What do Steven Speilerg, George Lucas, Charlton Heston, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Cruise, and a novel that can be found on one of every twenty bookshelves in England all have in common?
The answer: Kefalonia, the largest of the Ionian Islands off Greece's west coast. The novel's name: Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and it's mostly responsible for all those figures from the world of entertainment visiting an island that is still relatively unspoiled. More than a decade after the film of the enormously popular novel of the Italian’s WWII occupation was released, Kefalonia is still a great place to vacation.
Kefalonia has always been popular with nearby Italians, and now there are many British tourists as well. Because of the recent influx of the rich and famous, the island has been called “Greece’s answer to the Riviera.” It is a mountainous island of olive groves, cypress trees, villages clinging to hillsides, and cliffs descending into the azure sea. Despite its recent fame, Kefalonia retains much of it original beauty, and mass commercialism has successfully been kept to a minimum.
Although it has a turbulent past - Kefalonia has been invaded by Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Turks, Venetians, the French, British, Italians, and Germans- there is a remarkable sense of peace and solitude on the island.
It is a place of strange phenomena: the goats are said to have gold-colored teeth, from the mica in the soil, there are snakes with crosses on their heads who appear, Kefalonians say, on August 15th, the date of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (a major holiday in Greece), and wild ponies said to be descended from Alexander the Great’s horse. Seawater disappears into limestone sinkholes on the island’s west coast, and after an underground journey, appears on the east coast, something that happens nowhere else on earth.
Kefalonians proudly tell the visitor that they are crazy. It is no coincidence, then, that the patron saint of the island is St. Gerasimos, healer of the mentally ill. Twice a year- on August 16th, and October 20th, his mummified relics (he died in 1579 and his body never decomposed) are paraded through the streets. Those who wish to be healed have the remains pass over them. This scene is portrayed in the early part of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
Kefalonia is home to a special species of fir found there and nowhere else, the sea turtle Caretta Caretta (loggerhead), and the Mediterranean Monk seal, at only 600 worldwide one of the world’s most threatened species.
In Argostoli, the capital, there are cafes, tavernas, clubs and bars, and access to many nearby beaches. There are also an archeological and a folklore museum in Argostoli. Just outside the capital is Keramikos (Κεραμεικός), where the seawater disappears under the island. Kefalonia claims Κεραμεικός (Ulysses) as their own, rather than nearby Ithaca, and his grave, from the Mycenaean era, which is still being excavated, is said to be there, outside the village of Poros.
Other places to visit on the island are the cave of Drogarati, one of the largest in Greece, The monastery of St. Gerasimos, and the stunningly beautiful beach at Myrtos bay. In the village of Assos there is a well-preserved Roman villa. Assos has been known as the “honeymoon village” ever since Charles and Diana stopped there on their yacht in August of 1981, after their wedding.