| Kefalonia! It is the largest of the Ionian Islands, an astonishing place full of contrasting beauty, "mysteries" and surprises. Along with Ithaca, Kefalonia is a prefecture with a population of 39.448 and extends to 904, 4 square km.
| Skala is a region in the South-Eastern edge of kefalonia and is the island's best kept secret with its mountainous backdrop and breathtaking scenery.
|CAPTAIN'S BAR LOCATION
| Find your way to Captain's while in Skala.
|CAPTAIN'S BAR IN THE PRESS|
Mail on Sunday (London)
January 16, 2005|
Shaun of the Dead's mandolin
by Simon Pegg
MY fiancee Maureen and I had a number of choices for our holiday destination.
Top of the list was Kefalonia, closely followed by Kefalinia, in third place we were considering Cephalonia and, as a further alternative, we discussed Devon. In the end we chose the first three. Extravagant? Not at all. The first three are all the same place!
OK, I know you knew that. But the first part of this article is a history lesson so I wanted to kick off with a gag. Named, somewhat indecisively, after the mythical hero Cephalus, Kefalonia is an unassuming and somewhat reluctant celebrity in a sometimes clamouring archipelago.
At 265 square miles, it is the largest island in the Ionian Sea. Believed to be the first of Greece's many islands to be inhabited, Kefalonia has a rich and varied history, having experienced Roman, Norman, Frankish, Venetian, Italian, Nazi and Hollywood occupation. The last two, of course, were the respective inspiration for, and consequence of, Louis de Bernieres' novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin. The occupation by the Nazis, and the subsequent massacre by them of Italian troops during the Second World War, resonates still.
Legend has it the psychic fallout from the atrocities committed here by the Nazis is such that anyone staying on the island is reputed to experience nightmares (although this could also be attributed to the strength of the Pina Coladas).
As far as the fiction is concerned, it's a testament to Kefalonia's modest, insular nature that the island didn't leap on to its own bandwagon and build a theme park/mandolin factory.
There is perhaps one Captain Corelli's Bar in Sami, where the film is set, but otherwise the only evidence of this benign invasion is the occasional signed photograph pinned up in tavernas frequented by the cast.
Talking of autographs, nature etched her own signature on to the landscape in August 1953 when an earthquake destroyed major parts of the island, including Skala, a rural village set into a mountainside to avoid detection by passing pirates. It was rebuilt at the edge of the sea and reborn as a tourist destination. What remains of the old village today is a quiet memorial to Skala's past, a lost outpost, crumbling amid the trees.
There's a lovingly maintained graveyard, a rusting olive press and the odd aggressive looking goat. More about Skala later. For now, the lesson ends. As a younger man, I scoffed at the notion of ritual, unless it was voodoo and even then I might have petulantly asked: 'Why does it always have to be chickens?' Repetition for me was the death of excitement. The idea of returning to the same holiday destination year after year would have been anathema to my thinner, slightly better looking self conduct reserved for grim, wordless wrinklies, who had long ago put aside the concept of adventure.
These days I see things differently.
Sure, I love adventure as much as the next thirty something but now I am enlightened to the possibilities of habit.
Sometimes, getting away isn't solely about discovery and activity, sometimes it is simply about stillness. Sometimes it's nice to skip the acclimatisation and saunter straight to your favourite spot on the beach. So it is with me and Kefalonia.
WE HAPPENED upon Kefalonia quite by chance during one of those potluck travel agent consultations, at which they suggest a destination and you shrug and look at your partner and say: 'Yeah, sounds nice,' as if you have a clue.
Four years and four visits later, we consider ourselves native.
The island is big enough to feel significant but small enough to circumnavigate in a day. Argostoli, the buzzing capital, is cosmopolitan, full of great shopping, bustling piazzas and places of historical interest. Nearby is Lassi, the largest and most commercial area of the island. The beaches are a little more crowded here with tourists and Greeks alike but the sand is soft and the atmosphere relaxed and integrated. Heading east up the coast brings you to the unfeasibly beautiful Myrtos Beach, a dazzling ellipse of bone white sand shoring a turquoise bay.
Further up is Assos, a secluded coastal village, overlooked by a Venetian fort. At the northern tip of the island is the very posh Fiscardo, home of the 'yacht-lot'. The shops are posh, the food is posh, even the fish in the bay swim in a haughty fashion and look down on shrimps.
Elsewhere, as you head back down the western coastal road, you'll come across Agia Efimia, a picturesque fishing village and Sami, home of De Bernieres' eponymous captain. Inland are some wonderful monasteries and some fabulous caves, which all deserve a visit. For these two holidaymakers though, our hearts belong to Skala.
We chose Skala because we were told it combined the peaceful solitude of a small coastal resort with a vibrant evening culture that never threatened to include the sight of sweaty-headed boys seeking sex with girls who squawk and are orange.
