Sun-soaked and slow-moving, Kefalonia is the island getaway you’ve always dreamed of
Idiscovered Kefalonia through my dear friend Irene, who’s taken me around the world and back. Last year, we were pegged to visit Greece for the second time. My daughter, Juliet, and I arrived on Kefalonia in the late afternoon, the airport a tiny strip of a runway and a simple ’70s building. Our plane was late, and our taxi driver was waiting patiently outside, smoking and reading the paper, our names written on a piece of cardboard balanced on the windscreen of his car.
We were staying in a villa about 8km from Fiscardo, a small fishing village. Part of the main road was closed off (it’s since been opened), so you had to take the long way round. Kefalonia is very mountainous, so the roads are quite treacherous, with many tiny winding tracks disappearing up mountainsides that look impossible for goats to navigate, let alone a car.
Just as I was about to give up all hope of ever arriving at our villa (the sun had long set), we turned a corner and there it was – Alto Mare, which means ‘wide sea’ in Italian.
The Mediterranean climate on Kefalonia in June/July is utterly idyllic. The sun rises early, and the heat of the day starts at daybreak – as do the cicadas. The air filled with their high shrill, signalling another sticky summer day, the light golden and warm. In the distance, you could make out the bleat of a goat and the jangle of its bell as it negotiated the rocky outcrop on its high-heeled feet.
The villa was stunning. Quite simply, you’re on top of the world. Out of each window you could see the vast expanse of the Ionian Sea and endless rocky hillsides lined with cypresses, olive trees and oleanders. And this was to be my home for two weeks!
We were a household of 10, and soon we all got into our own routines. Mine began very early: a cup of coffee in hand and sarong, hat and towel, I’d wander down the winding road to a tiny protected beach called Alaties.
Every morning a small moped would scoot past me, husband and wife on board – sans helmet or any form of protective gear – shouting
‘yassas’ (‘hello’). They were the cleaners of what became our favourite hangout, Acqua Alaties, a Mediterranean beach bar-restaurant, and a must-visit.
We went through the entire cocktail menu in two weeks, and the seafood is delicious. Because of its position, the sunsets are breathtaking. To relax with peach cocktail in hand, sandy feet and salty, sun-kissed skin, watching the sun sink below the horizon… it doesn’t get more idyllic. Acqua Alaties became the teenagers’ stomping ground at night; all five of them would wander back up the hill at midnight – the walk back up to the villa usually takes about six minutes, probably 10 after a couple of cocktails.
This was what I really loved about this wonderful island: it was totally
safe. It was so liberating to walk alone at night without any fear – and to know that our kids were 100 percent safe, night and day.
The sun sets late on Kefalonia, so your days are long, giving you all the time in the world to have early morning swims, long, lazy lunches, a sleep (or two, or three) and an opportunity to plough through all those bestsellers that have been piling up on your bedside table and which you’ve been dying to read.
We hired two cars, which was handy because being such a big party sometimes meant that half of us wanted to go in one direction and the rest in another. Fiscardo This fishing village became our favourite: it was close and had everything, including lots of character. We’d park on the outskirts of town, then wander down alleyways where we’d see old Greek men in string vests playing backgammon under the shade of enormous fig trees. There isn’t a huge amount of shopping to be done on Kefalonia – another bonus for me – but the shops are quaint and lovely to pop in and out of, and the air conditioning is a godsend. We spent a lot of time wandering up and down the wharf, which was lined with gorgeous restaurants, bars and trinket shops. This became the town of Banoffee pie – the best I’ve ever had!
You can also hire little boats, but one of you will have to have a skipper’s licence. It really is worth it, as you can visit all the little white beaches along the way, which you’ll have to yourselves more often than not. Assos Only about 100 people live in the tiny village of Assos, which is situated on a slice of the island. It’s home to a 16th-century Venetian castle – but be warned: it’s quite a walk up to it, so choose your day wisely. Even though the path is lined with a forest of olive trees, the heat can be unbearable; the earlier you go the better.
The pebbled beach there is pretty but tricky to lie on, so take a well-padded towel! Take the time to wander the alleyways because the bougainvillea and oleander are exquisite – I’ve never seen such a bounty of blossoms before.
It was so liberating to walk alone at night without any fear – and to know that our kids were 100 percent safe...
I loved the turquoise doors framed with magenta blossoms, the pink and yellow villas standing cheek by jowl, and the tavernas in the heart of the village.
• I became quite obsessed with breakfast in Greece. The Greeks eat a traditional thick, creamy yoghurt with a handful of freshly roasted hazelnuts, topped with a generous swirl of local Greek honey – with the honeycomb still in it! It was unforgettable and totally moreish. • We ate in several tavernas and it really wasn’t too pricey. The produce is fresh and seasonal, and on the nights we didn’t eat out we’d visit the local café in the town near our villa and buy what was available that day. We lived on tomatoes, cucumbers, the local feta and freshly baked breads. We ate like kings, at home and out. • The local wines are reasonably priced and are also light, so your lunchtime drink won’t knock you out for the rest of the afternoon.
There are a number of beaches in and around Fiscardo. You can drive to some quite easily, but you’ll need to walk a fair distance to get to others. So do your homework and take plenty of water, because there aren’t any shops on these beaches.
What to pack
• Clothing – very little. The temperatures reach into the late thirties and don’t drop much below 25ºC at night. I lived in swimming costumes and sarongs. Pack something light for cool nights, and a wide-brimmed hat (rather than a peak cap). • If you’re the arty type, take pencil crayons and a sketch pad – your fingers will be itching. • Goggles and snorkels are nice to have but not essential as the water is crystal clear and warm. • Lots of sunscreen. It’s quite pricey there.
Right: Our travel party at Acqua Alaties, for yet another cocktail... Below: Early morning on ‘our’ little beach.
This pic: The road to our villa. Right: Yet another gorgeous bougainvillea!
This pic: A beautiful old building in Fiscardo. Above: I never tired of these bright front doors! Right: Odysseus Tavern, run by Ody. The dish of the day is whatever Mama is cooking – we went there twice, and both meals were delicious! This pic: My...
This pic: One of the many beaches we visited. Left: Juliet soaking up the last rays of the day.
This pic: The café in the small village of Magganos, about 3km from our villa. Above left: I was very taken with the little church icons that were on sale.
Above: Doors are brightly painted, and often accompanied by a cascading bougainvillea. Below: Jerusalem Beach, near the best taverna in Kefalonia, Odysseus Tavern.
This pic: The deck of our villa, where we took in unforgettable sunsets.