“It takes a lifetime for someone to discover Greece, but it only takes an instant to fall in love with her” said once Henry Miller. I can only wholeheartedly agree with him! Having just come back from Kefalonia, one of the Greek islands in the Ionian Sea, I have to say I instantly fell in love with its beauty and tranquility. There is something beautiful about the simplicity of its lifestyle, which after London’s hassle and bustle felt like a breath of fresh air.
After checking out east and west coast of Kefalonia in the first couple days (see Part I), it was time to visit the south coast of Kefalonia – namely Skala. The drive was truly picturesque with little villages and quiet beaches, such as Lourdas, Kaminia and Katelios, along the way. Do take time to stop, enjoy the bird’s eye view and take some photos.
Skala, along with Lassi, is one of most favorite destinations for tourists coming to Kefalonia each year. This little village turned into a resort town. Here you will see lots of rented villas and hotels, a very different feel to the rest of the mostly rural island.
The main beach in Skala is very long with a mix of sand and shingle.
It also tends to be slightly busier because of the nearby hotels. There also lots of different water sports services, bars and tavernas around, catering to each tourist’s taste and preference.
However, despite its predictability, Skala has a couple of small hidden gems that are worth checking out. One is Apollo’s Temple ruins and another – a Roman villa. Don’t be surprised if you don’t find the latter right away because it’s tucked away on a small side road. We had to ask a couple of local men for directions and after some arguing in Greek, one of them kindly decided to take us to the Roman ruins.
Once you get there, don’t expect anything big and it may even be locked up (but the fence is very low, just saying!). What you will see are impressive remaining floor mosaics of the villa that was once home to a rich Roman. It was built around 3rd century AD and discovered in 1944!
What else to see…
During my walks through Svoronata, where we stayed, and drives through the island, the journey itself sometimes was more exciting than the destination. I stopped to breath in clean and fresh mountainous air, smell blooming flowers, walk on the farm fields and check out orange and olive orchids.
In Svoronata, there is a big orange orchid with a beautiful pond with floating water lilies. At night you can hear frogs singing in the pond!
In Kefalonia (and I assume other Greek islands) everything – the blooms and gardens, houses and cafes – is so colorful against the blue backdrop of the skies and sea.
Plus, everything was blooming in Kefalonia during our trip so the smells were intoxicating!
And how lovely are the churches? Unfortunately, all old Greek Orthodox churches turned to rubble during the 1953 earthquake and have been rebuilt since then.
One thing I realized is that Kefalonia is run by cats (usually around the seaside) and goats (mostly in the mountains). While cats waiting for a piece of your dinner under the table can be a nuisance, goats jumping off the cliffs into your driving path are a real danger. So on those high mountainous roads, be wary not so much of the fellow drivers but the goats!
Hotel + Food
Last but not least, it’s time to talk about where to stay and what to eat. When I started my research on Kefalonia hotels, my main criteria was access to the beach, reasonable prices yet great quality. This is how I found Leivatho hotel which had great reviews on Tripadvisor and Booking.com sites.
If you want something different, a boutique type of hotel away from the big crowds and touristy spots, I would definitely recommend this hotel. Leivatho hotel is a product of love and dedication of its owner, Maria. She is a very friendly lady who makes sure to talk to every guest and ensure they are comfortable and have everything they need.
The eco-friendly hotel is a complex of several buildings with 32 studios (with sea and garden views) spread out on beautiful and well-kept grounds.
The hotel is built in minimalistic and modern architectural style. Each studio is individually designed and furnished and has a full kitchen, which is great if you want to fix your own drinks and snacks.
Most of guests leisurely spend their days by the pool which overlooks the sea. It never felt too crowded and hotel staff kept refilling our glasses with water to make sure we stay hydrated during sunbathing! It’s such a relaxing and tranquil spot – you hardly want to leave it!
Each morning we were greeted by friendly restaurant staff (especially Despina) as we came in for breakfast at the colorful terrace by the pool.
Breakfasts were really tasty with home-made pies, fresh Greek yoghurt, locally produced honey, veggies and fruits, as well as freshly squeezed orange juice. The restaurant at the hotel also serves lunches and dinners which are made by a very talented chef who comes up with exquisite organic dishes.
The hotel is located in Svoronata, just 350 meters away from sandy Avithos beach and couple of tavernas. Apparently, Avithos beach is much loved by the locals for its soft sand and a tucked-away location.
What I also liked about it is a great To Enetiko taverna, where we ate almost every day and made friends with the staff.
It was such a perfect spot for lunches between the sunbathing sessions or dinners and drinks watching the sun go down. Whatever you will order, it will be delicious. But I suggest to try local Greek dishes, like stuffed courgette blossoms or stuffed tomatoes (see photos below) with a side order of authentic Greek salad. Yum!
We became such regulars at To Enetiko that a couple of nights we got treated to complimentary galaktoboureko. It is a traditional Greek dessert made with layers of golden flaky pastry, filled with custard and soaked in scented syrup.
If you are wondering how much money to bring to Greece, I can give you a rough guide on prices. For example, entrees in Kefalonian tavernas were 2-5 euros, while main courses ranged between 6-15 euros. I spent on average 8-15 euros per meal (I don’t drink alcohol, thus my spending was less) and the budget of 150 euros lasted me a week, plus I had some money left. Since Kefalonia is largely a rural island, I suggest exchanging money before you leave home and bring enough euros for entire length of the vacation. This way you won’t have to stress about finding ATM or an exchange place. Also, have some change handy as it is customary to tip. For example, it was expected to tip the boat man at the Melissani Lake.
- Getting around
As I mentioned in Part I, you can’t get around Kefalonia without a car as public transportation is almost non-existent. We rented a small Fiat Panda from Greekstones car rental, which has branches all over the island and had great rates (about 30 euros/day) and friendly staff who gave us suggestions on what to see and how to get there. Also, they can bring a car to your hotel and you can drop it off at the airport on the way back home.
- Mobile navigation
since most of rental cars don’t have navigation systems, I suggest you subscribe to a calling/data plan (it was only £1.99/day on O2 for me). You will need it to use Google maps to get around and avoid getting lost in the middle of the nowhere in the mountains. And to avoid getting your phone completely drained by voice navigation and not having any power left to get back to the hotel safely, don’t forget to bring a car charger or a back up phone.
Kefalonia is super safe but I heard like everywhere else, you have to be more vigilant during busy summer months when tourist population grows and thus, cases of theft. I would also bring a small flashlight (the torch function on your mobile phone will do) if you are staying somewhere off the beaten path. For example, in Svoronata, anywhere outside of the hotel was dark in the evening and you have to use a flash light if you want to walk to a nearby taverna for dinner.
Since most of the beaches we visited were unmanned when we went in May, I suggest bringing everything you need: beach towels, sun hats, water, snacks, and everything else you may need for full relaxation. Also, because many beaches are made of shingle and pebbles, wear comfortable footwear to avoid injuries and discomfort.
Kefalonians are super friendly and will respond particularly well to politeness and few words in Greek… just remember Kalimera “Good morning” and Kalispera “Good afternoon/evening”!
- Local delights
When in Kefalonia, buy some tasty local produce to take back home – wine, honey, Greek delights or baklava. Any shop will have these in stock and can advice you on which ones are better to get.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my Kefalonian vacation and my tips come handy. It was truly a great and relaxing holiday and I look forward exploring more of Greece in years to come…