Sure, there are sun-loungers on the beach and a giant inflatable banana often skims the surf in the near distance, but so what? The loungers are high quality and only ever two deep and the rough sand is never overpopulated.
Even the muffled yelps of giddy aquatic euphoria can be quite hypnotic against the insistent rustle of the sea, often inspiring those weird Kefalonian dreams as you drift off in the afternoon heat, your book resting on your chest.
One thing we have altered with each successive visit is our accommodation. Last year we stayed at the Nine Muses Hotel, a beautifully maintained group of apartments set back off the seafront.
The rooms are clean and serviced daily, there are two pools for those who can't be bothered to make the 30-second trek to the beach and the Aeolos restaurant serves up authentic Greek cuisine all day.
If you're lucky enough to be there on the first Thursday of the month, the Aeolos puts on a display of authentic Greek dancing.
The two-man, two-woman troupe offers up some delightfully complex girl/boy kick-and-step exchanges before roping in the surrounding diners for some 'not-as-easy-asitlooks' fun.
Skala is indeed replete with restaurants. On an average holiday you can easily dine somewhere different every night.
The most popular and arguably the best of the bunch is The Pines.
Situated on the lower corner of the main street, The Pines is an everbustling favourite with regular visitors to Skala. The food is delicious and the service very friendly, although the latter tends to be the case everywhere. Try the lamb a la Pines for a truly scrumptious signature dish. Their Kefalonian meat pie is the best in town.
Elsewhere, the Aquarius, a newer taverna, is fast becoming a rival to the more established eateries, with a great menu and an attentive staff. I could continue to single out the better places as they come to mind but most have their draws.
The trick is to look for the locals. Skala is popular with Kefalonians and mainlanders alike and the presence of a Greek family or two in a restaurant is usually a good sign.
AS FAR as bars in Skala go, for me there is only one. I'm a great believer in having a ' local', a drinking establishment where everybody knows your name and your bar bill is always totted up with a sigh, as if it is irrelevant.
Our local in Skala is the Captain's Bar, opposite The Captain's Rest Hotel (neither of which is named after De Bernieres' protagonist but rather a fishing captain), which is arguably the life and soul of the town. Its design is basic, open to the sky and fairly small, with extra seating over the narrow road at the hotel entrance. Awnings can be deployed if shelter is needed but this is a rare occurrence.
A tree grows from a well amid the chairs and tables, and the bar purveys the most exciting and comprehensive list of cocktails outside Argostoli. The real draw, though, is the service.
Managed by Tina, daughter of Vangelis, the hotel manager, and driven by her friend and cocktail maestro Monica, with extra help coming from Tina's boyfriend and lady's favourite Andreas, the bar has one of the friendliest atmospheres of any I have known.
Like a couple of cheeky, beached mermaids, they entice and beguile passers-by with calls of ' Hello Darlink' and the promise of a seemingly endless happy hour.
With a dazzling amiability, they have gathered a vast entourage of returning patrons, exemplified by the hundreds of photos adorning the walls. A visit to Skala is not complete without a night or three at the Captain's. When you get there, look for our photos and tell Tina and Monica that Mr Simon says hello.
Perhaps it is because the British were first on the scene after the earthquake in 1953, perhaps it is simply a matter of natural good nature but there is a genuine mutual affection between the British and the Kefalonians. Last year the island was gripped with a palpable sense of elation as the Greek football team progressed through the finals of Euro 2004.
HAVING inevitably seen our own national side stumble and fall from contention, the English tourists could not help but transfer allegiance to the Greek side, as they ropea- doped their way towards ultimate victory.
The night Greece defeated France, securing themselves a place in the semi-finals, you'd have been forgiven for thinking they had already won the tournament. Still two games from destiny, the locals erupted into paroxysms of glee.
Skala was lit up by fireworks supposedly reserved for the forthcoming Olympic opening ceremony, as car horns hooted and the usually quiet locals joyously celebrated their shock progression.
The downhearted English were buoyed up vicariously and waiters, bar staff and shopkeepers alike were embraced and congratulated with affectionate resignation. Our holiday came to an end just before Greece played their penultimate match.
I can only imagine the hysteria that ensued after their eventual triumph. I doubt there is a single plate left in the entire nation. If you make the trip anytime soon, it would be wise to take your own crockery.
Whenever you visit this beautiful Ionian enclave and wherever you choose to stay, be it Skala or elsewhere, you can be assured of a warm welcome and a beautiful setting. Sometimes multiple identities can simply add to the charm. Kefalonia, Kefalinia, Cephalonia so good they named it thrice.
* Simon Pegg's film Shaun Of The Dead is currently available on DVD.
Copyright 2005 Associated Newspapers Ltd.