Home Destination Guides Accommodation 24th August 2019


   The island of Kephalonia is said to be named after the mythological Athenian, Kephalos, who sought solace on the island after he accidentally killed his wife whilst hunting.  The name of the island is written in various different forms. For instance you will find that the airport is named Kefallinia. Other variations include Kefallini, Kefalonia, Kephalonia and Cephalonia - to name but a few!
   Kephalonia is located in the Ionian Sea to the west of the Greek mainland, between the islands of Lefkada to the north, Zakynthos (Zante) to the south, and the much smaller island of Ithaca nestling close to Kephalonia’s eastern coastline. 
   Kephalonia is the largest and most mountainous island in the Ionian group.  It is dominated by a central spine of mountains that rise to a height of over 1,000 metres, creating a rugged backdrop of scenery visible from most parts of the island. In many places, the mountains drop straight into the sea. Here, their harshness is tempered by the crystal clear waters that surround the coastline in varying shades of brilliant turquoise, aqua marine and sparkling sapphire.
   In common with the other Ionian Islands, Kephalonia has had a rich, yet troubled history.  From the earliest times, during the Trojan War when Kephalonians fought alongside Odysseus the King of Ithaca, the island has suffered conflict.  Conquered by the Romans in the 1st Century BC, Kephalonia suffered throughout the Middle Ages from raids by pirates, the Normans and the Crusaders.  From the 14th Century the island bounced alternately between Turkish and Venetian rule until the French briefly took over at the end of the 1700’s.  In the 1800’s Britain took control of the island, until in May 1864 Kephalonia was finally united with Greece.  Bearing witness to these turbulent times are the remains of numerous forts and castles that lay scattered across the island.
   The German occupation during WWII saw the Kephalonians struggling once again as German and Italian troops took up residence on the island.  Many local people joined the resistance movement, fighting back from their hiding places in the mountains, whilst family members and even whole villages risked severe reprisals for aiding and assisting the partisans.
   1945 brought peace at last to Kephalonia, but just as the islanders were rebuilding their lives and businesses, the island was struck in August 1953 by a massive earthquake that caused extreme devastation across the whole of the Ionian and destroyed most of the buildings on Kephalonia. Unfortunately, this was the final hardship for some and many Kephalonians decided to emigrate after the earthquake.
   The urgent need to rebuild property quickly for habitation after the earthquake resulted in an assortment of bland concrete buildings in some of the towns. However, after the initial impetus, most of the more recent buildings have been sympathetically constructed using traditional architecture, pastel painted colours and wrought iron balconies. 
   It was the film of the book ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ based on a fictional romance during WWII between a local girl and an Italian Captain, that thrust Kephalonia into the international limelight.  Filming took place on the island in 2000 (see Sami and Agia Efimia), when complete sets were constructed to depict buildings and towns as they once stood prior to the earthquake - and the film went on to become a box office hit.  Despite an upsurge in popularity and tourism following the film, the island has remained unspoilt.  Its stunning landscape cries out to be explored, with beautiful beaches, majestic mountain scenery and no high-rise developments.
   The highest mountain peak is found in the centre of southern Kephalonia, where Mount Ainos reaches a height of 1,628 metres above sea level.  The slopes of Mount Ainos are covered in forests of indigenous pine trees and the aromatic Kephalonia Pine scents the air as you drive along the winding narrow roads.  This area is also home to many wild flowers and rare fauna. It is also home to the wild ponies of Ainos, a breed of small horse that has remained pure due to its isolation, although is nevertheless an endangered species. In recognition of the need to preserve the unique qualities and spectacular beauty of Mount Ainos, the Greek government designated the whole area a National Park in 1962. 
   The Kephalonian valleys and hillsides are dotted with small villages where the islanders follow a traditional way of life, mostly agricultural, producing olive oil, honey, wine and citrus fruits from the rich red, fertile soil.  However, many of the younger generation and those in the towns,  have embraced tourism.  Visitors will find the Kephalonian people friendly and hospitable, their way of life relaxed and simple and whilst some resorts have a variety of entertainment, this is not an island for ‘party’ animals.
