Daily Telegraph, Kefalonia

The Telegraph 8th Sept 2010 By Oliver Smith
Kefalonia, Greek Islands: the perfect break
With its unspoilt beaches drenched in autumn sun, Kefalonia is ready to celebrate its patron saint with an island-wide party, says Oliver Smith.
Myrtos Beach, lapped by turquoise waters, is one of the world’s most photographed stretches of sand.
During the second feast of St Gerasimos, his incorruptible remains are paraded through the streets and the island descends into raucous celebration.
Goats potter around the Lixouri peninsula, where ruined homes and subsided fields still dot the landscape.
Why go?
The setting for Louis de Bernières’ fabulous novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Kefalonia’s myriad appeals include magnificent, rugged scenery, friendly locals, a certain rural charm, and some of the best beaches in the whole of Greece. And despite the success of the novel – and the subsequent film adaptation – it remains mercifully unspoilt by mass tourism.
The largest of the Ionian Islands, it never feels crowded, even in high season on the photogenic sands of Myrtos, or among the swanky, marina-side restaurants of Fiskardo.
During August, the heat can border on the unbearable, but visit the island in the coming weeks and you’ll be rewarded with temperatures in the mid-20s, even quieter beaches and cheaper accommodation.
Or you could wait a little longer and time your trip to coincide with the second feast of St Gerasimos – Kefalonia’s hugely revered patron saint – on October 20, during which his incorruptible remains are paraded through the streets in a gilded sarcophagus, and the island descends into raucous celebration.
Get there by…
Plane. Thomas Cook (flythomascook.com), Monarch (www.monarch.co.uk) and Thomson (flights.thomson.co.uk) operate charter flights to the island from Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Gatwick, Luton, Manchester, Newcastle and Stansted.
Spend the morning…
At Myrtos Beach. Backed by almost sheer cliffs and lapped by unfathomably turquoise waters, it is one of the world’s most photographed stretches of sand. It fills up with boisterous Italians from around noon, so arrive early to claim a sun lounger (7.50 euros for a pair).

Geologists will be keen to visit the Melissani and Dhrogarati caves (7 euros each), near Sami, on the east coast of the island, but they are overpriced, and a little underwhelming.

Have lunch…
At the Castle Café, found beneath the ruins of the 16th-century hilltop Castle of St George, near the small town of Peratata. Offering sandwiches and traditional snacks, it is set within a gorgeous, shaded garden and commands stunning views across the south of the island. It is run by an amiable Greek gent – whose mother tends the flowers – and his English wife, who is rather secretive about her recipe for spicy baked feta. Burn off your meal by inspecting the aforementioned Venetian fortress (Tue-Fri 8.30-7pm, Sat-Sun 8.30am-3pm; free).
Spend the afternoon…
At the monastery of Ayios Gerasimos (8am-1pm, 3pm-8pm; free). Nestled in a verdant valley a few kilometres to the north east of the castle, the monastery is modern, having been rebuilt in a Byzantine style following the devastating earthquake of 1953 that levelled the original 16th-century structure. The interior is adorned with colourful biblical scenes, and behind the building lies a small chapel, where svelte visitors can squeeze through a hole in the ground and inspect the caves where St Gerasimos is thought to have spent endless hours meditating.
Two annual feasts celebrate the saint’s life, on August 15 and October 20, during which the monastery is overrun with worshippers.
A trip to the nearby Robola winery (the tipple of choice for the drunken Father Arsenios in de Bernières’ novel) is worthwhile – not least for the free tasting.
Have dinner at…
A taverna. With their plastic chairs, paper tablecloths, lukewarm dishes (Greeks believe hot food is bad for the stomach) and feline visitors, these traditional Greek restaurants can feel like much of a muchness, but a few stand out. The Waterway bar and grill, on the beach below Spartia, has a lively atmosphere and sea views, and Tassia (www.tassia.gr), in Fiskardo, is good for lobster and Kefallonian meat pie.
Spend the next day…
Exploring the Lixouri peninsula. Kefalonia’s second city, and the surrounding villages, bore the brunt of the 1953 earthquake, and it still bears the scars. Goats, chickens – and the odd eccentric-looking local – potter around the farming region, where ruined homes and subsided fields still dot the landscape.
Make for the rust-red sands of family-friendly Xi Beach, on the south coast, which offers watersports and a couple of smart tavernas, or wild Petani Beach, on the west coast, which rivals Myrtos for its spectacular location.
Finish the day at the Monastery of Kipoureon, which occupies a dramatic cliff top location on the west coast of the peninsula, and where each evening a score of tourist join the Orthodox priests to watch the sun set.

At all costs avoid…
Leaving the airport without a vehicle. Owing to its mountainous terrain and meagre public transport, this is an island best tackled by car. A portable satnav also comes in handy – the Garmin Nuvi 1690 comes with preloaded Greek maps (http://www.garmin.com/)

Further information…
Visit www.gnto.co.uk/geninfo/ionia.html, or read The Rough Guide to the Ionian Islands (£10.99, www.roughguides.com)