Road & Travel Magazine - Adventure Travel  Channel

Travel Channel
Adventure Travel
Advice & Tips
Airline Rules
Bed & Breakfasts
Climate Countdown
Cruises & Tours
Destination Reviews
Earth Tones
Family Travel Tips
Health Trip
Hotels & Resorts
Luxury Travel
Pet Travel
RV & Camping
Safety & Security
Spa Reviews
Train Vacations
World Travel Directory

Automotive Channel
Auto Advice & Tips
Auto Buyer's Guides
Car Care Maintenance
Climate News & Views
Auto Awards Archive
Insurance & Accidents
Legends & Leaders
New Car Reviews
Planet Driven
Road Humor
Road Trips
RV & Camping
Safety & Security
Teens & Tots Tips
Tire Buying Tips
Used Car Buying
Vehicle Model Guide


Kefalonia, Greece: Corelli's Uncorrupted Island

Kefalonia Greece: Magnificent With or Without the Fame

by Amanda Castleman

The blue and white paperback is everywhere. Eight years after its debut, Corelli's Mandolin still crops up in airport bookstores, rural coffee shops, tattered pages face-down on sandy beaches. So you'd expect the Greek island Kefalonia - where Louis de Bernières set his best-selling book - to be a tacky theme park of star-crossed Mediterranean love.

Aghioi Theodoroi, a squat white lighthouse outside Argostoli, recalling the 1820 British original.

Amazingly enough, it's not. The hype breezed right by, leaving the turquoise waters and forested slopes free of spin-off kitsch. A 'Corelli Cafe' pops up in one port town, but otherwise it's easy to forget a blockbuster novel calls this home. The area doesn't pander to the craze, while remaining gracious to the odd moon-struck tourist. After all, why should a proud island redefine itself because of a foreigner's book - let alone one inspired by a package holiday?

The movie's lukewarm reception helped keep the hordes away. The 2001 release starred Nicolas Cage as the exuberant Italian soldier (sporting a much-ridiculed, vowel-fat accent), Penelope Cruz and John Hurt.

They filmed on sets in the town of Sami, because the original location - the island's capital Argostoli - disappeared in a cloud of rubble during the 1953 earthquake. Functional concrete cubes replaced much of the quaint Venetian architecture.

The obelisk crowning Argostoli's Drapano bridge, built by the British in 1813.

Yet busy, bustling Argostoli still has charm. Fishing boats dock at the palm-lined wharf, where a wave mosaic meanders along the quay. Farmers buy supplies and sip beer under neon lights. Village girls giggle along the pedestrian shopping avenue, debuting their new heels before the pink, peeling tourists.

Other - more critical - courtship rituals unfold here too. The endangered sea turtle Caretta-Caretta mates in the Koutavos lagoon. The heavy females then heave out of the sea and lay their eggs on Kefalonia's southern shores, especially at Minies, Razakli and Skala.

The bay is one of Greece's safest natural harbors. The low, stone arches of the Drapano bridge skim above the water. The causeway, built by the British in 1813, is crowned by a squat obelisk. Timid drivers may prefer the long way round, as locals barrel across with the verve typical of Mediterranean motorists, never batting at eyelash at near scrapes and collisions.

This poker-faced resolve fits the Kefalonian stereotype. Lawrence Durrell described them in The Greek Islands: "The inhabitants are kindly, if somewhat brusque, and have a fine, long reputation for political intransigence and the will to freedom that endeared them to the heart of Byron ... Here all is rough and energetic."

Myrtos Beach
Myrtos Beach, famed for its azure waters and steep biscuit-colored cliffs.

He compared the locals' quirks to sinkholes just north of Argostoli. These katavothres channel seawater underground, fast enough to power several watermills. The current races across the island, swirls through the dramatic underground in Melissani Cave, near Sami, then plunges into the ocean. Durrell concluded that: "Everything about the island and the island character is obstinately contrary-wise, even the streams."

This strength helped them survive World War II. After Mussolini's surrender, the Italian soldiers who turned against the Nazis were massacred, alongside native resistance fighters. Don't expect an accurate history lesson from de Bernières, who painted an unnecessarily nasty view of the communists (and even the author derided the sun-and-sex frivolity of the film). The 2001 documentary Are you Captain Corelli? offers another glimpse of the war, through the recollections of Amos Pampaloni, an Italian officer. His memoirs also inspired Marcello Venturi's novel White Flag over Kefalonia.

The island's history is littered with oppression - from the Romans to pirates, Bonaparte and the Imperial British - but the modern town is far from grim. The flip side of the Kefalonian intractability is charm, as the English administrator, Sir Charles Jacob Napier, responsible for much of the island's infrastructure noted: "The merry Greeks," he wrote, "are worth all the other nations put together... All their bad habits are Venetian; but their wit, their eloquence and their good nature are their own."

Bell tower of vast church
The bell tower of a vast church, dedicated to the island's patron Saint Gerasimos.

And good nature abounds there. The jolly Philharmonic Band often performs in the main square, Plateia Vallianou. Pedestrian Lithostroto Street blazes at night, packed with boutiques selling wild thyme honey, ceramics, leather goods, jewelry and perfume. Kefalonians crowd into the open-air bars, sipping the local wines: red Mavrodaphne, white Muscat and the pedigree vintage, Robolla (best with grilled fish or cod pie).

The frenzied ecstasy of the cinema, Corelli is nowhere to be found. Kefalonia has better things to offer: free spirit, sense of contentment and integrity, even in the grip of Hollywood.

IF YOU GO......

Olympic flies into Kefalonia's tiny airport, just 9km south of Argostoli. Unfortunately, there's no public transport, but a taxi into Argostoli only costs €8 (226710-28545). KTEL buses run from Athens: a mighty eight-hour journey. Prices hover around €25, depending on the route. A 2 1/2 hour ferry connects Argostoli with Kyllini in the Peloponnese. Other services dock at Sami, Poros, Pesada, Lixouri and Fiskardo.

Where to stay
Budget travellers prefer Argostoli Beach Camping, 2km north of town near the lighthouse (26710-23487; Hotel Tourist offers more modern comfort overlooking the waterfront. Don't let the brazen name put you off, this truly is a pleasant and welcoming establishment (26710-22510; doubles €42). Or take a cue from the stars of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, who stayed at the swish Hotel Ionian Plaza on Plateia Vallianou (26710-25581; doubles €62.50).

Where to eat
Sip espresso and people-watch at popular Cafe da Capo (12 Vasileos Georgiou). Kyani Akti serves decent appetizers in a superb location: atop a wooden dock in the azure bay. If the waiters and the wind behave, it's magical (jetty opposite the Marine Academy on the north end of the harbour; 26710-26680). Locals prefer mellow vine-shaded Taverna Patsouras just down the street.

Argostoli has a Greek National Tourism Organisation (EOT) office on the harbour (Ioannis Metaxa Street; open daily 7:30-14.30 and 17.00-20.00). Friends of the Ionian ( has a on-line travel shop and also provides information about Kefalonia's natural history, culture, cuisine and trails. The website is extremely helpful.

Headline photograph of Fiskardo, Kefalonia, is courtesy of E.Papapanagopoylos / Greek National Tourism Organization.

Greece Home Page