Captain Corelli’s Cephalonia

28 Jul

This little Greek island in the Ionian Sea is still riding on the coat tails of the infamous book and with good reason.  With a turbulent history of constant invasion and natural disasters, the solid unchanging mountain at its centre seems to hold the whole island together and provide its unique identity.  Yet it’s from the book that most people recognize it.

It seems to have the best of both worlds – an unspoilt, laid back, wildly beautiful landscape and draw dropping scenery, but with excellent wifi and plenty of tavernas and cocktail bars!  No fish and chips or roudy nightspots, just proudly traditional places that will cater to any cheese addict’s needs and small but chic bars often with stunning views across the cool calm seas to another one of the islands in this archipelago (usually Zakynthos or Ithaca) which is just perfect for sipping a pre-dinner creation that looks like something Del Boy would choose.

Aside from the amazing catering facilities, the island is easily navigable by tiny car up and down hair-raising roads with sheer cliffs on each side.  The little towns of Sami and Skala on the east coast are beautiful.  Even in peak season it was quiet and the few tourists we saw couldn’t hope to fill up every spare chair in every taverna, of which there are a huge amount in every town.  Usually perched on the edge of a pretty harbour, they’re a wonderful place to sit and envy the visiting boating fraternity and their impressive yachts.  It’s even better to get out on a boat cruise and dive into the warm turquoise waters and swim across to beaches only accessible by sea.  Argostoli and Lixouri on the western side are not quite so atmospheric or pretty.  You won’t miss anything if you don’t venture there.  Ithaca is remote and serene and probably why John Hurt and Rowan Atkinson own villas there; whilst Russian oligarchs own whole islands.  I certainly would if I could!

Ruled at one time or other over the last 2000 years by every European nation it seems, the Cephalonians must have a very mixed heritage.  The population plummeted after the last big earthquake in 1953 and never really recovered.  Perhaps that’s why is feels so very empty.  Tourism is its main trade, with olive oil probably coming a close second.  The trees were planted by the Venetians 400 years ago and they are wonderfully ancient, craggy and twisted.  The oil they produce is like nothing I have tasted before.  Beautiful.

Villa hire is popular here and they are dotted all over the island’s coastline.  Perched up high they often offer fantastic views, but beware walking down to the beach, only to have to walk up the sharp inclines in intense sunshine and heat later!

A visit longer than the week we chose would mean venturing further afield – Fiskardo in the north and over to Olympia on the mainland.  Next time perhaps…

I loved Cephalonia, just as I loved Zakynthos 13 years ago.  It seems that the Ionians have found the perfect recipe for the prefect holiday destination.  Efharisto Cephalonia.

 

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