket chain Alpha Beta (sounds like Alfa Veetah) also opened a branch on the Skala beach road that has a variety of produce, beverages and a full deli-counter.
In 2015, the village governors were inspired by other European towns to cobble the main “high street” shopping area and turn it into a pedestrianized zone between the hours of 12 noon – midnight daily during the summer season. While the area is marked clearly by signs at the entry points to the main shopping street, they are all in Greek but there is (occasionally) traffic and parking enforcement so it’s best to follow the rules. During the restricted hours, cars are not allowed to be driven or parked on the main road. There are other areas, immediately adjacent to the Skala high street where you can park your car without restriction, and there are several alternative driving routes down to the beach road that provide access during the high street’s restricted times.
SKALA’S HISTORICAL SITES
On the road out of Skala, in the direction of Poros, next to one of the area’s Greek
Orthodox churches, lies the recent excavation and discovery of the remains of a Temple of Apollo, which dates to 600BC. This was amazingly discovered by a digger preparing for the foundations for a new house that was scheduled to be built on this beachfront area. The crew discovered the temple ruins and all building works ground to a halt! The location has been converted into an outdoor museum, showcasing the finds, with a viewing area to get an up-close view of this surprising discovery.
KEFALONIA’S CAPITOL, ARGOSTOLI
Originally built in a Venetian style, with influences from nearby Italy, Argostoli was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1953 with most of the historic structures destroyed, leaving few of the original buildings following the devastation. Since then, the capitol has been rebuilt and, where possible, the lovely original Venetian buildings have been restored, now juxtaposed against newly built buildings designed in a more modern style.
Along the harbor, there are shops, cafes and restaurants that buzz with locals going about their daily business and social activities. On any given morning, you can find the local fisherman selling their fresh fish direct from their boats and or trailer “store-front” shops positioned on the pavement, where the fish is displayed on ice and prices negotiated on the spot. It is fun and interesting to watch the local restaurateurs and Greek mamas all negotiating the best prices for the just-caught fresh fish and seafood on offer. There are also some fantastic local produce markets on the seafront promenade, offering locally grown fruit and veg, as well as locally produced wine and olive oil. Scattered in amongst it all are several cafés and tavernas where the local “elders” pass the time arguing about politics and playing backgammon (known as “Tavli”), all the while nursing a traditional Greek coffee or iced coffee frappe.
ARGOSTOLI BANKING, SHOPPING AND RESTAURANTS
In terms of shopping, most notably, there is a popular pedestrianized shopping area, called The Lithostroto, which houses many of the most stylish shops on the island. The area adjacent, though not pedestrianized, is also smattered with boutiques, cafes and restaurants. By and large, shops and boutiques are open from 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM M-S, closed Sundays and public holidays, and from 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings.
The social buzz in Argostoli is quite renown and the main-square boasts several cafés, bars and patisseries full of people socializing, people watching, enjoying music, food and drink in a pleasant and convivial atmosphere. Argostoli is known for its wide selection of tavernas, restaurants, kafeneions (café/bar) and zakaroplastia (pastry shop) that serve a variety of traditional Kefalonian dishes, sweets and beverages.
ARGOSTOLI’S HISTORICAL SITES AND MUSEUMS
The Kefalonian History Museum is located at Davgata, and is home to an interesting collection of natural history artifacts. For more information, call (+30) 26710 84400.
The Corgialeios Museum and Library is specializing in artifacts related to the history of Kefalonia, prior to the 1953 earthquake, and the library is among the largest in Greece. For more information, call (+30) 26710 28300.
The Botanical Gardens are located just near the entry to Argostoli and host more than 2 acres of native Kefalonian plants, including some very rare species, found only in the Ionian islands. For more information go to: www.focas-cosmetatos.gr.
NEARBY SKALA: MOUNDA, KAMINIA AND POROS BEACHES
Both Mounda and Kaminia are sandy beaches, where you can walk or run along the sand for 2 miles (3Km) in either direction. At Mounda and Kaminia, there are some sun-loungers and umbrellas for hire along with a fantastic taverna, tucked just up the hill called Anemos, serving fresh fish and local specialties that we highly recommend.
During certain times of the year, some areas of Mounda beach are protected due to the breading and spawning of the rare Loggerhead Turtle. Guests are advised that it is a legal offence to disturb the turtles and we ask that you respect any fenced off areas and signs indicating natural habitat activity and not interfere with any turtles or their offspring during the laying/hatching season.
POROS BEACH, TOWN AND PORT
On the way to Poros town, you will find the ferry port that provides transportation to and from the Peloponnese port of Kyllini and, during certain times, the island of Zakinthos. Just before the right-hand bend turning into the port area, there is a memorial to the British submarine HMS Perseus, which was hit by an Italian land mine in November 1941. This submarine is the source of a story surrounding a mysterious survivor, a Navy stoker named John Capes, who inexplicably survived and was found unconscious by fishermen near the shore the following day, having survived ascending some 250 feet underwater without proper equipment. While the Capes story has been questioned, and discounted by some, there is no doubt that the British submarine sunk in the waters near Poros where it sits on the sea floor.
In Poros town, you will find several small locally owned markets, including two fruit-veg shops and a brand-new butcher shop with delicatessen, which offer Kefalonian specialties and produce. There are also several tavernas serving fresh fish and café/bars that serve all day in a lovely provincial port atmosphere. There is a dentist and chemist shop in the area, as well.
OTHER BEACH AREAS ON THE ISLAND
AGIOS THOMAS BEACH
Signposted from the main Argostoli-Poros road, situated in the village of Lourdas, this sandy beach on Kefalonia’s west coast is near local tavernas and beach shops. Like Trapezaki Beach, Lourdata Beach boasts a fabulous view of Zakinthos and, inland, toward Mount Einos. It is a good spot for getting the most sun out of your day because the beach has late afternoon into early evening sun.
