People seem to have trouble agreeing on the correct spelling: Kefallonia is favoured by the Greeks, while Kefalonia is the most commonly-used on international maps. And if you throw Kefallinia, Kephalonia, Kefalinia, Cefalonia and Cephalonia into the mix, you get not only 7 ways to spell the name of an island, but an insight into one of the consequences of frequently changing colonial masters during the last few centuries. What everyone does agree on however, is the island’s extraordinary beauty, with some of the Mediterranean’s finest beaches alongside underground lakes, caves and medieval treasures.
Kefalonia had its showbiz moment in 2000 when it was the setting for the movie Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – the book by Louis De Bernières was also set on the island. While the Kefalonian scenes in the film have no doubt inspired some folks to choose the island for their summer holiday, it remains relatively unspoilt and as the largest of the Ionian islands it easily absorbs its annual tourism influx. There are still many beautiful places on the island where visitors can experience a blissful moment of solitude.
So what are the highlights of Kefalonia? Here are just a few of the island’s many attractions.
Kefalonia’s beaches remain its main draw and rightly so. Myrtos Beach in the north-west of the island is consistently ranked as one of Greece’s finest. While the beach itself is pebbly, the setting and the view of the beach from the road at the top of the bay are unforgettable. Antisamos Beach to the east of the island is more sandy and better suited for swimming. With turquoise waters and surrounded by lush green hills it’s a picture-perfect setting and as if this wasn’t enough to draw the crowds, the beach was also a filming location in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Closer to the main town of Argostoli is Platis Gialos beach, a popular spot with visitors and locals; those keen on watersports will find several local businesses offering a range of activities.
Melissani Cave, or the Cave of Nymphs, is a large hollow filled with a mixture of salt-water and fresh-water and is best explored by boat. In the middle of the day, when the sun is directly overhead, the light scatters from the floor of the cave and bathes it in an eerie deep blue colour. A few miles to the south is Drogarati Cave, which boasts a fine collection of stalactites and stalagmites. It’s also a pleasant year-round 18C, providing a welcome relief from the scorching sun in the summer.
No self-respecting Greek island would be complete without a monastery or two to explore, and Kefalonia is no exception. Agios Andreas just outside Peratata has frescoes dating back over 400 years, while at the Church of Panagia Lagouvarda at the south of the islands, snakes (harmless ones) are said to appear every year for a week in August. Legend has it that they first appeared to frighten the Ottoman invaders, and have since been considered a symbol of good luck.
The main town of Argostoli sticks out on a peninsula and is linked to the rest of the island by a 200-year-old stone bridge, the De Bosset Bridge. Its story is one of earthquakes and general dilapidation, but it does provide a pleasing stroll by the water and offers some of the best views of the town. Argostoli itself is worth exploring, and is home to two small but interesting museums, including the Archaeological Museum with exhibits showing some of the many items excavated on the island.