[ Note: Kefalonia doesn’t really know how to party. It’s an island not known for crazy nightlife … I just like the bad pun ]
But back in August we had a gap between weddings so decided to take a break. It was a toss-up between a road-trip up to the Scotch distilleries of Islay or to fly to Greece for almost guaranteed sunshine. We opted for the latter. Islay ain’t going anywhere, so we rainchecked it for a winters trip anon, where bad weather might even look pretty. Between the summer’s back-to-back wedding weekends, it’s nice to stretch out by a pool with a cool Mythos and a good book, with nothing on one’s mind beyond where’s best to get lunchtime’s gyros and a night-time souvlaki.
We’ve taken several trips to beautiful Greece before; visiting Zante & Corfu on the East Coast, and on various island hopping adventures taking in Santorini, Naxos, Paros, Milos, Ios and the brilliantly tiny Folygandros & Anti-Paros in the Cyclades. In my opinion, nothing beats the white, sugarcube warrens clinging to the cliffs of the dry cycladic islands, dotted with blue domed chapels and bright pink Bougainvillea. Every island has something different to offer – a different appeal for each island – whether you’re looking for natural beauty, nightlife or nudism. We found Zante & Corfu to be overdeveloped, with towns touting Eastenders omnibus and egg + chips deals – my idea of a nightmare, where the scum of England are scooped up and dropped somewhere hot. But even on the bigger, touristy islands it’s possible to hire a battered scooter or quad-bike and it doesn’t take long to find yourself in sleepy authentic Greecian villages.
So as we only had a week to spare, we skipped the idea of perhaps hopping to Amorgos that my mum’s always raved about, or visiting the Peloponnese that looked so lovely in the brilliant Before Midnight flick earlier this year, and took the easy route & booked a last minute Thompson deal to Kefalonia. We even watched the terrible Captain Corelli’s Mandolin as ‘research’. I wish Nicolas Cage had researched his accent.
So armed with my paired-back travel shooting kit – the 5DmkII & 2 lenses (24-105mm f4 & 45mm f2.8 tilt-shift) we flew out and set up base in Skala, on the South Coast of the surprisingly large island of Kefalonia/Cephalonia.
These are a few of my photographic highlights from the adventure, shot mainly on 2 cheesy Thompson tours; one bussin’ round the island and the t’other on a boat.
This is arguably the most famous, picture-postcard view in Kefalonia, the beautiful Myrtos Beach, with it’s chalky limestone cliffs spilling out into the sea.
A stunning vista, make no mistake.
On the long and sometimes comic journeys squeezing a giant bus through tiny windy towns, I played with long-ish exposures from a moving window like this.
One of the interesting and tragic things about Kefalonia is that the island was struck by a SERIOUS earthquake in 1953 which caused almost universal destruction; virtually every house on the island was destroyed. The most destructive quake hit a magnitude of 7.3 on the Richter scale, centering directly below the southern tip of the island, and causing the entire island to raise 60 cm out of the water, where it remains, with visible evidence still showing around the coastline.
As a consequence of almost total destruction, the majority of the island was rebuilt from scratch and lacks much of the Grecian charm you see in many of the other islands. The ruins which remain are only a shadow of the former Venetian charm apparent in the time of Captain Correlli’s adventures. Many of these unsafe ruins are for sale to foolish tourists looking for an ambitious fixer upper, like so…
Still, the stunning little sheltered bay of Asos had all the charm you’d expect from a Greek island
…but more importantly, the tavernas served cake and iced frappes.
I’ve never had a nicer frappe than in Greece. They clearly use instant coffee in them, but they taste SOOOO good.
One of the spots in Kefalonia spared from the destructive seismic activity of ’53 was the northern town of Fiskardo. Apparently it sits on a huge separate bedrock that absorbed the quake and somehow, most of it remained standing.
As a consequence, it’s since become the islands tourist centre, where grand yachts moor and every cafe charges twice price as the rest of the island.
When in Rome…
We headed away from the shops selling hats and ice cream to see if we could find the ancient old town, but beautiful as the coastline is, I think we’d been spoilt by some of the sights we’d seen on Naxos & the cliffs of Oia and Fira in Santorini.
This was about as old as it seemed to get.
Though don’t get me wrong. You can’t argue with the blue skies, olive trees and 30°C
Nosing round a little church we found, Clare shot this little frame of me working the steps in a newly acquire pair of fake Ray Ban’s mirrored Aviators!
Heading out to our next stop…
…the impressive Melissani Cave
We also popped into the famous St Gerasimos monastery, where they keep his apparently healing remains to parade around once a year.
We were staying in Skala, on the southern tip of the island, which isn’t a particularly picturesque village but has the usual amenities, taverna’s and a lovely beach.
The original village of Skala was significantly further inland, but after it was flattened, the locals decided to relocate Skala down to the coast.
So after hearing there was a nice taverna up in the ruins of Old Skala, we decided to head up at sunset for cold glass of local Robola & stifado.
Our hotel had given us a dubious walking route of the old town, describing the locations of the washing well, the doctors house, the church & the olive press etc.
You really can see the destruction, that literally happened overnight.
Then we enjoyed watching the waning moon rise over a carafe of vino
Another day of our trip we took a tour round the island aboard captain Makis glass bottom boat
The salty sea cap’ was a character indeed!
More posing as we pulled up for our beach BBQ!
Many of Kefalonia’s beaches are where turtles come to lay their eggs, and conservation sites are marked off to protect the nests.
After a week in the sun, and more than a few gyros, we headed home after the perfect amount mid-season R&R.
It was just what we needed for a short stop, and we’re glad we’ve sampled the delights of Kefalonia – but would I recommend the island? Not exactly. Thompson did just what you’d expect for a package holiday in a slightly unimaginative town, but this part of Greece simply doesn’t compare to the variety, beauty and history you can find bouncing around the cyclades island chain. Although more ambitious than a package deal, with coaches and reps to shuffle you about like cattle, it’s a far more rewarding experience to backpack your way between Santorini, Naxos & Paros.
[This is one of a bunch of photographs of stunning places we’ve been that we decided to frame up for the bedroom and can be seen here on the blog]
So in my opinion, for a more full-filling Greek adventure, buy the Greek Island Hopping ‘bible’, book a return flight to Athens and once there (perhaps after a night there taking in the parthenon & a fancy dinner), head to the port of Piraeus to get a ferry ticket to start your adventure! Mid-summer, whenever a ferry disembarks at any island port, out swarm a sea of leathery ladies (AKA: ‘black widows’) with a ring binder full of photos of their lodgings available for rent. The way we always did it – whether with my mum & bro or with Clare on various subsequent trips – was for one of us to check out a few options while the other guarded the bags and had a frosty beer on the port. It always worked out cheaper than booking a package trip, and we were able to move on whenever we sought something new. No mid-holiday lull, where you’ve tried all the restaurants and go for another relaxing but quietly dull day in the same spot by the pool… as there are 220 islands to explore!
Kefalonia was ok, but seriously, if this idea floats your boat, go hop a few in the Cyclades – it’s one of my favourite things to do in all of Europe!