Beaches, history, legends and that incredible underground sea.  The secrets of Kefalonia

At eight in the morning the Kefalonia-Ithaca geopark shows its best expression, the one that convinced UNESCO to honor it with its precious recognition (global geopark) just over a month ago, and the geologist Eleni Zoumbouli – broad smile and quick step – is at least as aware of this as Giorgos Ismailos, responsible for the conservation status of this area blessed by the Ionian Sea and the vagaries of nature. Yes, because here the Mediterranean creeps in katavothres, underground cavities that hide along the coast, and “disappear” and then “reappear” about fifteen kilometers further on, to the north-east. Eleni explains that the phenomenon has ancient origins, but its discovery in the Lassi peninsula is relatively recent. He tells of the “underground race” of the sea and its encounter with fresh water, which descends from Mount Aenos, before throwing itself into the lake of Melissani, a basin of crystalline water at the other end of the island. But not just any small lake. To explore it you go down into a cave and, once you get “ashore”, you get on a rowboat, gently pushed by expert local boatmen who advance in the narrowest gorges “playing” with the oar, shore. The brackish water is green, blue, blue, gray, sometimes purple and even pitch black because it refracts the light that falls copiously from the “hole” above your heads and creates different pictorial effects, according to the solar hours. A crater surrounded by trees whose roots and thick foliage can be admired from bottom to top. It may be due to the very special microclimate of this place or to the biodiversity which it is even superfluous to account for. Impossible not to remain with the nose up, at least until the gozzetto does not enter the darkest part of the cave between stalactites and stalagmites, and an unusual cold begins to feel under the skin, stuff to which speleologists are well accustomed.

Melissani Lake

Melissani Lake

Back with your feet on the ground you find yourself immersed in the green. Among cypresses, brooms, centuries-old olive trees, wildflowers, shrubs, oaks and limestone rocks, it takes little to breathe deeply and, although far from the wonder of water, one is never disappointed. There are about fifty geological sites to be explored, between Kefalonia and Ithaca, and as many geo-monuments, namely karst depressions, different rock formations and an endemic flora, of which it is worth mentioning at least the ajuga orientalis (a kind of wild orchid) and the bellflower cephallenica, that tinges the undergrowth purple. It is no small feat for an island of seismic origin which, last time, in 1953 suffered a heavy earthquake which destroyed Argostoli (the main village next to the airport) and many other areas. And all this ten years after the massacre of Kefalonia, a German reprisal that led to the shooting of thousands of soldiers and most of the Italian officers (15-26 September 1943) of the Acqui Division who refused to surrender their weapons. A mass slaughter (the bodies were mostly thrown into mass graves) commemorated with a sun-drenched shrine that accounts for the victims, men who never returned home after 8 September.

Myrtos beach

Myrtos beach

Intertwined with this tragic history, whose remains are welcomed around the sea, Kefalonia preserves a thousand others, insignificant and fundamental. More ancient traces (from 1500 to 1700 the island was part of the Republic of Venice, a few centuries earlier it was Byzantine and mythologically it seems to belong to Ulysses) or even filmic ones like those related to the set of “Captain Corelli’s mandolin” taken from the book by Louis de Bernières, with Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz. Film that (in 2001) gave Kefalonia Hollywood limelight and an uncommon tourist boost. A momentum that today, in the first post-pandemic summer, sees British visitors still in first place for attendance followed by Italians. “At least these are the advances of the season, – explains Gerasimos Timotheatos, president of the association of hoteliers of Kefalonia and Ithaca – our islands have always been very popular with the British: in 2019 we hosted more than 60 thousand, while the Italians were about 30 thousand. Here we offer various possibilities for sporting and experiential tourism: biking, trekking, climbing and, of course, wonderful beaches. Not only. Today, among other things, we are able to offer 11 thousand beds in villas and apartments spread across the territory “.

And if to convince Italians to board (direct flights from Italy are scheduled by various low cost airlines) are above all beaches such as Myrtos (considered among the most beautiful in the Mediterranean), Petani, Emblissi and Antisamis, the appeal of the villages of the island. Head to the marina of Sami (second largest village): you can indulge in some shopping before tackling the evening trekking (www.samitrekking.com) with the athletic Lambros Papalambros who – in addition to designing splendid jewels – he will guide you towards the cyclopean walls of the ancient acropolis with a sure footing or, perhaps, pedaling at sunset on a mountain bike among the grazing goats, omnipresent on the island.

Panorama from the Gentilini vineyards, Argostoli

Panorama from the Gentilini vineyards, Argostoli

In Fiskardo, the northernmost and chicest port of the entire area with a Venetian imprint, just over two hundred people live and the houses (scattered in the alleys behind the promenade) conceal flower gardens and the scents of freshly picked aromatic plants, above all the tiny and very fragrant Greek basil. The boutiques have much higher prices than elsewhere, but the breeze and the view (even of the mind-boggling boats moored in the harbor) that can be enjoyed sitting in one of the restaurants, such as Vasso’s, is perhaps only comparable to the taste of taramosalata and linguine with prawns in ionic variation. And if you want to erase the “sin of gluttony” just made with a little movement, walk to the small Roman cemetery that emerges at the edge of the village, on the road to Foki beach. Here the excavations have brought to light precious jewels and pottery, to demonstrate once again (if needed) the very long epic of this mythological land. An island that already in May started running again, after two summers marked by the coronavirus, to show from the top of Mount Enos (1600 meters) to the white beach of Kimilia, from the classic vestiges to the new Greek Robola wines produced by the Gentilini company (which boasts in its logo a revisited and corrected Saint Mark’s Lion) its Mediterranean richness.

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