Now officially Κεφαλλονιας - Kefallonia - is sometimes spelt the more ancient way, Kefallinia, or the older British way, Cephalonia, but more commonly it's spelt Kefalonia, and pronounced by the locals 'Kafalo-nya'.
Whatever, nature has blessed Kefalonia with the highest mountain in the Ionians, Mount Ainos; the ‘bottomless’ Lake Avythos; the beautiful Livathos valley; a moving rock, Kounopetra (although it hasn’t moved since the earthquake of 1953 trapped it in its bed); also the ‘swallow holes’ at Katovothres (Argostoli), where the seawater disappears, only to reappear 14 days later the other side of the island at Karovromilos, near Sami, after feeding through the awesome subterranean lake, Melissáni.
to Kefalonia are the towering Abies
fir trees on the slopes of Mount Ainos, known to the Venetians as Monte
Nero, the Black Mountain, because it was so thickly forested. Νερό (nero)
is the Greek word for water and Ainos, riddled with
tunnels, gathers the winter rain and releases it throughout the year,
providing for an abundance of fresh flowers during the spring and a
refreshing greenness all summer, which is sun-filled and all but
The mountains are home to many birds of prey and small animals such as rabbits, hares and pine martens. The village of Markópoulo is the habitat of small snakes, remarkable because on their heads is the sign of the cross. Harmless and unafraid of people, they appear every year at the time of the Assumption and make their way in to church to the virgin’s icon.
Famous as being part of Odysseus’ kingdom, evidence suggests that Kefalonia and Ithaka were once linked and more artefacts from that period have been found on Kefalonia than on Ithaka.
Located off the entrance to the Gulf of Corinth on the west coast of Greece, Kefalonia, with a area of around 800 square kilometres, is the largest of the Eptanissa – the Greek name for the Seven Islands (Corfu, Paxos, Levkada, Ithaka, Kefalonia, Zakynthos and Kythira) – widely known to Brits as the Ionian Islands. (In Greek, Ionia refers to lands inhabited by Greeks (before a spot of ‘ethnic cleansing') in what is now Turkey; Ioannina is a small city in the west of Greece).
To the west of the islands is a major tectonic fault line, the meeting place of the European and Aegean plates and Bittlestone, among others, in his book Odysseus Unbound, proposes the theory that the Palliki peninsular was once the separate island of ancient Ithaka, long since joined to Kefalonia by earthquake infill. Although that idea may seem, and prove to be, fanciful, Kefalonia has always been subject to earthquakes. One of the largest occurred in 1953 when an earthquake of approximately 7.3 magnitude on the Richter scale occurred just off the south of Kefalonia and destroyed most of the buildings on the island. Remains of old, earthquake damaged buildings lay dotted around the island, in various states of decay; substantial remains can be seen in the old villages of Farsa, Valsamata, Harakti, Kampitsata, etc (caution: these old buildings may be in a dangerously unsafe condition). On the north of the island, Fiskardo and, to a lesser extent, Assos, survived largely unscathed and the picturesque old fishing village of Fiskardo is a major attraction.
The capital, Argostoli, was almost completely destroyed along with most other settlements and the new, concrete constructions have none of the charm of, for example, Corfu old town. Nevertheless, Argostoli remains typically Greek in essence and, besides being the administrative centre of the island, is the largest settlement and only ‘serious’ shopping centre on the island. The natural beauty all around tempers the concrete cubes wonderfully.
Lixouri, across the Gulf of Argostoli on the Palliki peninsular, is the second main town of the island and is very different in character. Also rebuilt following the ’53 earthquake, it hasn’t developed at the same pace as Argostoli and somewhat retains an aura of bygone Greece.
Although both Argostoli and Lixouri have working ferry ports, Poros, on the south-east coast, is the busiest port, connecting Kefalonia with Kyllini on the Peloponnese part of mainland Greece. Sami, also on the east coast, connects Kefalonia with Ithaka, Astakos, Patras and Italy (directly in high season, via Patras otherwise). Pessada, a rather isolated village on the south coast of Kefalonia, hosts a regular summer ferry service to (equally isolated) Agios Nikolaos on Zakynthos, while a ferry from Fiskardo connects Kefalonia with Levkas.
Long popular with Greek and Italian visitors, tourism on Kefalonia increased after the release of the novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and boomed following the release of the film version which showed the true natural beauty of Kefalonia to a world-wide audience. Tourism has become the main economic activity of the island and, apart from six weeks in July and August when Athenians traditionally escape to more pleasant environs (such as Kefalonia), the mainstay of the tourism industry are the UK package tour companies whose charter flights fly in to Kefallinia airport, about 10 km from Argostoli.
Mostly mountainous, Kefalonia was comparatively late in constructing an airport to encourage tourism and it has retained much of the charm traditionally associated with Greek islands – an abundance of natural beauty and a friendly people who have an unhurried approach to life. Tourism on any scale only reached Kefalonia during the 1980’s, long after Corfu and Zakynthos ‘benefitted’ from mass tourism, prior to this the island lived a largely agricultural existence. As less than 25% of the land is arable, Kefalonians became adept at utilising the mountains for goat-herding and growing olives and grapes. Olive groves and tiny vineyards still abound, as do goats. The foothills of Mount Ainos, the highest mountain in the Ionian islands, are particularly suitable for producing Robola, a wine unique to Kefalonia and of such quality to be exported. On any island fishing is, naturally, another source of food and livelihood and Katelios, in particular, enjoys a high reputation for the quality of its seafront seafood tavernas.
Largely reliant on self-sufficiency but with little arable land, life for most of the islanders was hard prior to the 1953 earthquake. The destruction of their homes led many to emigrate. Kefalonia’s new-found tourism-generated prosperity has drawn back many sons and daughters of Kefalonia as well as many older-generation émigrés who wish to spend their retirement on their homeland. Although land has little agricultural value, demand has been fuelled by an ever-growing number of northern Europeans, mainly British, who wish to buy, or build, property on Kefalonia and the price of land reflects this.
Like the rest of Greece, Kefalonia is no stranger to occupation by foreigners. The long periods of Venetian rule have left a strong Italian influence on the island, in contrast to the more eastern influences found on the rest of Greece due to its long occupation by the Ottoman Empire. This is particularly noticeable in the food, music and traditional architecture.
The British, who ruled for just over thirty years at the start of the nineteenth century, were - overall - regarded as fair and just, benefiting the island by constructing many of the roads and also the de Bosset bridge that links Argostoli with the coast across the lagoon.
The quirks of nature and history have bequeathed an island still largely unspoiled, populated by people as warm and friendly, and sometimes as unpredictable, as the summer sun.
Enjoy – it’s easy