We visited Kefalonia Greece in October to get to know the biggest of the Ionian islands at a peaceful time of year. We stayed in three very different villas on Kefalonia and chatted to local experts to discover picturesque villages, mountain drives, fabulous food and the best Kefalonia beaches.
Beautiful Kefalonia is the biggest of the Ionian islands off the west coast of Greece. Its film star looks made it famous in the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, but that’s not the only reason its fans love it so. Surrounded by glimmering turquoise sea Kefalonia has beaches to suit all tastes: smooth white pebbles, soft gold sand, hidden coves and busy bays. Add in mountain ranges, stunning landscapes and a laidback island lifestyle and you have all the ingredients for an unforgettable Kefalonia holiday.
I travelled to Kefalonia in October with Ionian Villas. It was a great opportunity to see the island at a quiet time after the bustle of high season. Obviously it’s impossible to go everywhere in a week, but I got the chance to chat to some real Kefalonian experts who’ve spent years on the island. So as well as my own trip I’ll be sharing some of their must-see tips and recommendations in this post.
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How to get to Kefalonia
One of the big bonuses of a holiday in Kefalonia, unlike many Greek islands, is that you can fly direct from London. From May to mid-October regular flights leave Gatwick and Stansted whilst several low-cost carriers also offer direct flights from regional airports like Bristol and Manchester too. My friend Fiona and I (we’d left our families at home this time) flew from London Gatwick. In less than three and a half hours we’d landed at Kefalonia’s international airport, just outside the capital of Argostoli.
After the hangar-like spaces of Gatwick, Kefalonia airport is delightfully compact. Off the plane, into the luggage hall and out into the bright blue sky, it’s as simple as that. Our car hire office was a quick suitcase-trundle around the corner, and they let us change into our shorts behind a cupboard too! Before we knew it we were off on the right hand side of the road, with the nose of our Fiat Panda pointing north towards the mountains.
If you’ve decided to base your Kefalonia holidays in the south, you may only need to drive 15 or 20 minutes from the airport. Golden beaches await in Lassi just north of Argostoli whilst quieter coves lie along the coast to the east.
Things to do in Kefalonia
Kefalonia, also known as Cephalonia, is a big island, smaller than Crete but larger than Corfu. You can cross the island and back in a day although a two centre holiday would reduce the driving if you’re very keen to see lots of sights.
Kefalonia Holidays in Fiscardo and the north
Our first port of call was the harbourside village of Fiscardo on the northern most tip of the island. The road from Argostoli, Kefalonia’s capital on the south west coast, to Fiscardo up on the north east is surprisingly straight and easy to drive. That’s not to say it’s a motorway, or even an A road, and it still takes an hour and a half to cover 49km. But it swings easily through some stunning mountain scenery and every now and then you’ll just have to pull over to jump out of the car and gawp at a wonderful sea view.
Or stop and wait for a herd of goats to shuffle out of the middle of the road.
Fiscardo in October is a quintessential sleepy Greek island harbour. Candy-coloured Venetian style houses cluster around the quayside. Painted wooden boats bob and jostle at their moorings. An old man and a young boy drop lines into the water and pull out little silver fish that flicker in the sunlight.
It’s a very different tempo in high summer when mega yachts moor up and a cosmopolitan crowd throngs the little port. But in autumn the pace is mellow and relaxing. We loved drinking coffees at the water’s edge, exploring little alleyways decked in bourgainvillea and popping into the shops for some end of season bargains!
Try supper at Roulas on the harbourside where we had the best saganaki of the week as well as delicious stuffed tomatoes and moussaka.
From the Middle Ages, Kefalonia was seen as a valuable strategic base and over the years the island had many different rulers including Turkish, Spanish and French. But it was the Venetians who influenced the architecture of the Ionian islands and also planted all those olive trees!
Fiscardo is one of the few villages on the island to retain its original Venetian style architecture after a devastating earthquake in 1953. Kefalonia does experience occasional tremors as do other parts of Greece, Italy and Turkey and these days buildings in Greece are designed to withstand earthquakes.
After strolling around Fiscardo our top priority was to go for a swim! The town beach i is just a minute or two’s walk from the harbour, a tiny cove with shingle and some shady trees. A little further away is Emblisi beach, pebbly again with warm, clear, calm waters perfect for swimming or snorkelling. Angled rocks seem specially designed to lie on when you want to dry in the sun. We liked the little snack bar at the back of the beach who were happy to custom-make our hot chocolates with Metaxa!