   Kephalonia lends itself readily to walking holidays and there are many walking trails. The best times for walking are in the Spring and Autumn when the ground is carpeted with wild flowers and temperatures are moderate. Organized walks are available, accompanied by local guides who are only too willing to share their knowledge of the island.
    Generally the hire or charter of boats is a low-key affair on Kephalonia compared to other more commercial locations. A few locations offer excursions on the sea and one or two offer self-drive/sail, but these are limited to high season and very small number of available craft. Yachts visit harbours and coves mainly on the east coast of the island, as this is more protected and gives easier access to Ithaca, other Ionian Islands, and the mainland. Unexpected swells can develop without warning on the West coast, so take care with mooring and anchoring. The relatively protected Gulf of Argostoli is worth a visit, although again the afternoon can often see quite a fierce convection ‘breeze.’ The centre of pleasure boating on the island is the northern village of Fiscardo, which has good facilities, but is limited in capacity for larger craft and is often crowded. Motor boat hire is available here to explore the local coastline and nip across to Ithaca.
     We are only aware of one riding stable that does hacking in the local countryside, this is just outside Sami (5km approx).    
   Beach lovers can choose between a number of beautiful sandy beaches – many (but not all) found on the southern coast of the island in the Skala area. There are also a host of small pebble coves and fine shingle beaches, many of which are isolated and can only be reached by boat. Those wishing to explore the spectacular coastline, can choose from a variety of boat trips and motorised boat hire.
    Food-wise, there is a good variety of fresh local produce, locally caught fish and some good local wines, try a few and see which one takes your fancy!  Instead of the bottled varieties, try a local carafe of wine - these are cheaper, sold directly from the barrel and decanted into carafes of half a litre or a litre.  A Kephalonian food speciality is the meat pie or ‘kreatopita’, made from sheep meat and rice.
   The island has its own international airport which is located approximately 9 kilometres south of the capital, Argostoli.
   Car hire is essential if you wish to get the most out of Kephalonia and experience the amazing scenery, beaches and mountain villages. Whilst there is no comprehensive bus service around the island, local buses do run from the larger resorts to Argostoli, although you will find these are few and far between.  Taxis are available but they are not cheap and sometimes work out more expensive than hiring a car, particularly if you wish to visit more than one area of the island.   
     Argostoli (the capital town of the island) lies in a very deep, sheltered inlet on the Phanari peninsular and is the islands’ capital.  Due to its location on the western side of the island, Argostoli’s large port is relatively quiet as more inter-island ferries tend to use the eastern ports, but it is the base of the Argostoli-Lixouri ferry which operates year-round, leaving every half an hour in the summer season.  It takes approximately 35 minutes to get to Lixouri and costs a moderate 1.7 Euros (2007 prices), per person one way.  
   Walking down from the harbour, Argostoli has a nice seafront promenade, lined with restaurants, tavernas and cafeterias, together with views of the mountains opposite.  Grab a prime seat next to the sea in one of them, and watch in fascination as the hungry shoals of fish dive for the pieces of bread thrown casually from the tables.  From the promenade, the amazing Bridge of Drapanos, built by the British around 1813, spans the deep bay of Argostoli, creating a lagoon on one side and a link with the coastline on the opposite shore.
   Following the earthquake in 1953 Argostoli was totally rebuilt, yet still manages to remain full of character.  The town centre has bustling palm lined streets, with a central pedestrian avenue crammed full of boutiques and shops.  The amenities are excellent, with a variety of banks, ATM machines, hotels, chemists, doctors, taxis, a Tourist Information office, Cathedral, hospital, bus station, market, Post office, library, car hire and a host of cafeterias and good restaurants.  In addition there are two excellent Museums; the Archaeological Museum with exhibits dating from prehistoric times, and the Koryalenios Historical and Folklore Museum, exhibiting historical artefacts and period costumes amongst other things.     
   Being the capital, Argostoli can be quite lively at night with an assortment of bars and discos, but many people choose just to while away the evening in one of the sea-side restaurants.  For a change of scene, hop on the ferry to Lixouri, on the opposite side of the bay and try some of the local restaurants there.  In the bay it is easy to spot the fish farms, which supply many local hotels and restaurants and there is a great view of the circular lighthouse of Saint Theodoroi on the end of the Lassi peninsula, offering a perfect place to watch the sun go down.   
