You know there’s something special about a place that draws you back time after time. For me that place is Kefalonia.
Greece’s third largest island, and the largest of the Ionian Islands, Kefalonia is best known as the setting of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres retelling of the Italian and German occupation of the island during the Second World War. For me, Kefalonia was a part of my life long before I visited it. My grandparents have been going on holiday there for as long as I can remember (and smuggling back honey cakes in their suitcases, no wonder I’m addicted to them). A few years ago when they celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary they invited the rest of the family along to join them. And so started my love affair with this incredible place. We’ve returned every year, sometimes twice, to enjoy the tranquillity and calm of this beautiful island.
In this post I’ve collated all my favourite spots that we discovered over the years, from beaches to restaurants. It might not have the picture perfect white and blue buildings associated with some Greek islands but Kefalonia is stunning, full of colour and light. It’s a perfect place for slowing down, enjoying good food, good wine and time with family.
WHERE WE STAYED
We always stay at Hotel Summery in Lixouri, which is definitely a quieter part of the island. My grandparents have been staying at the hotel for almost 30 years so all the staff are like family to them. The hotel is perfect for us, with a pool in a beautiful garden right on the beach so I can cool off in the sea while N cools off in the pool.
The rooms have gorgeous views across the bay to Argostoli and Mount Aenos. I can never resist getting up early to enjoy a swim while the sun is coming up. The hotel serves a traditional Greek breakfast which we normal enjoy in the shaded area of the garden next to the fountain. During the day you can get fantastic cocktails, beers and soft drinks as well as light meals brought out to you if you are seated around the pool.
The rooms are simple, clean and comfortable, with air conditioning and a balcony where you can sit and enjoy the views. The hotel is also right next to the town play park and open air gym if you fancy a workout during your stay.
EATING AND DRINKING
It’s worth saying that none of the restaurants I have recommended in this post do any gimmicky cabaret or music (I’ve not experienced this in Kefalonia but I know it is common in big resorts elsewhere) . These restaurants are all places where you can relax and enjoy real Greek food.
This is probably my favourite restaurant in Kefalonia. It is about a 2km walk from Lixouri along the road to Lepeda. The restaurant has the most incredible terrace with blossoming vines and views across the bay. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a lazy lunch or romantic meal (my grandparents have been eating here on their wedding anniversary for the last 30 or so years!). The food is delicious and like most restaurants in Lixouri, very reasonable priced. I love the Kefalonian meat pie with a Greek salad to share, but they also serve delicious grilled fish.
We discovered this little restaurant tucked away just off the main square in Lixouri on our second visit and have returned on every visit to the island ever since. The tables are in a tiny courtyard which is hidden from the main street so you could easily miss this place. On a weekend they serve traditional kontosouvli (spit-roasted pork) so it’s worth trying to go on a Friday or Saturday if you can.
I don’t actually know the name of this place as it is in Greek so we just call it “Kebab Man’s” after the owner, who is often seen running around doing several things at once. It’s essentially a tiny takeaway with some tables in the street, located at the corner of Grigoriou Lampraki and Kosti Palama. The kebabs are absolutely incredible and so cheap (about £1.20 for gyros). Our favourite is the large mixed pita, which comes in at about £8 and easily serves two. Add in a couple beers and you’ve got yourself an entire meal for just over a tenner!
This is probably the most popular restaurant in Lixouri but for good reason. The food is delicious and inexpensive and all the tables are right on the water front, making it the perfect spot to watch the mountains turn a wonderful golden pink as the sun goes down and all you can see are the lights of the wind turbines along the top of the hills and the lights of the ferry that goes to and from Argostoli.
This tiny taverna on Lepeda beach serves the best Greek salad on the island – big juicy tomatoes, salty olives and capers and lashings of olive oil. We’ve spent many an afternoon sat on the beach sharing a salad and chips with bread to soak up all that lovely oil in the bottom of the bowl and a cold beer. When you get too hot it’s just a short run across the hot sand into the crystal clear water.
Located on the main square in Lixouri this bar is a perfect spot to enjoy a cocktail or a post-dinner coffee and watch the world go by. It also does great pizza and is right next to the ice cream shop.
Lixouri’s ice cream shop on the main square is always worth a visit. We got chatting to the guy who runs the place (my parents are ice cream makers too) and he’s lovely (although his mum is apparently the boss). After you’ve enjoyed a delicious meal head here to get an ice cream to enjoy as you explore the shops.
