Kefalonia towns are clean, friendly and small enough to get round with no hassle. It's the breathtaking natural scenery you visit this gorgeous island for, and visitors will not be disappointed. Lush forests, breathtaking mountains and dizzyingly high cliffs dropping down to glittering azure seas are what Kefalonia is all about. The towns are mere conveniences - except for Fiskardo they were all levelled in the 1953 earthquake, so most of what you see is of functional concrete construction with no nod to aesthetics.
Lixouri is the island's second city and faces the capital, Argostoli, across a kind of elongated bay (there is a ferry). Argostoli, a long thin town, has serious shops and a rather underwhelming museum. Fiskardo, at the northern tip of the island, is popular with yachts and rather pricey and upmarket. Fiskardo is the only part of the island which survived the earthquakes of the last century intact, but extensive refurbishment and repairs have given it a rather bijoux feel rather than one of authentic old Kefalonia. Assos, in the north-west, has a scarily steep descent to a Venetian castle on a small peninsula. Agia Efimia and Sami in the East are both quiet and agreeable small towns, Sami with one of the island's main ports. Poros, further to the south, is rather self-contained between the sea and mountains, and has a substantial ferry port slightly separated from the rest of the town. Skala, at the south-eastern tip of the island, is a relaxed place focussed on beach holidays.
Agia Efimia - sleepy fishing village north of Sami, becoming increasingly popular with tourists
Kefallinia, Kefalonia, Cephallonia - so good they named it thrice. Confusingly, you may hear islanders pronounce it as "sefalonia". The region, incorporating the neighbouring island of Ithaki (Ithaca) is known as Kefallinia, hence the name of the airport.The Island is best known, perhaps, as the setting for 'Captain Corelli's mandolin', though the level of Corelli-related merchandising is not as great as you might expect, even in Sami, the old-fashioned port in the East of the island, the portside of which was turned into a kind of set for the film.
A sizeable percentage of the local summer population live abroad in the winter months - there is simply not enough work on the island out of season (Nov - April). Hence the large number of Greeks with American accents on the island. English is understood almost universally, with only senior citizens confined to their native language. Italian is widely recognised, due to the island's strong historical links with that nation. Venture a greeting in Greek anywhere on the island and you will get a warmly enthusiastic response.
The main airport, Kefalonia International Airport is located near Argostoli and Lassi, and is a typical small island airport. In other words, if there are 2 or more `planes on the ramp, it can get very crowded! The main travel days are Tuesday and Sunday, and it's bedlam on both days! Remember that chaos is a Greek word and just go with the flow - the staff are surprisingly cheerful and relaxed. Flights to the Greek mainland are available from Sky Express and Olympic Air.
You can also arrive by frequent ferry from Italy, the Greek mainland and other islands (main ports are Argostoli, Sami and Poros). From Athens, KTEL buses go from the bus terminal in Kiffisou Street to various destinations on the island (the ferry is included in the bus ticket).
The bus service on the island is too infrequent to be much use to tourists. Unless you have arrived on your own yacht, in which case you'll have no problem getting to most parts, you need a car or bike if you plan to get around. There are car ferries from the mainland, and many car hire places in towns, though prices vary. Although all travel operators are against motorcycle hire, as long as you have some bike experience, renting a 100cc scooter for the duration of your stay can work out very reasonable. Just make sure you check the bike out before you hire it. Most of the hire places are in Lassi, the main resort, and the capital Argostoli. Taxis are fairly reasonable and individual arrangements can be made with drivers to pick you up at specified times from beaches etc. They are usually helpful and friendly.
Explore the island by boat. Book a daily sea cruise or a private boat trips from Argostoli port, for visiting crystal clean waters and beaches, like Melissani Lake and Dragarati cave which are the most popular sea attractions in the island. Reaching the port you will find many available boats for your sea cruise. Ask for price in their kiosk.
The island consists of four peninsulas, and includes some fairly serious mountains, which all goes to make for some outstanding scenery. A series of earthquakes, the last in the 1970s mean there are relatively few relics of antiquity in the island, but architecturally it doesn't look very different from most of Greece. Towards the centre of the island there are two noteworthy caves: the beautiful Drogarati caves seem have suffered somewhat from the loss of rather a lot of its stalactites and stalagmites (allegedly due to occupying German forces using them for target practice during WWII) , but Melissani cave (actually a lake, formed when part of the land above collapsed during an earthquake), filled with brilliant blue water from an underground current which mysteriously flows right under the island, is a memorable experience.
