According to recent estimations, there are 1,000 to 6,000 islands in Greece. Kefalonia just so happens to be the largest one in the Ionian group! So it comes as no shock that there are plenty of things to discover.
Many islands in this part of the world offer unique activities and ventures. But with all the brochures, guides and personal recommendations, it can be hard to find the perfect destination based on your own interests. So let’s make this simple.
Kefalonia is a fantastic location, covered in sun, sand and natural splendor. From the rocky mountain peaks to the sandy shores, it truly is the perfect setting for a magical trip. Kefalonia is definitely worth visiting!
Greece is widely considered the start of modern civilization, the cradle of Western culture and democracy. That is one of many reasons to visit. History buffs usually find their way to Athens, Rhodes or Delphi. Yet, Kefalonia has a unique past that is just as rewarding to learn of.
Akin to many places, Kefalonia previously had a tumultuous time of things. Before becoming a Greek state in 1864, the island had been conquered and occupied by the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Normans, Venetians, and finally the British, prior to being reunited with Greece in 1864.
This scattered past has resulted in a distinct narrative that intertwines many opposing cultures into one island. There are a few noteworthy examples:
- The Cave of Saint Gerasimos, patron saint of Kefalonia, is located in Lassi. It’s a beautiful chance to discover religious relics.
- The Mycenaean Tombs in Tzanata date back to 1200BC. They are an indication of a thriving society long ago. Visitors can descend into the cool, dark air and imagine a time before.
- The HMS Perseus Submarine, sunk by an Italian mine in 1941, now lies near the coast of Poros. Visitors are permitted to dive into the wreck, with caution and sensitivity for the lives lost.
There are countless other historical gems to be seen on Kefalonia. The individuality of this island alone is motivation enough to consider a trip. In recent history, an earthquake in 1953 destroyed 90% of the houses on the island. Although unfortunate, this has helped nature reclaim some areas, creating fresh, stunning landscapes.
Hiking and Hopping
For those of us that use our holiday as an opportunity to worship the sun, few places can beat a Mediterranean climate. On the pleasant isle of Kefalonia there are up to 13 sunshine hours a day. With days that long, we’d recommend finding unique ways to have fun outdoors. As good as Greek beaches may be, Kefalonia has something else up its sleeve.
The island is an amazing ecosystem. Inland, there is rich, dense vegetation but look up a little and there’s another layer of beauty to behold. Active and adventurous visitors will be ecstatic to hear that Kefalonia has a coveted mountainous region. The highest point is the apex of Mount Ainos at 5,340 feet!
Those interested in getting quite hot can opt to take one of many circular hiking routes on the island. A popular example starts near the village of Digaleto, at a quarry. The route is 6.5 kilometers and a climb in elevation of 1096 meters. We’d advise investing in a decent travel flask to stay hydrated. Temperatures on Kefalonia can get up to 35°C (95°F) in Summer, so our suggestion is to plan ahead and take regular breaks if need be.
However, the summit of Mount Ainos is almost reachable by road, so you are free to absorb the view without all the sweating. Ainos is well received on TripAdvisor, with people describing it as “stunning”, “peaceful” and “spectacular”. On clear days, you can observe the islands of Zakynthos and Ithica.
Ithica Island Hop
Ithica is a mere 2 nautical miles from Kefalonia, but it’s quite possible that they were once a single land mass. You may be tempted to swim it, with water temperatures on the island staying between 20°C (68°F) and 25°C (77°F) in summer months…. maybe not. There’s a convenient, affordable ferry service for a quick island hop.
Ithica is a smaller, less populated island, but it has an independent draw. Home to the infamous Odysseus, Ithica is said to possess unmatched natural beauty and tranquility. Riveting Archeological findings on Ithica suggest the original settlers on the island arrived at least 4000 years ago.
Part of the beauty of the Greek islands is that they easily communicate with one another, so mountain hiking and island hopping are ways to hear the ancient story from a new perspective.
Beaches & Coves
There is a vast array of beaches and coves on the island of Kefalonia. Visitors always talk about the warm, cerulean waters against the awesome rocks. The most famous examples are Mrytos Beach and Melissani Cove.
In their ranking of Greek beaches, Lonely Planet describes Myrtos as one “of the most breathtaking beaches in all of Greece… with electric-blue waters.” Indeed, the waters of the Ionian Sea are crystal clear. Snorkeling is absolutely breathtaking.
Watching the sunset shimmer across the sapphire waters is a truly unforgettable experience. Myrtos beach has been ranked the best beach in Greece over twelve times by GreekLandscapes. It’s famous for its dramatic marble cliffs and sparkling white pebbles.
Curious goats stand atop the rocks that cradle Myrtos beach. In fact, there are four times as many goats as there are people on Kefalonia. A surprising fact to learn is that the island the home to goats with golden teeth, caused by inorganic metals in the soil.
Of course there are other beautiful beaches, including Antisamos, a mere 5km from the beautiful fishing town of Sami, and Skala, on the southern tip of the island. If you do find yourself near Antisamos, though, a trip to Melissani Cove is a must.
As we all know, Greek history is laced with mythology. Legend has it that Melissani Cove is named after a water nymph called Mellisanthi, who threw herself into the lake after unrequited love. This is but one example of the wonderful, interesting tapestry of stories woven into the island of Kefalonia.
While traveling through Melissani Cove, spectators are met by ancient stones, their patterns and shapes telling the story of eons gone by. We’d recommend exploring the cove in the late morning to midday, as the sun beams down directly to the water, creating a myriad of colors and light. In this ephemeral moment, you can truly feel the nymph Mellisanthi and the historic magnificence of the area.
Oil, Honey, Wine and Cheese
Foodies unite! If you’re quite hungry, you might think of each of these as a wholly separate reason to go to Kefalonia. Ok, hear us out!
