Kefalonia is one of the larger Greek islands in the Ionian chain that runs down the west coast of Greece with Corfu and Lefkas to the north and Zante (Zakynthos) in the south.
Popularised by the hit Hollywood movie 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin', the island has long been a favourite of the Brits and is promoted by most of the major UK tour operators.
The main holiday resorts stretch along the south-west coast where the best of the beaches predominate. Most of the beaches are big and sandy with shallow water and the usual tourist facilities.
The forest-carpeted mountains offer spectacular views of the island, although drivers face long drives over tortuous mountain roads to reach the more remote northern and eastern resorts.
Car hire in Kefalonia is a must for those aiming to explore the island's attractive, but remote, beaches or planning to visit the Pali peninsula opposite the main port of Argostoli.
Kefalonia is a big island and public transport is relatively infrequent. Consequently, most tourists are confined to the south coast with organised day trips to attractions in the north.
As well as magnificent scenery and excellent beaches, Kefalonia also boasts some unusual attractions such as the spectacular caves at Melisani and Drogorati that attract thousands of visitors.
Kefalonia is a large and mountainous island and the beaches are widely spread. The main resorts are at Lassi, Lourdas and Skala – all widely spread along the south-west coast. Other beaches such as Myrtos and Antisamos are relatively remote and often difficult to reach. The Pali peninsula grows more popular each year but again, it's relatively isolated.
Once bursting with stylish Venetian mansions and elegant bell towers, bombs were dropped by the Luftwaffe in World War II and a 1953 earthquake reduced much of Argostoli to rubble.
Cement inspired the rebuild and the result is a mish-mash of sober cubes that might be termed 'utilitarian' by the more generous.
Paved mosaics on the harbour promenade emulate waves in a spirited attempt to brighten up a vista of seaside cement and a sizeable grey-flagged square provides city centre focus.
Around the edges of the square are outdoor cafes and tavernas with food of a high standard, if on the pricey side, and if you don't mind scores of squealing children playing football.
The traffic-free shopping street of Lithostroto is mostly department stores and shoe shops and more atmosphere exists in Llandudno, while afternoon siestas turn Argostoli into a ghost town.
Places worth a visit include the Historical and Cultural Museum, filled with memorabilia from the pre-earthquake city when Argostoli was sophisticated, fashionable and a noted centre of culture.
A British-built stone causeway across the lagoon connects Argostoli to the rest of the island.
The south-west coast is the main beach strip of Kefalonia with sandy bays stretching from Fanari, in the north, to Skala on the south-east tip. The main resorts are at Lassi, Lourdas Bay and Skala with small coves between. A good road links them all and this is the place for a multi beach holiday. Other resorts demand long and tiring drives over the central mountains.
Fanari is the coast road, also called the 'Romantic Road', that skirts the headland from Argostoli to Lassi and it has several beach coves to explore. First out of Argostoli is Maistrato beach, a tiny shingle bay with a small taverna. On the headland is Katovrethes where a restored watermill fronts the famous swallow holes where the sea disappears underground to resurface on the other side of Kefalonia.
Nearby, the picturesque Fanari lighthouse turns out to be only a replica of a rotunda built by the British here in the 1820s.
There are several shingle coves along the shoreline. Near Lassi is a sandy bay at Kalamia, named after the bamboo that surrounds it, with access down a dirt track next to To Psito taverna.
Just before Lassi are small coves of pink sand, sea caves and rocks at Grandakia where a snack bar provides sunbeds. It's a sandy beach with a gentle sea slope and it's much favoured by locals.
Lassi is a ribbon of modern tourist development with a string of fine sandy beaches nearby. There is no village, just a narrow road flanked by tavernas, tourist shops and the odd mini-market. The candy-coated purple and pink kitsch architecture with its lamp-lit fountains and glass bridges gives Lassi an air of discount Disney.
The inventively named Makrys Yialos (Long Beach) and Platys Yialos (Wide Beach) have beautiful soft sand and gently sloping shorelines making them great for families with children.
Beach hotels demand an early arrival to nab the best sunbeds and both beaches can be heaving in the high season. There are the usual watersports to entertain and a few rocks to add interest.
Night-life consists of a stroll along the main road or drinks on the terrace of the shoe-box Hotel Mediterranee. Brighter nights are on offer in Argostoli at a more digestible price.
The White Rocks Hotel commandeers a beach at Torkopothiro – just walk through hotel grounds to reach it. The tiny hamlet of Minies has a mini-market, taverna and a good beach, although it's too near the airport runway to be very popular. Next door is the pink sand beach of Spasmata, separated from Minies by a rock outcrop.
