Words by Adam Jacot de Boinod
The island of Kefalonia will be familiar to some for the wonderful novel ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ by Louis de Bernières, brought to life on film by Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz. From pine, cypress and olive trees to secluded coves and white sand beaches, the island in the Ionian Sea boasts an assortment of picturesque fishing villages and enticing eateries, which showcase the cultural traditions of the inviting Greek isle.
I reached my destination, a northern cosmopolitan fishing village called Fiscardo which faces Ithaca, the home of Odysseus, and is a yachties’ paradise. There are no nightclubs here, this is a place for relaxation and repose.
This delightful harbour is the only village on the island not damaged by the catastrophic earthquake of 1953. Bougainvillea adorns the evident and satisfying Venetian colours and architecture, and though there are less than fifty residents off-season, it’s a working village with locals busying themselves sweeping up from and hosing down the pavements. The locals are warm and engaging allowing tourists to come to their shops and restaurants of their own accord without any hassle or enticement.
I stayed at the Almyra Hotel. Almyra means ‘the sensation of the salt water of the sea’ and opened in 2002 as a family concern. The furnishing in the spacious sitting room is modern and chic and there’s a healthy range of coffee table books on Greece, the Ionian Sea, Kefalonia and photographs of Fiscardo’s fishermen. Thankfully at Almyra visitors are spared the usual gaudy paintings, after all, the view says it all – overlooking its swimming pool, the sea beyond and Ithaca further into the distance, not to mention the magnificent dawn, sunset and starlit nights.
The hotel is a perfect boutique size; intimate, well-designed and ideal for its staple clientele of couples, though typically they bring their children in August. 80 per cent of the guests who return regularly are British, so it’s no surprise that the three flags beside the driveway promote not just Greece and the European Union, but the Union Jack. There’s a minibus shuttle to deliver and collect the guests from the harbour who are equally keen to have come from other routes down different beaches and coves and share their adventurous discoveries with each other.
Food lovers will be spoiled for choice when it comes to dining in the area. The menu in the hotel’s restaurant, with its modest number of tables inside and out, is a combination of British and Greek tastes. I had, as a starter, roast potatoes with garlic, oregano, mustard and lemon followed by octopus cooked in red wine and sun-dried tomatoes served with chickpeas.
Mirella’s, a roadside restaurant between the hotel and Emblisi beach, holds authentic white wooden tables bedecked with potted plants and boasts a truly picturesque view of the sea beyond. Here I chose a Caesar salad, as well as feta with honey and filo pastry, followed by a chicken fillet à la crème with mushrooms and peppers. It’s very reasonably priced and authentic.
One night in Fiscardo I ate out at Panormos, a terraced restaurant with a hip, cool vibe. The menu is trendy and modern with ‘supergreen’ dishes chosen for the palate of healthy-minded types. I chose the delicious and very generously portioned super food salad comprising of crispy lettuce, pomegranate pearls, pine nut, white and red quinoa, wild rice, grilled goats’ cheese and lemon vinaigrette. As another starter I had spicy shrimps, chilli oil, vongole shellfish and feta cheese. Then came the seabass fillet with lemon and thyme sauce followed by the ‘magic muffin’, an orange chocolate soufflé with bitter chocolate ice cream.
Another night I had supper at one of the waterfront restaurants called Roulas. It has its distinctive floral motif with calming white neutral colours as a backdrop. The lovely elephant breath, warm mid-grey exterior is extremely elegant as are the white chairs, tables, shutters and windows with their delicate Greek lacework. There was even a small shop to lure me inside beside the kitchen where the magic happens.
Next door, and for another night’s feasting, I went to the restaurant Tassia. It’s linked to the Almyra hotel and the wonderful menu offers a huge variety of meat and seafood. I chose Tassia’s delicious taramasalata, a Meloza salad with lettuce, rocket, cherry tomatoes, almonds and sauce with honey, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. My grilled fresh tuna fillet which was fabulously succulent was followed by Tassia’s dessert with yoghurt, pineapple jelly, stewed pineapple and fresh cream.
All within easy reach of Fiscardo are the coves of Dafnoudis and Kimilia, but my favourite was Alaties, and I recommend going early to reserve your space. It’s a hidden jewel set in turquoise water, down past the lovely church in Antipata Erisou and then a couple of hamlets, through Magganos with its delightful eatery called Picnic, to this small divine cove with the bluest of water and whitest of rocky outcrops.
For a wonderful full day’s excursion I strongly recommend a boat trip with Ionian Discoveries. The owner Fabio takes people snorkelling and one spot is the Boieru cave at Foki Bay (meaning bay of seals) within the glorious setting of calm, teal water and above a small, deep, dark evergreen forest, very reminiscent of Scandinavia and Canada. Across the day he had pointed out to me grey and white herons, a school of baby grey mullet, turtles, cormorants, octopus and starfish. He and Vassilis love sharing their knowledge as they explained to me all about the octopus and its undoubted, though under-appreciated, intelligence and memory.
Like all the other Brits I must go back. Whenever but soon!
I had support from Heathrow Express and reached Gatwick Airport via Southern Railway as well as from Holiday Extras, the market leader in UK airport parking, hotels, lounges and transfers, and Holiday Extras aim to find you a hotel and parking package that’s cheaper than the cheapest airport parking on its own (on two week breaks). To book the Hilton at London Gatwick Airport, visit HolidayExtras.com or call 0800 316 5678.