We can understand the feel of Greek cuisine in six words: olive oil, olive oil, olive oil. Greece is the third-largest producer of olive oil in the world, behind Spain and Italy. They produce over 300,000 tonnes every year. In fact, Greece is the leading producer of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, so it’s highly likely you’ve tasted the heart of Greek cuisine already.
The meals and flavor profile of Kefalonia depends on their use of rustic, fresh produce and religious application of olive oil. They love to cook with onions, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and beans. For flavorings, expect to taste some garlic, oregano, dill and mint. Traditional dishes of Kefalonia include:
- Bourbourelia: a combination of beans, lentils and chickpeas made into a soup, seasoned with salt and pepper, and flavored by olive oil and lemon juice.
- Cod with Agliada Sauce: Cod fish, sometimes salted, served with a garlic paste. Local fishermen sell their catches daily on the waterfront of the capital city Argostoli, meaning restaurants can prepare the freshest, tastiest plates.
- Kreatopita: a meat pie, usually comprised of mutton or pork and the vegetables mentioned above.
Kefalonia’s love for food doesn’t start at the kitchen, but on the plains and in the hills. The island is famous for producing a local variety of honey. Thyme plants nestled in the forests and mountainsides are so prominent they naturally flavor the honey. The Thyme Honey, or méli thimaríou, is a completely distinct product and taste of Greece.
We’d recommend taking some home as souvenirs or gifts. Seeing as they’re over 400 independent honey farmers on the island, making 70 tons a year, it won’t be too hard to source an extra jar or two.
The Robola grape has long been cultivated on Greek islands, but the vines are especially fond of the mountainous Kefalonia. Wine Experts describe it as having a “vibrant character, bright fruitiness and seductive palate that represents a unique terrior,” a French term for how an environment influences the crop. It’s true, Kefalonia has some of the world’s most special wines, grown locally and lovingly for hundreds of years.
Cheese of Pylaros
For tourists and travelers looking to eat lavishly, there is no worry. Greece has the highest consumption of cheese per capita. Kefalonia’s region of Pylaros produces the outrageously popular feta variety, as well as Kefalotiri and Mesitra. We think the fresher the better and can’t stop imagining the exquisite taste of this local specialty.
The inhabitants of Kefalonia know their way around the land and the stove. The great local products and culinary delights to be found here are fresh and popping with the dynamic profile of contemporary Greek cuisine.
If you’re not too entertained by the notion of golden-toothed mountain goats, the island’s population of loggerhead turtles will surely do the trick. These sea turtles are the largest of all the hard-shelled species. They nest on most of the southern beaches of Kefalonia, most prominently at Mounda beach.
By meeting the wildlife, you can gain a deeper relationship with the island. Loggerheads breed all year round, but they’re really in the mood during the summer months. This means there’s ample opportunity to visit a beach to see the hatchlings. The baby turtles, which are only 5cm in length and 20g in weight, strenuously wobble their way to the water, before their lifelong journey commences. It’s a moment that will stay forever in the hearts of nature lovers.
Cruising, Sailing, Water Tours
Since many of the island inhabitants rely on fishing as income, the nearby sea is bustling with boats. Getting on a boat is a fast track to mesmerizing views of the islands from a distance. You can book a private full (8 hours) or half-day (5 hours) tour, or shorter shore excursions.
Renting a boat means you’re sure to find some secluded beaches. Some lesser-traveled areas include:
- Mania: Near Kounopetra, this beach is inaccessible on foot, so hiring a boat is the only solution. The waters here are shallow and insanely clear.
- Petani: Located on the west of the island, this beach offers the same breathtaking views of Myrtos but features a beautiful, curving bay outwards.
- Kato Lagadi: A small yet incredibly peaceful beach. It doesn’t offer many amenities, but the bonus is powerful solitude where visitors can be mindful of the beautiful scenery.
There are options to rent private sailing boats for cruising, or to get tickets for day tours. Many day tours offer trips to the sister island Zakynthos, which has great attractions of its own. One unique look into the ocean is by partaking in a glass-bottom boat tour, which is a wondrous chance to observe the aquatic life.
The extensive rental options mean that you can tailor your excursion to suit your own needs. There are cheaper alternatives that still offer a sense of adventure, like sea kayaking, great for those who love an active lifestyle. There is really no sensation of freedom like riding on the water in glorious rays of sunshine.
After a busy day touring around the island, visitors of Kefalonia can retreat to the laid-back towns to enjoy as much cheese and wine as they fancy. The capital city on the island is Argostoli, with a population of approximately 13,000 people. As a result, it’s the main place to go for many shops, bars and restaurants.
The town boasts a tremendous waterfront, ideal for an idyllic stroll in the early evening. Anyone wanting to learn more about the island and its inhabitants can visit the Historic and Cultural Museum, or continue walking along the water to get to a Statue of the Greek poet Nikos Kavvadias.
Alternatively, there is great nightlife to be seen in the towns of Sami or Skala, where there are a number of waterside venues for food, drink and music. The wild, crazy nightlife is perhaps better found in Corfu or Mykonos, whereas Kefalonia can be better thought of as a tranquil paradise for the peace-seekers.
Kefalonia is a clear winner for visitors and tourists who are looking for a unique experience of culture with great heritage. While the sun and sea are usually the first to draw you in, the intricate diversity of this picturesque island will surely have you reluctant to leave Kefalonia.
Ultimately, you’ll be able to find great things to do on many of the Greek Islands, but if any of these 7 reasons why Kefalonia is worth visiting have resonated with you, perhaps it’s the perfect choice for your next holiday or trip.
If you’d like to learn more about other Greek islands, be sure to check out the related articles.