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Colourful Kefalonia

Martin Ogden makes his very own Odyssey to the idyllic haven of Kefalonia - the setting for Captain Corelli's Mandolin

'Over there,' said our driver gesturing to a smudge of land barely discernible in the gathering dusk, 'is Ithaca: the home of brave Ulysses.'

He put the stress on 'brave' as if there might have been another Ulysses around who had less of an appetite for man-to-man combat.

Nikos, our driver, was a man of the classics, it appeared. 'According to legend, Ulysses spent ten years fighting the Trojans in the Trojan War and then it took him ten years to get home after the war.

'This journey home is the story of The Odyssey.'


Assos is another of the untouched villages you will find in Kefalonia


We were on Kefalonia, the sixth largest of the Greek islands, which sits between Ithaca and Zakynthos - far to the south of Corfu.

Unlike Corfu and other tourist-savvy islands such as Rhodes and Crete, Kefalonia still has the look of a place surprised to find itself in the holiday business.

If Ithaca has Ulysses, Kefalonia has heroes of a more recent vintage. The island was the setting for Louis de Bernière's modern classic Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

 

Picture perfect: The village of Agia Efimia on Kefalonia, the sixth largest of the Greek islands

FIT FOR THE BIG SCREEN

And, surprisingly - as Holly-wood almost never seems to shoot films in their authentic setting - this was where Penelope Cruz, Nicolas Cage and Christian Bale came to star in the film of the book when it was made here in 2001.

The locals are ambivalent about the film, as it makes narrative capital out of the two worst events to affect the island in living memory.

The ill-fated occupation by the Germans during the Second World War (which resulted in the massacre of more than 5,000 Italian troops as portrayed in Captain Corelli's Mandolin); and the terrible earthquake which destroyed large parts of the island in August 1953, killing 600 people and making thousands homeless.

Driving across the island today, however, there is little to suggest recent troubles.

Kefalonia radiates a quiet contentment, perfect for someone who has arrived, like us, searching for utter peace and quiet. What quickly endeared us to Kefalonia was that this was a 'real' place where the locals clearly have a life beyond tourism.


The famous beach Myrtos lies at the feet of two mountains


The capital, Argostoli, for example, is charming, with a substantial fruit market near the harbour. Of particular interest in the harbour are the turtles, who have become something of a tourist attraction. Another endearing factor, to me, is that there are few sights thought of as mandatory. Our only outing was to take a drive round the island to the harbour town of Fiskardo, 30 miles north of Argostoli.

 

FAVOURED BY THE STARS

It has become popular with the rich and famous as the perfect place to tie up their luxury yachts as they make their way around the Mediterranean.

We had a fabulous lunch at a harbourside restaurant where our waiter confided that Tom Hanks and his wife were on a yacht nearby and were expected to arrive for lunch imminently.

We strung out dessert as long as we possibly could, but Mr Hanks didn't put in an appearance (or perhaps he is so good at disguises that we didn't recognise him).


Fiskado's handsome Venetian bu9ildings are an impressive sight


Fiskardo is one of the few villages on Kefalonia that were left undamaged by the 1953 earthquake: its handsome Venetian buildings are an impressive sight.

What was also impressive is that while the place is probably the nearest thing that Kefalonia has to a major resort, it didn't really feel like a tourist honey pot -it certainly wasn't crowded.

And, best of all perhaps, the excellent meal was very reasonably priced.

The island has only recently begun seeking to attract tourists and doesn't seem to have been alerted to the possibilities of ripping off visitors.

We took our trip to Fiskardo in the evening when the heat was tempered by a cooling breeze from the sea.

Close to our apartment were plenty of good tavernas and bars where we could enjoy a reasonably priced meal in the evening.

It may have taken Ulysses 20 years to return to Ithaca - we shall be heading back to Kefalonia much sooner than that.

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