Just south of the island airport is the peaceful village of Svoronata, somewhat spread out but with a few pleasant tavernas, a mini-market and a garage. The main attraction is a clutch of small beaches and the tourist strip at nearby Lassi.
The beach at Ammes is small, narrow and sandy, rarely crowded and with a small cantina. Swimmers must take care as it's noted for strong sea currents. South beyond the cape is AI Helis, is a pleasant secluded bay with pinkish sand, a beach bar and sunbeds at the bottom of steep stone steps.
Around the headland is a narrow sandy strip at Megalipetra, where huge rocks lie offshore, and beyond that Avithos, the furthest and the best, with a long south-facing beach of soft sand, clear shallow seas and a taverna set in the cliff.
The road to Avithos threads through olive groves and the beach itself is well protected by sloping sandstone cliffs. Gently shelving, it offers safe swimming for families while the offshore islet of Dias is topped with a tiny white chapel. Naturists tend to favour the rocky end of the beach as do nesting turtles, so visitors must take care to avoid the nesting sites. A local hotel complex Vigla Natura offers exclusive naturist holidays
The long bay of Lourdas accommodates several beaches. As well as the big, popular resorts there are many small and isolated coves to provide an escape from the crowds.
The small harbour at Spartia has sandy coves each side of the little quay, one of which has rocks encrusted with fossilised shells to make for some exciting snorkelling.
Pessada is the port for the Zakynthos ferry and next to the harbour is a small cove of flat rocks and a little sandy strip below some steep steps. Ferries to Skinari, on Zante, run twice daily in the summer.
Pessada is a pretty village set in a flat plain that offers excellent walking trails and exceptional views over the Livatho coastline from the slopes of Mount Ainos. The hillside Divino Winery has guided tours and wine-tasting.
The turning from Karavados leads to a small bay below the village of Agios Thomas where the tiniest of sandy coves has volcanic rock formations and more good snorkelling.
Lithero marks the start of the long sands of Lourdas beach, although this end stays empty for much of the season as it is only accessible down a rough track from the attractive hillside village of Vlachata.
Trapezaki is a much-favoured alternative to Lourdas beach and reached down a steep road from the village of Moussata. The way is so narrow that a one-way traffic system operates in the summer.
It has two sandy beaches split by a small marina, where a beach bar opens in the high season. Both beaches are narrow but there is plenty of shade from trees along the shoreline.
The waters are shallow and the sands long enough to ensure they never get crowded. Sheltered by the mountain behind, Trapezaki can feel almost tropical and, it being off the beaten track, very relaxed and peaceful despite interest from holiday companies.
There are paths and tracks for those who enjoy walking but expect the going to get tough on the surrounding steep hillsides.
Car hire is needed here, although there is a bus service back up the hill that leaves the beach at about 5 pm each day.
Beneath the towering Mount Ainos, a side road drops from the coast road to the fast-growing village of Lourdas where new tavernas open each year as the place garners popularity with holiday firms.
Also called Lourdata, the village square has tavernas and shops set around a huge plane tree and here the road drops steeply to the sea, skirting holiday villas and apartments among the pines.
The long and tiring trek from village to beach results in many holidaymakers hiring a car, which brings plenty of traffic on the narrow country lanes. Lanes and tracks also lead up from the village through dense pine forest and many enjoy a two-kilometre nature trail that climbs the hillside to Mount Ainos.
Lourdas' beach of white, sandy grit combines with the neighbouring Trapezaki to create a five-kilometre swathe. At the Lourdas end, the eye-glaring sand is edged with a grey cement sea wall topped by a dirt track and a handful of tavernas.
Beyond the headland to the south is the cape at Kanastas which is reached by following a rough track from the nearby monastery. Kanastas has a small beach of sand and pebbles but no facilities. Further south still is another dirt track from the village of Thiramona to the quiet, cliff-backed sands at Koroni.
Katelios, also known as Agia Varvara, has a series of decent sand beaches, some favoured by holiday firms and others by turtles.
A small fishing harbour sits at the western end of the main beach, about 200 metres long and backed by eucalyptus and pine with tavernas serving fresh fish.
Sands shelve gently enough into the sea but parts of the beach can attract large gobs of seaweed and slowly turn to stone and shingle.
A large number of apartments have been thrown up behind the sands with a dozen or so tavernas, a couple of bars, some mini-markets and a cash point.
