Want to explore a Greek island, but without the British bars and full English breakfasts? Try Kefalonia says Susan Stephenson.
There’s something about Greece that makes you relax as soon as you step off the plane.
Coming in to land at Kefalonia’s tiny airport, you are treated to views of soaring cliffs, gleaming white beaches and turquoise sea – a glimpse of what lies ahead for the next few days.
Stepping out into the heat – thankfully, having left behind fog and rain at Leeds Bradford Airport – there was nobody rushing, no drama. Taxi drivers chatted and laughed together outside the airport and a dog happily snoozed under a flower-covered pergola.
The hassle-free journey had started in Leeds Bradford’s Yorkshire Premier Lounge, an addition which I would highly recommend. As this was a mother-and-daughter trip, treating ourselves was the order of the day.
Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian islands and boasts Greece’s third largest mountain, Mount Aenos, which stands at 1,627m. The island’s population is around 33,000 and the capital, Argostoli, is also home to some loggerhead turtles who live in the harbour, but more on those later.
Despite Kefalonia being a sizeable island in Greek terms, it’s easy to explore by hire car, though driving along cliffside paths is not for the faint-hearted.
In keeping with our theme of rest and relaxation, we had chosen the family-run Princess Hotel, which is just a 10-minute transfer from the airport. It turned out to be a lovely base for our trip, located in the resort of Lassi which is a five-minute taxi ride to the capital Argostoli.
Makris Gialos beach was just over the road, albeit down a steep track, while supermarkets, shops, bars and restaurants were just a short stroll away.
The resort, as well as the rest of the island, has managed to strike a fine balance between providing tourists with the eateries, shops and facilities they expect, and at the same time keeping that all-important feeling of real Greece.
Blue and white buildings abound, olive groves and pine forests surround locals’ homes and holiday apartments and there are no high-rise buildings whatsoever. There is a ban on new buildings more than two storeys high as the island occasionally experiences earth tremors, and this means that overdevelopment is not happening – and hopefully never will.
So for fans of Greece without the side-serving of English pubs, fry-ups and karaoke, this could be the place for you.
There is plenty to do when you tire of lounging by the pool with a good book. We booked the Kefalonia Discovery trip with Hellenic Island Services, which was recommended by our Jet2 Holidays rep.
Our first stop was at the island’s main church, Agios Gerasimos, in the Omala Valley, the final resting place of Kefalonia’s patron saint. Saint Gerasimos is housed inside a silver sarcophagus and as it was Sunday we were lucky enough to see a service taking place. It was fascinating to watch as, one by one, the congregation popped their heads into the open end of the casket and kissed the saint’s slippers.
Next door to the church is the Robola Winery, where we given a tour with wine tasting at the end. Robola is the elegant white grape variety of the island and is grown at between 400 and 900 metres above sea level.
Next we were whisked off to Drogarati Caves, an amazing underground cavern where opera singer Maria Callas once performed. This was followed by Melissani Lake, a stunning underground lake with clear blue water, lit by sunlight pouring through a hole in the roof.
After being rowed around the lake by an oarsman and serenaded with “Just one Cornetto” (predictable but still funny), we stopped for lunch in the pretty harbour town of Agia Efimia. The final stop was at Myrtos beach, voted one of the world’s top 10 beaches, and home to scenes in the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
There is so much to see on the island, but my favourite experience by far was seeing the endangered loggerhead turtles swimming and playing in the lagoon at Argostoli. They say the best things in life are free, and to be able to walk along the harbourside and watch these beautiful creatures was priceless.
They always seem to be near the lovely Kalafatis restaurant, which may be something to do with the fact that owner Spiros feeds them scraps on the way back from the fish market every day. But for a magical experience, as part of a trip to this magical island, it is one that cannot be missed.
Jet 2 offers regular direct flights from Leeds-Bradford to Kefalonia. Go to jet2.com
The Robola Cooperative of Kefalonia creates wine with the Robola grape variety, unique to the island, which is exported all over the world. Go to www.robola.gr
Watch the turtles swimming nearby at what is billed as Kefalonia’s oldest restaurant. Kalafatis, Leoforos Antoniou Tritsi, Argostoli, 28100, Greece (+30) 26710 25254