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Kefalonia Travel Guide


Kefalonia Travel Guide

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Back to Top of Overview PageKefalonia - a brief introduction

Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian islands and dramatically different from the rest. Once voted 10th in a world scenic beauty league, Kefalonia boasts some of the best beaches of the Greek islands. It's an island to be explored. First on the list must be the caves of Drogarati. The caves have stayed cool over the thousands of years it has taken to form the multi-coloured stalactites and stalagmites that fill the caverns. Nearby is the amazing subterranean lake of Melissani which can be explored by small rowing boat. Here the crystal water changes colour as sunlight streams through the cave's roof.

The island has a fascinating history with archaeological finds dating back to the Mycenaean era when Odysseus set sail for Troy with 12 ships from Kefalonia. The island has a wealth of interest in each of its 200 villages with monasteries and churches tucked away in the fertile valleys of grape-vines and olive groves. Lord Byron stayed in Metaxata for the views. The shipping magnate Vergotis rebuilt the whole village of Kourkoumelata with neoclassical designs and a boat-shaped coffee bar. The village of Travliata is built around the Castle of St George which used to be the island's capital.

On the north-east coast of the island lies Myrtos Bay with its stunning white sand and pebble beach and incredibly deep aquamarine sea. From here the village of Assos is visible - a tiny hamlet nestling at the base of a peninsula crowned by an imposing Venetian fortress. Further north the village of Fiscardo retains its Venetian style with a pretty harbour lined with fishing caiques, luxury yachts and daily cruisers. The south coast boasts some more wonderful beaches favoured by marine turtles which are closely monitored by a local turtle protection group.
Kefalonia is an island to be discovered by car or coach as there is an excellent road network. It is a great island for lovers of nature, walkers and ramblers, swimmers and snorkellers. Or you can just relax on one of the many beaches from small pebbly coves to silver and red sands and enjoy your immediate surroundings. Either way, Kefalonia is THE place to chill out. Because it is one of the least commercialised holiday destinations often revisited by discerning lovers of Greece with no lager-louts in sight - we think you'll love it!

Back to Top of Overview PageKefalonia History

Kefalonia is said to be one of the first inhabited places in Greece as findings as far back as 50,000 BC have been discovered. Civilisation first peaked on the island during the late Mycenaean era 1360-1100.
In the early civilisation of Mycenaean times, Kefalonia was a leading island at the start of the trading industry and supplied many of the other islands. It produced olive oil, wine and fruit and its vast forests provided timber to build ships and further develop trade, deriving a great part of itss wealth from the forests of Mount Ainos. Recent research suggests that the columns in the palace at Knossos were made from Cephalonian Fir Trees! During the Venetian occupation, Kefalonia was considered the granary for the other Ionian islands.
In ancient times the island was divided into the four states of Sami,Pronnoi, Krani and Pali. Favourite gods of the time were Zeus, Demeter, Apollo, Poseidon, Dionysos, Heracles, Athens and Artemis. Altars and temples were made for the sacrifices and ceremonies and nowadays villas are named after them!
Around 50 BC the island was ruled by the Roman Caius Antonius and it was a period of bad administration by the greedy Romans and pirate attacks from the Turks. Things brightened up by early 2nd century AD when the island was under the Antonines.
The Byzantine period 330-1185 does not seem to have offered better prospects than the Romans with continued lack of administration and regular pirate attacks.
In 1082 the Normans landed on Kefalonia and started a series of attacks so that by 1147 the island was once more occupied by Normans until an alliance with the Venetians in 1209.
Te Turks managed to land on Kefalonia in 1479 having wanted to dominate the Ionians as they gradulaly took over the rest of Greece after the fall of Constantinople. But in 1500 the Venetians with Spanish help captured the Castle of Saint George and continued to rule and develop the island.

In 1797 the French under Napoleon took the Ionian islands and the people of Kefalonia celebrated for a while. When France was defeated the island was run by a Russo-Turkish aristocratic system previously abolished by the French and later the Kefalonians were deprived of their political rights.
By 1820 Britannia ruled the waves and the first British Lord High Commissioner Sir Thomas Maitland unpopularly declared total control over the island's affairs. But the Kefalonians were more concerned with a higher goal of liberating Greece from its Turkish rule and some assisted in the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence.
Things improved after the death of Maitland and the much respected Lord Napier organised many public works on the island. The fight for freedom of speech continued until Queen Victoria afreed to free elctions in 1850. Five years later Gladstone set the wheels in motion for the Ionians to be reunited with the rest of Greece.

1865 the Kefalonians celebrated getting rid of British rule and being reunited with the rest of Greece. The photo above does not do justice the the band-playing that would have been heard on 21st May 1865.

