My focus has largely been on Cephalonia as I move around the Ionian Islands. There is so much more I could write about this fabulous Island, and I probably will, but for the moment I am going to make this the last blog on this gorgeous gem before moving on to other locations.
I have managed to get most way around the Island in the instalments so far, but have missed out the East coast, so will pick my journey up in Skala where I have spent some of my most relaxing of times.
On my first visit, with my girlfriend Helen back in 1990 we slept on the beach. Of all the beaches I had chosen for a bed this was the most comfortable I have to say. It is made of tiny multicoloured stones that shape to the sleeping form well, millions of round pebbles that gradually get smaller as you move towards the water’s edge, where the surface turns into fine sand. With most of the secluded coves we had chosen to sleep in being covered by nothing but uncomfortable rocks, the beach here was pure luxury, although exposed to the early morning sun there was little option than to rise early each day.
The sky would grow gradually redder in the pre sun-rise hour, with a delicate mist on the water, blending the sky and the sea together like crimson silk on which would stutter by the tiny fishing boats with their smoky little engines struggling against the salty waters. ‘Puut puut puut puut puut puut’, the sound cutting through the morning quiet. The only other noise being the gentle tide lapping at the water’s edge, reaching up a pulling on the tiny stones with a calming rhythmic stroke. There are few better things to wake up to, and with the sandy seabed, an urchin-less walk into the sea for that morning swim made things just a little better again.
The beach stretches for about a kilometre, away from the town to the west where it meets some volcanic rock formations. These afford privacy for sunbathing, and are frequented by the naturalist bather for this reason.
The rocks stand out from the sea as well, flat topped basalt monoliths with some of the finest diving spots available from their porous surfaces. The sea is clear blue with the sand base, and offers the most splendid of experiences jumping from the sun baked rock into the refreshing sea below. I have spent many an hour perfecting my swallow dives with nothing better to do with the day. Small reefs can also be found under the water and for the snorkeler the sea is full of multicoloured fish just a few feet below the surface, and further afternoons can be whiled away in the Octopuses garden exploring every tiny nook and cranny.
The town is fully equipped for the holidaymaker, with hotels and villas, and sufficient bars and restaurants, but Skala never seemed over developed to me, rather a quiet sleepy town. It is reasonably modern in its build, but draped in Bougainvillea and vines with lemon trees lining the dusty roads. It may have changed now, but at that time it was the perfect place to take in the sun and sea, a startling contrast to the over used beaches found closer to the airport at the west of the Island.
Just around the coast, as you start the journey up the east of the Island the town of Poros offers less beach, but even more character and established charm, yet never held my attention like Skala always did. It is a fabulous place to sit and take dinner of an evening, and if you like the quiet is another of the secluded Cephalonian gems.
The east coast is less travelled as the roads are less developed. The route from Skala northwards was just a white dusty track cut through the hills, a road in concept and planning, but yet to be realised.
The main stop on the whole east coast is the town of Sami, a large natural port that looks across at the mountains of Ithaca, and services the ferries that move down from Corfu and onwards to Patras, a city on the mainland. Sami, is not the tidiest of towns, but has its own charm, the portside full of tavernas that fill up of an evening, and serve as a more than adequate lunch stop for the ferry travellers passing through. The main road to Sami cuts across the island from the west, just past Myrtos beach, and reaches up into the mountains where they are at their lowest, before falling down into the flat lands that surround the town. It is here that a lot of the islands food is grown. As you start your descent, exquisite views of the bay, of Ithaca across the channel and Levkas in the distance are to be had on a clear day.
There are the Drogarati caves along the way, with a fresh water underground lake and an opening up to the sky that lights the whole scene. It is well worth a visit if you have the time. The real moment for me though, is to make this journey by evening, for nestled in the hills is the most fairytale of villages with twinkling lights that stretch along the streets creating a moment of pure magic as you pass by in the failing light. Timing is everything, but so it always is with the special moments that come to us along the way.
Sami was also the set for the film version of Captain Corellis Mandolin, with Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz being based there for the duration. Although the book was set elsewhere on the Island, this was chosen as the best site for filming. Let’s not forget though that despite the book being a work of fiction, the story is based on real events. The Italian and German armies was based on the island in the Second World War, and towards the end, after the capitulation of Italy thousands of their soldiers were executed in a senseless waste of human life by the Nazis. They were left to this end by the allied forces, particularly the British as there was no strategic value to getting involved, and the shame of this will remain with us for many generations to come yet.
Around the bay a little is the beautiful town of Agias Efimia. Here a few tavernas line a small harbour along which moor yachts and fishing boats. It’s a quiet town, but a favourite amongst many of the flotilla skippers. Away from the crowds the atmosphere is friendly and the clientele are more your experienced Greekophile than your package tourist.
The road from Sami weaves around the foot of the hills just a few feet above the sea. There are both great views but also ample stopping places for a swim and sunbathe. This is a different part of the Island than the west coast, more in touch with the sea than the mountains. Somehow it just feels more remote.
Here I end my travels on Cephhalonia. You can travel north from Ag. Efimia to Fiscardo, the road cuts through the mountains and drops back onto the west coast road. Of course there are things to see, as there are across much of the Island. Things I have not covered, the secluded monasteries, the vineyards and of course the multitude of tiny villages that appear round a dusty bend on a hot day, just when you really need somewhere to but a drink, or two. But what would be the fun of that, there has to be things for you to discover and explore. These are the parts of a journey that would be all your own. For now I leave this island and in my next blog I move further north again to somewhere new.
I really hope you have enjoyed the blogs on Cephalonia, I feel I leave this one without a big adventure, but life is not always about the moments, sometimes it is just about enjoying the beauty of the location you find yourself in.
If you want to read back over my previous blogs, please follow the links below.
As always, please leave your comments below, I’d love to hear of your own experiences.