    A short drive from Argostoli up into the mountains will take you to the Monastery of Agios Gerasimos where the body of the islands patron saint, Gerasimos, is reputed to be buried.  It seems that a large proportion of mothers have named their sons after the patron saint as everywhere you go you are bound to meet someone called Gerasimos.  (Even the ferry boat we took from Argostoli to Lixouri was called St. Gerasimos!).
    Approximately 2 kilometres north of Argostoli, on the Lassi peninsula, there are numerous ‘sink holes’ (geological phenomena where the sea enters through rock crevices), called Katavothres.  Scientists discovered that the sea water entering this eastern peninsula is the same water that emerges on the western side of the island, at Karavomylos in Sami.
   A few kilometres south of Argostoli and a short taxi ride away, is the popular resort of Lassi, strung out along the road running parallel to the beach.  Lassi is an ‘all round resort’, good for families and couples alike.  There are some beautiful sandy beaches for the serious sun worshippers and a great choice of restaurants, tavernas and bars for those wishing to indulge in a little night life.  In addition there are plenty of shops, cafeterias, taxis, boat trips and car hire, as well as all the amenities of Argostoli, within easy reach.  Just to the south of Lassi are the beautiful sandy beaches of Makris Gialos and Platis Gialos, where visitors are well catered for with sun beds, beach umbrellas and some water sports all available.  Driving into the hills south of the Lassi peninsula there are many pretty inland villages with olive groves and lemon trees to visit, particularly Peratata, with the imposing remains of the Byzantine Castle of Saint George as a backdrop and the Monastery of St. Andreas, with its Byzantine frescoes nearby .
The second largest town on the island is Lixouri, located on the Paliki Peninsular on the opposite side of the bay from Argostoli.  Lixouri has a port where the local ferry from Argostoli arrives every half an hour throughout the day.  The ferry takes foot passengers and vehicles, but this is not a roll-on-roll-off ferry, so you will need to hone your reversing skills if you decide to take a car across the bay!  Lixouri is a lively town with a similar range of amenities to Argostoli and is noted for a waterway which runs through the centre of town.  This river bed is bone dry in summer and a virtual torrent in the winter, so throughout the town little bridges have been built across the waterway to maintain communications during the wet season.  To the south of Lixouri are the beautiful red sandy beaches of Lepeda, Megalos Lakos and the most famous of all, Xi Beach.  Within easy reach of Xi beach is the pretty village of Manzavinata.  North of Lixouri on the western side of the Paliki peninsula is another of Kephalonia’s beautiful sandy beaches, at Petani.  This stunning golden beach, mainly sand with some shingle, is located down a single track road and has one or two tavernas for refreshment.
Myrtos beach
     Travelling north from Argostoli and the Paliki peninsula along the winding coastal road that cuts through the mountainside along the western side of the island you come to the village of Divarata, where, if you’re not careful, you will miss the narrow turning on the left hand side of the road which leads to the renowned Myrtos Beach. This beach is said to be among the finest in the Mediterranean, and well worth negotiating the precipitous road that descends into the bay.  Encircled on three sides by towering cliffs, Myrtos Beach is a spectacular swathe of dazzling white sand, mixed, in parts, with some fine shingle and pebbles shelving quite steeply into the crystal clear waters.  There are sun beds and umbrellas available for hire on the beach together with a small snack bar offering refreshments.
    Myrtos Beach is also the starting point for a sign-posted walking trail which runs all the way across the island to Agia Efimia on the eastern side.  To my mind however, the best view of Myrtos Beach is from a lay-by, a few kilometres north of Divarata, along the main coastal road.  This view really takes your breathe away and the most amazing sight is the colour of the sea and the way it changes from dazzling turquoise to deep sapphire, as if a line has been drawn with an artist’s brush.
    A short drive further north from Divarata is another turning on the left which leads down to the picturesque coastal village of Assos.  The road is narrow and (again) precipitous, with 180 degree bends, but the drive is definitely worth it.  This is a lovely, traditional fishing village which straddles a narrow isthmus, leading to the Assos peninsular.   The pastel coloured and whitewashed village houses cling to the hillsides around a sheltered horse-shoe shaped harbour, bobbing with colourful local fishing caiques and visiting yachts, creating an atmosphere of simplistic charm.  The main beach is quite small  and pebbly, but has some sun beds and umbrellas available for hire. There is also a separate very small sandy cove ideal for picnics and a swim. Assos has a good variety of excellent tavernas serving traditional Greek food, a small gift shop, a mini market and one taxi, (the driver’s wife runs the mini market which is where you will find his taxi parked).  There are no banks, medical facilities, doctors or pharmacies in the village.
