THERE’S not many places in Europe you can visit at the end of October and still be guaranteed warmth and sunshine. But the Greek islands, as well as being a perfect summer holiday destination, are great for that autumn getaway. And Kefalonia is different to the other islands I have visited before.
The island is green, mountainous and felt less touristy – although that could have been partly down to visiting out of season. That was one of the perks of visiting at this time of year. The beaches were empty, the roads were quiet and we had the apartment complex entirely to ourselves too which meant we could have breakfast on our own balcony instead of having to go to the communal area every morning.
Of course, as we discovered, this comes with its downsides. Some of Kefalonia’s more popular restaurants were closed so we had less choice of places to eat, supermarkets shut at random times, the weather was unpredictable (going from 25C one day to 15C the next) and there was little to do indoors when the weather was bad.
The beach life
Kefalonia prides itself on its immaculate beaches and having them practically to ourselves was sublime. It was peaceful to sit and watch the waves, and most of the time the sound of the sea was all you could hear.
Myrtos beach, famous for appearing in the Captain Corelli’s Mandolin film, is one of these beaches. It’s simply stunning. The pebbles are white as white, the sea is so clear and blue, and I almost forgot I was in Europe.
Similarly, Anthisamos beach, set in a secluded bay between mountains offered us more beautiful scenery. The beach is smaller than Myrtos but it seemed longer and I imagine during peak season it is much more lively with bars and music.
And being off-season it meant we didn’t have to pay or pre-book tickets to use the beach and I managed to get stunning photos of empty beaches without a soul in sight.
One of the biggest tourist attractions in Kefalonia is the Mellisani Cave. It’s featured at the top of all the ‘Things to Do’ lists, it’s in all the guides and pictures of the blue, clear water glistening in the light are everywhere. So I was expecting a much larger cave and a longer tour than the 15 minutes we spent inside sat in a small row boat.
As beautiful as the cave and the water were, it was a slight anticlimax. I had heard of people queuing for an hour, but I certainly would have been annoyed to wait that long and then face several boats of people in the back of all my photos. So I guess this was another perk of visiting out of the regular holiday season.
Turtle watching at Argostoli Bay is said to be popular on the island and there’s even a low footbridge over the harbour to give people a perfect viewpoint. So the chance of seeing some of the creatures seemed likely and the locals we asked were optimistic about the possibility. Except we didn’t see anything. Maybe it was the gloomy weather or the rain that kept them away – another downside of visiting in Autumn.
The turtles were maybe like the rest of the island and completely ruled by the tourists and the number of flights coming in from the rest of Europe. Lourdas Beach where we stayed had a few people still walking around but it was relatively quiet with most of the bars and hotels shut until next year. Another town we drove through -Scala – was a complete ghost town.
The reduction of flights arriving and leaving from an island like this pretty much dictates when the hotels are open and to me it felt very strange for somewhere that relies on tourism to completely shut down after the summer. As a result hiring a car is recommended. Buses and taxis on the island are rare and with the weather interchangeable we couldn’t rely on being able to sit on the beach all day long so needed someway of getting about.
Don’t look down!
One day we ventured to the opposite side of the island to – Fiskardo – a harbour town described to us as a place where the rich and famous visit, with boats coming in daily from Monte Carlo. We drove for more than an hour meandering around the edges of the mountains, going from ground level to the highest viewpoint of the island and back down again. It was a slightly scary drive at times where one wrong turn could see you facing a long drop down to the bottom.
Arriving in the town, it was definitely clean, the buildings were traditional and the restaurants were among the fanciest we had seen. But I didn’t see any of the rich boat owners we were promised. The boats didn’t appear to be anything special and the area was full of regular families and British tourists, making it feel like any other quiet town we had visited. After a quick beer and a lovely lunch we made the long journey back, with another part of the island ticked off.
This experience seemed to sum up the entire holiday. With every advantage of holidaying in the off-season, came a small disadvantage. Kefalonia is undeniably beautiful and would be blissful while basking in heat and sunshine, but it is so small it could become suffocating in the height of the holiday season swamped with sunseekers. It is an island that thrives on tourism and guaranteed sunshine to attract the holidaymakers. But if stunning scenery and warmer temperatures is what you want, as it’s getting colder in many parts of Europe, then Kefalonia certainly delivers. Just hire a car….and maybe go self-catering in case the good restaurants around you are all closed.