Its bold, wild beauty envelops you. Dramatic, powdery white cliffs that crumble into jewel seas. Sunsets so piercing their beauty stays with you, long after you leave. Kefalonia is one of Greece’s largest and most breathtaking islands yet remains a hidden gem, devoid of tourists.
A few years ago, flying home after an island hop around the whitewashed towns of Santorini and vibrant party island of Mykonos, I overheard a woman sharing stories of her time in the Ionian Islands. Languid summers spent on secluded beaches, authentic greek food in rustic local villages, adventures to hidden coves accessible only by boat, that locals kept secret. Her eyes filled with a magic I knew I had to experience.
While the world (at least on social media) spent their summer dancing and throwing back ouzo at beach bars, wandering shoulder to shoulder with crowds through Mykonos town, a close friend and I thought we’d jump off the bandwagon and explore a different part of Greece…
Booking last minute, we found one of the only Air B&B’s available, at the southern end of the island – a tiny little fishing village called Lourdata. Compared to Kefalonia’s famous beaches up north, Google Images and the scarce reviews of the area had us a little skeptical. But we figured it was just a place to sleep and we’d day trip to the better parts I’d mapped out over the island.
We arrived at the local airport, grabbed our overnight bags, jumped into our hire car and set off for Lourdata at sunrise. A 25 minute drive through pastel washed mediterranean towns, bougainvillea that exploded and collapsed over stone walls, and into blinding morning sunlight that crept over rolling mountains and illuminated farmland.
A cascading road wound down through the local village of Lourdata and onto a long dirt road along the beach. At the very end was our Air B&B – a quaint stone house with one of the most magical beaches as its front yard. And no one around. Outside, the most vibrant, powdery blue water lapped onto white pebbles. To our right, a long stretch of beach dotted with colourful umbrellas and empty sun chairs. Rustic cafes draped in vine leaves and vibrant mismatched chairs faced the sea. The rest of the town was made up of tiny homes with giant yards and absolute beachfront vegetable gardens that anywhere else in the world would be demolished in a heartbeat to make way for luxury apartments.
At 9am we wandered down the Main Street and took our pick of empty little cafes along the beach, advertising menus with locally grown ingredients from the gardens around us. We chose a little cafe and strolled inside looking around like the other two English travellers doing the same – trying to find someone who works here to make breakfast. We sat down to take in the view and 30 minutes later a local Greek man rolls in, laughing at our eagerness to eat breakfast before 10am. For 7 euro he whips up one of the best vegetable omelettes we’ve eaten, freshly squeezed orange juice, baked croissants and hot coffee.
I never planned to fall so hard for the little village that was just our base on the wrong end of the island. Swept up in it’s lazy, blissful simplicity, I wanted to stay there all week, just as much as I craved exploring the rest of the island. On day two we set off for Fiskardo, a little port on the northernmost tip of the Kefalonia dotted with colourful Venetian villas – the only place spared by the 1953 earthquake that devastated the entire island, and all of its beautiful old architecture intact.
Driving from one stretch of the island to the next are some of the most vivid memories I have of Kefalonia. The heart in your throat moments – winding around enormous cliff edges on narrow roads, so scared to look down but too magnetized by the surreal landscape below. White knuckles on my steering while while mountain goat casually wander the almost vertical cliffs faces. Pulling over to the side of the road at night to watch a full moon illuminate every tiny ripple in an ocean that resembled a thick blanket scattered with diamonds. Sitting on the top of a cliff overlooking Myrtos beach watching the sunset one afternoon, while a stranger played her guitar on the hill next to us – music that captured what that view felt better than I could ever put into words.
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Every corner of Kefalonia was as shockingly beautiful and diverse at the next – living up to its name as the island of contrast. And while the drama of its famous beaches and vibrancy of postcard perfect little towns pulled us to every pocket of the island – there was something about returning to the tiny fishing village we booked to stay in. The silence when creeping along the dirt road at night, interrupted only by lapping waves. The local restaurant owners who knew us by name. Waking up in absolute seclusion and feeling at home. The neighbors who waved each morning, and invited us over for a traditional Greek lunch before we left. We were travellers here, not tourists.
A rustic fishing village on the southern part of the Island for a quiet getaway and great place to venture from if you’re up for the drive.
A port on the northernmost tip of the island and the only town that has retained its old architecture after the 1958 earthquake that devastated Kefalonia. Dine, sip cocktails and laze around in hammocks at Panormos Restaurant.
A tiny and charming harbour village built on a small peninsula which we added onto the end of our trip for the last 2 nights. We loved the little rustic backstreets here as much as the picturesque pastel waterfront and beautiful beaches. One of the more touristy parts but definitely worth visiting. Drink wine at the beachfront restaurants to take in their magical views… but head to Plantanos Traditional Restaurant for dinner.
One of the most surreal beaches we’ve ever visited, engulfed by steep limestone cliffs that crumble into the ocean. Perfect for a sunset swim if you want to visit without too many people around.
A great place for an afternoon cocktail to watch the sunset, from one of its vibrant colourful beach chairs and umbrellas.
We regrettably didn’t make it here having only discovered this online toward the end of the trip… After an atempt to access it from land – a little bit of a cross country hike down from the top of the hill to be met with a herd of mountain goat that didn’t seem too happy to have us walking through their territory, we learned that walking access is now closed and it’s only accessible by boat. A beach not many of the locals themselves have heard of when we had asked, but it looks absolutely stunning so plan ahead and make sure you do it!
Where to Stay
If you book in advance, there are so many beautiful little Air BnB’s spread over the island to give you an authentic experience of Kefalonia. We also indulged in a few nights at F Zeen Retreat in Lourdata.
We traveled with Eco Tan’s collection of Certified Organic products – some of our tried and tested favorites and a few new additions that we sampled. Our top picks…
Pink Himalayan Salt Scrub / A beautiful blend of organic lemongrass, coconut oil and pink Himalayan salts that leaves you with smooth, glowing skin.
Cacao Tanning Mousse and Face Tan Water / We’ve tried and tested many tanning products, this one gives the most natural color and is completely free of any synthetic ingredients that harm your skin and congest pores.
Coconut Body Milk / A rich, decadent body moisturiser blended with organic aloe, coconut oil, jojoba and macadamia that deeply highdrates.
Natural Rose Hip Sunscreen / For those looking for a completely natural sunscreen product this is one of our faves, which is zinc based… and rubs in clear!
Shop the full collection via the Eco Tan Website.