Kefalonia - Natural Beauty and Turbulent History

  • 01 of 08

    Overview of the Greek island of Kefalonia

    Myrtos Beach on the Greek island of Kefalonia
    Linda Garrison

    Kefalonia (also spelled Cephalonia) is the largest Greek island in the Ionian Sea on the western side of Greece. Like its neighbor Corfu, Kefalonia is much greener than the Greek islands found in the Aegean Sea (like Santorini and Mykonos). The evergreen, cypress, and olive trees provide a gorgeous contrast to the brilliant blue-green Ionian Sea.

    Kefalonia is famous for its natural wonders like the Drogarati Cave and Melissani Lake. The island is mountainous, so driving can be a challenge, but the mountain and coastal scenery are spectacular, as seen in the photo of Myrtos Beach above.

    The island also has many charming tiny villages that are perfect for exploring. One such village is Sami on the eastern coast of Kefalonia. Sami was used as the setting for the 2001 movie "Captain Corelli's Mandolin", which was adapted from the Louis de Bernières book of the same name. This book was set on Kefalonia in World War II, and most of it was filmed in Sami. The German massacre of Italian troops on Kefalonia in 1943 is the central theme of the book. 

    History of Kefalonia

    Like much of Greece, Kefalonia has had a turbulent history. The island was occupied by the Byzantines, Turks, Venetians, British, and the Ottomans before it became a Greek state in 1864. During World War II, Kefalonia was occupied by the Axis powers, primarily Italy. However, near the end of the war, the Axis alliance fell apart on Kefalonia, and German and Italian forces fought on the island, with the Germans eventually winning out, killing over 1500 of the Italian troops in the battle. The Germans then executed about 4500 of the Italian soldiers who had surrendered when they ran out of ammunition. The rest of the Italian troops were put on a ship and sent to Germany. However, their ship hit a mine and sank, killing 3000 of the 4000 Italian prisoners onboard. After World War II, Kefalonia was involved in the Greek civil war, but finally again became part of Greece in 1949.

    Kefalonia Cruises

    Cruise ships visiting Kefalonia for the day stopover at either Argostoli or Fiscardo (also spelled Fiskardo). Argostoli is the capital city, but it doesn't have as much of the Venetian style architecture as other western Greek towns. The city (along with much of the rest of the island) was almost completely destroyed in a 1953 earthquake, so many of the buildings in Argostoli have a more modern look. Argostoli has a lovely harbor, and it's fun to stroll along the water and check out the cafes and local people.

    Fiscardo is on the far northern end of Kefalonia and survived most of the devastation caused by the 1953 earthquake. So, many of its elegant buildings are painted the pastel colors of the Venetian style and have balconies and tile roofs. 

    Cruise ships offer a walking tour of Argostoli or Fiscardo, transfers to famous beaches like Myrtos Beach, or shore excursions to natural sites like the Drogarati Cave and Melissani Lake. Other tours go to quaint villages like Sami or to a lighthouse, monastery, or winery. The island is spectacular to look at, so even a bus ride around Kefalonia can be enjoyable.

    The rest of this article provides a photo tour of some of the things to see on the Greek island of Kefalonia.

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  • 02 of 08

    Entering Drogarati Cave on the Greek island of Kefalonia

    Entering Drogarati Cave on the Greek island of Kefalonia
    Linda Garrison

    Drogarati Cave is one of Kefalonia's most visited natural wonders. The cave was discovered about 300 years ago and has been open to tourists since 1963. 

    Entering Drogarati Cave can be quite challenging. The staircase leading down into the cave is often damp and slippery, and it's over 300 feet down to the cave's large underground cavern. (It's also 300 feet back up the same stairs.) 

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  • 03 of 08

    Drogarati Cave on the Greek Island of Kefalonia

    Drogarati Cave on the Greek Island of Kefalonia
    Linda Garrison

    Once visitors have negotiated the steps down into the Drogarati Cave on the Greek island of Kefalonia, they are rewarded with this huge cavern (65 m x 45 m x 20 m high). The acoustics are superb in the cavern, so it is often used for concerts of up to 500 people. Since the 64-degree temperature is always about the same, it is especially nice to visit or attend a concert on hot summer days. 

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  • 04 of 08

    Drogarati Cave on the Greek island of Kefalonia

    Drogarati Cave on the Greek island of Kefalonia
    Linda Garrison

    The Drogarati Cave is still forming. However, since the stalagmites and stalactites are growing less than a half-inch every 100 years, it's not likely to change much during our lifetimes. 

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  • 05 of 08

    Fisherman at the small town of Sami, Kefalonia in Greece

    Fisherman at the small town of Sami, Kefalonia in Greece
    Linda Garrison

    Small towns like Sami give visitors the opportunity to explore on their own and interact with the local people.  Watching this fisherman sort out his lines was fascinating to us as well as some of the local cats who were more interested in his catch.

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  • 06 of 08

    Melissani Lake on the Greek island of Kefalonia

    Melissani Lake on the Greek island of Kefalonia
    Linda Garrison

    Melissani Lake is inside Melissani Cave on the Greek island of Kefalonia. Visitors must walk down a narrow tunnel to reach the shore of the underground lake. The tunnel exit is seen in the photo above. 

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  • 07 of 08

    Melissani Lake on the Greek island of Kefalonia

    Melissani Lake on the Greek island of Kefalonia
    Linda Garrison

    Small row boats with local guides (almost like Venetian gondolas) take guests around Melissani Lake and into a large chamber that is only accessible by water. Since the roof fell into Melissani lake many years ago, the lake is open to the sky. The sunlight is spectacular on the water. 

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  • 08 of 08

    Mountains and windmills on Kefalonia

    Mountains and windmills on Kefalonia
    Linda Garrison

    Those who don't enjoy beaches or caves can enjoy exploring Kefalonia on a bus or car. The roads are curvy, but the mountainous scenery and views of the white sandy beaches are some of the best you can find in Greece.