When your friends say they’re planning a trip to Greece, they mean a specific part of Greece. They’re undoubtedly going to the Cyclades. Santorini. Mykonos. Paros. Naxos. The 39 islands, located southeast of the mainland, are easily reached by connecting flights and ferries. They have classic blue-and-white houses, winding alleys, and white-sand beaches. Since they truly look like scenes on postcards, they’re crowded. So you’re going elsewhere.
You could go to the Dodecanese, the Saronic, or the Sporades. The three island groups are also in the Aegean Sea. Or you could try something completely different. The Ionian Islands sit in the Ionian Sea off the west coast of Greece. Seven main islands and dozens of smaller ones stretch from the northwest tip of the country down to the southern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula. Their location gave the islands a unique culture. Their history was strongly influenced by the Italians, specifically the Venetians. That influence can still be felt today.
Kefalonia, the largest of the Ionian Islands, is a good place to start exploring. The island is beautiful. It has dolomite mountains that are occasionally capped with snow in the winter. Greek fir forests cover much of the interior. Ancient archaeological sites and fields of Robola grapes do, too. Steep cliffs drop into the emerald sea. While friendly towns, Mediterranean monk seals, and loggerhead sea turtles line the coast. No wonder the Greek royal family used to send their kids here for the summer.
Argostoli is your introduction to Kefalonia. The small capital, where one-third of the population lives, sits in a sheltered bay on the island’s west coast. The Koutavos Lagoon, a nature reserve where sea turtles breed, lies at the head of the bay. A large port and a long promenade, Ioannou Metaxou Street, line the waterfront. Elegant architecture, which isn’t as old as it looks thanks to German bombs and a devasting earthquake, does, as well. One of those buildings houses a new boutique hotel.
Kefalonia Grand Hotel is indeed grand. The whitewashed building lies across the street from the bay. Its wrought-iron balconies overlook bobbing boats and palm trees. You’re welcomed into the sleek lobby—note its striking black-and-white color palette—with a glass of chilled sparkling wine and an invitation to download their mobile concierge app. Grand Café (coffee and cocktails) and KG Restaurant (a chic spot with an open-air terrace) are just steps away.
If a chic lobby embraces you upon arrival, it’s the rooms that’ll make you fall in love with a hotel. Kefalonia Grand Hotel has 42 airy rooms upstairs. The minimal spaces are both beachy and polished with concrete floors, plush white bedding, and soundproof windows. Double rooms have writing desks and balconies. Grand suites include open living rooms and bathrooms with tubs. While top-floor master suites add wooden beams and jacuzzis. They’re the perfect spots to return after exploring the island all day. Now off you go. The Ionian Islands may not have the crowds, but they certainly have your attention.