Kefalonia — Be Nice to Strangers, Get Invited to Greece

We hadn’t planned to visit Greece, let alone the island of Kefalonia (the largest Ionian Island). It was a brilliant idea randomly set motion in the small zona cafeteria town of Salento, Colombia.

We stayed at Hacienda La Serrana, a homey hostel where new friendships blossom hourly. Which is how we came to meet our good friend Danae. We all met over a much debated bottle a wine in the communal dinning area our second night in town. Fast forward a few days, a couple of late night dance parties, one Colombian beef stroganoff feast, countless tejo competitions, and many cups of real Colombian coffee from our favorite South American coffee joint, Jesus Martin, and we had ourselves a gracious invitation to Greece.

Danae: “If you are going to be in Europe this summer, you should come stay with me at my grandma’s house on Kefalonia”.

Us: “YES”.

Kefalonia_14Danae posing with a friend we made on the way to tour a coffee farm in Salento, Colombia

We jumped on the invite like a fat kid jumps on rice pudding. Five months later, we were on a bus from Athens heading towards Kefalonia, with a series of confusing directions via Facebook messages, two huge smiles on our faces, and our swimsuits (and, well, everything we own) in tow.

Kefalonia_7The bus services in Greece were OK. Bu the ferries were amazing. Makes sense. 

After ten hours of overland travel and a surprising luxurious 2 hour ferry crossing, we hit the shores of Kefalonia. Immediately our bus took off towards the capital city of Argostoli.

Kefalonia_11The ferry system in Greece makes perfect sense. We loved it throughout. 

Our directions for linking up with Danae on Kefalonia were spotty at best. Luckily for us Mother Danae, a nickname she would affectionately earn, had the Kefalonian wit to wait on the side of the road and flag down every bus that came careening down the dusty narrow “two” lane road. We would have missed her by a mile otherwise.

We shouted at the bus driver, “Pull over we saw our friend and we’re getting off!” He looked at us in complete bewilderment as if to say, “Here? Are you crazy? We are in the middle of nowhere.” But we were relentless. He submitted, pulled the behemoth over, and we jumped off the bus just few hundred yards past our roadside welcome party. Moments later after many hugs and kisses we were at Danae’s grandma’s house, kicking off our shoes, and smelling the fresh country air.

Kefalonia_4

Her village, Kolaiti, has a population of 20 year-round residents and is small, beautiful, and rustic. There’s no phone, no internet, and no “town” within a 30 minute drive. Kefalonia was just the type of break we needed for our hectic travel bogging selves. (Yeah I know, cry me a river — it’s a tough life).

The terrain is beautiful, fertile and giving, and dotted with all sorts of agriculture. Every house has a garden. Grapes, tomatoes, summer squash, herbs (fresh greek oregano is mandatory), and of course the ubiquitous greek olive tree are everywhere. 100-year-old terraces cover the mountainsides. Some crumble like ancient ruins while others have been perfectly maintained over the centuries. All are draped in olive trees which have watched guard over the stunning blue-green Ionian Sea for thousands of years.

Grandma’s house was perfectly positioned to take it all in. Danae, her friend Mette, Natalie and I made ourselves at home in paradise in no time.

Kefalonia_8The view from Grandma’s house at sunset. I can still smell the fresh air

We spent most our days sipping Greek coffee, soaking in the sun, and cooking amazing meal after amazing meal using home-grown produce and fresh caught fish. It was absolute paradise.

Kefaloina_13Buying fresh-off-the-boat fish in Argostoli was as easy as getting up at 5AM to do so.

When not enjoying the sanctuary of Grandma’s house, we were at the beach. Kefalonia might be one of Greece’s best kept secrets (seriously, don’t tell anyone). There were definitely tourist but it never felt overrun or touristy even in the most high-traffic areas.

Kefalonia_2One of Kefaloina’s most popular beaches, Myrtos Beach. What looks like white sand from afar is actually millions of smooth little white pebbles. They make it impossibly difficult to walk barefoot, but the views are stunning and the water is a delight. 

Kefalonia_10Another view of Myrtos Beach. Who’s that handsome man in the water?

Danae’s been coming here her whole live, and she showed us no end of beautiful, spacious beaches, romantic coves, and stunning views. We explored as much as we could and always felt fulfilled, tired, and hungry at the end of every day.

Kefalonia_6The view of  Platia Ammos beach. One of our favorite beaches in the world  The 1000 steep steps it takes to get there add to the charm, and make it a place not many tourist are willing to venture. 

Kefalonia_1Beautifully clear spring water at Melisani Cave. Like most Greek origin myths, the story of Melisani begins with a goat that fell through a hole. 

Luckily we were always able to refresh our spirits with home cooked food and local Robola white wine. The occasional movie projected against the whitewashed wall of Grandma’s house provided perfect summer evenings to match the perfect summer days.

In case you didn’t know, Greeks like to cook, drink, and party. Usually in that order. From casual get togethers for coffee in the morning, to evening mezze and ouzo hour, to full on block parties, during the summer months, island living provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy life. Along with amazing beach-view restaurants and cafes, Kefalonia is home to some lively street parties during the summer local festival season.

Kefalonia_3Down epic dirt roads and around the corner, Danae lead us to some tucked away gems just waiting to be enjoyed. Tough to find if you don’t know where you are going, but oh so worth it. 

These annual street parties are thrown by the local villages, and are usually associated with a date of importance to the village saint. They always include traditional “country music” featuring the greek fiddle, lots of dancing, good food, and free-flowing beer and wine. On the quite perch of Grandma’s front porch, the sounds of different village street parties wafted in several nights.

We ran into such a party on our way home from horseback riding one night. The air was filled with good smells and good vibes, and we couldn’t resist the temptation to join in the fun. An added bonus to the festivities is the opportunity to sample traditional Greek food. We filled up on souvlaki, greek donuts, and the elusive Kreatopita, or Kefalonian Meat Pie.

Greek donuts, made to the sound of greek country fiddle.

After ten blissed-out days of beach hopping, Greek eating, and complete relaxation, our time in Kefalonia came to a too-soon end. We came away with a lifelong friendship, a few extra pounds, and a newfound favorite place that we will surely revisit time and again for the rest of our lives.

It’s no wonder Kefalonia is the Homeric home of the legendary Odysseus. And Kefalonia hasn’t lost the charm, wonder, or whimsy that inspired Greece’s ancestral storytellers all those years ago.

Kefaloina_15THANK YOU DANAE!

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