Kefalonia & Ithaca – gems of the Ionian Sea (Greece)

The Greek Island of Kefalonia is the largest in the Ionian group and has a dramatic mountainous landscape. It is also one of the best in terms of the range of villas on offer and we were lucky enough to visit it recently with our friends from Ionian Island Holidays, one of our favourite villa specialists. We also had the opportunity to visit neighbouring Ithaca too.

 

We spent the first night in the capital Argostili, in the southern part of the island. Flattened by an earthquake in 1953 the modern town is low rise, attractive and easy going. It is not beautiful however its waterfront setting and views of surrounding mountains give it a charm and it is well worth visiting. Regular ferries run from here the short distance across the bay to Lixouri on the south-western peninsular.

 

 

Heading up the west coast we passed firstly gorgeous Myrtos beach. Made famous in the film Captain Correli’s Mandolin this wide expanse of white sand/shingle has spectacular shades of blue water. Further up the coast is lovely Assos, one of the most famous spots in Greece. A rock fortress (crowned by a Venetian fort) is joined to the mainland by a narrow spit and on this sits the small village of Assos. A lovely small town beach, very protected, and colourful houses surround the bay. It is a popular yachting haven and there are tavernas and cafes on the waterfront. We looked at villas in the hills behind with spectacular views Assos Hills, the charming Cavos Inn, Sea Path Apartments in the village as well as Villa Throsima just back from the square. This is a small, quiet and charming spot, which can become very busy with day trippers, so if you are looking to get away from it all but have facilities to hand, then this might be the place. We had a mighty fine lunch at Nerfeli on the waterfront and would highly recommend the orange cake!

 

 

Our next stop was Fiskardo which was our base for the next two nights. This is one of our favourite spots in the Ionians. A small harbour, busy with yachts, and well-preserved Venetian buildings give it a lot of grace and charm. Quiet by day it really comes alive in the evenings with restaurants, cafes and tavernas ringing the waterfront. It is pretty upmarket, with some fancy restaurants, and not old-school Greece. There are a few bars and livelier places but this is not a loud resort in any way. We were staying in the Kalokairi Apartments just up the hill (10 mins+ walk up). They have stunning views, a good-sized pool area with nice outside seating. Apartments are fine, simple and spacious. It is a good base.

 

We looked at some of the apartments right in the centre of Fiskardo such as the Karteri, and then two lovely villas side by side on the coast road round to charming Foki Beach (with a great taverna at the back). Stella and Aphroditi, share a pool so are perfect for a large family or friends travelling together. Right across the (quiet) road you can access the sea and its less than 10 mins walk into town. Back up the hill behind Foki we visited some gorgeous quiet villas, each with amazing views across the valley and over to Ithaca. For those wanting a real hideaway the Arozza, Georgia and Alexander’s House would work well as well as the charming Alexanna Apartments. We finished up at the wonderful new Kylistri Villas, small, stylish and very smart with brilliant sunset views. All of these would be 5+ mins drive from Fiskardo and 5-15 mins walk to the restaurants in Magganos. This is a great little village with everything you need from a bakery and supermarket to some excellent restaurants. We ate brilliantly there at Aliya’s Yard with beautiful views out to the west and fine local dishes.

We set off by boat from Fiskardo firstly down the Ithaca Channel, to some of the hidden coves where you can sometime see turtles. The boatman saw them, we didn’t. Then it was across to the small port of Polis beneath the pretty village of Stavros, one of only a handful on Ithaca. Heading through the small port of Frikes the coastline, with innumerable charming beaches is very indented and absolutely gorgeous. The end of the road is the lovely and well-protected harbour of Kioni, a yachting favourite. We saw the Likoudis Apartments above the town, sharing a really nice pool, and about 10 mins walk into the centre. Then into the harbour area itself there are apartments like Rigoni, Melissa’s House (talk about unrestricted views) and Nona’s House a 200 year old stone cottage with real character. None of these had pools but there are plenty of small beaches dotted around the bay so you probably would not have to walk more than 5 mins or so to get into the sea. Kioni itself was small and bustling with a good range of tavernas and cafes around the end of the bay. This is a really beautiful part of a really lovely island – it is very quiet here with good walks, small beaches and few people.

 

 

Heading back south we took the spectacular west coast road which hugs the side of the mountains with the Ithaca Channel below and Kefalonia straight across. We had a superb lunch at Kohili’s on the harbour in the capital Vathy. We ate well every however the standard here was outstanding with particularly fine pies and Dakos salad. Vathy is a good size, much bigger than Fiskardo, and felt like a proper Greek town rather than a tourist resort. There were two excellent villas at the end of the harbour, Kirki and Kalypso, both about 15-20 mins walk into the centre plus the very quirky and interesting Perantzada Art Hotel. We visited a number of villas in the hills behind Vathy, all about 10 mins walk from the town so you definitely need a car. Ino and Semeli were attractive as well as Villa Red which looked particular comfortable.

 

 

We spent the evening down on the harbour in Fiskardo. Lively and bustling there is such a good choice of restaurants, bars and cafes. It can get pretty busy, especially with lots of yachts in the harbour, but it is still not a loud and brash resort. Before leaving the north in the morning we made one last visit to what turned out to be one of my favourite villas, Aquarius. 4 bedroom on the outskirts of Magganos this had really charm and a great garden and pool area.

 

 

Heading south we visited the Melisani Cave, an excursion that is well worth it. There is a fissure than runs beneath the island from Argostili to the north near Sami and close to the coast part of it collapsed to produce a spectacular water filled cave. Character boatmen take you around, the colours are wonderful.

 

 

Our visits on the south coast were in Lourdas and it is a very different feel to Fiskardo and the north. The mountains are still very high, and pretty dramatic, however the feel of the area is more resort like with a laid-back, relaxed and perhaps slightly tropical feel. Villa Marina was a small 3 bedroom villa, which felt very private and then another favourite, Villa Kefalonia. This 3 bedroom villa has a HUGE garden and lovely pool area. Very spacious, with mature garden, there are views down the Lourdas beach below. The beach itself is very long and apparently never gets busy in the summer. Views area across the Zakynthos and one of the reasons the best is so attractive is that there is no real development behind it. Market gardens and small houses are still there with villas and apartments back up the hillside. We had a superb lunch at the Klimatis restaurant which has a real tropical beach bar feel, the spicy mussels were delicious.

 

 

All in all I was reminded about how good Kefalonia is for villas – almost without fail they have great views. Ithaca was charming, probably not that suited to families, and the resort and beach in Lourdas was a real eye—opener. Of the villas we saw Aquarius and Kefalonia would be my favourites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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