A Travel Guide: Kefalonia, Greece
Greetings from Kefalonia! If you follow me on social media, you'll see that I've been here since the beginning of July and am staying through the end of August (we're still taking online orders in the shop as we have extra hands back home fulfilling and shipping out your orders!) Many of you asked me for my list of recommendations on the island, so I dug up a blog post I wrote back in September of 2012 of my favorite spots on the island, and heavily updated it with new recommendations - let me know if you have any questions!
Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands, off the western coast of Greece. I happen to think it's the most beautiful place on Earth, and it’s not just because my father was born and raised here, and that I’ve spent almost every summer of my life here – well maybe. It has so much to offer for almost any type of traveller. There’s always something new to discover and if you have the opportunity to stay for at least a week – you should. With a permanent population of 45,000 people (which doubles during the peak tourist season), Kefalonia is just small enough to quickly feel at home, but large enough to be fully entertained during your time here.
One cannot talk about Kefalonia’s long history without mentioning the devastating earthquake of 1953, which profoundly influenced the island and its inhabitants. Nearly every structure, many of them dating back to the 1500′s, was completely destroyed, and it is said that 100,000 of the 125,000 inhabitants left the island soon after seeking a new life in Athens or abroad. My grandparents were of the few who stayed behind to help rebuild their island, brick by brick. Literally.
Fast forward to today, and you see an island that is progressing and growing. Kefalonia didn’t become a major tourist destination until the late ’80s and early ’90s, unlike other popular Greek islands, which have been welcoming tourists since the ’60s. In a way, this is what makes Kefalonia so special and unspoiled by tall buildings and massive resorts. The true Greek experience can still be felt everywhere in Kefalonia – even in the capital of the island, Argostoli, which is relatively small and can be explored mostly on foot.
The below are my suggestions based on my own experiences visiting Kefalonia over the last 30 years. I am in no way affiliated with, or sponsored by any of these businesses (unless otherwise noted), and am only offering you my personal favorite places that I frequent myself when I visit Kefalonia. All photographs have been taken by Cartoules Press, and may not be copied or reproduced without permission.
THINGS TO DO
Mount Ainos – This is the highest point in all of Kefalonia at 5,341 feet high, and it’s also a national park. Ainos is known for its wild horses and a forest of rare black pine trees found only in Kefalonia (Abies Cephalonica). Follow the signs to the peak on the paved road, and you can hike the mountain trail and literally see a 360 degree view of Kefalonia and the surrounding islands when you get to the top.
Assos Castle – Assos is picturesque village situated on a vary narrow isthmus that connects a small piece of land with the rest of Kefalonia. A 16th century Venetian castle sits high on the piece of land facing the village. Drive through the village of Assos towards the castle, and park as close to the castle as you can. A 15 minute hike up the hill will take you to a vantage point where you can literally watch over the village down below and experience an incredible view of the sea.
Boat to Lixouri - This is the second biggest city in Kefalonia, but it's also often overlooked. It's situated across the bay on a peninsula and not quickly accessible by car. One fun day trip, however, is to catch the ferry from the port of Argostoli and go across the bay to check it out. The ferry boat ride in and of itself is worth the trip for a quick sea tour of the Argostoli peninsula and a cheap thrill. For around 3 euro/person you can get a one way trip. Kids ride free.
Central Square in Argostoli – This is the main square in Argostoli and the heart of Kefalonia. Every summer evening the square is filled with families, kids, and locals getting out for their volta. The square is surrounded by restaurants, cafes, and small bars. Definitely worth sitting at Premier (mentioned below) for ice cream and people watching.
De Bosset Bridge – This footbridge connects the city/peninsula of Argostoli to the rest of the island. The original wooden bridge was constructed in 1892, and soon after replaced by the stone bridge you see today. It’s a beautiful landmark that serves as a reminder of Kefalonia’s past. It was recently restored and definitely worth a stroll for an evening outing. You might even catch local "kantadori" singers serenading crowds on the bridge.
Fanari Lighthouse – Located on the tip of the Argostoli peninsula, the Agios Theodoros lighthouse was built in the 1800′s under the British occupation. It’s small and distinct, and a perfect place to enjoy the sunset while snapping some photos with your loved one.
Fiskardo - This is one of the most beautiful villages and one the few remaining original villages that lasted after the 1953 earthquake. The village's waterfront features traditional architecture of the Ionian islands, with a lush green beautiful mountain backdrop.
Gentilini Winery – This quaint winery is just minutes outside of the city, and it’s an annual treat for us when we visit Kefalonia. They offer daily winery tours and wine tastings.
Katelio Fishing village - This quiet little waterfront town is off the beaten path, and a great place for a quick day trip and meal on the beach. Grab dinner at Captain Jerry's for some amazing seafood while you rest your feet in the sand.