   The small central square is called ‘Paris Square’, after the French city that raised funds to assist with rebuilding the village following the devastation of the 1953 earthquake.  The villagers are friendly and welcoming and it is easy to slip into their slow, unhurried way of life, enabling you to put some tranquillity back into your own.   Small motorized boats are available for hire, but only in high season.  By early September the proprietor has already closed for the year!  A bill board in the central square advertises car hire, but the office is located in Fiscardo and a hefty charge (2007 rates - 30 Euros one way) is made for delivery if you do not want to go to Fiscardo to pick up the vehicle yourself.
   Not to be missed are the remains of the 16th Century Venetian fort built on the Assos peninsular to protect the islanders from pirates.  There is a track leading from the isthmus up to the Fort, which takes about half an hour to walk, but the panoramic views from the top are well worth the trek.  Incongruously, the fort hides another set of more modern buildings which were apparently built with EU funding as a Conference Centre in 2004/5.  No expense was spared with the materials, using beautiful marble slabs in the outside courtyards and solid wood flooring and doors internally.  Shamefully the building was never fully completed, let alone been of any benefit to the community, and now lies rotting, with the expensive wooden flooring warped and lifting from the ground, doors cracked from the heat of the sun strewn across the marble courtyards and electrical wiring hanging from socket-less holes in the walls.  One feels that there must have been a better way to spend EU money…...but don’t let this put you off Assos, a truly magical, very Greek, haven of beauty and tranquillity.    
    Approximately half an hours’ drive north from Assos, on the north eastern tip of Kephalonia is the cosmopolitan village of Fiscardo.  Once a quiet fishing village, the fishermen’s caiques now vie with a mix of very expensive motor cruisers, smart yachts, flotillas and chartered boats, for space along the seafront.  Here the pastel-painted houses of the local people, with their Venetian architecture still intact despite the earthquake, dominate the waterfront, making it one of the most picturesque on the island.  Lining the harbour front there are elegant boutiques, chic cafes and a variety of restaurants, which tend to attract an international and upmarket clientele, some of whom arrive in the smart yachts.  There are great views across to the island of Ithaca which is separated from the north eastern coastline by a narrow sea channel a couple of miles wide - and in the small side streets behind the bustling harbour, you can find ruined buildings dating from before the 1953 earthquake. Besides the numerous cafés, bars, restaurants and tavernas, Fiscardo has mini markets, a bakery, an ATM machine, taxis, car hire and boat hire.  However, there are no pharmacies, doctors or medical facilities in the village.  At night the village comes alive and the waterfront becomes the focal point for wining and dining.
   Fiscardo has its own small shingle beach and Foki Bay and Emblisi beach are only a 10-15 minute walk away.  Most of the many small bays and beaches in the vicinity can only be reached by sea, making the hire of small motorised boats very popular.  These boats are available for most of the season and can be hired for a whole day or half a day.
   Various excursions by coach and boat are available from Fiscardo, including day trips to the island of Levkada, and a day trip around neighbouring Ithaca.  If care is taken you may be lucky enough to see some of the only surviving monk seals in Greece, that have made their home in the sandy coves around this coastline and which are part of a conservation programme.  Walking is popular too, following the old pathways and bridleways, through the surrounding countryside to small hamlets with yet more superb views of Ithaca.  Some of the pretty villages where you can stop for a meal are Markadonata, Antipata, Manganos and Matsuka.  Because of its popularity, Fiscardo attracts a lot of day trippers, coach tours and visiting yachts, so be aware that it can be very busy in high season. If you are hoping to hire a car here, there are limited outlets and it is advisable to book before leaving home if possible.