To the east is Potomakia beach where the loggerhead turtles nest. Guided tours of the sands are offered and a trail of blue ribbon leads visitors past the nest sites to the next beach at Kaminia, a pleasant spot with good sands, shallow water and a cantina.
Several beach coves here are collectively called Mounda that end at a cape and even more turtle nesting grounds. Above the beaches of Mounda is the village of Ratzalki now being opened up by tour firms.
Shallow waters make coves along this part of the coast ideal for families, although they are encouraged to stay near the shoreline and away from the turtle nesting sites. Visitors are asked to leave beaches before dusk and members of the Katelios Conservation Group regularly patrol, handing out leaflets to educate visitors on the turtles and their habitats.
The huge sandy beach at Skala is long and deep, sweeping around the headland for about four kilometres. Sharp sand and a steep shoreline shelf make it less than ideal for children but the deep sands more than offset any disappointment.
Skala resort has grown fast in recent years and it's now one of Kefalonia's most popular beach resorts. Around 30 tavernas and a scattering of music bars and souvenir shops meet the demands of rising numbers of visitors. Most of the bars and shops are on the main street or just off it.
Resort pleasures are comfortably low key but there is an open-air nightclub on the Poros road outskirts that attracts the more lively and plenty of island excursions are on offer from travel firms.
For the more culturally minded there are well-preserved mosaics at a Roman villa – look for the signs – and a walk to the old Skala hillside village, demolished in the 1953 earthquake, is popular, although much of it is luxury villas, complete with tennis courts and infinity pools.
There is a turtle nesting beach around three kilometres along the shore and certain restrictions apply, and which may suit those looking for peace away from the crowds. It may also suit naturists who tend to congregate on the rocky headland and also get to enjoy the best of the sand which shelves more gently into the sea here before giving way to flat underwater rocks.
Just a smattering of resorts lies along Kefalonia's east coast, from Poros in the south to Fiskardo on the northern tip. A few are in Sami Bay but these are more ports than resorts. This part of Kefalonia offers some splendid scenery with the island of Ithaka just offshore. The north has mountain trails but little else, apart from the entrancing hamlet of Assos and the jewel of a beach at Myrtos.
The coast road north from Skala gives easy access to a few coves, the most notable being at Heroulaki and Kapri, although neither is anything special. Nor are the beaches around Poros where the ferry docks from mainland Kilini.
Poros has a busy marina, a narrow beach of pebble and sand and a good selection of tavernas. It's a good base for exploring this side of Kefalonia away from the tourist crowds.
The town beach, called Aragia, is a 600 metre stretch of shingle and sand, with a wide, slabbed promenade behind. Sunbeds are for hire but the steeply banked beach makes it a poor choice for children.
Another pebble beach lies across a short river bridge offering more sunbeds, some motor boats for hire and several pleasant tavernas.
A motorboat is needed to reach the few pebble-dashed coves north of Poros with the best at Makria Petra (Greek for long stones) and Koutsoupia, both of them backed by thick woods of pine.
Once a tranquil, rustic hideaway just south of Sami, the photogenic beach at Antisamos was once backed by small fields of grazing goats and attracted the few visitors prepared to attempt the scary descent down a rough track.
But a new road was carved out of the hillside to accommodate movie crews and equipment for shooting scenes for Captain Corelli's Mandolin and now the beach has become a major island attraction.
A large taverna and car park have been built at the back of the beach and cars now make a relatively easy hairpin descent to the dramatic horseshoe bay with its steep bank of brilliant white pebbles.
The beach remains the same sweeping crescent of white stones dropping sharply along with an ultramarine shore and framed by tree-carpeted slopes.
But today's growing tide of visitors will find a noisy music bar and ranks of pricey sunbeds.
North of Antisamos, a dirt path off the coast road drops to the picturesque pebble bay at Paliouras where a narrow ribbon of pebble and rock. The main road leads on to the ferry port of Sami, the former capital of Kefalonia and now a fast-growing holiday centre.
Substantially wrecked in the 1953 earthquake, Sami was rebuilt with wide streets and new homes. Some timber houses built by the Danes to house earthquake survivors are still in use but, like Argostoli, much here was lost to the cement mixer.
The resort has a faintly shabby air but this is still a good holiday base, close to the spectacular Antisamos beach and near the island's famous caves at Drogarati and Mellisani.
Narrow and bare strips of shingle and sand line the shore at either end of a promenade that edges a large housing estate.
The road north skirts Karavomilos which has a narrow shingle beach and an attractive water mill. Karavomilos is also the exit point for water that flows into the swallow holes at Katavothres on the other side of the island, near Lassi.