We didn’t have time to try Alaties, also recommended, which lies about 9 km from Fiscardo. It’s a little sheltered cove with fine shingle and rock pools where salt was once dried and collected. Dafnoudi, a 15 minute walk through olive groves from Antipata, is another secluded find.
After our stay in Fiscardo we headed south again. Assos lies 20 km away on the west coast. We’d heard a lot about it so decided it was a definite must-see and we weren’t disappointed. The little car park was full but the waterside village was quiet and serene.
We sat in the sunshine at the water’s edge looking out over the pretty, almost circular bay. Salad with a hunk of feta, olives, a beer, traditional music wafting out of a taverna kitchen: it was the perfect Greek island afternoon. Up on the hillside, thickly wooded with pine and cypress, are the remains of a 15th century Venetian castle. Friends tell me it’s a lovely walk up, with fabulous views.
Holidays in Kefalonia near Myrtos
The biggest name beach on Kefalonia is world-famous Myrtos. A silverly curve of sand and pebbles, it is lapped by the bluest of blue Ionian seas and sheltered by steep cliffs to either side. It’s a long way down to the beach – and up again, so best to make a day of it, though strong currents mean it might not be the best for families. Or do as we did and simply pull over at the stopping place on the coast road and drink in that breathtaking view.
South of Myrtos, our experts told us, lies Agia Kyriaki bay. This is a long shingly beach with umbrellas, sunbeds and a taverna with a good reputation. It’s one of the less well-known beaches on Kefalonia, accessible from both Argostoli and Lixouri. We passed the turning on our route south and it’s on my list for next time. Good place to watch the sunset too.
Antisamos and the east
The east side of the island ia another place I’ll go when I next visit Kefalonia. The town of Sami is the second largest port after Argostoli, but it is Antisamos bay nearby that’s the real star. You’ll spot it in the film of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and it has that signature eye-catching combo of lush green hillsides, pale pebbles and azure water.
Sami is also a good base from which to see Kefalonia’s other two east coast wonders, the Melissani underground lake and the Drogarati caves. The middle of the day is a good time to take the short boat ride onto the lake as sunlight streams in through an opening in the roof of the cavern. Nearby, the Drogarati caves have stalagmites, stalactites and such good acoustics that concerts can be held there.
Kefalonia holidays near Argostoli
For the second part of our visit to Kefalonia we stayed amongst twisty lanes and olive groves on the south west coast. We used this as a base for exploring beaches and visiting the capital of Argostoli. You need a car if you’re staying around here as the villages are small and the roads can be steep. Road signs are charmingly rare in these parts so find a good driving map rather than relying entirely on GPS.
Our local village in these parts was Spartia. It has two little supermarkets and the family run taverna Cavo Liakas. We had a couple of fun evenings here, especially when we discovered that relatives of the owners run our favourite shop in Argostoli. The menu offers traditional taverna food with some contemporary Mediterranean twists. We loved the homemade lemon geranium scented wine – a delicious end to a meal and you can buy a pretty bottle to take home too!
DISCOVER MORE ABOUT THE IONIAN ISLANDS click here for our favourite things to do on Paxos island. Find out more about pretty Antipaxos here, and read about the villa we stayed in on Paxos here. ON KEFALONIA we learnt the secret of a modern-day moussaka here.
Shopping in Argostoli
Argostoli, the capital of Kefalonia, has an unexpectedly grand pedestrianised street of shops and bars called Lithostroto. We saw it in the rain which was a bit unfortunate but we noticed some stylish boutiques amongst the usual run of souvenir shops. I’ll write another post about shopping in Kefalonia but for now I’ll mention one little gift shop, Alegria, on a side street leading down to the port. We discovered the owners had also been in Cavo Liakas in Spartia the night before. In fact they are family. What are the chances? Well, given that Kefalonia is an island I suppose they are higher than average. But still, happy little connections like these are part of the fun of a Greek holiday. Alegria has a lovely mix of affordable gifts, souvenirs, holiday clothes and accessories whilst sourcing as many products as possible from Greece.
During the summer endangered loggerhead sea turtles nest on the narrow beaches south of Argostoli. They also gather in the warm waters of the Koutavos lagoon which adjoins Argostoli harbour. They’re quite easy to spot here in the mornings when the local fishermen unload their catches and clean their nets. Volunteer patrol teams from Wildlife Sense monitor the nesting beaches and carry out research projects to help protect the turtles. You can find out more about their work here or even volunteer to work with them.
