The Ionian vs the Aegean Sea
There are two main types of Greek islands: those that lie in the Ionian and those found in the Aegean. The landscape is the most noticeable difference between the two. Ioanian islands are very green, thick with trees and soil ripe for growing fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables. Whereas the Aegean islands, in particular the Cyclades, are rocky and almost barren. In terms of tourism, the Aegean is better for island hopping, while the Ionian wins for its natural beauty…
One Week Earlier…
If you are Greek, have Greek friends, or have watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you would know that Greek parents-in-law can be a little intense. The scale of that intensity, from mild to extreme, goes something like this: Greeks raised outside of Greece (mild); Greeks born and bred in Athens (medium); from a village outside of Athens but still on the mainland (intense); Greeks from an island (extreme!!) …Guess what kind I have?
Little did I know that having one parent-in-law from Kefalonia (Ionian Sea) and the other from Mykonos (Aegean Sea) is like walking into a Coke vs Pepsi, Mac vs Windows, Marvel vs DC debate. Since meeting my husband, we’ve been to Mykonos many times together. We got married in Mykonos, I wrote this Mykonos guide… But this would be my first time to Kefalonia. How come? Like some kind of DC villain, my Kefalonian-in-law was silently and patiently plotting our visit…
You won’t like Kefalonia, my Mykonian-in-law assured us frequently, yet with a nervousness to his tone. It’s too big. You have to drive an hour and a half to reach Fiskardo and another hour just to get to the beach! Oh it’s so quiet, there are no bars, you’ll definitely get bored. There is not even one umbrella on the beach! I considered my response, nodded my head in agreement, but all the while I was thinking… just how absolutely perfect it sounds.
One Week Later…
After spending a week in Kefalonia, I can tell you that almost everything I heard was true. Kefalonia is indeed big, the largest island in the Ionian, taking around 2 hours to drive from north to south. And yes, the bay of Fiskardo takes some time to reach from the airport. But the drive is fantastic, through the middle of a thick cypress and pine tree forest before emerging on the coast, along a dangerously narrow cliffside road, not for the faint-hearted (and watch out for the goats!)
The beaches are very quiet. There is no thump thump of bass from the beach bars – because there are no beach bars. Just the summer song of the tzitzikia (cicadas) and birds nesting among the beautiful bright lime and emerald green trees that line the pebbly shores. The waters are crystal clear, turquoise and calm, so calm you can rent a small speedboat without a license for the day, discovering little bays and beaches all to yourself. The tavernas are cheap. What you spend here in a week, you would spend in Mykonos in a day.
I mean, yeah, pfff, it was ok. I tell my Myconian-in-law, who is waiting for us at the port as we arrive by ferry from Athens.
Pick a Base: Argostoli or Fiskardo?
A lot of tourists choose to stay in the capital of Argostoli, however, I much prefer the more exclusive northern tip of the island and recommend staying closer to Fiskardo, anywhere north of Markoulata. There are lots of unique luxury accommodation options to be found on Air Bnb as well as a beautiful 5-star nature resort called Emelisse.
- For getting around, you’ll definitely need to rent a car. We rented a Suzuki Vitara from Pefanis car rental.
- Everything mentioned in this guide can be done within a week.
- Kefalonia is suitable for all types of holidays: couples, honeymoons, families and friends.
Where to Go in Fiskardo
Fiskardo is the largest village in the north, where you will find a beautiful marina lined with shops and restaurants. If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because it was the location of the 2001 film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Although international attention can sometimes overwhelm a place, thankfully Fiskardo remains as peaceful as ever.
Tassia’s – for high-end traditional Greek food. Known as Tom Hank’s favourite restaurant, I’m sure you’ll love it too. Tassia is a celebrity chef and owner of this popular taverna, considered the very best on the island. Try the octopus appetizer and regional meat pie, washed down with local Robola wine.
Lord Falcon – for the best Thai food in Greece. I hear you, travel is an opportunity to try local food, but this Thai place deserves an exception. The authentic Thai food – all cooked by a very talented Thai chef – and tropical garden atmosphere will transport you to Thailand. Try the chicken saté and beef pandang!
Melina Pattiserie – for delicious breakfasts or lunch, coffee, desserts, and pastries. If you have a sweet tooth, make a stop at this popular café restaurant. Try the portokalopita (orange pie – my favourite) or galaktoboureko (vanilla cream pie – hubby’s favourite).
Kayak – for the best Greek ice cream. The popular Kayak brand can be found throughout Athens and in Mykonos and Kefalonia. Their ice-creams rival the Italians, with several unusual flavours, such as black chocolate sorbet and mastic pink pepper ice cream. If you prefer frozen yogurt to ice cream, visit Dodoni instead.
