The north part of Kefalonia is the most wild and rugged and at the very northern tip is the town of Fiskardo which was the only place on the island that wasn’t flattened by the earthquake.
We set off straight after breakfast and after by-passing Argostoli drove through the village of Farsa, which was desperately unremarkable and would have been completely unrecognisable to poor old Captain Corelli. The road continued towards the narrow northern peninsula and as it did so the road began to rise up and down and twist first one way and then the other as it clung to the side of a mountain that tumbled precipitously into the sea whilst looking down on beautiful beaches and azure blue sea.
Eventually we arrived at Myrtos, which is the most famous of these beaches, a major tourist attraction and an automatic inclusion in any top ten beaches of Greece list. I don’t know about that but it has won several awards including ‘Best beach in Greece’ for several years running and third ‘Best beach in Mediterranean’.
Myrtos is the beach all the brochures boast about and the island’s postcard pinup and from the roadside high above the scene was nothing short of breathtaking. A crescent of delicious white pebble beach, gentle surf and brilliant blue water and nothing was going to stop us making a perilous descent down an incredibly steep road to the long ribbon of gleaming stones backed by pale yellow, vertical cliffs.
Although it was hot it was very pleasant this morning but in the high season there can be days of crippling heat as the bleached west facing stones, pale cliffs and turquoise sea combine to turn the entire beach into something resembling a slow roast oven. Actually once at the bottom it didn’t feel as special as it should have when compared with the view from the top. The pebble beach dropped very sharply into the sea, the stones were rough and there was a lot of tar about, which Jonathan managed to step in and then transfer the sticky mess onto his white shorts. We walked along the length of the beach to the naturist end but there was nothing remarkable to see so we returned to the car and made the tortuous return journey back up the stupendously steep hill.
Before we left mum washed the dirty shorts out in the sea and then tried to tackle the tar as we drove along but there was no shifting it and the harder she tried she only succeeded in smearing it around and making a much bigger mess. Jonathan began to show off and sulk. Eventually we arrived at Fiskardo and he had worked himself up into such a temper that he refused to leave the car and I eventually had to bribe him with the offer of purchasing a replacement pair.
We had to park the car outside the village and walk in and he complained all the way down as though it was my fault that he had ruined his shorts. We found a little seaside shop and once we had selected and bought a new pair we put the dirty ones in a bin and left them behind and he cheered up immediately.
As Fiskardo is the only place that escaped the damage it is consequently the only village to see examples of the old Venetian architecture. The buildings around the harbour however had had a very heavy makeover and didn’t feel especially genuine but those in the back streets leading off the harbour were much more authentic.
The waterfront was awash with gaily-painted houses and the narrow streets away from the cobbled sea front were lined with tourist trinket shops and all-in-all Fiskardo felt more up-market than the other villages that we had visited. To go with this impression also went the prices and a simple round of drinks at a waterside bar cost considerably more drachmas than we had become accustomed to spending.
We watched the rich visitors in their fancy boats coming in and out of the bay and the harbour and then as Fiskardo is only quite a small place and it was getting crowded we left and headed back down the twisting coast road again through the rugged wilderness of the north-west coast and towards our intended destination of Assos.
Some places have an unreal beauty that completely lives up to the brochure descriptions and Assos is just that sort of place a place. There was not a hint of disappointment there. The approach to the village was especially spectacular down a perilously steep and winding road that snaked down into the village and all the while providing fabulous views over a rocky outcrop topped by the ruins of a Venetian castle.
The village itself is tucked inside the narrow neck of a peninsula and it oozed perfectly placid charm with attractive buildings and a few small tavernas overlooking a small enclosed bay. The 1953 earthquake reduced the original village to rubble of course but the French helpers took to Assos and it was their funds that helped rebuild it in a style largely sympathetic to the original buildings.
For me this was the best location on the island, it was mid afternoon, hot and languid and we idled along the quayside and selected a small taverna overlooking the small bay to stop awhile and soak up the atmosphere. There were no cars in the village and so it was perfectly peaceful as we watched the boats and listened to the gentle lapping of the water as the whole place basked lazily under the sun.
Assos was the capital of northern Kefalonia for a few years after 1593 when the castle was first built but today is in ruins and we didn’t fancy the long tiresome walk to the top. The fortress was in an idyllic spot and was used for almost every sunset scene in ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ and it was also the spot where over one thousand Italian soldiers were murdered in the reprisals.
On the drive back mum explained that dad always liked to buy her a gold ring whenever they went away on holiday so it would be good if we could find a jewellery shop. I think this must have been news to dad who was sitting in the front seat next to me and I didn’t really get the impression that was as enthusiastic as mum about this intended purchase and this put me in a tricky position.
We got all the way back to Lassi before we spotted a jewellers and she insisted that we stop but dad showed little eagerness to leave the car and go inside. Eventually we did and mum spotted the one she rather liked and dad attempted a bit of bartering. I have to say that looking for a 75% discount as an opening offer did seem wildly optimistic and predictably he was turned down flat. He offered a tiny bit more but was still rejected so without consultation he left the shop and returned to the car. At this point Jonathan and I weren’t absolutely convinced that mum had got the ‘dad wants to buy me a ring’ bit completely right. There seemed to be a massive difference of opinion here.
Dad sat in the car, mum was upset and it looked like this might spoil the day out so I had to suggest to him that perhaps he did want to buy her a ring after all and after a bit of persuading he went back in, made a sensible offer this time and made the purchase. Phew, crisis averted!
Jonathan and I dropped mum and dad off at the hotel and then we returned the jeep to the car hire office and on the walk back stopped off at the Italian bar to have a drink and to giggle about the incident. When we returned again later there was an evening of great excitement when Italy beat Belgium 2 – 0 and there was a predictable Vesuvius like eruption in the bar.