The East and Sami     
     On the eastern coast of Kephalonia are the small ports of Agia Efimia and Sami which are only 10 kilometres apart.  Agia Efimia is a lovely unpretentious port located in a deep bay to the north of Sami.  Both places are good for those wishing to explore the whole island, because of their central location.  However, car hire is essential to get the most out of exploration as local buses are infrequent and the service is not comprehensive.  
   The attractive harbour of Agia Efimia is lined with tavernas, café bars and shops, making the harbour quayside a popular stop for flotillas.  To the side of the harbour is a PADI diving school offering beginners ‘try dives’, a good town beach of white pebbles and a pristine sea.  Paradissos beach is a 10-15 minute walk from the harbour and has a popular restaurant which is reputed to be one of the best on the island.  In addition Agia Efimia has a bank, ATM machine, supermarkets, chemist, post office, bakery, taxis, car hire and a Tourist Information Office.  Various boat trips operate from Agia Efimia, visiting Fiscardo and the islands of Ithaca, Levkada, Meganissi and Skorpios.  The remains of a Roman villa can be found nearby. 
MELISSANI CAVE                                                                                                                                                  
     Leaving Agia Efimia and travelling south to Sami you will come across the impressive Melissani Cave (entrance fee 6 Euros at 2007 prices).  This cave is 100m long with a dramatic subterranean lake of aquamarine water and a temperature which remains constant throughout the year.  Small rowing boats take visitors across the lake in the cave. Investigations have proved that the lake is connected underground to the sink holes and tide-mill at Katavothres, close to Argostoli, 20 kms away on the opposite (western) side of the island.
    Another fantastic cave, Drogarati, lies 4 kilometres (approximately) south west of Sami.  Drogarati Cave, 21 metres deep and reputedly 150-million years old, has fascinating red walls with an abundance of stalagmites and stalactites.  Part of the cave has recently been converted into a concert hall, as the acoustics are excellent.
   The town of Sami sits on a sweeping bay in the middle of the eastern Kephalonian coast and has the second largest port on the island.  For island hoppers Sami is the place to stay, with ferry connections to the Greek mainland, Ithaca, Corfu and Italy (see Island Connections).  A variety of boat trips to neighbouring islands also operate from the harbour.  Sami has a pleasant waterfront lined with tavernas, restaurants and cafes and the town has good facilities.  There is a Tourist Information Office, bank, ATM machine, telephone exchange, internet café as well as a host of shops and restaurants.  Horse riding is available from stables situated approximately 5 kilometres out of town.  There is a long beach of coarse sand and shingle, which runs the length of the seafront either side of the harbour alongside a crystal clear sea.  Walking along the promenade to the north of Sami the beach has sunbeds and beach umbrellas.  Adjacent to this beach is the Melissani Pool Bar and Restaurant which offer visitors a very pleasant swimming pool, changing rooms and other facilities, for a nominal fee.
   Interestingly, Sami was the town used to film major scenes in the film “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” Scenery was made to depict a backdrop of buildings as they stood prior to the 1953 earthquake.
   The ruins of ancient Sami, on a hilltop overlooking the town, are well worth a visit.  Not so much for the ruins, although the remnants of the Cyclopean walls are good, but for the peace and quiet, the lovely scenery on the drive up and the superb views of the Kephalonian coastline across the Ithaca Channel, not to mention Ithaca itself – absolutely fantastic! Don’t be fooled by the signs, the ruins are some distance from the town!  
   Around the headland to the south of Sami is the Bay of Antisamos which has another great beach of the same name.
The South and Skala  
   Driving south from Sami the road winds its way through superb scenery around the western slopes of the Ainos mountain range, their hillsides dotted with slender cypresses, whose needle-like contours cut through the rest of the woodland, piercing the skyline like silent Grecian warriors. 
   Just outside the coastal resort of Poros, the steep hillsides merge dramatically and the road swings through a majestic ravine, known locally as the ‘Poros Straits’, with a dry river bed that transforms itself into a torrent of water when the rains come.
    Poros is a quietly expanding resort divided in the middle by a small headland.  Popular in the summer months, when it really comes to life, the town is fronted by a good stretch of sand and shingle beach with plenty of shops, cafes, restaurants and tavernas to choose from. Car hire is also available.  Poros has a small but busy Port, with daily ferries to Kyllini on the Peloponnesian coast (the Greek mainland port closest to Olympia), as well as local boat trips.
