Words by Adam Jacot de Boinod
Having previously recorded my experience of Kefalonia’s northern niches in Fiscardo and southern shores in Lourdata I just had to complete my exploration of the island and the western waves of Paliki. Sure enough, a week later I was back.
As a peninsula, Paliki is wonderful to drive around. I hired a car from Rentcarkefalonia run by the charming and unruffled Apostolis. It was perfect to escape all those airport interiors and queues by walking literally a minute away down a dappled lane dappled with trees.
I invite you to envisage a landscape of white rocks and rich brown earth, of silvery olive groves and pine conifers topped beneath the bluest of skies by the vivid green glory of cypress trees. All highly reminiscent of Andalucia at her speckled and meandering best.
In this pastoral and idyllic setting the animals are free-ranging and often stray. Goats and sheep roam the roads and dogs guard territory while cats gather to populate the village squares. Cockerels announce what Homer described as the rosy-fingered dawn.
Newly-finished and where I was fortunate enough to stay, is Elia Villa, very much the VIP villa of the Alekos Beach Houses group. It is in walking distance of the local town, Lixouri, and boasts a supreme setting beneath a craggy bluff and backed by gorgeous groves of olives. A prize position for such a zen gem.
The zen interior is über-chic and all rooms lie on one level. Under a beamed roof, suggestive of beach huts, the villa has a calm, horizontal vibe as all three bedrooms look out to sea. There’s a modern and neutral beauty, mercifully sparing excess adornment, acknowledging that there’s more than enough glory and magic on view outside.
The cosy chill-out area comfortably joins the kitchen (with all the mod-cons) to offer a stress-free living experience. It can accommodate six people; it is perfect for a small family and similarly wouldn’t feel overwhelming for a couple.
I stepped out of the widened doors to the patio, where inside meets outside with seamless continuity. Everything is thoroughly thought through. Even the avocado-coloured towels match the lovely spongy grass of the landscaped, lavender-bordered lawn, while the paved forecourt and the local stone blend harmoniously with the terrain.
The infinity pool actually finishes in front of olive groves from which, at night, crickets whistle like referees to combine sublimely in that Mediterranean way with a full galaxy of stars. I can quite see why the architect Dionysis Avgoustinos has a reputation that precedes him as this place is truly a dream holiday getaway.
During my stay I went to visit some alternative accommodation within the Alekos Beach Houses group that comprises twenty villas under a consortium of owners, fifteen of which extend right onto the beach. Alexandros Beach House in front of the rippling shores of the golden Logos beach and with the longer Lepada beach nearby, houses as many as ten people and is perfect for a deeply relaxing time, catering even for meditation and yoga retreats with its restful and remedial bedrooms.
Alekos Beach Houses all come with a prompt and professional concierge service run by the charming, conscientious and super-helpful Kostas Voyatzis who is ever ready to share a passion for the island that started with his childhood holidays. He very much espouses his own philosophy of ‘living like a local’ and offers up the chance to participate in activities such as harvesting the olives and picking the grapes and baking fish in the sand.
For the more active he researches and arranges tailor-made boat trips, free-diving and paragliding. He’ll even come and collect you from the airport.
It’s handy for both villas to have the local tavern Apolafsi only a few hundred yards away and wonderful to eat on its terrace beneath the grapevines with the moon reflecting across the water. All very romantic, all very Mamma Mia.
Alongside the port I came to the excellent restaurant Bella Mangia, owned by Yiannis Kiriakopoulos, alongside Kostas the chef and Zeta the baker. It has a retro Italian feel with tasteful traditional music transmitted around its spacious, wooden floors and pebbled walls. What joy to discover that my sea bass, perfectly grilled, moist yet crisp, had come fresh from the neighbouring fisheries.
Also on the portside was the restaurant Akrogiali, meaning coastline, and true to its maritime character were old wooden beams above pictures of the harbour and ships from the old days. This traditional and authentic eatery offers an honest and hearty meal from its extensive menu and is open for both lunch and dinner the whole year round. I could imagine sitting out in mid-summer on the roof terrace, above diners spilling out onto the street, to watch people alighting from the ferry and local kids trying out their push bikes.
Another evening I ate at V+S Corner, a family concern of ten years standing, run by Giorgos Solidaikis. Here, he offers a range of traditional local dishes including chicken with ouzo or mastika, pork gyros and beef in a clay pot with potatoes, fresh tomato, eggplant, feta and gouda as well as fresh meagre or sea bass fillet with spicy fresh tomato sauce, aubergine and capers. The menu even offers a whole page of vegan options. I tried the local Sclavos Orgion which perfectly complemented my steak au poivre aided by the freshest of salads.
Kostas took me on one of his truly memorable tailor-made boat trips to some stunning places inaccessible from the shore. They’re not in the guidebooks, how can they be when only Kostas with the help of the skipper Demetris can get one there across Myrtos Bay? We went past the village of Zola and the beach, Vouti in his boat to the one at Agia Kyriaki.
Chalk cliffs create the most stunning and bluest of waters; an extraordinary turquoise made almost incredible when lit by the sun. Flocks of seagulls, too numerous to count, fled upwards as if startled by human contact beyond Fteri and Amidi beaches.
Demetris, available via Kostas’s concierge service, has another boat, the ‘Romantica’ in which he takes people out for the whole day stopping at secluded beauty spots for his guests to swim as well as to have lunch. He took me to see Assos, a stunning peninsula with the cutest of villages.
Here, there are traditional houses with striking colours and brilliant bougainvilleas framed by vivid green pine trees and ancient shady plane trees. The ultimate picturesque harbour without any twee affectation. What a treat next to go by boat to the famous Myrtos beach, the scene of the bomb detonating in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
On another day I went with Kefalonia Sailing Point, whose charming skipper Nikos Hionis was clearly at one with his 44-foot-long yacht. He offers trips with up to six beds for anything from seven to ten days aboard from the gulf to Zante, to Lefkada, to Paxos and as far as Corfu within his May to October season.
He took me out from the inland and across to the uninhabited ‘Rabbit Island’ and on to the golden and fabulously long strand of Xi beach. To crown such a special outing, on returning through the gulf, I chanced upon a school of dolphins flipping joyously back from the food that spills out of the fish farms of Argostoli to dance majestically and magically before the sunset.
The beach Xi (pronounced ‘Chsi’), named after the Greek letter whose shape it resembles, is the ideal length for a proper walk beneath cliffs of white argillaceous cloying clay, a smear for spa-going types upon their skin for its natural ingredients. The beautiful red sand changes into a spicy colour at dusk from ginger to both cinnamon and cumin while the sunsets provide extra magic over what Homer described as the wine-dark sea, perhaps with Kefalonia in mind.
Prices for Elia Villa for 2 people in low season start from €180 per night and high season from €392 per night (€20 per extra person). Prices for Alexandros Beach House for 2 people in low season start from €69 per night and high season from €296 per night. (€15 per extra person). To book visit alekos.reserve-online.net
Main image: The village of Assos