Further north a succession of pebble coves, collectively known as Agia Paraskevi, are mostly reached down short dirt tracks off the main road. A large camping site lies about one kilometre from Sami.
The pretty little fishing port of Agia Efimia (aka Efemia, Effimia or Evfimia) is sited a few kilometres north of Sami. Popular with package tour firms, it is still mercifully free of over-development.
The harbour is one of the departure points for boats to Ithaca and to the mainland port of Astakos. Agia Efimia is also a popular staging post for yachting flotillas and tavernas will often howl to the exploits of holiday sailors. A small selection of tavernas, mostly lined along the harbour wall, generally serve good food.
Agia Efimia suffers from a lack of beaches; just three tiny coves around the resort and a few more scattered along the coast. Although attractive and with good swimming they are all stone and shingle.
The biggest, Paradise beach (from the taverna of the same name) is just 20 metres long at the bottom of two flights of stone steps. Another secluded beach lies behind the cemetery but the stones here are ankle-breaking in size.
The road north out of Agia Efimia turns inland and, although there are many coves of pebble and shingle between Agia Efimia and Fiscardo, access is by boat or foot only. The most popular are Haglana, Gorgotta and Agia Sofia. South from Fiscardo the nearest are Fold, Evreti and Kakogilos.
Touted as a must-see resort on the tourist trail Fiskardo's building were almost the only ones on Kefalonia to escape the 1953 earthquake, lending a Venetian authenticity to the village not found elsewhere on the island.
A favourite on the day trip circuit – by bus and boat – Fiscardo heaves with visitors at most times of the year, but July and August are a mini-Mykonos of visitor swarms and wealthy boat owners tossing about in the harbour. Expect to have to kill for a waterside table.
For those staying more than a day, the small shingle beaches tucked away on either side of the village are unmapped, unsignposted and without facilities. Embelissi is probably the best, with fine sand turning to shingle, some shade, and some rocky coves to explore.
Kalamaki can be reached by boat and offers fine views to Lefkas while the pebble beach at Dafnoudi is at the end of a narrow gorge near the village of Antipata.
A couple of kilometres along the west facing coast is Alaties, down a narrow lane from the crossroads at Manganos. The tiny beach has little sand but the smooth rocks are ideal for sunbathing and a taverna opens in the summer.
Further south is Agia Ierousalim and a tiny bay of sand and shingle with a summer cantina. The whole area escaped the earthquake and, like Fiskardo, there are occasional but impressive Venetian houses along the narrow lanes.
The north-west coast of Kefalonia is a rugged wilderness but for the single coastal resort of Assos where an almost unreal beauty stops visitors in their tracks. No beach to speak of, just a few small tavernas perched on the quayside overlooking a small, circular bay but this Greek hamlet oozes a perfectly placid charm.
A spectacularly steep and winding road snakes down into a village tucked neatly inside the narrow neck of a peninsula. The huge rock outcrop is topped with the ruins of a Venetian castle.
The 1953 earthquake reduced the original Assos to rubble, but French funds helped rebuild it in a style mostly sympathetic to the landscape, although new houses tend towards the pink and white of toy-town Disney.
A narrow pebble and sand strip lines the village square but more attractive and deserted coves lie each side of the peninsula, although a boat is needed to reach them.
Astonishingly, Assos was the capital of northern Kefalonia in 1593 when the castle was built. Today, the fortress is in a state of disrepair but worth a visit for the spectacular views.
It is a tiring walk to the top as cars are no longer allowed. A domed archway splits two kilometres of walls and leads to the ruins of a governor's residence, a barracks and a church.
The fort was once a prison and also the backdrop for almost every sunset scene in the movie Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Assos is also notorious for the German slaying of 1,500 Italian soldiers after Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943.
A bus runs once a week into Argostoli and there is a local taxi. Boats are for hire and a caique trip to Myrtos runs in the summer. Car hire is recommended for any lengthy stays in Assos.
It's the beach all the brochures boast of; Kefalonia's postcard pin-up of Myrtos. Brace yourself for a perilous descent down a gaspingly steep road to a long ribbon of white stones curtained with pale yellow, almost vertical cliffs. It's a gear-screaming journey both down and back up the stupendously steep hill.
Myrtos has won many awards including best beach in Europe. But the scene from the hill above is much more memorable than the hot stone beach below. A flat sweep of white pebble drops sharply into the sea and on windy days the waves can be rough, with several reports of swimmers being swept away.