Back to Top of Overview PageEarthquake of 1953

Before the earthquake of 1953 there were as many villages as days in the year. After the earthquake, many villagers abandoned their former homes and joined together to form new villages. A good example of this is the village of Vassilikades which is known locally as 'Enosi' or 'union' There are now just 200 villages on the island.
Minor tremors are part of life on Kefalonia and most go unrecorded. The island's buildings are now built to withstand the earthquakes. It is inevitable that there are many references to the earthquake as a significant part of the island's history. 'Before The Earthquake' is a regular term that we use but visitors should not feel concerned about any danger arising from small earth tremors - at worst it feels as if a hellicopter is landing in the garden!. For an in depth account with survivors' stories and photos visit Peter Heming's webiste.

Back to Top of Overview PageArchaeological find

Archaeologists discovered a large Roman times tomb in 2007. This contained gold jewellery, pottery and bronze offerings. The tomb found is a house shaped structure with a stone door, turning on stone pivots, which still works perfectly.
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Back to Top of Overview PageKefalonia Geography and Morphology

Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionain islands with total square kilometres of 688. The island has Lefkas to its north, Ithaca to the north east and Zakynthos to the south.

The island is more mountainous than any other Ionian island with Mount Ainos in the south with its tallest peak - Megalos Soros - which reaches up to 1626 metres. Mount Ainos is covered by a very rare species of fir tree (Abies Cephalonensis). Read more in the Flora and Fauna section.
The island has many wonderful bays and inlets to form its unusual shape and the rocky coastline has small and clean, pebble and sandy beaches.

Back to Top of Overview PageFlora and Fauna

Rare species such as loggerhead turtles and monk seals are just some of the marine life. The wild horses on mount ainos are not mythological and both the Robolla grape and the fir trees from mount Ainos are indigenous species. There is an array of wonderful flora as well as an abundance of birds all of which could live in harmony with each other - unless humans disturb them. Take a look at the Flora and Fauna section of this guide to see how you can be an eco-visitor.

Back to Top of Overview PageKefalonia Names

There are so many different ways of spelling Kefalonia: Cephalonia, Cephallonia, Kefallonia, Kefallinia.
Some believe that the island of Kefalonia was named after the mythological figure Cephalus while others say it is derived from the Greek work for head,'kephalos' as the island is the biggest of the Ionians and is thier natural head or leader.
Many local families of Kefalonia have surnames ending in "atos" and almost every community in Kefalonia has a name ending in "ata". (Antipata, Lourdata, Metaxata, Kourkoumelata.

Back to Top of Overview PageCaptain Corelli's Mandolin

During World War II, Kefalonia was under Italian and German domination and the capitulation of Italy led to the massacre of 5000 Italian soldiers; It was this incident that inspired the writer Loius de Bernieres to write the famous book Captain Corellis Mandolin, which later became a movie and was filmed on Kefalonia. The island suddenly became more famous.

During the summer of 2000 the town of Sami received a Hollywood facelift, as filming took place for Captain Corelli's Mandolin, set in war-time Kefalonia. Anyone who has read the book will delight in visiting some of the places in Kefalonia mentioned.

Back to Top of Overview PageFishing

Fishing is a strong industry on Kefalonia and the local waters are full of fish. The harbours of Argostoli and Lixouri are the main fishing centres. The large floating fish farms that can clearly be seen between Lixouri and Argostoli are owned by Ecomarine Ltd based in Lixouri.

Back to Top of Overview PageWeather

The weather on the island of Kefalonia consists of rainy winters and dry, hot summers. Rain is a characteristic of the Ionian climate and the average annual rainfall can be up to three times higher than the Aegean Islands.
This is why the Ionian Islands, including Kefalonia, have a dense and verdant vegetation, plenty of forests and fertile plains.

Back to Top of Overview PageProduce

The majority of the island of Kefalonia is rugged and mountainous and ideal for goat herding. However, the main occupation is still olive growing, with a little remainder of the land being used for grain and vegetables, mostly on the plains. Other parts of the island are covered with orange trees and hillsides studded with grapevines.

The island of Kefalonia is famous for its succulent cheeses, especially its feta cheese consisting of goats and ewes milk.

Although forestry is now rare on the island, its timber output is one of the highest in the Ionian islands.

Back to Top of Overview PageThe Harbours of Kefalonia

The island of Kefalonia has several harbours; Sami, a major port, with links to Patras on the Greek mainland. Poros in the south has ferry routes to Kyllini. Agostolli in the west is the largest port for local boats and ferries to Patras with a regular service to Lixouri. Fiscardo in the north has links to both Lefkas and Ithaca. On the East coast, Aghia Efimia is a small harbour used mainly for sailing boats and cruisers with water taxi service over to Ithaca since the ferry route was discontinued. The port of Lixouri is situated 4km across the bay from Argostoli and is on the Pali peninsula. Pessada is a small harour in the south with a ferry link to Zakynthos. There are new marinas recently constructed at Ag. Pelagia in Svoronata as well as in Katelios.
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