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Kefalonia

Last year’s holiday planning got slightly out of hand: despite turning on the computer to look for cheap flights to somewhere with a beach and not many people we ended up in Tokyo (beaches: none, except an oddly-named mall on Odaiba, people: lots). This year things went more to plan, and less overbudget. So off we went to Katelios, on the south-east coast of Kefalonia, in the Ionian islands. It doesn’t really warrant a “top ten tips”, but here are a few things I’d have liked to know before leaving.

Is Kefalonia overrun by tourists yet?

Yes. Yes it is. Italians come in on the ferry that docks in Skala, many in campervans. At least four flights arrive from the UK, twice a week, in August. The airport is at maximum capacity and then some. Some of the towns – particulary the area around Lassi, south of Argostoli – are very resort-y.

I am a horrible person, and I don’t like most other people. Can I avoid them?

Yes. Yes you can. Pick the right place and, even in August, you won’t be overrun by drunks eating chips. Also, just head to the beach in the morning and it’ll be deserted. Here’s Mounda beach at 10am or so (from a snapshot camera):

Mounda beach, Kefalonia, early morning

Yeah. Packed. Also, and bizarrely, it seems that most British people don’t go to the beach. The place we stayed had a pool that would, every day and all day, even through the midday sun, be surrounded by a few British families. On the beach, in the early morning or late afternoon, you could find two very pale Londoners (us) and approximately half the population of Italy.

Should I rent a car?

As long as you’re a confident driver – the roads are narrow, windy, occasionally perilous and frequently terribly surfaced – then yes. This is particularly important if not staying in one of the big resorts, as the transfer buses have to go and drop loads of people off there first – jump in a car and you can head straight off (see “avoiding people”, above). Oh, but two things: do not rent a Hyundai Getz – I’ll explain in a minute – and for the love of all that is holy do buy a road map. A big one. You’ll need it.

As for the Getz: it’s a cheap metal box on wheels. This is fine. Our cheap metal box on wheels, however, had one of the worst gearboxes I’ve ever attempted to drive. At one point, while climbing out from a steep hill onto a main road, it leapt out of first gear and seized entirely, leaving us in an immobile metal box blocking two lanes of traffic on a mountain road. It took quite some brute force, and half a set of clutch plates judging by the smell, to free it. Amazing. Rent a Fiat Panda instead (not anything with a smaller engine – you need to climb steep hills).

But anyhow: renting a car makes it easier to get to the out-of-town beaches (Mounda, above, but Kamina and Kata Katelois are also nice), and you can also bumble inland to see things like the Monastery of Agios Gerasimos:

Monastery of Agios Gerasimos, Kefalonia

there’s also the castle and some caves, which we visited last time we were on the island a few years back, and the Robola wine co-operative, or you could drive into Argostoli. Last time we went there and saw a turtle. I like turtles.

Katelios, then. What’s it like?

Katelios is in a bay, with a small breakwater, and was probably a fishing village before the tourists came. The town is tiny, with a bakery, two car rental places, two grocery shops, three bar-like places. One long road extends out along the coast to the West, which is covered in tavernas – ten or so. These range from pretty average to really good – try the marvellously signed Captain Jerry’s for fish, or “Ostria” (right down the end) for traditional stuff done well. In the other direction the road goes onto the beach, and most of the time you can drive along the sand until you hit the dirt road behind Kata Katelios beach. There’s an easier way to reach this beach, though, via a dirt track from the road between Katelios and Skala, just outside Katelios.

For a huge panorama image of Katelios, click here (warning: huge photo).

For accommodation there’s a range of small studios for rent, a few standard holiday hotels (the Mythos has a pool bar, Sky Sports etc etc, so either run to book now or avoid like the plague depending on your taste), while the whopping great, modestly named and brand new Utopia Hotel has just opened out on the other side of town, and looks very posh by the standards of the island. We stayed at a place called Hara Studios, which was inland, surrounded by fruit groves. It had a pool, but no Sky Sports, no bar, nothing. Just quiet. Oh, and kittens!

Triforce Kittehs

It seems that a tribe of semi-feral cats has lived there, fed and watered by the owner, for years. The latest batch spent most of its time asleep on our balcony. Very, very cute. Accommodation tips: take a torch.

Is there anything that, as a sane person, I am likely to really hate?

Just the airport, really. Recipe for Kefalonia airport on a Sunday: put about a thousand people in a facility designed to handle one hundred, close passport control for a few hours for no reason, make no attempt to manage the crowds or display any useful information, then leave to stew. Fortunately a handful of Thompson staff, in posession of uniforms and a look of horror at the whole mess, attempted with some success to organise it. Take a book, water, and patience. Or some kind of sedative. That might help.

So. Worth visiting?

For the culture and sightseeing? Not really – an earthquake wracked Kefalonia in the 50s, so there’s not much by the way of history*. For a week in the middle of nowhere, snorkeling in the sea, reading a book and avoiding anything to do with computers and the internet? Yes. Definitely.

* This is pretty dumb on my part – as well as the monastery there’s the caves, the castle and Fiskardo, for starters, all of which I visited on previous trips. See Dan’s comment below.

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