A basic cafe and sunbeds arrive on the bleached stones in high summer when pale cliffs, white stones and turquoise sea combine to turn the entire beach into a slow roast oven. A small cave at the southern end offers marginal interest and the northern end of the beach is favoured by naturists. A portaloo in the centre is avoided by almost everyone.
South of Myrtos, near the village of Agonas and the start of the Pali peninsula, is the long and little-frequented beach of Agia Kyriaki. It's mostly pebble with some sand. There is a small marina with boats for hire, a fish taverna and a summer beach cantina.
The Pali or Paliki peninsula lies on the north side of Argostoli Bay, almost another island. Large and remote its resorts are much less visited. Regular ferries run from Argostoli to Lixouri while the road route loops in a long arc north, then south through tiny villages. Beaches on the south coast of Pali are mostly sandy, pleasant and without the crowds.
Starting on the more inhospitable north coast, the delightful Agios Spyridon, is set in a horseshoe bay of sand and shingle. Once a noted smugglers' cove it now attracts those looking for peace and quiet. A blue church perched on high rocks to the west completes the painterly view across Atheras bay while a couple of beach tavernas serve the basics.
There are few roads on the precipitous west coast and Petani is reached by driving direct from Lixouri on a steep and sinuous road. It's a pale copy of its famous neighbour at Myrtos with a 600-metre strip of stone set against sheer white cliffs. Patches of sand dot the steep shoreline and summer cantinas may open.
Near Petani is the pebble beach of Agia Eleni, not so fine, but backed by olive groves and signposted on a rural road from the hamlet of Damoulianata.
Someone has carved 200 stone steps out of the cliff at Platia Ammos, once only accessible only by boat. A strong stomach is needed going down and stronger legs getting back up. But visitors get fine white sand with a little shingle, but the beach is steep and sea currents are notoriously strong.
On the south coast, Lagadakia is a small and charming pebble beach below a lighthouse. It has no facilities but still attracts a fair number of people. Another of the lesser known delights of Kefalonia is the twin beach in Vatsa Bay. Lesser known because they are notoriously difficult to find.
Good sandy beaches called Agios Nikolaos and Akrotiri are split by a rocky outcrop and, at the far end, a stream flows into the sea where caiques tie up to the jetty. Two tavernas open in the high season along with a beach cantina.
Reached by the same road are the village of Kounoupetra and the nearby red sand beach at Mania, once famous for the huge 'moving' rock that often wobbled precariously. It is now stationary, put in its place by an underground tremor. It's still a pleasant enough beach and shallow waters make it good for families. Both come after the Mantzavinata turnoff.
Just east of Vatsa Bay is the popular and singularly named Xi or Ksi, a flat and rather scruffy beach of shingled sand backed by high white cliffs. It is both very long, at four kilometres, and quiet.
A large hotel squats right on the beach with the usual sun loungers but, heading east back to Lixouri the crowds quickly thin out. Underwater rocks litter the shallow seashore.
The coast here benefits from an annual clean-up by volunteers. Hotels and apartments line the shore and water taxis visit nearby Vardiani islet.
To the east of Xi, down a turn-off before the village of Soullari, is a huge stretch of red sand called Megas Lakkos. A snack bar opens and sunbeds appear in high season.
Around the headland are the two small, secluded red sand beaches of Agios Giorgis and Agios Ioannis reached by following tracks from Soullari village but there are no facilities there.
Lepada beach adds some welcome colour to nearby Lixouri. Golden to reddish sand is couched in a sheltered cove bound by attractive rocky sea outcrops that will appeal to snorkellers.
There is a beach bar, sunbeds and boats for hire. Along the beach is a cave and the abandoned monastery of Aghia Paraskevi. The cave was once a church and a monk founded the monastery in 1688.
The second largest town on Kefalonia, Lixouri lies on a peninsula across the water from Argostoli and is best reached by one of the regular ferries. Lixouri is what brochures kindly call a 'working' town.
In fact, it's a suburban sprawl of houses with the odd square adding a cosmopolitan touch. Virtually destroyed in the 1953 earthquake, Lixouri was rebuilt in character-free haste.
If somewhat sleepy and drab, the shops at least have genuine local products on sale and the Lakovatos Mansion is a rare example of how elegant Lixouri once was, being one of the few Venetian houses to survive the earthquake.
A few nondescript beaches lie to the north although they offer splendid views of the coastline opposite and the Agios Dinati mountains above. Risata is just a narrow strip of stone while a thin stretch of sand and shingle at Andronikikos runs parallel to the road. At Livadi is another pinched strip with fine views over the bay.