   Just outside Poros, on the road to Skala, look out for a small sign on the left hand side of the road with an arrow pointing to the HMS Perseus Memorial. This commemorates the 60 men and officers who drowned when the British submarine Perseus sank after hitting an Italian mine towards the end of 1941.  This story is fascinating - the only surviving crew member was found and hidden by the local people for more than 18 months during the Italian occupation, until they finally arranged his safe passage home in the summer of 1943.  The submarine still lies under 52 metres of water, off the Kephalonian coast, and has now been officially designated as a War Grave.   
   On the southern end of the island, (approximately 8 kilometres from Poros) Skala has emerged as a popular tourist resort in recent years. This is an excellent resort for families, fronted as it is by a long, wide swathe of coarse-sand beach (mixed with a little shingle), and fringed with sweet smelling pine trees.  There are sun beds, beach umbrellas and water sports available on the beach and Skala has a good range of local amenities including a variety of shops, bars, restaurants, cafes, money exchange facilities, ATM, taxis, car hire and tourist agencies.  The inviting seas make boat excursions very popular; there are glass-bottom boat trips and various other boat trips including neighbouring islands.   For a change of scene, the pleasant port of Poros, north of Skala, is easily reached by local taxi.
   Skala caters very well for the tourist and is expanding outwards along the sea front with a lot of new build apartments and hotels to accommodate increasing demand.  Yet Skala still retains a friendly, family atmosphere, together with a Greek flavour.
   Nearby, there are the remains of a Roman Villa. Skala is also close to the nesting grounds of the Caretta-Caretta (Loggerhead turtles) that have made their home on the local beaches.  These turtles are part of a research and conservation programme, as are the endangered monk seals.
   Further along the southern coast is lovely Lourdas Bay, a fine stretch of mostly sandy beach, mixed with shingle in parts.  Sun beds are available for hire and when the sun is too hot there are a burgeoning selection of beach front tavernas to retreat to.  On the hill behind the bay lies the attractive village of Lourdata, and the nearby chapel of Agia Paraskevies, with paintings dating from the 14th Century. 
   Other villages in the south include Spartia and Pessada, both of which are traditional villages, full of charm, offering quiet relaxation away from the busier resorts.  Pesada also has a small harbour with a ferry boat to Agios Nikolaos on the northern coast of Zakynthos.
Here's looking at you kid !
Island Connections
     Kephalonia’s airport is about a 20 minute drive from the capital, Argostoli.  Package holidays are available from both the major and Greek specialist tour companies.  Charter airlines fly direct from the U.K. to Kephalonia during the Summer months, usually from April to October.  Flying time from the U.K. is approximately 3 hours.
    Olympic Airways offer scheduled flights from the U.K. to Kephalonia via Athens.  Timings vary depending on how long you need to wait for the connecting flight in Athens.  The Olympic Airways domestic flights from Athens to Kephalonia run all year round, although the flight schedule offers less frequent flights during the Winter months, and the flight time is approximately an hour.  From mid June to mid September Olympic Airways also operate flights from Kephalonia to Thessalonika, to Corfu via Preveza, and to Zakynthos (Zante).
   Ferry services are numerous and frequent, especially in high season. From Sami there are ferries to the mainland Greek ports of Patras, Kylini, and Astakos, then from these mainland ports there are coach services running to Athens on a daily basis.  Argostoli and Poros also have ferry services to mainland Kylini.  In addition Argostoli and the small port of Pesada on the south coast, have ferry services to the island of Zakynthos.  There are international ferries crossing from Patras to the Italian ports of Bari and Brindisi, that call at Sami on their way and Sami also has a ferry service to Ithaca and Nidri, on the island of Levkada. Fiscardo has ferry services to Vassiliki in southern Levkada and to Frikes on Ithaca.
   All this information was current when we last reviewed Kefalonia, but transport services in Greece change like the wind, so our advice is to check out any critical services that you need, before you leave home!
The foregoing information was last reviewed in October 2007. Things change, and whilst we are often travelling in Greece we do rely to some extent upon others to provide updates in order to keep the site as current and accurate as possible!  If you have any updates or information that you think should be included here, please do mail the webmaster@aguide2greece.com  - thank you.


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