Kefalonia Island is the largest island of the Ionians and is considered as one of the most beautiful and authentic ones.
Kefalonia lies 53 nautical miles, off the coast of Peloponnese, opposite Patras and between Ithaca and Zakynthos. Among the Greeks, inhabitants have the reputation of being a bit mad. This may be sour grapes, because it is certain that they are among the wittiest, most clever, most cultivated and successful groups of people in the country. A high percentage of university professors, politicians, and shipowners are Kefalonian. Many, however, have had to seek their fortunate abroad, because though large it is mountainous and demanding, and there is not enough water to make farming profitable.
For many years the islanders resisted tourism, but now it is viewed as one way to allow the population at home to prosper. Resorts are developing at Lassi, Lixouri, Poros, and Skala, but much of Kefalonia has retained its traditional rhythm. For Kefalonia the greatest change was wrought by the massive earthquake of 1953, which flattened most of the island's buildings. When it was reconstructing little time or thought was given to aesthetics. So you do not visit the island to admire the architecture or antiquities, but to enjoy its natural wonders and lively people.
And natural wonders abound the highest mountain in the Ionian, huge caves, a submerged lake, a 'bottomless' lake and beautiful beaches of all kinds and descriptions.
Most seaborne visitors arrive at Sami, a one-street village whose habitats seem to do little else but watch ferry-boats dock, unload, and depart. Sami is one of the east coast close to Karavomilos, the entrance to lake Melissani.
Kefalonia has some of the best beaches in the world and if you fancy a refreshing change on your holiday you could take a trip to any number of fine beaches other than the one closest to your resort.
For those who want to explore the whole island, Argostoli on a lagoon on the southwest coast, makes the best base. Though you might be dismayed at first by the funky commotion on its main street-a typically Greek mixture of chaotic traffic, open-air markets and scruffy cafes - the place grows on you. By night its tree-lined back streets, spacious plateias(squares) and garden tavernas seem romantic and welcoming. Accommodation in Argostoli is of excellent quality and includes the sparkling clean 44-room Moukis Hotel, with its fabulous view of the lagoon, the friendly, casual Cephallonia Star or the Olga, an elegant example of postmodern Neoclassical design.
Argostoli today has few traces of the sophisticated, fashionable and cultured city it was in the 19th and 20th century. In those days ladies ordered their dresses directly from Paris, the opera was a favorite entertainment and the houses were decorated with the most refined furniture. A visit to the Coryialenisos Historical and Cultural Museum in the centre of the town will dispel any doubts.
Argostoli Archaeological Museum is two short blocks away in the main square. It is attractively laid out, but its exhibits from Mycenaean tombs and the ancient Kefalonian city-states of Krani, Sami, Pali and Pronni don't contain anything startling.
Though Argostoli is situated on the edge of a pleasant lagoon, there is no sign of any beach in the vicinity. Not to worry; just over its low hill are some splendid beaches, descriptively if prosaically named Platy Yialos (wide beach) and Makry Gialos (long beach) They form the core of the Lassi resort area , where there are fancy hotels, restaurants, and 'villas' patronized mostly by package tour groups.
The most popular beaches of Kefalonia Island are:
* Myrtos beach
* Lassi Beaches
* Skala Beach
* Petania Beach Kefalonia
* Poros Beach
* Lixouri beach
* Lourdas Beach
* Sami Beach
Kefalonia was buzzing in the summer of 2000 with film crews and the actors Nicholas Cage Penelope Cruz and John Hurt who are starring in the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – story by Louis de Bernieres.
Most of the filming took place in Sami - and the surrounding hills. The old town was re created especially for the story. It brought back both happy and sad memories for the people of Kefalonia who endured the war time occupation on Kefalonia.
A 25-minute ride from Argostoli brings you across the lagoon to Lixouri(ancient Pali) whose inhabitants are reputed to be the wittiest of all the Kefalonians. Once lively and cosmopolitan, Lixouri today is sleepy, even though resorts hotels catering to package tours are springing up on its outskirts .
Just take the road south out of Lixouri, looking for branch roads that lead down to the sea. Watch for such names as Lepeda, Havriata, Potami, Kounopetra and especially Xi, a two-mile crescent of red sand.
Southeast to Argostoli, the region known as Livatho - lush, green, sprinkled with delightful villages - is one of the most prosperous areas in the island. Lourdata, a bit on the east of the coast, is a popular beach, barely visible but well posted aimed the tangle of greenery. The chief monument is Livatho is the impressive Castle of St. George built around the 13th century and entirely rebuilt by the Venetians when they gained control of the island on 1500. The castle is in a remarkably good condition, with its external walls preserved. Coats of arms of leading families decorate the massive bastions, one of which conceals a tunnel leading to a secret exit.
The road southeast from Livatho clings to the side of the mountain Ainos as it passes through a chain of tiny villages, offering lovely views of the fertile valley. One of the villages, Markopoulos, is undistinguished except for the phenomenon of its little snakes. Every summer, a few weeks before the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, harmless reptile bearing a mark of resembling the sign of the cross on their heads begin to appear around the main church. On August 15 they make a beeline for the Virgin's icon in the church and then vanish abruptly. Miraculous or not, they are thought to bring good luck. It is said that 1953-the year of the earthquake - was a snake-less year.
If you venture north to Sami along the eastern flank of Mount Ainos you;ll see some violently beautiful scenery-thick stands of tall cypresses jutting from tumbled rocks and rugged boulders.
Some would say this is saving the best for last. This northern section of the island is so different from the rest: mountainous, largely barren, and blessedly untouched by the earthquake. Here are two of Kefalonia's most attractive villages, Assos and Fiskardo, and one of the most strikingly beautiful beaches in Greece, Myrtos. The area is filled with startling contrasts; the miniature, tree-lined port of Assos beneath the vast Venetian fortress on the crest of the stark hill; the dizzying view from the cornice of Myrto's blindingly white sands merging with a turquoise sea; the pale facades and tiled roofs of Fiskardo's delightful old houses protruding through the dark green of surrounding cypress wood.
You can get to Kefalonia by air from Athens ( Olympic Airways has daily flights all year round and several a day in summer, and there are charters from various European cities) or by boat from Italy or Patras and Kyllinis on the Peloponnese. The Patras ferry goes on to Vathy, Ithaca's main port. At the height of summer some of the Italy-bound ferries link Fiskardo with Frikes and Piso Aetos on Ithaca and Nydri and Vasiliki on Lefkada, and Pessada and Argostoli with northern Zakynthos.
For getting around on the island, cars and motorbikes can be rented in Argostoli, though Kefalonia is too big to be thoroughly explored by moped. There are several public bus routes, but their schedules may not always suit yours. Organized excursions to the main attractions are also available.
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