Adam Jacot de Boinod spies Lord of the Rings-style landscapes, dines on the freshest fish and dances with dolphins in Kefalonia
Having previously recorded my experience of Greek island Kefalonia’s northern niches in Fiskardo and on the southern shores of Lourdata, I just had to complete my exploration and see the western waves of Paliki.
As a peninsula, Paliki is wonderful to drive around. I hired a car from Rent Car Kefalonia – the owner Apostolis is very friendly and knowledgeable. Paliki has a unique geographic shape, with its long gulf beginning at the wetlands in the Bay of Livadi, a protective environmental area, which gently emanates into the Ionian Sea. Yet again on Kefalonia I was to savour a completely different landscape and environment from the rest of the island. Pronounced and protruding were bluffs and bumps, clumps and humps amid fertile hills that grew out of a clay soil, ideal for vegetation, and remarkably green (reminiscent of Puglia) for the southern Mediterranean. This mazy landscape with its plains and mini peaks took me right back to my childhood perusing maps in an edition of The Hobbit.
I was fortunate enough to stay in the newly finished Elia Villa, very much the VIP villa of the Alekos Beach Houses group and in walking distance of Lixouri, the local town. It has a supreme setting beneath a craggy bluff and backed by gorgeous olive groves, whose woody aroma, from being picked and scorched, proved the most joyous of welcomes. The villa looks out to a mesmeric panoramic prospect across Kefalonia’s major gulf that possesses as much grace and serenity as the Italian Lakes. Here seagulls hover over fishermen’s boats and ferries glide like swans with a constancy in stark contrast to the ever-changing light from sunrise to sunset. For, as the heat departs, the pink sky arrives over teal or turquoise waters on which the moon is reflected; towering above are the hills and Mount Ainos beyond. A prize position indeed.
I stepped out of the widened doors to the patio where inside meets outside with seamless continuity. The infinity pool actually finishes in front of olive groves. At night crickets chirruping like referees give a soundtrack to a full galaxy of stars.
My interest piqued by my luxe lodgings, I went to visit some alternative accommodation within the Alekos Beach Houses group. Their portfolio comprises 20 villas under a consortium of owners, 15 of which extend right onto the beach. Alexandros Beach House, in front of the rippling shores of the golden Logos beach and close to the longer Lepeda beach, houses as many as 10 people and is perfect for a deeply relaxing time, catering even for meditation and yoga retreats.
Alekos Beach Houses all come with a prompt and professional concierge service run by the charming, conscientious and super helpful Kostas Voyatzis, who is ever-ready to share a passion for the island that started with his childhood holidays. He espouses his own philosophy of ‘living like a local’ and offers up the chance to participate in activities such as harvesting olives, picking grapes and baking fish in the sand. For the more active, he researches and arranges tailor-made boat trips, free-diving and paragliding. He’ll even come and collect you from the airport. His wife Vicky goes a step further by delivering the most scrumptious of ‘briam’ ratatouilles one day and the richest of mushroom pies on another.
It’s handy for both villas to have the local tavern Apolafsi close by. Alongside its traditional Greek menu it offers an intimate invitation to witness the family at work. An aged lady takes my order by pulling up a chair to sit beside me, and a young mother delivers my plate with her baby in arms.
Kostas took me on one of his truly memorable bespoke boat trips to some places which are inaccessible from the shore. They’re not in the guidebooks – how can they be when only Kostas, with the help of the skipper Demetris, can get one there across Myrtos Bay? We went past the village Zola and the beach Vouti in his boat to the one at Agia Kyriaki. Chalk cliffs beyond the stony white beaches, sit in spectacular contrast to the bluest of waters: an extraordinary turquoise which dazzles when lit by the sun.
Demetris, available via Kostas’s concierge service, has another boat, dubbed the ‘Romantica’, in which he takes people out for the whole day, stopping at secluded beauty spots where you can swim and have lunch. He took me to see Assos, a peninsula with the most charming villages. Here there are traditional houses with striking colours and brilliant bougainvilleas framed by vivid green pine trees and ancient plane trees. An authentically picturesque harbour without any twee affectation.
What a treat next, to go by boat to reach the famous Myrtos beach, the scene of the bomb detonating in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. At the top of the bay is a house belonging to a psychiatrist who clearly benefits, it would seem, from living life on the edge.
Alongside the port I came to the excellent restaurant Bella Mangia. A special hidden spot in Paliki, with an Italian accent, it’s perfect for families as the kids could have a pizza while the parents enjoy pastas, stacked subs and cannolis. What joy to discover that my sea bass, perfectly grilled, moist yet crisp, had come fresh from the neighbouring fisheries.
Also on the portside was the restaurant Akrogiali, meaning ‘coastline’. True to its maritime character, it had old wooden beams above pictures of the harbour and ships from the old days. Here I tried the ‘spanakopita’, a favourite, consisting of spinach and feta within its flaky filo pastry, followed by codfish with potato and garlic mash. I could imagine sitting out in mid-summer on the roof terrace, above diners spilling out onto the street, to watch people alighting from the ferry and local kids trying out their push bikes.
I also went with Kefalonia Sailing Point, whose charming skipper Nikos Hionis was clearly at one with his 44-foot-long yacht. He has won inter-island prizes for his mastery of the sails and knows the Ionian Sea like the back of his well-wrought hands. He offers trips with up to six beds for anything from seven to 10 days aboard, from the gulf to Zante, to Lefkada, to Paxos and as far as Corfu within his May to October season. Accomplished, humourous and unobtrusive, Nikos is the perfect host. He took me out from the inland across to the uninhabited ‘Rabbit Island’ and on to the golden and fabulously long strand of Xi beach. To crown such a special outing, on returning through the gulf, I chanced upon a school of dolphins who were joyously snacking on food that spills out of the fish farms of Argostoli and dancing majestically in the sun.
Another winning eatery was V+S Corner, which has been owned by the same family for 10 years. It has a simple modern design, with a glass-fronted interior that gives it an effortless inside-outside feel. Images of fish on the walls nod to fresh daily catches and there are cushioned couches for people-watching. I tried the local Sclavos Orgion wine, which perfectly complimented my steak au poivre.
The beach Xi (pronounced ‘chsi’), named after the Greek letter whose shape it resembles, is the ideal length for a proper walk beneath cliffs of white argillaceous clay, which spa-going types smooth into their skin for its mineral benefits. The beautiful red sand changes mesmerically from a shade of ginger to cinnamon and cumin at dusk, while the sunsets perform a magical light show over what Homer described as the ‘wine-dark sea’.
NEED TO KNOW
Adam stayed as a guest in Kefalonia before lockdown. He reached Gatwick Airport via Southern Railway and had support from Holiday Extras, the market leader in UK airport parking, hotels, lounges and transfers. They’ll aim to find you a hotel and parking package that’s cheaper than the cheapest airport parking on its own (for two week breaks). To book the Hilton at London Gatwick Airport, visit HolidayExtras.com or call 0800 316 5678.
Prices for Elia Villa for two people in low season start from €180 a night, and from €392 a night in high season (equivalent to €20 per extra person). To book, visit: https://alekos.reserve-online.net
Prices for Alexandros Beach House for two people in low season start from €69 a night and from €296 a night in high season (equivalent to €15 per extra person). To book, visit: https://alekos.reserve-online.net/?room