Climbing Mount Ainos
I’ve written a separate post about climbing Mount Ainos. If you are an experienced hiker then it’s a worthwhile addition to your itinerary. However I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are fully prepared for a day’s hard walking. If you don’t fancy the hike up you can drive almost all the way to the top and enjoy the incredible views from the summit instead.
This lake within a huge cavern is probably one of Kefalonia’s most famous attractions so unsurprisingly it tends to be very busy. But it’s still worth a visit. We visited as part of an organised day trip but the bus between Sami and Argostoli stops here as well. Once you’ve paid you head down through a tunnel to wait for a boat. Your guide then takes you around the cave, explaining the unique qualities of the water in the lake. The boatmen normally enjoy singing in the second cavern, with the sound echoing around the chamber. Yes it’s gimmicky but it is undeniably a beautiful place.
Located next to Melissani it’s worth taking a visit to the caves at the same time. Here you walk through the underground cave system exploring the interesting rock formations.
Without doubt the prettiest town on Kefalonia, this is the only place on the island where the original Venetian buildings have survived the many earthquakes through the years. Take a walk through the woods to discover the historic Venetian lighthouse. Located at the very north of the island you can either drive or take a bus – but be warned, the road is slightly terrifying!
A beautiful little town that is best accessed by car. You can walk up to the fortress ruins atop the hill on its separate island and take in the views of picture perfect Assos on one side and endless blue sea on the other. Back in the town you can enjoy a meal at one of the tavernas that surround the little port.
The Italian Monument
The monument was errected to commemorate the massacre of the Italian 33rd Acqui Infantry Division on the island at the end of the Germany occupation during the Second World War. It’s a sobering place but one worth a visit to pay your respects and remember the tragic history of the island. The monument is located a short walk up the hill from Argostoli and if you go I recommend taking a walk down the other side of the hill before taking the flat road around the hill back into Argostoli, passing the water mill on your way.
Catching a street concert outside the Music School in Lixouri
In the summer the Music School in Lixouri will take over the street outside for the students to perform a concert. It’s a fantastic family atmosphere, if a little busy. It’s a perfect end to an evening listening to the music drift through the streets of the town.
Watching loggerhead turtles in Koutavos lagoon
Argostoli, and in particular Koutavos lagoon is home to a group of loggerhead turtles. You can often catch a glimpse of them as you walk along the seafront – or just wait for the local restaurants to throw them fish to draw a crowd.
Possibly my favourite beach on Kefalonia, located about 2km from Lixouri this beautiful sandy beach has crystal clear water filled with little fish. As the beach is on the bay of Argostoli the water is almost entirely flat, making it a perfect spot for families. There’s also a little pool on the beach which is perfect of babies and toddlers. Along the beach is a nunnery and you can often listen to the nuns singing as they take a swim.
Located on the west coast of the Paliki peninsula, this beach is a mixture of course sand and small white pebbles. The water is the most incredible shade of blue but the waves are much bigger on this side of the island so you need to be fairly confident in the water. Petani is also a perfect spot to watch the sunset if you time your visit just right.
One of Greece’s most famous beaches (possible only second to Shipwreck Bay on Zakynthos) Myrtos is undeniably beautiful but my advice would be to stop at one of the viewpoints on the coast road rather than visit the beach itself. Not only does the beach get very busy but the beach itself is made up of large white pebbles which makes it very uncomfortable to walk barefoot. If you plan on having a swim you’ll need to wear flip flops and be warned – the waves are very powerful. If you plan on staying for more than a few hours its best to either take a parasol or hire a sun-lounger as there is no shade.
Xi / Megas Lakos
Located at the tip of the Paliki peninsula, this long narrow strip of red coloured sand is a beautiful place to take a walk in the surf. The water here is much calmer than Myrtos and Petani and you need to walk a long way out into the sea to become out of your depth. There are plenty of little bars and tavernas along the beach as well.
The easiest way of getting around the island is to hire a car and there are plenty of companies to choose from. We went with X and they provided a brilliant service, although our little car did give up when we were driving back from Petani and we had to wait to be rescued with a new hire car.
It’s also reasonably easy to take day trips by bus. The bus service is good, with large air-conditioned coaches. But services are infrequent to all but the most popular spots so you often have to get an early bus and return at a set time – if you miss your return journey you’ll have little option but to pay for a taxi. Buses run from all of the main resorts but if you want to go to certain places you’ll need to go via Argostoli where the main bus station is located.
Generally when we are in Kefalonia we take things slow, which means enjoying walks around Lixouri e.g. to Lepeda or simply enjoying reading a book beside the pool. If you’re looking for a holiday packed with day trips and sights then Kefalonia might not be for you.
Have you been to Kefalonia? Where are your favourite places on the island?