Its terrain is basically mountainous with Ainos a national forest park as its highest peak, in the southwest (1,628 m. a.s.l.). The island essentially comprises four interconnected peninsulas and has a highly indented coastline with deep bays. The rich woodlands and the extensive vineyards, which produced the delicious Kefalonian wine, were renowned from Antiquity.
The Kefalonians, kind-hearted and welcoming, have the reputation of being the most-travelled Greeks, since for centuries they have been ploughing the seas as mariners and merchants, or voyaging as migrants to all corners of the earth. The island also has a flourishing tradition in Arts and Letters, boasting a number of eminent creative spirits. Its name is possibly due to the mythical king Kephalos, while the first mention of the name of the ‘Kefallanians’ is in Homer. The island was first inhabited in prehistoric times and around the sixth century BC it was divided into four kingdoms, at war with one another: Krane, Same, Pronnoi and Pale. By the time the Romans gained power in Greece, Kefalonia became a Roman province, while during the Byzantine Age it was plundered repeatedly by pirates. The pillage continued throughout the eleventh and twelfth centuries, at the hands of the Normans and the Crusaders. Kefalonia was subsequently conquered by the Ottomans, the Venetians and the French. Then came the period of the ‘Septinsular Republic’ under the suzerainty of the Sublime Porte, and not long after of British rule. It was finally united with Greece in 1864.
On the small peninsula of Fanari, in the inner recess of a sheltered bay, is the island’s capital and main harbour, Argostoli, in the territory of the ancient kingdom of Krane (or Kranaia). It was declared capital in 1757 and is now a modern town – it was rebuilt from scratch after the catastrophic earthquake in 1953 – with handsome buildings, many of which preserve their former grandeur, large squares and picturesque neighbourhoods. Recent studies identify the area with ancient Melite, referred to in the Acts of the Apostles. The Lithostroto (lit. paved street), the main commercial thoroughfare of the town, Vallianou Square and the historical Kampanas Square with its distinctive clocktower, are the venues where locals and visitors alike congregate. Buildings of particular interest are the Prefectural Headquarters, the Law Courts, the Conservatory, the ‘Cephalos’ Theatre, the Corgialegnion Library and the Kosmetatos Mansion, the Drapanos Bridge with the characteristic arches, built by British engineers in 1813, and the Sts Theodore Lighthouse (Fanari area) which was toppled by the 1953 earthquakes and rebuilt according to the original architectural plans of the British (1820). The Katavothres (lit. sink holes) at the entrance to the harbour should not be missed. This is a rare geological phenomenon in which the seawater disappears in clefts in the rock and reappears outside Karavomylos (Sami area) and in the Koutavos Lagoon, where there are remains of ancient Kranaia. The Greek Orthodox cathedral of the Evangelistria was built in 1957 and has an important iconostasis and icons by the significant later painter Th.Poulakis. Other notable churches in the town are of St. Spyridon with its magnificent gilded iconostasis, of the Archangels, the Roman Catholic church of St Nicholas with the renowned icon of the Virgin Preveziana (of Preveza), and others. Three kilometres south of the town is the cave of Aghios Gerasimos where the island’s patron saint dwelt as a hermit, while in the Omala Valley, at the foot of densely forested Mt. Ainos, is the monastery of St Gerasimos where his relic is housed. The second town on Kefalonia is Lixouri, a port built on the Paliki peninsula, northwest of the capital. It has an important archaeological collection and public libraries (Jacobatian and Petritsian). A short distance away is Palaiokastro where remains of the ancientcity have been revealed, while at Kontogenada there are Mycenaean tombs as well as churches with Postbyzantine icons. In this area there are also noteworthy monasteries with wood-carved iconostaseis and precious icons (Virgin Koronatos 17th c., Virgin Kechrionos, Kipouraion and Taphion). At the southernmost tip of the peninsula, near the village of Mantzavinata, is the ‘Kounopetra’, a rock in the sea, which rocked (Gr. kouno) in a weird way until the 1953 earthquakes, after which it was stabilized. Lovely beaches for swimming and watersports near Argostoli are Platys and Makrys Yalos (at Lassi), Gradakia and Kamaroules, while at Lixouri the beaches at Lepeda, Xi (with red sand), Megas Lakkos, as well as Petanoi and Atheras, further north, offer good swimming.
To the northeast of Argostoli is Sami, the main port of Kefalonia, from which there is a sealink to Italy. It is built in the homonymous gulf, in the vicinity of ancient Same. Excavations have brought to light finds of the Hellenistic and Roman periods, as well as remains of Cyclopean walls. In the same area are the ruins of the monastery of the Revealed Saints (Hagioi Phanentes), with excellent examples of Postbyzantine wall-paintings.
