Olivestone is a villa with private pool on an olive estate in the south of Kefalonia. Unusually for the island, it’s a villa with a cook and housekeeper too. We visited for supper and to learn some Greek cooking tips from Yolanda. Read on for the secrets of her modern day moussaka recipe!
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My friend Fiona and I left our families at home to catch some last minute sun on the Greek island of Kefalonia in October. Ionian Villas had invited me to explore the island and see the sights – you can read more about our trip here.
A Kefalonian villa with an Italian vibe
On our last evening we were invited for dinner at a country house on an olive estate. Not what you might usually expect on a Greek island, but Olivestone isn’t what you’d usually expect in Kefalonia either. In fact as you’ll see from the pictures, it’s got a very Italian vibe!
The estate has belonged to the Migliaressis family since the 17th century when they arrived on the island from Italy. Sadly Kefalonia’s earthquake in 1953 destroyed many of the original Venetian style buildings on the island. But Olivestone’s owner, former diplomat Lysander Migliaressis, has drawn on elements of his Italian heritage in designing his villa to give it a timeless appeal.
Indoors it whispers traditional Tuscan country style with a cool flagged floor and polished antique furniture. Outside, amongst the bougainvillea on the secluded terrace, your eyes are drawn to pencil slim cypress trees and the Italianate pool. It’s really only the sight of Zakynthos shimmering in the distance that reminds you this a Greek island retreat.
Obviously we jumped straight into that pool before supper!
A catered villa with in-house cook
One of our key reasons for visiting Olivestone was to meet Yolanda. She’s the in-house cook who, together with Effie the housekeeper, runs the villa so that its visitors don’t have to. Because, unusually for Kefalonia, Olivestone is a fully-catered rental. Yolanda is on hand, always with a smile, to prepare breakfast, snacks and dinner for guests. In other words, she’s a treasure!
DISCOVER MORE ABOUT KEFALONIA click here for our insider guide to the island with expert tips on the best beaches and where to stay OR TRY THE SECLUDED BAYS OF TINY PAXOS, ANOTHER ISLAND IN THE IONIAN SEA click here for our top things to do on a family trip to Paxos.
Each week visitors plan their meals with Yolanda from a Mediterranean-inspired menu. It includes some traditional Kefalonian dishes to which Yolanda has added her own twists. This particular evening she’d agreed to let us in on the secrets of her moussaka recipe (check the Olivestone visitors’ book: it’s famous!).
How to make a modern-day moussaka
If you enjoy Greek food you’ve almost certainly eaten moussaka. It’s that quintessentially solid, deliciously spiced bake of mince, tomato, aubergine and potato topped with a custardy sauce that you can often cut with a knife. It’s one of my favourite Greek dishes but, let’s face it, it’s quite a fiddle to cook, as well as being immensely filling.
After our swim we found Yolanda ready in the kitchen. She’d already sliced the aubergines and soaked them in salty water to remove any trace of bitterness. After this she’d fried the slices and left them to drain on kitchen paper.
As we chatted she quickly cooked the minced beef in a frying pan with chopped onion and fresh tomato, pointing out that she purposely doesn’t add garlic. She seasoned the mix with salt, pepper and three shakes of cinnamon, the equivalent of half a small spoonful.
Taking a rectangular ovenproof glass dish Yolanda sprinkled the bottom with very fine dried breadcrumbs from a packet. Next she layered up aubergine, more fine breadcrumbs, the meat mixture, more breadcrumbs and more aubergine. Finally she prepared a bechamel sauce whisking butter, flour and milk, seasoned with nutmeg and white pepper, with salt to taste. She poured this onto the aubergines, sprinkled breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan on top then popped it into the oven for half an hour.
It seemed quick and effortless once the preliminary aubergine prep was out of the way. ‘No potatoes,’ pointed out Yolanda, and no eggs in the sauce. She explained that traditional ‘taverna moussaka’ is a heavy dish; she prefers a lighter style which is better suited to her dinner menu.
Dinner with Yolanda
And of course the big advantage of Yolanda’s 21st century moussaka is that it leaves you able to enjoy all the other treats she rustles up for dinner on the terrace. A tomato gazpacho arrived first, then courgette fritters in a light beer batter with tzatziki. Rocket salad with croutons and nectarine accompanied the golden moussaka. Which, incidentally, was light and delicious.
Finally, when we could hardly move, Yolanda produced a dish of freshly sliced fruit and a caramel chocolate mousse.
Luckily for us we were staying the night. After a stroll with Yolanda through the prettily lit olive groves to see the restored mill we came back to the villa and tumbled into our beds.
Bottles of mozzie repellent in the bedroom were a thoughtful touch. Moussata mosquitoes seem particularly determined. But, insects quelled, it was a peaceful night in our secluded little corner of the island.
A walk in the olive grove
The next morning we woke up to a perfect sunny day. My bedroom opened onto the terrace so I padded straight outside.
The lovely aromatic scent of rosemary wafted up from the garden. And the sound of coffee perking in the kitchen meant that Yolanda was up and around and thinking about our breakfasts.
Back in the shade of the outdoor table we tucked into fluffy scrambled eggs flavoured with oregano. Then we needed to have toast to try the strawberry and apricot jams, homemade by Yolanda from fruit from the orchard. After breakfast we wanted another look at the historic olive grove before we headed to the airport.
Kefalonia is famous for its olive oil production. It was encouraged by the Venetians who ruled the island for almost 300 years and more than a million trees grow on the island. And I’ll bet some of the oldest are on the Olivestone estate.
It was when we got back to the house that we felt the earth move. Literally the teeniest quiver beneath our feet, accompanied by a distant rumble. Kefalonia, like much of Greece, is in an earthquake zone so tremors aren’t uncommon. Yolanda just laughed. But you can find advice here if you have any concerns.
A Catered Villa Holiday in Greece
Olivestone feels more like a welcoming private home than a slick commercial villa. Its USP is definitely its charming staff, Yolanda and Effie.
The prospect of returning from a day’s exploring to a candlelit dinner in the garden is rather appealing. The house sleeps up to 10 and, surprisingly given its peacefulness, is only a 15 minute drive from Kefalonia’s airport. We were only there for supper and a sleep, but I reckon it’s worth considering as a characterful option for a get-together or celebration.
You’ll need a car for your stay. Once you’ve torn yourself away from the terrace and the pool the nearest beach, Trapezaki, is about 1.5 km down the hill. You can read about the local beaches here. Walkable, but not so much the coming back. A car will also give you the opportunity to explore further afield. Check out our post here for sightseeing options.
Olivestone also has its own skippered yacht available for charter. And you can find water sports and boat hire at Lourdas, just along the coast.
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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.
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