Driving down the windy roads in the dark to what would in the morning be visible as a gorgeous Greek paradise, we had arrived in Skala, Kefalonia. Neither of us knew much about this particular region of Greece but had heard good things so we were excited to explore somewhere new and capture this beautiful part of the world with our own eyes. *Spoiler* – it had me at “OOPA!”. Whether you’re looking for a last minute holiday or planning your 2019 break, here is why you need to visit Kefalonia…

Location: Skala, Kefalonia

Clear blue skies, golden beaches and sunshine for days…

Of course I had heard how beautiful Kefalonia was, but similar to Sorrento, the reality is far superior to the photos on Instagram. Kefalonia is the largest island in the Ionian Sea and is most famously known as the movie location for “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”.  I feel ashamed to say I’m yet to see the film or read the book but now I’ve been it’s certainly on my to do list… but I digress!

Surrounded by crystal-clear waters, stunning sandy beaches and idyllic villages, Skala is located in the southern part of the Greek island. Not quite the tourist trap you expect from the other Greek hot spots like Santorini and Zante, but a family-friendly destination that is perfect for couples and friends.

We flew out last month for a very special occasion: our friends’ wedding! We were honoured to have been asked to capture their special day too so it made sense to plan our holiday around it. We took thousands of beautiful photos on the big day so we didn’t want to be behind our cameras too much for the rest of the trip, but here are our highlights and a few tips if you fancy an island escape…

Where to stay

We were given hotel recommendations by the Bride and Groom, but after searching online for a while and not getting anywhere, we opted to book through a travel agent instead. Jane at the Cooperative Travel in Cheltenham could not have been more helpful, and as she was one of the few people who knew about Dan surprising me in New York back in March, it was great for them to finally meet. I understand why many people choose to book online as it can be cheaper, but Jane managed to get us a fantastic deal and in our budget – stress free! We didn’t know much about the area we would be staying in but we walked out feeling confident that we had made the right choice.

Do your research first and then approach the travel agent. Chances are that they’ll be able to get you a sweeter deal.

We decided on staying at the Dionysios Studio Apartment, a stone’s throw away from the town and a 10 minute stroll to the beach. Affordable but not compromising on comfort. Also, the owner Dennis is lovely and on site to help out with anything you may need (fresh sheets, towels etc). You pay for the air conditioning when you arrive which costs around 30 euros – essential if you want to survive the warm conditions – and there is also an additional tax to pay which will only set you back a few euros. Overall, we were really happy with our choice.

It was all about this wall outside our apartment for outfit shots and couple selfies…

We lucked out and got a sea view. It was perfect for what we needed and I’m pretty sure the pretty house opposite occupied about 30+ cats. The apartment (which I didn’t take any snaps of) also had a mini kitchen area in the room which we used to store our snacks (tortilla chips and tzatziki dip were a must).

Flights and accommodation for two people in July came to around £1000, allowing us to take around the same amount of money for spending. As you would expect, the sooner you book the cheaper it will be.

If you’re looking for somewhere with a bit more luxury and closer to the beach, there is only one place I have in mind…

The 9 Muses Hotel.

I mean, if it’s good enough for the Bride & Groom…

The setting is idyllic for newlyweds, couples, families… and if palm trees and pink blossom is your aesthetic, you’ll love this place.

The night before the wedding, everyone gathered round to hear the father of the groom play a few tunes… it was perfect.

There is plenty of accommodation to choose from in Skala but I’d suggest doing your research online and checking Trip Advisor for reviews. We were away from the ‘hustle and bustle’ in our apartment but close enough to spontaneously pop down to the beach bars late at night for drinks.

What to do

After a few very busy weeks months, we knew we needed a proper break. Nothing too adventurous, just a chance to lie back and spend some quality time together. We also aren’t the kind of people who can lie back and do nothing all day, so there had to be balance and compromise.

Each day began with a lazy morning and going for brunch, and usually ended with dinner and a few cocktails with friends in town. As we didn’t have a pool at our apartment, we were able to use the facilities at Tara Beach Hotel, situated opposite the beach by the Piano bar. Take advantage of the local amenities by simply ordering a drink (and an ice cream if you’re like us) and perching on one of the free loungers, guilt-free.

Bored of lying by the pool? Why not hop across the road to the beach!

With the sand between our toes, we lapped up every moment of peace watching the waves wash in and out. Not being much of a beach bunny, a couple of hours gave us enough time to chill before we would go and explore other parts of Skala. If you’re like me and don’t enjoy being out in the warm weather for too long, I suggest spending longer by the pool drinking cocktails and then pop down to the beach early evening before dinner. It’s much quieter and you’ll probably see some beautiful sunsets – win win!

We enjoyed evening walks along to the other end of the beach where it was a little quieter…

We could have sat there for hours, throwing stones as far as we could into the sea whilst taking time out to reflect on the day.  A lot of the shops are focused around tourists so if you’re feeling spendy and need some retail therapy, you may need to visit the northern area of Fiscardo or Argostoli, the capital town.  There are so many beautiful pieces to purchase from the stores in Skala though, from homeware to jewellery to the typical tourist pieces – not to mention the Greek food and drink! Pack your suitcases with souvenirs and gifts for yourself and loved ones.

