We can all remember our first holiday without mum or dad. That sense of freedom together with the nervous energy of getting to the airport and on a plane all by ourselves. My love affair with Kefalonia started when I flew the parental holiday nest and stood on my own two feet as an adult. Stepping out of the plane into sunshine and a warm breeze, any apprehension washed away as the feeling of wanderlust took over. I had arrived in Kefalonia.
Kefalonia, Cephalonia or Kefallinia (whichever you prefer) is part of the Ionian island group, nestled between Zakynthos and Lefkas. The 254km coastline is coupled with a mountain higher than Ben Nevis and it’s a true paradise for lovers of beaches, hidden coves, epic scenery and calm azure seas. I was awestruck.
My holiday there was also my first experience of driving a car abroad. Carefully easing myself out of the car park I kept telling myself: ‘Susie in the middle, Susie in the middle’. For a newcomer to driving on the right, the beauty of this magnificent scenery kept me firmly in the driving seat. I couldn’t wait to see what was round the next bend or over the next hill!
Driving in Greece is a little like taking a step back in time. On smaller roads most locals will tend to stick in the centre as there are no pavements, leaving room either side for people and more interestingly livestock. In fact it’s not uncommon to find yourself tailgating a herd of sheep or goats as the farmer moves them from one field to another – this became a warm familiar sight of island life here. Plus, despite being the largest island of the group there’s very few people in sight, so it’s like having the place to yourself (and the sheep of course!).
Kefalonia is defined by its three unique and rugged coastlines. The picture perfect Venetian town of Fiskardo sits in the north, where pastel coloured hamlets sparkle beside the water. The south eastern beach resort of Skala is a vast expanse of Blue Flag awarded sand and shingle. Over in the west the coastline is split by a gulf between the capital Argostoli and the neighbouring town of Lixouri.
The joy of driving meant we managed to cruise around the island and see all three. We took in the enchanting Melissani Caves and sunbathed on one of the world’s best beaches – Myrtos Bay.
Stopping for a snack and to meander around in Argostoli, we noticed people by the harbour wall taking photographs. On inspection we discovered why. Huge wild loggerhead turtles were circling the fishermen’s boats for tasty titbits. It’s hard to explain just how jam packed Kefalonia is with wonderful experiences.
The towering Mount Ainos peaks at 1628m above sea level and is visible from pretty much everywhere on the island. Griffon vultures and owl eagles can be seen overhead, circling high above wild horses, indigenous violet orchids and ancient monasteries. A national park since the sixties, ‘Enos’ is conquered by car, and boy what a drive! The last part is taken by foot on well-established paths and the view from the top is well worth the small hike.
The hike had our tummies grumbling. So passing through the small tucked away villages we opted for one of the many traditional Greek tavernas offering ‘proper’ Greek salad, a heady combination of fresh fish, local stews like beef stifado, and traditional Kefalonian meat pie.
In the foothills of the mountain we also found the Robola Wine Cooperative. After swirling and sipping the red, a bottle or two was purchased to be enjoyed back at our villa.
My love affair with Kefalonia started in part because it was the first holiday on my own that exceeded all expectations. But the car I decided to hire at the last minute because ‘that’s what adults do’ really made it memorable.
I hoped that the place in my heart I held it so dearly would not let me down when I returned recently with the James team. Did I remember the island through rose tinted glasses?
Since that first holiday I considered it ‘My Kefalonia’, responsible for igniting a fire in me that has fuelled my passion to explore countries and cultures ever since. My second visit did not disappoint – it was exactly as I remembered and still felt like ‘My Kef’. Every Greek island offers something different and for me this if definitely the best. Perhaps one day it will become your Kefalonia.