Sami beach (a short drive out of the town of the same name) is also stunning,(blue water, white stones, mountains in a circle around the small bay) but has a permanent traffic jam around it. Myrtos beach, in the West, is also attractive and popular, but can be busy. This beach has a very steep shore break (you are out of your depth about 10ft out!) so is not recommended for non swimmers. Also take plenty of suncream, as the beach is made up of white stones, and in high summer can be blindingly hot. Less ravishing but pretty good beaches which are very much less crowded tend to be found in the south, around Scala and the Lixouri peninsula to the west. The beach of Xi, south of Lixouri, is a lovely sandy beach and always seems to have space and peace. Makris Gialos and Platis Gialos in Lassi are two stunning beaches, but predictably busy. Petani, on the Lixouri peninsula is very pleasant, while Antisamos, near Sami, is where they filmed some key scenes for Corelli. Kaminia Beach is a lovley shallow beach between Anno Katelios and Skala, where you may see a turtle!
The jetty in the film of Corelli, where Mandras throws Pelagia into the sea, is at Horgota beach.
Of the many boat excursions available, one to nearby Ithaca is particularly recommended. Also, the glass bottomed boat tour run by Captain Maki is a must.
The Roman villa just outside Skala, with mosaic floors more or less intact, is worth a visit - recent finds have added to its attraction and digs continue in the area.
Rent a boat in Agia Efimia - there are a few rentals, such as Yellow Boat - and spend the day visiting secluded beaches which can only be reached by boat.
There are a number of horseriding stables in Kefalonia and it is possible to arrange a ride into the mountains, through ruined villages and ancient vineyards, where the bells of the mountain goats and the cry of eagles are the only sounds to punctuate the silence. Gorgeous, and highly recommended, even in the height of summer. Go to the western corner and visit this remote village called Atheras and take a the road down to its private little beach with its century old monastary "Saint Spyridon"...tucked in time..
Local honey - be sure to buy Kefalonian wild thyme honey, it really does taste special - ,and the local wine, Robola.
Souvenirs aplenty, as you'd expect. Some of the jewellery is of reasonable quality and price - you are pretty unlikely to get ripped off on Kefalonia and the Greeks are generally keen to see you get what you pay for in any transaction.
The Ionian Islands have an own culinary tradition which is quite different from the rest of Greece. It is not influenced by oriental food, but much from the Italian and Austrian kitchen. As many Greeks from the continent moved to Kefalonia after the earthquake of 1953, Greek food is easy to find, sometimes easier than the traditional Kefalonian.
One local specialty is Kefalonian meat pie, available in quite a few restaurants. It's a hearty farmhouse thing rather than haute cuisine. Getting a really good example is not easy, however - the Captain's Table in Argostoli is perhaps your best bet for this local dish. Food in most establishments is okay rather than spectacular. Menus tend to be the same in most places; its worth tapping into local knowledge about where to eat.
If you're in Argostoli, visit the big bakery on the main street opposite the harbour and buy the little round cheese pies - they're fantastic
There is a lovely cafe/restaurant at the entrance to the Venetian fortress in Kastro, shaded by trees, with very friendly owners - a Greek man married to an English woman (Nicki). The homemade cakes here are delicious.
Moreover, there is a lovely tavern Dionysos in Poros, which a spectacular view to the island of Ithaca and the marina. There you may find one of the most mouth-watering meat pies (kreatopita) in the island, as it is prepared according to a traditional Kefalonian recipe (contains up to three different types of meat). Additionally, slightly exotic scenes in Dionysos are the squids that slowly dry while hanging under the sun, waiting to be fried. Nonetheless, the specialty of the restaurant is moussakas, a small bite of which leaves a mouthful of flavours.
Frappe - instant ice coffee. Drunk by everyone, cheap and refreshing. A "ticket" to sit outside a cafe for hours, like the Greeks
Freddo Cappuccino - an iced cappuccino. Also drunk by everyone and stronger than a Frappe and easier on the stomach.
Ouzo - Greek anise-flavoured liqueur
Mythos- good Greek lager - very swiggable after a long day in the sun and usually quite reasonable
Orgeat syrup is called Soumada and traditionally served in Kefalonia
There are relatively few hotels, most accommodation is in apartments, the majority of which are block booked by the tour operators. However it isn't too hard to find rooms to rent. Kefalonia isn't a night life island but Lassi in particular can be a bit noisy at night due to the open air bars. Most of Europe closes down during high summer and heads south. Consequently July/August tend to be very busy (especially with Italian camper vans!) September is a lot quieter, although this is also the time when the rains can start.
The following is a selection of accommodations on Kefalonia.
Kefalonia has very little crime, although be careful in busy areas, as most petty crime is aimed toward tourists. Traffic, as everywhere in Greece, can be a little mad in towns. Out in the hills, the roads wind precariously around the sides of mountains. Some are passable only with a good 4 X 4, though the main routes are fine.
Watch uneven pavements in dimly lit streets.
The local police have a very low-key presence and generally confine themselves to issuing speeding tickets. You'll need a rep or interpreter if dealing with them for an insurance claim.
Mosquitoes are a minor issue in inland accommodation, less so by the beaches.
There are plenty of ferry connections to the mainland and the other Ionian islands (Corfu, Zante etc.) and Italy, though Kefalonia isn't really on the traditional island hopping route. There are air services to Athens.