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Captain Corelli’s Kefalonia

Verdant forests, magnificent mountains and high cliffs with sheer drops to the sparkling blue sea below makes Kefalonia is an island full of stunning scenery and panoramic views. Its towns are exceptionally clean and the local population is friendly and welcoming. Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands named after the legendary character Cephalus. It was also the setting for the film 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' and the scene of a devastating earthquake in the fifties.

Getting There

The island’s small airport is situated close to Argostoli and Lassi. There are not too many flights here, but those that do arrive tend to be on the same days making it somewhat chaotic. You can also reach the island by ferry from the mainland as well as from some of the other islands and from Italy. You can also access the island by means of a private yacht. There is a public bus service running between towns on the island but it is not that reliable and all too infrequent. Indeed, the best way to travel around this island is on a bike, moped or by car and you can bring your own via the car ferry from the Greek mainland.

A Dip Back in Time

Kefalonia and its nearby sister island Ithaca may once have been joined as one big island; in fact the Greek poet Homer suggests this in his writing about Ithaca. Evidence also shows that Paliki, one of Kefalonia’s peninsulas used to be a separate island during the latter part of the Bronze Age. A project to examine this phenomenon is already underway. During the Middle Ages the island belonged to the Kingdom of Naples and this rule was followed by a takeover mounted by the Venetian Republic. From the 16th to 18th centuries, Kefalonia was one of the world’s biggest exporters of currants and had a large shipping fleet to cope with the volume of exports. In 1797 the island belonged to France, but was put into British control two years later. The island was subject to numerous pirate attacks during the early 1800's. In 1864 it became part of Greece.

During the Second World War Kefalonia was occupied by Italy and many troops from Nazi Germany landed here. When Italy signed the armistice with the Allies in 1943 there was much confusion on the island; the Italians wanted to return to Italy and the Germans didn't want them to use their ammunition against them. A battle ensued resulting in the siege of Argostoli. The Italians lost to the Germans who took full control of the island. Three quarters of the 9,000 Italian soldiers were executed. The Greek Civil War extended hostilities on the island until 1949 when peace was restored.

Four years later disaster struck the island, which lies to the east of one of the worst tectonic faults in the world. At the point where the European plate meets the Aegean plate regular earthquakes occur and in 1953 a series of four earthquakes struck the island reaching 7.3 on the Richter scale and causing phenomenal devastation, destroying nearly every house on the island. The epicentre of the fourth quake was directly below the southerly tip of the island and it caused the island to spring 60 cm out of the water. With only the houses in the north escaping some of the worst tremors most of the population left the island leaving only 25,000 people; this caused serious damage to the islands economy. A devastating forest fire in the Nineties damaged 30 sq km of the islands vegetation north of Troianata and left an ugly fire scar for several years.

Must See

Kefalonia is made up of four peninsulas and is surrounded by some large mountain ranges. This is not an island steeped in history; most ancient ruins were wiped out by the earthquakes, although it does hold much in the way of Greek character with whitewashed houses against dramatic, scenic backdrops. One ruin, which did survive is the Roman villa near Skala. This amazing place that withstood so many earthquakes still has its mosaic floor intact. Archeologists have found many relics of Roman life here and digging still continues.

Around the island’s centre, there are two caves known as the Drogarati and Melissani caves. German occupying troops are said to have used the former cave for target practice and have shot down many of its ancient rock formations. The Melissani cave was formed from an earthquake and is filled with a beautiful blue lake sourced by an underground current.

Argostoli, is an unusually shaped long, thin town with plenty of shops and restaurants. On the northern tip, Fiskardo is the place where wealthy yacht owners hang out and the entertainment scene here is somewhat expensive. Assos, over to the north-west, is the home of a lovely Venetian castle with a steep descent down to it. Agia Efimia, a quiet fishing village is very popular now and provides some of the picture postcard scenery you expect when visiting the islands.

Sami is a port town, but it has a magnificent beach with shimmering bright blue water and perfect white stones. It is surrounded by mountains creating a cosy secluded atmosphere. To the West of the island, Myrtos beach is also popular and can get crowded during summer. It also drops sharply to the sea and is not a good place for families or those who are not strong swimmers. Less crowded beaches can be found around Scala in the south towards the Lixouri peninsula in the west. Xi beach near Lixouri is a pretty, sandy beach as are the beaches at Makris Gialos and Platis Gialos in Lassi, but these two tends to attract more crowds. There are many boat trips on offer from Kefalonia, but the ones, which stands out are the trip to neighbouring Ithaca and the tour aboard the glass bottomed boat. There are plenty of riding stables on the island who offer guided rides through the mountains past the damaged villages and old vineyards. If you enjoy riding these rides are a perfect way to see the real beauty of the island.