TRAVEL:

Sun-soaked and slow-mov­ing, Ke­falo­nia is the is­land get­away you’ve al­ways dreamed of

Fairlady - - CONTENTS - By Caryn McArthy

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.

DAY VIS­ITS

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.

The food

• 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.

Beaches

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.

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