Almyra – for souvenir shopping. This beautiful boutique has amazing handpicked Greek products from fashion and jewelry to souvenirs and things for the home. Make sure you leave some space in your suitcase!
Fiskardo Boat Hire or Regina’s – for hiring a little speedboat to tour the island. Although you don’t need a license, some boating experience is advised to navigate and know how and where to use the anchor. When you hire a boat for the day, they will explain the areas you’re allowed to go: between Kimilia beach and Fiskardo and across to Ithaka.
- explore all the coast, but skip the crossing to Ithaka as it’s a waste of gas
- pack a picnic (from picnic, see below) – there is a cooler onboard to keep it fresh and dry
- bring your own towels, water shoes and snorkels
Picnic – for picnics on the beach or boat! This popular all-day breakfast place will pack whatever food supplies you need for the day, picnic-style for you to take-away. Since most beaches don’t have facilities, it’s good to come prepared with snacks and plenty of water. They also do delivery if you’re staying in a villa nearby.
The Old Stone House – for local Greek food at great value. This charming taverna is just opposite Picnic. If you’re not in the mood to go into Fiskardo or cook at home, this is another great option.
The Best Beaches Near Fiskardo
Most of the beaches in Kefalonia, with a few exceptions such as Myrtos, are pebbly and not sandy. The pebbles are large and painful to walk on barefoot. It may seem strange wearing shoes to the beach and for swimming in the sea, but water shoes will transform your experience of the island. Buy a pair, you will not regret it. They cost €10-20 and are sold at most touristic shops. I also recommend bringing some snorkeling gear!
Alaties – the best spot for sunsets and cocktails at Acqua Bar
Tip: walk about 3/4 up the road away from Acqua and turn left towards the sea to watch the white cliffs turn pink before the sun dips below the rocks.
Emblysi – by the Emelisse Hotel, where you can also rent sunbeds
Tip: There is a small cocktail shack on the beach, it’s also the only beach in the area where you can rent sunbeds. Emelisse hotel is also a stunning location for sunset cocktails and fine dining. If you’re a client of the restaurant, you can also use their pool for a dip!
Kimilia – It’s a 10 minute walk from the parking lot to this secluded beach
Tip: There is a secret lagoon not many people know about. To find it, climb up the rocks on the right of the beach and walk across until you see it.
Dafnoudi – A 15 minute walk from the parking
Safety Tip: The short hike to the beach requires proper footwear, please do not wear flipflops.
Foki, Xylokaravo, Kamini – park nearby or drop anchor and swim up!
Tip: The best way to visit these little bays is by boat, where you can have them all to yourself.
Sightseeing / Day Trips
If you pick the beautiful north of the island as your base, you probably won’t want to leave. And nor should you. A vacation in Kefalonia is supposed to be slow-paced and relaxing. Take your time to explore, relax, and enjoy. That being said, however, here are the top sights definitely worth getting up for.
Assos – This charming village is a Kefalonia must-see. This harbour bay with its pastel-coloured houses and hilltop castle looks right out of a picture. If it’s not too hot, there is a great 45-minute hike up to the castle that’s well worth it for the stunning vistas. While you could easily spend the day here, we visited for just a few hours before sunset.
Myrtos Beach – The most famous beach in Kefalonia is of course Myrtos. You can take a photo like mine by pulling over on the cliffside road north of Myrtos. The beach is unserviced, but you’ll pass several tavernas along the way where you can grab lunch (or bring a Picnic!)
Melissani Cave – This unique cave is the island’s most popular attraction, with tours lasting for just 10 minutes on a small boat. In case you arrive late and see 100 people queuing up outside, get in line, it moves quickly. However, to beat the queues, go between 10:00 and 12:00. The lake is between 20-30 meters deep and when the sun shines the water reflects back the most mesmerizing shades of blue. It’s no wonder that this used to be a site of worship dedicated to Pan and Nymph Melissani.
Drogarati Cave – A short drive from Melissani Cave is a very different type of cave worth visiting. The cave opens up to a large hall about 900 metres squared. Because of its size and fantastic acoustics, the cave regularly hosts concerts. Despite its size, it’s quick to walk around and shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to visit.
Mount Ainos – At an elevation of 1628 m, Mount Ainos (Ainos Oros) is the tallest mountain in the Ionian. It’s popular with hiking enthusiasts and those looking to get a glimpse of the views. On a clear day, you can see the islands of Lefkada, Zakynthos and Ithaca.
1. Exploring the island’s beaches by boat and water shoes…
2. Chasing Sunsets at Alaties…
3. Home-made breakfasts, local Greek food, and fresh watermelons…