Also situated on the west coast of the island near Lixouri, Petani beach is considered a favorite amongst snorkel and scuba divers. The road leading to the beach, which is somewhat steeply switch-backed, has spectacular views overlooking the majestic coastline. While there are a couple of tavernas and some sun-bed hire during high season, it’s best to be prepared and bring lunch, water and an umbrella so you can enjoy the lovely location even when the local amenities shut for the season.
PLATYS GIALOS AND MAKRIS GIALOS BEACHES
Near the northwest resort of Lassi, between the airport and the capitol Argostoli, lies two very popular sandy beaches, which boast all amenities, including bars, tavernas, water sports and sunbed hire. These beaches can be quite busy during high season as most Lassi guests tend to congregate to these well-appointed beaches.
Between Lourdata and the airport, near the village of Mousata, is the lovely long sandy beach of Trapezaki. Sign-posted from the main Argostoli-Poros road, simply follow the signs. There are amenities available during high season, including a beachfront taverna. The beach boasts a fabulous view of Zakynthos and, inland, toward Mount Einos.
OTHER NOTABLE VILLAGE LOCATIONS ON THE ISLAND
The large resort town is located north of the airport, and hugs the coastline on the approach to Argostoli. The area is packed with tourist attractions, shops, tavernas and bars. From several vantage points there are lovely views of the small island outcrops nearby.
On the northern edge of Kefalonia, Lixouri is by far one of the largest towns on the island, second only to Argostoli in size and infrastructure. Locals are proud of locally born poet Andreas Laskaratos for whom the town commemorated a statue in his honor that is positioned in the harbor. During summer, the library, museum and gardens host many cultural events that are popular with locals and tourists alike. Near the town, along the costal route, you will be able to see the large lighthouse on neighboring Vardiani island built by a British local resident. Skala’s tourist office can provide you with the list of events if you are interested in what is scheduled for during your stay in Kefalonia.
The lovely, charming fishing village of Fiscardo, which is located at the northern edge of the island, is unique on Kefalonia because it is one of the few places that escaped the 1953 earthquake and most of the charming original Venetian buildings remain intact, giving you an authentic look at what the island must have looked like prior to the quake.
The approach to Fiscardo is majestic, with beautiful cypress-lined hills, and small villas tucked into the edges as you descend into the harbor. The village itself is quite cosmopolitan, with an array of luxury yachts parked up along the quayside. There are also some historical sights to see in the area, including a 19th century church with lovely appointments and dramatic embellishments and decoration, a display of excavations of Mycenaean pottery and a Roman cemetery.
Fiscardo is also home to the famous blue-canopied “Tassia’s Taverna” which is the restaurant of Greek TV Chef Tassia Dendrinou. The area attracts a sophisticated clientele and many celebrities from Tom Hanks, Georgio Armani and Jon Bon Jovi have all dined at Tassia’s over the years. The food is delicious, with many dishes uniquely Tassia’s recipes, and the outdoor dining area takes on a romantic air when the large fairy lights are lit and twinkle overhead in the evening.
The village itself is beautiful and houses some of the most charming tavernas and cafes on the island, along with a tiny beach. There are some remaining examples of Venetian architecture, along with a village square that has a memorial commemorating the generous French financial assistance that Assos received to help the locals rebuild the village after it was seriously damaged during the Italian and German occupation of the area during World War II.
At over 1620 meters above sea level, Mount Einos is the third highest mountain in all of Greece. The situation provides spectacular views, on a clear day, however, be forewarned that because the mountain is a renowned microclimate, there are times when the entire island can be basking in brilliant sunshine and Einos is bathed in rain and fog. In fact, Einos can be found to be covered with ice and snow in the wintertime!
OTHER ACTIVITIES TO CONSIDER
There are several wineries located throughout the island but most notably are GENTILINI Winery & Vineyards, between the airport and Lassi on the coastal road, and Melissinos Winery, which is signposted off the Skala – Argostoli road between Katelios and Plateies.
Scuba diving is particularly popular in Kefalonia, due to the rocky coastline and the safe waters. Kefalonia diving centers are found in several locations on the island and they offer both organized dive trips and courses. There are several locations that are considered very desirable and interesting dives including Fiscardo’s Temple Cave, Lassi’s Blue Canyon in Lassi, as well as Melessani Lake and Drogarati Cave. For more divers with more advanced technical skills, the shipwreck of the Italian WWII ship Ardena is certainly something to inquire about, if looking for a more challenging dive experience.
SEA KAYAKING AND CANOEING
Based near Trapezaki beach is Sea Kayaking Kefalonia, run by a husband and wife team who offer half/full day and longer sea kayaking and canoeing excursions that provide a wonderful way to see the island’s majestic coastline from a much different vantage point and is a perfect way to see some of Kefalonia’s most spectacular sites, such as Melessani Lake and Drogarati Cave. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
DAY BOAT TRIPS
If you are interested in a day-trip to Zante, Ithaca or Fiscardo, you will find Captain Vangelis’ Cruises booking and information area located next to The Anassa Hotel. Water sports, jet ski and small boat and pedallo hire is available from Dolphin Ski Club which is located on the beachfront, as well. For the less adventuresome, this is a great way to see Melessani Lake and Drogarati Cave via optional tours of these less accessible locations, which can be arranged, as a part of one of Vangelis’ regularly scheduled trips to Fiscardo.
TOURING THE ISLAND BY CAR
The island has many majestic spots, many of which haven’t been included in this but that are perfect for enjoying a panoramic view of the Ionian Sea or some of the local Kefalonian hospitality in a little village or beach spot outside of Skala all around the island.