Places of interest in Cephalonia and Ithaca
The pretty little village of Aghia Efimia is a natural harbour on the north east coast. Sheltered by the mythical island of Ithaca, it overlooks the calm waters of Sami Bay. Two beaches lead gently down into the warm sea for perfect bathing. The crystal clear Ionian is ideal here for swimming and snorkelling and north of the village there are a host of tiny secluded coves; some accessible only by the boats you can hire.
Although Sami is a small town, it is an important harbour for the island. The ships for Italy as well as the ferryboats that connect Cephalonia with Patra and the other islands anchor here. The Argostoli of the 1940’s was impeccably recreated here for the shooting of the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Near to Sami are the beautiful Antisamos Bay and the Monastery of Agrilion with views of Ithaca that make the journey well worthwhile.
Melissani LakeThe lake is near the village of Karavomilos, 2km north of Sami. The lake can only be explored by boat with the help of a guide.
You will float over the unimaginable colours of the water in all the shades of peacock, blues and greens, dazzling in the light from the opening above. It’s at its most sensational when the sun is overhead.
Located around 4km southwest of Sami this cave is estimated to be about 150 million years old. Over 120 steps lead down the entrance shaft. It is remarkable for its unique red stalagmites and concerts take place here from time to time. Within the cave the Hall of Apotheosis is named for its excellent acoustics. There is a balcony for VIPs – the Royal Balcony – and the musicians play from a deep hollow in the face of the stone, higher up among the stalagmites.
The Castle of Saint GeorgeFirmly woven into the history of the island, there are references to a castle having been here since the 11c. Some 15,000 people used to live clustered around this castle, which was the islands capital and seat of government until 1757.
The impressive fortress looms high on a hill above the village of Travliata. The ramparts, 10 – 15 metres high offer fantastic views of the surrounding area.
The Monastery of Agios GerasimosThe Monastery of Agios Gerasimos
The monastery located in the Omala valley is named after the patron saint of the island. He was born in the Corinth area of Greece in 1507 into a wealthy family. In 1537 he went to the Holy Land where he spent 12 years before returning to take up Holy Orders. He settled in Zakynthos before coming to Cephalonia where he established the nunnery that bears his name. He spent his monastic life here until his death in August 1579. Main religious festivals are held on 16th August and 20th October. The saint’s sarcophagus is taken in procession through the streets. Traditionally people with various afflictions lie in the path of the sarcophagus believing a cure is possible. The monastery is much visited by Cephalonians and is a major centre for pilgrims from all over Greece.
Vathi the capital and largest settlement on the island has one of the most spectacular harbour approaches in the world - it is a splendid place, one of the most idyllic seafront settings in Greece. Delightful red roofed houses are set amongst enchanting scenery and the centre is a photo opportunity of twisting streets and picturesque cafes. Stroll around the harbour with its array of shops, have coffee at one of the many kafeneions, visit Nikos Markatos in his beautiful shop full of paintings and local crafts or, simply watch the fishermen mend their nets.
AssosUnforgettable scenery and the towering remains of a Venetian fortress. It is described as the most ‘atmospheric village’ on the island, clinging to a small isthmus with picturesque houses overlooking the harbour.
The centre of the village is Paris Square, which offers relaxation in the shaded comfort of its tavernas.A track leads from the village up to the fortress that guards Assos. The Venetians built the fortress in the 1590’s to protect the inhabitants from pirates.
If you’re in the mood for romance, be in Assos at sunset to see the sun go down behind the castle and the light streaming across the ruins.
MyrtosThis famous beach is the star of the island and recognised as one of the finest in Greece. It was recently voted one of Europe’s most beautiful.
With its towering cliffs, turquoise water and spectacular views from the coast road, it is not difficult to see why. A perfect afternoon suntrap, seasonal sun beds and umbrellas are available for hire and there is a canteen.
This large beach is 8km south of Lixouri and is unusual for its red sand, which contrasts sharply with the putty white cliffs behind. There is also a type of rock here, glina that crumbles so easily you can rub it into a paste – women use it as a cosmetic treatment. There are seasonal tavernas; sun beds and umbrellas can be hired on the beach.
ArgostoliThe capital of the island since 1757.
Visit the Archaeological Museum; it contains a remarkable collection of Mycenaean finds. Also visit the Folk Art Museum whose aim is to preserve the memory of the historical and social conditions, which prevailed in Cephalonia before the 1953 earthquake.On the waterfront there is a fresh produce market, open every day except Sunday, worth a visit especially in the morning, there is a wonderful array of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Aghia SofiaSome eight kilometres off a ‘main road’ Aghia Sofia is reached over possibly the best piece of tarmac in Cephalonia to present one of the islands hidden gems; a delightful horseshoe bay of crystal clear waters affording lovely views of Ithaca. Out of ‘high season’ there is peace and tranquillity here – take some bread to feed the resident sea going ducks.
FiskardoThe northern most village on the island that retains its original Venetian architecture. Its pastel-shaded buildings, that give the place the feel of a chocolate box, have long made Fiscardo a retreat for Europe’s rich and fashionable.
FrikesThe tiny village of Frikes is the perfect place to totally unwind.
Have lunch or visit Symposium Restaurant to see the collection of black and white photographs that adorn their walls and show how Frikes looked in times gone by. In high season there are ferries from here to Fiscardo in Cephalonia and some of the other islands.
KioniThe picturesque village of Kioni on the north east coast has many examples of original architecture.; there are also spectacular views towards the islands of Astokos, Arkoudi, Meganisi and Lefkas.
The central church of the village is Aghios Ioanis which has many icons. Two large festivities with live music and dance take place in Kioni, the 24th June is for Aghios Ioanis and the 20th of July for Aghios Elias, which is a small church, one mile from the three windmills, built on the rocks by the sea. On the 20th July, the people of Kioni reach the small church with their fishing boats to attend the service.
PorosAn attractive town with pebble beaches set amidst mountain scenery. It has many bars and restaurants and tends to become a bit crowded at the height of the season. Ferries leave from here for Kyllini on the mainland.
SkalaA popular seaside resort on the southeastern extremity of the island. Pine trees reach right down to the long, sand and shingle beach where all types of water sports are catered for.
Mount AinosThe last preserve of the rare Cephalonica fir tree; towering over the rest of Cephalonia these primeval firs give a whole new dimension to the island. Here you can begin to imagine what Cephalonia looked like 500 years ago.
The route to the top of the mountain is rough in places but gratifying with some of the most spectacular views to be seen in Cephalonia. The highest point is 1628 metres and rewards the intrepid with a magnificent panorama; the whole area was declared a National Park in 1962.There’s also plenty of wildlife: foxes, hares, weasels, pine martens, hedgehogs and protected bird species, the golden eagle and the osprey, as well as songbirds: blackbirds, goldfinches and larks – you might even be lucky enough to spot the wild ponies.