Cephalonia is one of the most amazing islands in the world. Seems to be very exotic and it is true: blue green water, mountains with amazing routes and natural parks and a flora and fauna which is varied and rich. It is not only the loggerhead sea turtle caretta-caretta and the Mediterranean monk seal monachus-monachus living in this magnificent blue – green sea, but the wild horse herd that avoid totally humans on the mountain of Ainos, the cephalonian abies known also as Greek fir, the Cephalonian black pin that exists only on this island and in Russia and the unbelievable caves of Melisani and Drogarati.
It is also the Greek mythology that makes it unique: from the mythological Cephalus, who helped Amphitryon of Mycenae in a war against the Taphians and Teleboans, to the Homeric Ithaca, the home of Odysseus, that have been suggested to be the peninsula Paliki rather than the smaller island bearing this name today and separated from Cephalonia during the Bronze Age, this island incorporates big part of the Mediterranean civilization.
There are the dozens of archaeological cities discovered in the Leivathos area with dates ranging from the Palaeolithic to the Venetian period and finding dated back to 40.000 BC or to the Mycenaean era (1500-1000 BC), to the Roman Era and to the Christian one, with communities of Carpocratians, an early Gnostic Christian sect living on the island.
There are the Middle Ages, that the island was belonging to the Kingdom of Naples before been conquered by the Ottomans in 1479. It is the Venetian Rule from 1500 to 1797 that made the island one of the oversees colonies of the Venetian Republic, the French, the Ionian State period and the British Rule until the Union with Greece in 1864 that formed the island historically. It is the painful Axis Occupation that forced Cephalonians to help the Italians against the Germans at the End of the WWII and the brutal Greek civil war that divided the island totally.
It is the Great Earthquake in 1953 that destroyed pretty much everything including the society following by a massive emigration in all over the world. In the very recent years, the island became touristic and agricultural production supports the tourism with very good quality of local products. But all these pieces of information are easy to be found in a travel book.
To me, Cephalonia is the most amazing island not only because of its wonderful nature or history. It is because of the people itself. Every time I am there I have the impression of being in the village of Asterix. Cephalonians seems to react like the inhabitant of the indomitable gaulic village: all against all, but all united against the stranger who is going there for other reasons except tourism.
……”And still, there are some amazingly open and innovating people that if you meet them once, you will never forget this island. I will always remember with great admiration Eleni Cosmetatos who has created a piece of paradise on earth, the Prassato- Gentilini Retreat www.gentiliniretreat.gr . She is producing the most exquisite olive oil that I have ever tasted! When on the retreat you can relax your mind, being out of any noise of the touristy side of the island and immerse yourself into the real the sound of nature. If you are there, I bet you will never want to leave.
The second person I remember with great admiration is Petros Markantonatos, a wine producer that created the unforgettable Eclipse of the Gentilini vineyards. More than creative, Petros organises tours and vine testing in the vineyards in the South of the island, near the village of Minies. No trip in Cephalonia can be completed without a visit in the Gentilini vineyards and a tasting of the most exquisite vine. http://www.gentilini.gr/
The third secret I would love to reveal is the Botanic Garden in Argostoli established by the Focas-Cosmetatos Foundation http://www.focas-cosmetatos.gr/main_en.html. It is a real relaxing and cool place especially in the summer. If you are interested more in history you can always visit the Foundations Museum where have insights of it. Furthermore, in the historical village of Kourkoumelata in the South of Cephalonia you can follow the cultural offer of the George and Marie Vergottis Foundation which organizes every year a Classical Music Festival with well-known international artists http://vergottisfoundation.org/foundation-activities/events.aspx as part of its philanthropic engagement. This will make your nights unforgettable!
Last but not least, I would like to mention the restaurant Kiani Akti in Argostoli not only because its dishes exceed the normal taste but also because of the high quality of the ingredients. Andronikos Lazaratos has created an exquisite restaurant in the main city. And this is the best insider tip I had last time I was on the island!
Yes, Cephalonia is not just another holiday island. You can find great nature, high quality of food, restaurants and bars, very good hotels and hospitality but the best thing to do is to discover your island and its people. Some of them can offer you a different experience rather that the touristic one! Go for it!
Text and photos by Marianthi Stavridou