When I think of Greece I picture whitewashed stone walls, blue shutters and feta for days. So, when my childhood friend Renee came to meet me in Europe and said Greece was her number 1 priority, I was all hands down.
The problem was, going to Greece in mid-August is peak season. A flight might normally only cost me less than £50 but in summer most flights are well close to at least £250. Not to worry, I leaned on my trusty friend Skyscanner, typed in Greece and found myself starring Kefalonia in the face.
I didn’t know much about this part of Greece, and really, my holy grail was to visit Shipwreck Beach on Zakynthos (Zante), which is only the next island away. A quick glance at Google Maps gave me the idea that it would be easy enough to travel from one island to the other. So, on a quick Facetime call, we bit the bullet and bought a roundtrip ticket from London Gatwick to Kefalonia (despite it being a 6 am flight, eeek).
It was only after we bought our tickets that I did some research properly. Getting to Zante wasn’t as easy as it seemed, and Kefalonia was quite a large island in the sense that getting to each major site was a drive away; renting a car was highly recommended in which neither of us was keen to do.
It was final – we were going to the Ionian Islands! The Ionian Islands lie off Greece’s west coast, in the Ionian Sea. They are traditionally called the Heptanese, i.e. “the Seven Islands” and Ithaca (just to the north) was the name of the island home of Odysseus in the epic ancient Greek poem the Odyssey by Homer. Apparently, archaeological investigations have revealed interesting findings in both Kefalonia and Ithaca.
After scouring Hotels.com (you get your 10th night free!) and endless days of indecisiveness, I booked us into a 4-star hotel in the northeast part of the island in the upmarket port of Agia Efimia. We broke our trip up with our final night in the heart of the capital, Argostoli. Other popular spots on Kefalonia include Lassi, which has some nice beaches and is close to the airport, and the port of Fiskardo in the north, but we didn’t have time to do it all.
Highlights of Kefalonia
It’s a lovely place where families come to relax and describe it as “beautiful”. It certainly isn’t the party of Mykonos or the whitewashed walls of Santorini but does offer its own calm bliss through quiet secluded beaches, friendly locals and fantastic food. Ahem, did someone say goat? You’ll find them both roaming the hills of the dry mountainsides and as your main course for dinner.
This upmarket, picturesque port which was a traditional fishing village is in the northeast part of the island, overlooking Ithaca. A handful of tavernas line the small port, where excursion boats wait to take tourists out during the day and various performers and live music are often found at night.
Around unsuspecting corners, you’ll find a set of rocky stairs taking you down to the sea, where locals splash around in coves and the water is such a clear blue you can’t help but feel delighted with yourself for escaping to such a gem.
What makes Agia Efimia so special is that while it’s touristy, it’s so small and the tourists are minimal compared to other places you would go in Greece, so it still has an authentic charm.
Odyssey Hotel was just what the doctor ordered. With an epic view from every room looking out to the sea and Ithaca in the distance; the sun loungers and the pool are worth it alone. Service was exceptional (so fantastic that we got a very slow and detailed walkthrough of every minor hotel detail without necessity) and our booking also included a complimentary 20-minute massage. Did I mention no kids under the age of 16 allowed?
Renee challenged herself and even woke for sunset (or maybe it was just the jetlag), stumbling the whole two steps to our balcony to witness it rise over Ithaca. Our mornings were then spent enjoying our complimentary breakfast, including Greek yoghurt with honey, along with generous portions of whatever else we wanted, as you can pick anything from the menu, from eggs to pastries.
We’d lay by the pool all day, sipping Mythos and reading our books, then take a break from time to time to dive into the pool or cross the street to splash in the aqua blue sea to cool from the heat. The best part was, we were the only ones in the sea in the little cove we found just a few feet from the hotel. I couldn’t believe it! Mesmerized by how blue the water was, and how secluded we were, I’m fully relaxed now thinking back on it.
We also had fantastic meals in the port of Agia Efimia, including the local delicacy goat, baked feta, and souvlaki (with fries inside and all). We uncovered picturesque Taverna Pergola a block off the main tourist street, where Renee tried goat for the first time and I couldn’t refuse my first mousaka of the year. Local wine was generous everywhere we went, with carafes only costing on average 8 Euro.
On our second night, we met an ex-pat from Coney Island who spends his summers in Kefalonia. We secured a table overlooking the port while enjoying our meals of goat (again) and roast pork to live Greek music in the background at To Steki Taverna.
Myrtos Beach is reputed as one of the best beaches in all of Greece! As we had no transport of our own, we took a cab for 15 Euro from the hotel and spent the afternoon mesmerised by its beauty and found refuge from the scorching heat in the cooling Ionian Sea.
The views of Myrtos Beach from above are so breathtaking they are worth the visit alone, as now I understand why this is voted one of the best beaches in all of Greece. The white rocks exfoliate your feet, and the aqua blue sea was a dream, calmly tucked away in a giant cove carved between the feet of two mountains, Agia Dynati and Kalon Oros.
While there is the ability to rent sunbeds and umbrellas, they were all sold out, naturally. Luckily, there were other facilities such as a snack bar selling water, beer and ice creams as well as a working toilet, to find some shade from time to time when taking a dip in the sea still didn’t satisfy.
What was more concerning was our cab driver, a young hip girl, who also thought the view was so fab she decided to Instagram her pic, scrolling through filters and hashtags, while we were winding up the massive mountain on our way out to Argostoli. It was so uncomfortable I had to tell her so. Maybe if you’re used to these windy roads it’s no big deal? I don’t think so.
I felt we couldn’t visit an island without seeing its capital, not realising the closest beaches were in the neighbouring resort town Lassi. We stayed in a simple hotel, Mouikis Hotel, where we had a massive balcony overlooking the protected sea, it was so calm it almost looked like a massive lake. In walking distance to the pedestrian shopping street, main square, and port, in a short afternoon, we were able to see most of the town.
The highlight, however, was the sea turtles! While having a souvlaki pita for lunch, we had heard rumours that you can see the turtles from the promenade we were dining on. But I didn’t realise how huge they were going to be! To our surprise, during lunch that afternoon we saw a handful, (not before Renee slipped and fell on some fish scales), and took one more look in the morning before flying out, as it’s rumoured that the best time to see them is when the fisherman come in.
We spent the evening in Argostoli sipping wine in a beautiful spot near the port at a restaurant and wine bar called Cavo that overlooked the sea. We were the only ones there, but we didn’t mind at all as it was so peaceful, surprised by how quiet the island generally was despite it being peak season. Served by a local family, ‘Sexy Sweetheart’, as Renee called him due to his good looks and the fact he served us complimentary watermelon after our wine tasting, was the perfect way to chill before dinner.
We had our last meal at Ampelaki, not too far from the port and neighbour to the above restaurant. I had the meat pie, and Renee tried rabbit for the first time. Both were delicious, and of course, accompanied by another 8 Euro litre of local wine.
Overall the whole island was beautiful and very chilled. Its dry, mountainous landscape was an unexpected yet serene backdrop. Its quietness meant we could enjoy secluded swim holes and drinks overlooking amazing scenery without disruption. Of the few tourists we saw, I noticed many were Italian. Having looked at a map, Kefalonia is just across from southern Italy, and now it makes sense where the cruise ships were coming in from. In fact, at our last meal, we were asked if wanted the menu in Italian or English.
Overall, I would recommend Kefalonia if you are looking for a beautifully enjoyable holiday off the beaten path. Even though there were tourists, it definitely could have been far worse. Kefalonia is tranquillity at its best, with mountain goats included.