KEFALONIÁ (also known in English as Cephalonia) is the largest of the Ionian islands, a place that has real towns as well as resorts. Like its neighbours, Kefaloniá was overrun by Italians and Germans in World War II; the “handover” after Italy’s capitulation in 1943 led to the massacre of over five thousand Italian troops on the island by invading German forces, as chronicled by Louis de Bernières in his novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Virtually all of its towns and villages were levelled in the 1953 earthquake and these masterpieces of Venetian architecture had been the one touch of elegance in a severe, mountainous landscape.
Until the late 1980s, the island paid scant regard to tourism; perhaps this was partly due to a feeling that Kefaloniá could not be easily marketed. A more likely explanation, however, for the island’s late emergence on the Greek tourist scene is the Kefalonians’ legendary reputation for insular pride and stubbornness, plus a good measure of eccentricity. There are, however, definite attractions here, with some beaches as good as any in Greece and the fine local wines of Robola. Moreover, the island seems able to soak up a lot of people without feeling at all crowded and the magnificent scenery speaks for itself.
At 15km from a point halfway along the Argostóli–Sámi road, Mount Énos isn’t really a walking option but roads nearly reach the official 1632m summit. The mountain has been declared a national park, to protect the Abies cephalonica firs named after the island, which clothe the slopes. There are absolutely no facilities on or up to the mountain but the views from the highest point in the Ionian islands out over Kefaloniá’s neighbours and the mainland are wonderful. Out of summer, watch the weather, which can deteriorate with terrifying speed.
Most boats to the island dock at the large and functional port town of SÁMI, near the south end of the Itháki straits, more or less on the site of ancient Sami. This was the capital of the island in Homeric times, when Kefaloniá was part of Ithaca’s maritime kingdom. Ironically, today the administrative hierarchy is reversed, with Itháki being considered the backwater. In more recent times, Sámi was used as the set for much of the filming of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The long sandy beach that stretches round the bay to the village of Karavómylos is perfectly adequate, but 2km further east, beyond ancient Sami, lies a more dramatic pebble beach, Andísamis, set in a stunning curved bay.