Beaches in Kefalonia
We spent a day exploring the winding lanes of the south west coast in search of pretty beaches. These are our top picks! The tiny cove of Agios Thomas near Karavados has soft sand and an easy entry to the water. Two tavernas overlook the sea so it may well get busy with families in summer.
Nearby Trapezaki has a chic white painted taverna and little stone harbour. We didn’t see it at its best because storms the night before had taken away much of the sand but it’ll be back by Spring the taverna manager reassured us. A little further east, Lourdas is more developed with a long strip of beach alongside a road lined with restaurants. It felt a bit exposed the day we visited but might be jollier in the season. Importantly it is a good place to hire little boats to explore the southern coastline and find secluded coves for picnics and swims.
We discovered another quiet stretch of sand after a tip-off from the owner of Olivestone villa. Kanali beach lies at the bottom of a steep but fairly straightforward track, with gorgeous views over the sea and towards Mount Ainos. Soft sand gently slopes into the water which was crystal clear and warm. Come prepared, with your own snacks and beach umbrellas, as this is a natural beach without facilities. Apparently in summer you can walk from here to Lithero next door and then on to Trapezaki and even Lourdas. The waves were too high to do that when we visited but we could see the appeal.
We didn’t have time to check out Skala on the south east tip of the island. It’s a resort town which was why we didn’t prioritise it but it does also have a long stretch of beach. You can hire boats to find more secluded coves away from the main tourist zones.
One more beach you might like to explore is Xi which lies south of Lixouri. This is on the Paliki peninsula, the little crooked finger of land which juts out from Kefalonia’s west coast. Xi has reddish brown sand and grey rocks which contain clay. Lots of people use this for diy face and body masks on the beach as it’s said to have cleansing properties!
Finally, between the airport and Argostoli lies the little tourist resort of Lassi which offers more golden sand beaches. We couldn’t resist checking out Makris Gialos for a last swim on our way to the airport. A popular hotel overlooks the beach but it wasn’t particularly crowded in October and the sea was warm and clear. In 2019 this beach gained coveted Blue Flag status.
Argostoli to Lixouri ferry
Although we didn’t get as far as Xi beach we did take the car ferry to Lixouri from Argostoli. It’s a really simple, cheap and scenic trip. The ferry leaves Argostoli port every half an hour during the season. We didn’t need to book in October and just joined the queue in our car, drove on and parked and then went out on deck to catch the views. The journey takes about 20 minutes.
Choosing where to stay in Kefalonia
If you’re prepared to go on some day trips you can see quite a lot of Kefalonia in one holiday. Alternatively you could plan to spend two weeks on the island, one week in the north and the other in the south or on the east coast.
As a rule of thumb, beaches to the north of the island are pebbly whilst those in the south are more sandy. Up in the north you’ll find pretty Venetian architecture in Fiscardo, along with stylish restaurants, bars and shops, whilst the neighbouring villages are altogether quieter. To the south of the island are the bigger tourist areas like Lassi or Skala, where you’ll discover more nightlife.
So now all you have to do is choose where to stay: maybe a boutique villa in a charming fishing village? A spacious hideout away from the crowds? Or a luxury catered stay amongst ancient olive groves? We got the chance to try all three!
Our stay on Kefalonia was hosted by Ionian Villas. This is a two-generation family-run villa company with years of experience on the Ionian Islands. David and Alex Watrous really know their stuff, as do their island representives. Karron Remountos, their Kefalonia manager, even rescued us when we got unfathomably lost in the dark (thanks to Google maps) in the tiny lanes of Klismata. Ionian Villas has a broad portfolio of properties with something for everyone; here’s an introduction to the three villas we stayed in on Kefalonia.
The three Fiscardo Bay Villas sit discreetly on the hillside, in richly planted gardens, overlooking the comings and goings of the village harbour in Fiscardo. It’s a fabulous vantage point, an Instagrammable view to enjoy with your breakfast and is handy for the village but peaceful too. The villas conjure a perfect contemporary Greek island luxury, stylish and understated, with generous sofas to sink into, chic marble bathrooms, immaculate bedrooms, terraces and plunge pools and a friendly attention to detail. We could have happily pottered from beach to village to villa and back all week. Fiscardo Bay Villas each have 2 bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms and sleep 4. You can read more about our stay in a luxury Greek villa in Fiscardo here.