Lithostroto – This pedestrian only street is the main shopping strip of Argostoli, the capital of Kefalonia. Small boutiques and cafes line the street where you can find handmade souvenirs, clothing, and art including:
Shop local treats at Voskopoula on Lithostroto – This retail location sells the traditional sweets of Kefalonia including mantolato, pasteli, and my favorite, mantoles, which are almonds covered in caramelized honey, sugar and lemon.
Shop at Kalokeri Store - This concept store features Greek designers and their products, including clothing, beachwear, home goods, and jewelry.
Shop at Peri Texni - This art gallery has original water color and oil paintings of Kefalonia. Well worth a visit if you're in the market to take home some beautiful art!
Melissani Lake, Sami – This underwater lake and cave may be one of the top tourist attractions in Kefalonia, but a tourist trap it is not. In fact, it's a must-do activity on the island. The cave is accessed by descending an underground tunnel, ending in a small pier. From there, small boats take visitors through the cave for the complete tour. Take in the sun as it pours into the cave, and watch the water that fills it as it dances and glitters.
Rent a motor boat in Agia Efthimia – You can drive to many of Kefalonia’s beaches, but some of its most beautiful beaches, located along the eastern coast between Agia Efthimia and Fiskardo, are only accessible by boat. Go to the marina in the village of Agia Efthimia and rent a small motor boat from one of the local shops. Agia Efthimia is a small fishing village, so you’ll see them right away. They’ll give you a quick lesson on how to drive the boat, and a map of all of the beaches you should stop at along the way. Be sure to bring lots of bottled water, sunscreen and pack a lunch. There are no beach bars on any of these beaches, and most of the time, you’ll have them all to yourself!
Robola Wine Festival, Fragata and Valsamata – Robola is the traditional, fruity, white wine made in Kefalonia. It’s got hints of peach and citrus, and it’s served in pitchers at every restaurant you visit in Kefalonia. During the first two weekends in August, the villages of Valsamata and Fragata hold festivals in honor of this wine. You pay a minimal entrance fee and get all-you-can-drink wine. All. Night. Long. Souvlakia, salad, and bread is served for an additional fee, and for entertainment, the local dance groups perform the traditional dances of Kefalonia.
St. Gerasimos Church / Feast Day of the Virgin Mary Aug. 15th / St. Gerasimos’ Name Day Aug. 16th – Saint Gerasimos is the patron saint of the island of Kefalonia (and also the name of most men you meet in Kefalonia since they’re all named after him.) The church also happens to be in the picturesque little village of Valsamata where my family is from. The saint’s relics are kept in a glass case, and open for the public to view and venerate during his feast day on August 16th. If you’re in town during this time, you can visit the monastery, but also meander the gypsy flea market posted just outside.
PLACES TO EAT & DRINK
Baroque Le Bistrot - This cafe/bar is located right off of the main Platia Vallianou. It's great for people watching day or night, and gets pretty lively on summer evenings for drinks outside or dancing inside.
DeBosset Cafe - This cafe/bar is located right across from the De Bosset Bridge and offers up views of the Argostoli bay while sipping a coffee or cocktail.
En Kefallinia - This organic farm restaurant is located outside of the city in the area of Leivatho (about a 13 minute drive from Argostoli). It's located in a garden setting, and they grow many of the vegetables they serve in that very garden.
Ladokolla is just up the hill off of the main platia, and serves up some of the best grilled food in town. It's a fun experience too! They serve their dishes on grease proof paper, which is called the ladokolla, hence the name of the restaurant.
Mpotsolo Restaurant, Valsamata - If you're a meat lover this is your spot! It's located in the village my dad grew up in, and it's the favorite among the locals. Their grilled chicken is the most moist I've ever eaten, but all of their meat options are amazing.
Οίνοψ WineBar - Restaurant (Oinops) - offers up a great selection of wines from all over Greece, including some amazing wines from Kefalonia. This wine bar/restaurant can be found just off of one of the side streets of Lithostroto.
Pizza Al Forno – Greece isn’t generally known for its pizzas, but they’re delicious here. The best pizza in Kefalonia is definitely Pizza Al Forno, hands down. You can find them at their new brand new location near the platia - Rizospaston &, I.Momferatou 15
Premier Restaurant and Cafe - This is a great place in the main square to people watch and eat fancy ice cream or loukoumades. Or ya know, both.
Spathis Patisserie and Cafe - This bakery and patisserie has multiple locations throughout Kefalonia, Corfu and Ithaki, and feature delicious baked goods, traditional Greek sweets, ice cream and the like. Check out their website for all locations, but you can find the Argostoli location right on the water front.
Vinaries Restaurant - This seafood restaurant is definitely one of the top in Argostoli. It's about a 5 minute drive outside of the city toward the northern tip (toward the Fanari), so you'll definitely want to take a car or cab here. The views of the mountains across the bay and passing sailboats are the perfect backdrop for their amazing food. Don't get here too late though because they usually run out of the λαβράκι (sea bass) carpaccio early, and it's incredible!
