It’s almost a given that you have already seen Kefalonia even if you weren’t aware of it. It is everywhere in postcards of gorgeous beaches and amazing landscapes of lush green contrasting with the rich blue of the sea and the golden ribbons that are the island’s beaches. Or you may even have heard of the island since it was the filming location for the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
Whatever the case is, it is a guarantee that you still have heard too little about this amazing Greek island that has more treasures for you to discover than one would expect. Unlike any of the typical Cycladic islands, Kefalonia is a uniquely attractive destination in itself which you shouldn’t miss.
If you have already booked your tickets for Kefalonia, congratulations, you are in for a treat! If you are researching which Greek island to visit, then Kefalonia should be in your top candidates. To maximize your enjoyment of the island, or to better inform your choice, here are all the basic things to know about the amazing, gorgeous Kefalonia.
Where is Kefalonia?
Kefalonia is part of the Ionian Islands group of Greek islands. It is also the largest Ionian island, with a surface of about 780 square km. It is located right opposite the Gulf of Corinth and is only 30 km from the coast of the Peloponnese.
The island is very diverse when it comes to assorted formations, with a vast range of morphological elements from caves and hot springs to mountains, jagged gulfs, and uneven coastlines. This makes Kefalonia an island full of mesmerizing variety which will give you extremely flexible vacations, especially if your family or group of friends have many different interests.
There are many ways to get to Kefalonia. First off, you can fly to Kefalonia directly, especially during the summer season, as it has an international airport 8 km from Argostoli, Kefalonia’s main city. It is also easy to fly to it from Athens or Thessaloniki anytime in the year. Flights to Kefalonia from Athens are about 1 hour long. You can also fly to Kefalonia from two other Ionian islands, Lefkada and Zakynthos (Zante).
If you opt to go by boat, you have several options there too: You can take the ferry from the port of Patra or Killini to Kefalonia, which takes around 5 to 6 hours, depending on the route. If you plan to travel to the island from Italy, you can take the direct ferry to Kefalonia from Brindisi. You can also travel to Kefalonia from the other Ionian islands by ferry.
If you land in Athens and wish to go by boat, you need to take the KTEL bus to Patra or Killini and then take the ferry.
Kefalonia’s climate and weather
Kefalonia’s climate is Mediterranean, like in all of Greece, which means it has relatively mild winters with a lot of rain and hot, dry, sunny summers. The coldest months are January and February with temperatures averaging around 10 degrees Celsius, and the hottest months are July and August with temperatures going as high as 35 degrees Celsius on average. Be aware that there are heat waves that can easily touch 40 degrees Celsius!
Kefalonia does have some mitigating factors from the heat, thanks to the sea as well as the mild wind that occasionally graces the island. It is very sunny and especially during the summer, it’s unlikely that there will be any rain.
Consider that in Kefalonia, summer lasts all the way to October, with September being a nice, warm, mellow month with fewer tourists and all the benefits of the summer months!
A brief history of Kefalonia
Kefalonia’s history is quite old, beginning in the Paleolithic era. It is said to have gotten its name from the ancient king Kefalos, who founded the four main cities of Kefalonia, naming them after each of his sons. For these four cities, Kefalonia was also known as “Tetrapolis” which means “four towns”.
From the Mycenean times, there remain some Cyclopean walls which you can visit. During the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, Kefalonia participated on the sides of Athens and Sparta in intervals. It resisted vehemently Roman occupation later on but was defeated with the Romans demolishing its acropolis.
Later on, during medieval times, the island was plagued by pirates, especially Saracens. It was occupied by various invaders, with the Venetians prevailing until the late 1700s, when the French, with Napoleon as the liberator of the Ionian islands, took over for a while. The English then took over in the 19th century. Despite not being under Turkish rule, Kefalonia helped support and fund the Greek War of Independence of 1821. It eventually became part of Greece with the rest of the Ionian islands in 1864.
When WWII struck, Kefalonia was under Italian rule. But when the Italians switched alliance and joined the Allies against the Axis, the Italian troops stationed on the islands refused to obey German orders to leave. As a result, the Germans slaughtered 5,000 Italian soldiers in retribution, an event that inspired the novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres.
In 1953 a devastating earthquake struck Kefalonia, destroying several villages. Some, like Lixouri, were so completely torn down by the earthquake that nowadays has almost no buildings from before that year.
You might also be interested in my other Kefalonia guides:
Things to do in Kefalonia
The best beaches in Kefalonia
Where to stay in Kefalonia
A Guide to Assos, Kefalonia
The caves in Kefalonia
Picturesque Villages and Towns in Kefalonia
Things Kefalonia is famous for
There are several things to see and do in Kefalonia, all unique experiences you are unlikely to find elsewhere in the world! Here are some of the main things that Kefalonia is famous for and which you should sample, taste, witness, or visit while you are there:
The gorgeous beaches: Kefalonia boasts some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, each one stunning and unforgettable. There is a flair of the exotic to be enjoyed in them, with lush landscapes encasing them and beautiful colors that give a taste of the Caribbean within the Hellenic style.
The most famous beaches are Myrtos, Antisamos, Petani, Xi, and Scala. You must enjoy at least one sunset at Myrtos beach, and watch the sea turn from bright orange to a gentle rose. Antisamos is gorgeous with crystal clear waters and lush green hills, while Petani has sharp craggy cliffs and golden sand with big waves. Xi is literally shaped like a very beautiful, sandy X, while at Scala you can swim to isolated, abandoned coves at your leisure.
The villages: From Fiskardo, the only village that was untouched by the earthquake, to the beautiful towns of Argostoli and Sami or the fisher villages of Agia Efthimia and Assos, you are in for a journey to colorful folklore, authenticity, and history.
Because the island is so big, you have the chance to enjoy places with fewer tourists and an enduring sense of locale even when you opt for the cosmopolitan, high-tier tourist venues. The unique architecture combined with the archaeological sites of previous eras create an unforgettable, stunning canvas.
The breathtakingly beautiful Melissani Cave: Only 2 km from the town of Sami, you will find one of the most beautiful places in the world: the Melissani cave lake. Discovered in 1951, this gorgeous “cave of the nymphs” as it is also known, was supposedly where the nymph Melissani died when the god Pan rejected her.
The beauty of the cave, lush with vegetation and playing with the sun rays just right, must be experienced to truly take in. Make sure you take a boat tour.
The Caretta-caretta sea turtles: Several beaches, such as Mounda beach, become nesting grounds for this beautiful endangered species of sea turtle. If you go in June, you will be able to observe the mother turtles come to shore to lay their eggs.
If you go in August, you will be able to watch the little turtles hatch and make their way to the sea. Of course, when this happens, the beaches are closed off to the public to protect them, but you can get instructions on how to watch them without putting them in danger.
On all other occasions during the summer, you will be able to see sea turtles swimming around in the ports at Argostoli and elsewhere!
The Drogarati Cave: A stunning cave complex which you can visit, with several impressive chambers full of stalagmites and stalactites, a small lake and several tunnels.
The food and wine: Kefalonia is famous for the renowned Robola wine, which you can taste right at the vineyards where it is made. It’s a unique white wine with fruity and honey undertones. Couple it with some of Kefalonia’s most famous delicacies, such as the renowned pies and meat dishes! Kefalonia is well known for its wine-making which goes back to Neolithic times, according to some sources, as well as its food which is informed by its vast heritage and tasty, indigenous ingredients!