I’d always wanted to visit Kefalonia, ever since I’d read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, a war-time novel chronicling the trials of Greek and Italian soldiers and islanders from romance to occupation to the futility of war. Louis de Bernieres showed depicted Kefalonia to be a magical place, full of bright light and rich culture. He was spot on – there is a charm about Kefalonia that we missed in all the other Greek islands we traveled to. Perhaps it was the lack of crowds as it was in Santorini, or the lack of parties and booze as it was in Mykonos. Kefalonia was the perfect island destination for a couple on a budget – from its variety of gorgeous sandy and pebbled beaches to the rugged, weaving coastlines, to the picturesque family-run restaurants.
We visited Kefalonia in May, and we recommend visiting between May and September. May is a great time to visit: the beaches are pretty deserted and the restaurants and streets are uncrowded. You can really enjoy the local flavor by talking to the local families and watching football games with them over shots of ouzo. We flew from Athens to the tiny airport in Kefalonia – the smallest airport we’ve ever been to! From the moment we landed, we were bathed in the bright light that de Bernieres speaks of: the light in Kefalonia is so bright it’s almost ethereal.
Do: Rent a car!
We rented a car to explore Kefalonia, which is really a must-do in order to explore the different beaches and towns.
Stick to staying at family-run inns and “hotels,” they are clean and a better feel of the local culture.
A car with four wheel drive is not necessary to navigate the hills.
Don’t: Forget to take cash
Our accommodation didn’t accept card, and informed us that many similar places didn’t. We didn’t know this in advance and had resort to bank transfers with the hotel. Most restaurants take card though, so we recommend you take both cash and credit (not debit) card.
Do: Visit more than one beach
We had the most relaxed holiday possible in Kefalonia, driving from one beach to the next. They are spectacular. Between Assos, Antisamos, Petani, Myrtos, and Skala beaches, Petani and Myrtos beaches were our favorite. Skala and Antisamos beaches are great if you prefer to stay closer to a town or village – they had lots of cafes, nearby restaurants, music, and drinks.
Petani and Myrtos beaches were quieter and much bigger, although we were told they too get more full during June, July, and August. Check out Petani beach if you prefer sandy beaches. It’s pretty deserted in May, and if you pack a snack and some drinks, it’s the perfect beach trip.
Myrtos beach is also beautiful if you prefer pebble beaches. The cliffs surrounding the beach make it incredible, but lead to some strong winds. Myrtos and Petani beaches had free parking when we visited in May.
Do: Visit Melissani Lake
This was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Melissani Lake is a sort of “cenote” or sink-hole within a cave. Swimming is not allowed but you can take a boat ride within the cave on the beautiful lake. Pictures really don’t do it justice!
There is an entrance fee to the cave and tipping is optional, and the guide does get pretty forceful about it at the end of your ride (though they’re not as bad as some other places, see: Blue Grotto in Capri). The boat ride is worth it though!
Melissani cave is not very easy to find, but if you follow the little road signs and stick to the path even when the roads signs themselves are sparse (don’t go off-road if you don’t see a sign for a new direction for a few kilometers!) you should be able to find it.
Do: Visit the Drogarati Caves
The Drogarati caves are pretty close to Melissani cave and easily do-able during the same day. These caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites are definitely worth the visit.
As you can see, it is not over-developed, which we loved, and we almost had the places to ourselves when we visited in May.
Parking was free* but there is an entrance fee to the cave.
Do: Drive around
It’s great to just drive around the undulating hills of Kefalonia, littered with goats with tinkling bells, honey plantations, and little farm houses.
We drove up Mount Ainos/Einos as it was a key geographical focus in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and enjoyed some spectacular views.
Be aware though, they’ve built an electrical plant on the mountain so the landscape at the top itself is not vert picturesque – but the views of the island below from the top to us were very much worth it! You can drive all the way up the mountain.
Don’t*: have seafood-only dishes at the cafes and restaurants
Now this is a personal opinion! We’ve had better seafood elsewhere, and suggest ordering the souvlaki and salads rather than octopus/shrimp only dishes. This is not to say that the seafood isn’t fresh – trust us, it is! We just found the preparation and flavor slightly lacking (we were surprised too!) After ordering seafood dishes at numerous places, we decided to stick with souvlaki, salads, and other delicacies and we really weren’t disappointed. Since this is obviously a personal opinion though, you may be better off trying the seafood once and see how you like it!
Do: Have souvlaki, wine, salads, and bread with olive oil at family restaurants
Despite the seafood comment above, Kefalonia had some of the best restaurants we’d been to – partly because of the fresh salads and delicious meats (their souvlaki was the best I had, living in Greece for 4 months!), but in large part because of the family-run, homey vibe. If it’s local, authentic Greek cuisine and culture you’re after, Kefalonia is the place for you.
Accommodation: stick to family-run inns and B&Bs. Take cash and credit cards (no debit cards)
Food: Try the local specialties like souvlaki and Greek salads and you won’t be disappointed!
Visit: Melissani Lake, Drogarati cave, Petani and Myrtos beaches. Drive around the rural villages and up hills (and mountains like Mount Ainos to enjoy the spectacular views.
Been to Kefalonia? Planning a trip there? We’d love to hear about your experiences! Share your stories with us below!