Sami is an attractive town with considerable tourism, well catered for with accommodation, shops, restaurants, tavernas, bars, clubs and so on. Nearby is Lake Karavomylos, which is formed by waters that enter the sink-holes at Argostoli, and close to it is the lacustrine grotto of Melisani with the phosphorescent blue-green waters. Five kilometres southwest is the Drogarati cave with impressive stalactites and stalagmites, and extraordinary acoustics. Other interesting caves are Angalaki, Aghioi Theodoroi, Aghia Eleousa and Zervati. There is good swimming at the town’s beaches, Antisamos and Aghia Paraskevi. North of Sami is Aghia Evfymia with its pebble beach and pretty harbour, and not far away is the noteworthy monastery of the Virgin of the Themata, in a densely wooded setting.
Sailing yachts and excursion craft moor in its harbour, while from here visitors can take a trip by sea to the beaches on the northeast side of the island (Agriosyko, Aghia Sofia, Kalo Limani, Kapsolimnionas and others). The beautiful town of Asos is situated in an idyllic landscape on the narrowest point of the homonymous peninsula to the north of Argostoli. On the hill are ruins of the Venetian castle and the fortification wall, built in the late sixteenth century to protect the inhabitants from piratical raids. Southwest of Asos, in Myrtos Bay, is one of the loveliest pebble beaches in Greece. Further north, at the tip of the Erissos peninsula, is enchanting Fiskardo, with traditional architecture (it is the only village unscathed by the 1953 earthquakes), restored old houses, a yacht marina and seaside tavernas.
The village, which is very popular with tourists, is set in the midst of an impressive cypress wood that reaches down to the water’s edge (beaches of Emplysi, Foki, Cape Dafnoudi and others). One of the island’s most interesting coastal towns is Poros (41 km. east of Argostoli), in a verdant area, with a harbour and a marina, plenty of accommodation and traditional shops. Ashort distance from here is the monastery of the Mother of God of Atros, the oldest monastery on Kefalonia (8th c.), and beyond this is Lake Avythos (near the village of Aghios Nikolaos). Just outside the village of Asprogeraka are ruins of Cyclopean walls. Close to the village of Travliata is the monastery of St Andrew with valuable icons, and opposite this is the Venetian fort of St George (13th c.) on the site of the island’s Medieval capital. It is quite well preserved, with imposing walls and underground passages. Inside the castle are the ruins of the residence of the Venetian provedittore, barracks and the Catholic church of St Mark.
Interesting villages in the environs are Domata, close to which is the church of the Virgin with a wood-carved iconostasis of exquisite art, Peratata, Svoronata, Lakithra with a wonderful view, Kourkoumelata (a model of settlement development), Pesada and others. A short distance from the picturesque coastal village of Lourdata is the monastery of the All Holy Mother of God of Sisies (13th c.), which tradition has it was founded by St. Francis of Assisi, while close to the village is a therapeutic spring. The beach nearby and the one at Trapezaki are ideal for swimming. In the south of the island is the village of Kateleio, in the gulf of that name, with golden sand. Nearby is Skala, where a building of the Roman period (2nd c. AD), with well-preserved mosaics, was discovered. Ruins of a Doric temple of Apollo (5th c. BC) have been brought to light hereabouts, while the Sakkos Cave is also of archaeological interest. Last, there are numerous delightful villages in the island’s interior, with abundant greenery, refreshing water, local architecture, authentic Kefalonian customs and tranquility.
EVENTS – OTHER INFORMATION
Many artistic events and religious feasts are held on the island: Theatre Festival (July) and International Choral Festival (August) at Argostoli; elaborate Carnival celebrations at Argostoli and Lixour; Wine Festival in the village of Frangata; litanies of St Gerasimos (16 August and 20 October); anniversary of the Union of the Ionian Islands with Greece (21 May); procession of the icon of the Sisies monastery (Easter Monday); feast of the Dormition of the Virgin (15 August), and others. Several of the island’s beaches have facilities for watersports. There are marinas and refuelling stations for yachts at Argostoli, Sami, Fiskardo, Aghia Evfymia, Lixouri and Poros. Characteristic local products include nougats (mantolata), the excellent local wine robola, and honey. NEARBY ISLANDS Southeast of Argostoli lies the islet of Dia (or Theionisi) where tradition has it that there was a sanctuary of Zeus (hence the name). Other deserted islets off the south coast of Kefalonia are Vardianoi opposite the Kounopetra, and Aghia Pelagia.
USEFUL TELEPHONE NUMBERS:
Municipality of Argostoli: 26710 22.230
Kefalonia Police Department: 26710 22.300
Argostoli Police Station: 26710 22.200
Tourist Police: 26710 22.815
Argostoli Harbour Authority: 26710 22.224, 26710 22.397
Sami Harbour Authority: 26740 22.031
Poros Harbour Authority: 26740 72.460
Fiskardo Harbour Authority: 26740 41.400
Prefectural General Hospital: 26710 24.641
First Aid: 26710 23.230
Municipality of Lixouri: 26710 91.208.