Although Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands, it’s also the least trodden. Once overlooked for Corfu and Zante, this jigsaw piece-shaped island is stepping out of the shadows of its siblings. And with jewel-toned waters, deserted beaches and pastel-painted villages, it’s not hard to see why. Kefalonia’s beauty is immortalised in Louis de Bernières’ novel-turned-film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – yet it remains blissfully unspoiled by mass tourism. If you’re looking to go on holiday to this authentic Greek hotspot, then check out our destination guide for the best places to visit and things to do in Kefalonia.
When to go
Holidays in Kefalonia over the peak summer months (July – August) can often get crowded, so if you prefer a more tranquil escape then opt for spring or autumn, when Kefalonia is at its most calm but still balmy.
How to get to Kefalonia
Several airlines run direct flights to Kefalonia from the UK, including EasyJet, Monarch and Ryanair. You can also take a direct ferry from Brindisi to the port of Sami (indirect services run from Bari and Venice).
Stunning beaches and mountains
Kefalonia is a place where mountains plunge to meet the sea. If you’re a sun-seeker, you’ll be rewarded with some of the finest beaches in Greece. While the southern sandy stretches may be well-trodden, the further north you go, the fewer people you’ll come across. For those who can’t sit still for long, hiking the mountainous landscape is one of the more adventurous things to do in Kefalonia. Mount Ainos, nudging 5255ft, is the highest peak in the Ionian Islands – expect views for days.
Plump lemons, hand-pressed olive oil, tender lamb – Kefalonia’s cuisine draws upon the natural larder of the island. That’s not to say it’s all farm-to-fork fare: seared halloumi tops the list for cheese-lovers, while sweet treats don’t come much sweeter than loukoumades – deep-fried doughnuts soaked in honey and sesame. For the best restaurants in Kefalonia, pick a traditional tavern like Waterway, poised on the cliff edge beneath Spartià, or the harbourfront Tassia in Fiskardo. Local wines Robola and Muscat are the tipples of choice; we recommend Gentilini and Haritatos Estate for vineyard tours and wine tastings.
Kefalonia has a complex – and at times bloody – history. Islanders were dealt a double blow in the mid-20th-century, their lives upended first by the Second World War and then by an earthquake – as chronicled in Louis de Bernières’ novel. Kefalonia was overrun by Italians and Germans during the war, and the site of a shameful atrocity: Nazi forces massacred five thousand Italian soldiers during the “handover” of 1943 – a monument on a wooded peninsula behind Argostoli commemorates their memory. Only 10 years later, the 1953 earthquake destroyed towns and villages across the island; crumbling ruins are haunting reminders of this natural disaster.
The off-grid cove of Koroni is one of our top places to visit in Kefalonia. Loggerhead turtles nest on the golden sands and there’s a natural spring you can drink from (just as well, as there are no cafés).
If even sleepy Fiskardo and Assos are too busy for you, head to the tiny rustic village of Markandonata. This rural hideaway is surrounded by a network of walking trails, which meander through whisper-quiet forests but for the occasional chink of goat bells.
To the south of the Paliki peninsula, Xi is an ochre-coloured beach flanked by rocky hills. While this is not exactly a hidden gem, fewer people know you can mix clay from the cliffs with water to create a natural mud mask – rub it over your body for silky-smooth skin.
Things to do in Kefalonia
Explore the capital Argostoli
Although much of Argostoli was destroyed in the war and earthquake, the capital has been rebuilt into a charming pastel town. Foodies should trawl around the bakeries, market stalls and waterside taverns; don’t miss Kyani Akti, among the best restaurants in Kefalonia. Also, look out for fellow diners of a different variety: loggerhead turtles paddling along the harbourfront in search of scraps from fishing boats.
Village-hop across the island
While most people linger around Argostoli and Lassi, the northern peninsula is home to two of the few villages left untouched by the earthquake. In the shadow of a crumbling 16th-century Venetian castle, the flower-filled alleys and colourful houses of Assos are one of the prettiest places to visit in Kefalonia. Nudging the northwest tip, Fiskardo is another enchanting Italianate village painted in pastel tones. A huddle of Byzantine churches and fishermen’s houses looks out over the island of Ithaca – the mythical birthplace of Odysseus.
Hike Mount Ainos
Mount Ainos is the highest peak in the Ionian archipelago, reaching a lofty 5341ft. It’s been designated a national park to protect its mountainside forest of Abies cephalonica, after which the island is named. The dark fir trees shelter a rich array of wildlife, including deer and wild horses. From the summit, the views across Kefalonia and the island-dotted sea are staggering. Hiking these herb-scented trails is one of our favourite things to do in Kefalonia.
The poster child for idyllic Greek beaches, Myrtos is all icing-sugar sand and crystalline waters. However, it’s also widely regarded as one of the best beaches in Kefalonia, so you can expect hordes of tourists. Instead, head north to find a few quieter stretches. Near Fiskardo, tiny Dafnoudi or Emblisi are tranquil hideaways, where you can snorkel in the electric-blue sea – the most enchanting of things to do in Kefalonia. The island is also dotted with cragged caverns; the most magnificent of which is Melissani Cave, home to a breathtaking underground lake, accessed via rowboat through a stalactite-framed rock tunnel.