Where to go

Even if you’ve chosen to spend a week or two in Kefalonia to relax and unwind, I can almost guarentee you’ll regret not visiting the other islands around it. We had planned on taking a boat trip during our time on the island but couldn’t quite decide which one to choose.

We ended up opting for the boat trip to Zakynthos (Zante) on our penultimate day in Skala. It would take us on an epic adventure across to the famous Shipwreck Beach (aka Navagio Beach), around to the Blue Caves and docking at Agios Nikolaos for food.

Picture the scene: a bumpy ride due to the storm the night before and 50+ passengers (some who were hungover, some who were just prone to sea sickness) = not the glamorous boat trip I was expecting, but the memories! Oh the memories…  

The weather was too bad for us to get onto the beach, but we got to enjoy a rare view of the abandoned ship on the beach without any tourists occupying the beach.

It was breathtaking.

I can’t begin to tell you how blue those waters were, more so than my camera could capture.

As we rode around past the caves, members of our boat ‘party’ took some time out to jump into the sea to refresh and enjoy the crystal clear waters.

Next stop: Agios Nikolaos!

I  won’t lie to you, by the time the boat pulled in I was so ready to get off and find some form of food. The boat ride had been testing, to say the least. I was disgruntled by the fact I felt too ill to take the photos I had envisioned I would take (thank goodness for boyfriends who are also great photographers and don’t get sea sick).

We hopped off and began the hunt for something to fill our rumbling bellies.

To Nisi took our fancy, and the setting was perfect for winding down after an eventful couple of hours…

Only one thing was calling…

Pizza perfection!

No wonder this place features as one of the top 5 best restaurants in Zakynthos on Trip Advisor. The staff were friendly and the views were just as stunning as the food.

After a couple of hours, it was time to head back onto the boat, back to Poros where we would hop into a taxi that would return us to Skala.  The boat ride was around 40 euros each and lasted around 6 hours. Add it to your bucket list, it’s a must!

Where to Eat & Drink

Kefalonia is all about the wining and dining.

The choice of restaurants and bars will spoil you, and whatever your budget is, there is something for everyone. There were several favourites during our trip but I’ve compiled our favourites that we would return to, over and over again.

Sirocco is the perfect coffee spot to watch the world go by. I could have easily sat there for hours with their Nescafé frappes on tap and a good book to sink my teeth into. The staff were friendly and the food was great, so much so we returned several times during the week for our caffeine fix.

The Greek salad was just as you would imagine (delicious!) but if you are going to order anything, make sure you order a Nescafé frappe. This place is the bees knees for iced coffees – especially with a scoop of ice cream thrown in for good measure!

The Pines is a cute restaurant looking over the beach from the top of the hill, offering an array of Greek and Mediterranean dishes from morning through to night.

We enjoyed both breakfast and lunch there and couldn’t make any complaints. Reasonably priced and the coffee was incredible.

Symposium bar and restaurant (or as we renamed it, the piano bar) became a favourite of ours. Not only did it look over the beach and offer live music, but the food was amazing.

With a bottle of Mythos and a large glass of wine, we kicked off date night with a starter or two to share. The halloumi was our favourite, sat on a bed of rocket and drizzled with balsamic glaze.

On our second visit, Dan opted for the Souvlaki with homemade pitta bread whilst I tucked into what was essentially Spaghetti Carbonara – it was amazing!

The menu options are endless and again, reasonably priced for the location and quality, and the staff were super friendly.

Post-dinner, why not pop to Pikiona for cocktails! The perfect setting for a date night with your loved one or a night out with the girls, overlooking the pool to one side and the beach to the other.

Il Destino served up potentially the best pizza I have ever eaten. It was phenomenal and for that reason alone, deserves a spot in my top places to wine and dine during your stay in Skala. The menu wasn’t particularly large but what they did offer was top quality grub. But anyway, back to the pizza…

The Flamingo (or Flamingos, as we renamed it) is possibly the best restaurant in town, particularly if you’re looking for traditional Greek dishes. We tucked into two sharing platters with the newlyweds on our pentultimate night in Kefalonia, I think the photo below says it all…

My list could go on and on but I’ll leave you with this plate of meat and veg to tempt you…

Are you tempted?

Extra Tips

– Insect spray is essential. We covered ourselves with the stuff every morning and when we got changed in the evening and managed to avoid ANY bites.

– A sun hat isn’t just for the young and old. I bought one from Primark that I thought would look great for photos but it turns out that it worked a treat for protecting my head from sunburn.

– Prepare to fight off flies at breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. It took a while to get used to this, especially after our first night’s dinner encounter with a cockroach running up Dan’s leg and then several flies attacking my plate of gyros… You learn to live like the locals pretty quickly.

– Talking about bugs, the bees are absolutely huge! They are harmless and unlike the flies, are not interested in what’s on your plate.

– You can’t flush toilet paper. Be prepared and take nappy sacks, or pick them up from the local supermarket.

– Tipping isn’t essential everywhere you go, but be generous if/when you can.

The scenic drive from Skala back to the airport on our final day on the island will stay with me forever. I’ve been lucky to see a number of beautiful countries but this particular view tugged on my emotions. From the mighty hills above to the sandy beaches below, I was leaving behind a week full of special moments, memories and new friendships.

Skala is so beautifully underrated.  It’s not crammed with tourists but busy enough to give the place a buzz at night. Kefalonia has stolen my heart, and I think, it could capture yours too.

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