Tzivras Restaurant - They have no website, nor Facebook page. No outside seating either. But this is hands down the best μαγειρευτα (hot prepared food) in Argostoli. This hole in the wall (located at B. Vandorou 1) offers up all the traditional Greek cuisine including pastichio, giouvetsi, etc. It's been around since 1933, and has been a place that my family has frequented for generations. Just be sure to get there early, because once they run out of food, they close for the day!
PLACES TO STAY
There are many great towns to stay in Kefalonia, including Sami or Fiskardo. But my family and I always recommend staying in or around Argostoli, as it's pretty centrally located and you're within a short driving distance of some of Kefalonia's most beautiful beaches and nightlife. If you want to stay somewhere a little bit more rural/off the beaten path, I recommend looking at an airbnb in the Leivatho region (just 10 minutes south of Argostoli). We own a home here that we stay in every year and it's conveniently located to everything we need (see below).
Kefalonia Grand Hotel - This is a beautiful boutique hotel located on Argostoli's waterfront. The rooms are designed with a clean aesthetic, and sleek Greek island design. Breakfast here is top!
The Alley Hotel - This boutique hotel is located right off of the main town square and walking distance to restaurants, bars, and cafes. It has a fun unique and quirky design with pops of colors and prints. They have a spa here too, and their breakfast is also superb!
Villa Ersi - This is our family home in the village of Sarlata, just 10 minutes outside of Argostoli. We rent this 3 bedroom, 3.5 bath home during the months of April - October through Airbnb. We built it as a family back in 2010 and my sister and I designed the interiors with a village chic feel. It's a fully equipped home with all the amenities you could imagine and great for families. See the listing for full details and availability.
HOW TO GET HERE
Kefalonia has one airport (EFL), located around 15 minutes south of Argostoli. Flights during the summer months typically fly into Kefalonia from Athens twice a day, however if you're able to stop over somewhere else in Europe, you might be able to catch a direct flight into Kefalonia. In past years we've flown in from Paris, Vienna, Rome, Frankfurt and London - definitely worth a little research if Athens isn't necessarily part of your travel plans. You can also rent a car or take the bus from Athens, and catch the ferry boat from Patra or Kyllini into any of Kefalonia's main ports (Sami, Poros).
Kefalonia has so many amazing beaches. It would take me forever to list them all because there's seriously too many. Just around our house in the Leivatho area, we can be at any of ten or so beaches in less than 8 minutes. So these are just a sampling of some of my favorites from all around the island.
Agia Kyriaki, Zola - This beach is located in the village of Zola, and is one of the lesser known amazing beaches in Kefalonia. I like to think of it as a mini Myrtos (see below), with its powder milky blue waters, but with no crowds.
Ai Xelis, Leivatho - This beach has fine black sand and sweeping views of the sea with the Dia Island in the distance. Because of it's location, the waters are generally calm, and beautiful shades of blue. Throughout the summer they'll host beach parties or volleyball competitions.
Antisamos Beach, Sami – A favorite of mine, and also one of the beach scenes in the Nicholas Cage / Penelope Cruz movie, Captian Corelli’s Mandolin. Lush trees line the mountain backdrop from the beach all the way to the top. The water here is incredibly clear and vibrant shades of blue and green make you just want to take a dive. The beach bars are pretty great here too.
Avithos Beach, Leivatho – Avithos means “bottomless” in Greek, but this is somewhat a misnomer as over the years the sea has actually brought more sand to the beach, and it’s actually pretty shallow – also making it a great beach for kids. The waters here are very clean and the sand has a sparkly golden color. It also has a great view of the rocky islet of Dias with its tiny chapel.
Gradakia Beach, Lassi - This kid friendly beach is tucked away in Lassi close to Kefalonia's most popular beach, Makris Gialos, yet it's small enough to keep track of your kids and watch people cliff jump in the distance. It has a cute little beach bar just up the hill if you need a break from the beach.
Makris Gialos Beach, Lassi – This is the liveliest beach in Kefalonia, and probably one of the most touristy as it’s a short 5 minute drive from Argostoli. During peak season, you should arrive early in the day to secure a lounge chair and umbrella. Costa Costa is the name of my favorite beach bar on Makri Gialos. They have a full bar and lunch menu. They also throw full moon parties in August which can be lots of fun when they bring a famous DJ to spin. It’s also the side of the beach where most of the locals hang out.
Myrtos Beach, Erissos – This is the most famous beach in all of Kefalonia, and one of the top beaches in all of Greece. Its exotic natural beauty is definitely a site to see. White powder sand covers this expansive beach, combined with the steep rocky cliffs that dive right into the sea all come together to make for milky blue waters. Facing west, it’s also one of the best places to catch a sunset in Kefalonia. Parking during peak season at Myrtos is somewhat crazy, so again, try to arrive early so you aren’t hiking for miles. Literally.
Spartia Beach, Spartia - Another great spot for families, this beach has crystal blue, calm, and shallow waters. There are some amazing rock formations off to the side for some cliff jumping for those who dare. No beach chairs though, so bring your own umbrella and towels. There's a cafe upstairs in case you need a snack.