Kefallonia is a place where it's easy to lose yourself, amid air thick with oleander and the bells of wandering goats. The largest of the Ionian Islands, its convoluted coastline conceals all sorts of captivating coves and beach-lined bays. Despite the devastating earthquake of 1953 that razed much of its historic Venetian architecture, ravishing harbour-front villages such as Fiskardo and Assos still show off Italianate good looks, while the lush and mountainous interior, dotted with wild meadows and vineyards, invites endless exploration.
Cheerful Sami, Kefallonia’s main port, stands across the island 25km northeast of Argostoli. Nestled in a bright bay and flanked by steep hills, it consists of a waterside strip, which stares across to Ithaki and is loaded with tourist-oriented cafes. Nearby monasteries, castle ruins and natural features, including the busy but rather overrated Drogarati Cave, offer enticements to linger. Quieter alternative bases with better beaches, such as Karavomilos and Agia Evfymia, line the bay as you head further north.
Shielded from the open sea, its waterfront stretching along the landward side of a short peninsula, Argostoli was once renowned for its elegant Venetian-era architecture. Almost all of that was destroyed by earthquake in 1953, however, and it’s now a lively, forward-looking town. The main focus of activity is just inland, centred on charming, freshly pedestrianised Plateia Valianou, where locals come to chat and eat at the many restaurants. In summer, musicians stroll the streets singing kantades, traditional songs accompanied by guitar and mandolin. Lithostroto, the pedestrian shopping street immediately south, is lined with stylish boutiques and cafes.
The little port of Fiskardo curves serenely beside coral-blue waters, gazing out towards Ithaki. Thanks to its colourful crop of Venetian villas, spared from earthquake damage by resting on a sturdy bed of flat rock, Fiskardo is the island’s most exclusive resort, home to upmarket restaurants and choice accommodation. There’s no real dock or jetty here; ferries from Lefkada arrive unceremoniously at the northern end, while yachts jostle for space along the rest of the harbour. While it can get very crowded in summer, it has a cosmopolitan buzz unmatched elsewhere on the island.
Anchored by the bustling gulf-side town of Lixouri, the Paliki Peninsula is an underexplored region of spectral white, cream and red clay cliffs; verdant farmland and vineyards; and hilltop villages. Petani Beach to the northwest is a spectacular strand of white sand that’s enough to entice a jaded mermaid, while red-sand Xi Beach to the south also has its appeal, but can feel overcrowded in summer. Between the two in the far west, overlooking stark cliffs, azure seas and robust vineyards, the Moni Kipouria monastery was built by a lone, solitude-loving monk.