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Articles Blog

Kefalonia, Greece

Karyn Planett

Ionian Escape

To get our geography straight, just know that Argostoli is the capital city on the island of Kefalonia and has been since 1757. Kefalonia is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea and has been probably since before anyone was around to write about it. The Ionia Sea is, by definition, that body of water with Italy to the northwest, Sicily to the west, Albania and the Adriatic to the north, Greece to the east and the Med proper to the south and has been since time began. And, it’s been a hot spot for jetsetters who’ve come here for the sand and sea since the Romans first stepped ashore in designer sandals and tone-on-tone togas.

Kefalonia, for those wanting more details, is also spelled Kefallonia, Kefallinia, Cephalonia and a host of other versions. No matter how you spell it, it is the largest of all the Ionian Islands at about 300 square miles. And Argostoli is the largest of the island villages counting just about 15,000 residents. Many can be seen in the breezy afternoons strolling along the palm-lined promenade, a street paved with small sea pebbles. Others see and are seen at the tavernas and eateries ringing Plateia Valianou, a popular square that comes to life as the sun wanes. Everyone looks tanned from their days at Sami Beach, a clam’s throw from town and noted for its enviable “Blue Flag” rating. These beach-going sun worshippers also build up their appetites shopping along Lithostrotu or walking briskly in the Napier’s gardens that loom above the square.

Mother Nature’s Nod 

For starters, just know that more than half the island’s total area is covered with olive trees. Someone counted them and there are in excess of one million trees. That’s great news for chefs, cooks, foodies, and diners who have a taste for Kefalonian olive oil. You’ll discover it on every table in every restaurant absolutely everywhere. So, too, the local wines from vineyards draped across the rocky hillsides. Fabulous. But Mother Nature wasn’t satisfied with the bounty of so many trees and vines. She also sculpted the island’s perimeter with white sand beaches like Myrtos Beach that locals claim is number five on the world’s best beaches ranking. Still not satisfied? She threw in caves and lakes and mountains and forests and a backdrop that was absolutely ideal for small enclaves and whitewashed villages dotted here and there. Let’s look at the natural wonders first.

What comes to mind immediately is the Melissani Lake. Quite close to the tiny community of Karawomylos, experts claim this cave and its luminescent lagoon are 40,000 years old give or take. Only 500 feet in length, it’s small but mighty magnificent because shafts of sunlight zap down to illuminate the brackish water lake. In fact the phenomenon is so magical it literally seems to float your boat, should you choose to explore by rowboat rather than from the viewing platform.

When the explorer Ioannis Petrocheilos had a good look at the cave in 1951, he discovered an ancient lamp. Eleven years later, more artifacts were discovered representing the Minoan people and their presence. In fact, the image of the god Pan appeared on several. He’s depicted with nymphs and, for this reason, the cave is also known as the Cave of the Nymphs and named for one in particular, Melissanthi. What’s really curious about this cave is its location .. some 500 meters from the sea.

If this isn’t enough, there’s also the powerful interior of the Drogarati Cave. The deep recesses are some 200 feet down from the cave’s ceiling and the constant dripping over centuries has decorated the cave with eerie-looking stalactites and stalagmites. Just know that these features grow only about ½ inch every 100 years. In summertime, people gather for wonderful concerts in the Chamber of Exaltation, or Sala of Apotheosis. The cave was discovered three centuries ago and has only been open to the public since 1963.

From The Hand Of Man

Kefalonia has been home to mankind since Paleolithic times. Islanders built homes and houses of worship, cultivated gardens and fished the seas. Little remains from early times due to a powerful earthquake in 1953. Virtually every town and village suffered varying degrees of devastation, Argostoli as well. Thankfully, the tiny town of Fiskardho was spared and still features colorful 18th-century mansions ringing the little harbor. This is a blessed curse for it is often the destination of tourists visiting the island, crowding streets during peak season. You shouldn’t experience this reality for you’ve come at a quieter time.

Another town of note is Sami, the setting for Louis de Berniere’s 1994 work “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” Relive this romantic tale over a plate of sofrito (a tasty veal dish) or a spicy local fish specialty known as bourdetto. Or, perhaps you can flip through some pages of Homer’s writings to determine if Kefalonia is the true Ithaca. It’s worthy of some debate while dining.

                                                                              Karyn L. Planett