Easy Escapes: Kefaloniá, Greece

Sarah Shillaker unwinds on the perfect Greek island

Sarah Shillaker unwinds on the perfect Greek island

Why go? Kefaloniá is as staggeringly beautiful as it is relaxing and an ideal place to recharge your batteries. The largest of the Ionian Islands feels pretty unspoilt and total escapism is easily achieved thanks to its sunny weather, clear blue seas, clean sandy beaches and deliciously fresh food. With a slightly higher price point than in some other parts of Greece, it avoids mass tourism and the warm and friendly locals pride themselves on offering an authentic Greek island experience.

When? Spring and autumn are best if you want to avoid the heat and high season crowds.

Lounger with a view: the pool at F Zeen Retreat

You really must… See the island from the water. You can take a boat trip from the harbour in the capital, Agostoli, that cruises around the coves. Get there a little early to see the local turtles follow the fishing boats back into the harbour and enjoying the leftover fish they’re thrown. Once out on the water, take a break from sunbathing on deck and enjoy swimming to shore to explore the beaches and the white rocky coves at the picturesque stop-offs. Also well worth a visit is Melissani Lake, a collapsed cave where sunlight creates a rainbow of colours, and Assos, a peaceful town with a beautiful pebble beach and candy-coloured houses.

Peace in Greece: a bedroom at F Zeen Retreat

Stay at: In the south of the island at Lourdas, F Zeen Retreat (doubles from £125 with breakfast, uniquekefalonia.com) is an adults-only, four-star boutique hotel built into the mountainside and overlooking a sparkling turquoise sea. With just 28 rooms, it’s an easygoing place where you can wander down to the beach to sunbathe or simply enjoy the quiet and read a book in one of the many shaded areas dotted around the hotel. When you need some exercise you can take a swim in the infinity pool and do some morning yoga in the outdoor gym, or treat yourself to a wide range of treatments available in the beautiful spa.

Hole lot of fun: the Melissani Caves © Kefalonia-Ithaki Hotel Association

Dine at: Lorraine’s Magic Hill Restaurant (lorrainesmagichilllourdas.com), next door to the hotel, serves dishes including tuna salad and stuffed tomatoes, all made with ingredients from her allotment. For fresh fish head to Kiani Akti, an Argostoli tavern in Metaxa Street where you can sit on decking over the water and enjoy local specialities served alongside delicious salads, bread and wine. For a similarly authentic Greek dining experience, visit Tassia’s in Fiscardo (tassia.gr). This large, family-run restaurant is located on the harbour with a menu featuring fresh sardines and swordfish.

Bring home: Local sweets and pastries, bottles of wine and olive oil from the Gentilini Winery and Vineyard shop in Minies (gentilini.gr), which also offers tours and tastings.

Salute the sun: the outdoor yoga studio at F Zeen Retreat

Book now: Airlines with direct flights from the UK to Kefaloniá include easyJet (easyjet.com), Jet2 (jet2.com), Norwegian (norwegian.com) and Ryanair (ryanair.com). Taxi transfers from the airport to Lourdas take 30 minutes and cost around £27 one-way.

Info: Published in 1998, the novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (£8.99; Vintage), and the film that followed in 2001, helped turn the world on to Kefaloniá. Greek Islands (£14.99; Rough Guides) covers the island, useful websites are kefalonia.co.uk and visitgreece.gr.

Thumbnail and lead image: Myrtos Beach © Kefalonia-Ithaki Hotel Association

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