Villa Cara, once two separate apartments, is a huge space for family get togethers. A car is essential here as this countryside villa with views of the south coast is very secluded. But hop into the hanging rattan chair on the balcony with your early morning tea and gaze across the glimmering Ionian sea to Zakynthos. You’ll hear nothing but birds and the distant dings and dongs of goat bells. Of course, if you forgot to shut the gates the night before, the goats may have joined you in the garden.
To be honest this was a bit remote for me as I like to be able to walk to a beach or bar from where I’m staying. And we had one or two niggles, in particular with outside lights not working. But on the plus side this is a big no-frills space that sleeps 8. The Visitors book attests to the fact that older families enjoy the expansive garden, big pool and the ground floor living room where teens can play Xbox undisturbed. Villa Cara is no longer available for 2020 but Villa Paradiso is a similar size with 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms and is also near the village of Spartia. Click here for more info.
Olivestone, true to its name, lies on an ancient olive estate. The house has the air of an old Tuscan villa with antique furniture and an Italianate garden set around a pool.
What makes it different from pretty much every other villa on Kefalonia is the fact that it is fully catered. The lovely Yolanda and Effie keep the house running like clockwork. No fears of returning from a day’s exploring to heaps of wet towels and nothing in the fridge. Instead you’ll find yourself chatting happily on the candlelit terrace, drink in hand, whilst Yolanda magics up an evening’s feast for the family. This could be just the ticket if you’re looking for a relaxing multi-generation stay or somewhere to mark a special birthday or reunion. Olivestone sleeps up to 10 with 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. It also has its own skippered yacht available for private charter. You can read more about our visit here.
Ionian Villas invited me to Kefalonia and hosted my stay on the understanding that I would write an honest and unbiased account of my trip. All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.
Car hire in Kefalonia
I found driving in Kefalonia pretty straightforward, especially as the roads are very quiet in October. Here are a few tips we picked up on the way:
Perhaps it’s obvious but in Greece, unlike the UK, you drive on the right. Less obviously, the give way arrangements at roundabouts are also different to the UK. Drivers who are already on the roundabout give way to traffic entering from the right. Your car hire agent will point this out to you (hopefully) and our road map included a little illustrative diagram. Watch out for the one-way systems in Kefalonia too!
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Roads in Kefalonia are in a mix of conditions with few markings and edges which are often ill-defined. Even on a major road you may round a bend and meet a herd of goats (see above) or a small rock fall. The roads become very slippery if wet so be extra cautious and slow right down (though you won’t be going fast anyway). You may occasionally find yourself face to face with a slope more suited to a goat than a motor vehicle. Generally the steeper the hill, the lower the gear, so take it slowly and you should be fine.
Petrol stations all seem to be manned rather than self-service which is helpful; we spotted one conveniently near the airport too.
Finally when you’re arranging your car hire, check the excess which may be high. I paid an additional sum of approx £25 for excess insurance before I left the UK. It’s cheaper that way than on the island. Ionian Villas can help you with this.
Kefalonia weather in October
We were a little bit unlucky, everyone said so! The Ionian islands are usually hot and dry from May to September. The weather in Kefalonia had been clear, blue and beautiful for months before we arrived at the beginning of October. And there was wall to wall sunshine on the day we left which stretched on for another couple of weeks. It must have been frustrating for the olive growers who needed some rain. Unfortunately for us the olives lucked out during the week we visited. We experienced some Biblical downpours along with a couple of spectacular thunderstorms. This led to temporary power cuts too.
But in and amongst this, as you’ll see from the photos, we had some beautiful sunshine and lovely warm swimming. And there are several advantages to visiting Kefalonia out of season. The weather was exactly the temperature I like best. Not frazzlingly hot but warm enough to sit in the sun in a swimsuit. Everywhere was quiet and we could really enjoy picturesque Fiscardo and Assos without the crowds. Bars and restaurants were still open and serving great food. And we found some lovely end of season bargains in the shops. So all in all I will risk the Greek islands in October again, only next time I’ll pack an umbrella!
With thanks for all your helpful advice to Freddy and Hiona Iossif, Lysander Migliaressis, Karen Remountos and David Watrous.
What to pack for Kefalonia
Guide book/ map
Waterproof bag for phone
Please note that all visitor information here is for guidance only. Please check the relevant websites for the most up to date information eg. accommodation details, tickets, entrance requirements, opening times etc.
All photos are all rights reserved. Please do not reproduce these photos without prior written permission. With thanks to David Watrous for the photos of Myrtos in Spring and the Melissani lake.