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Sami, Kefalonia

Sami

Sami, KefaloniaI don't know why Sami was my favorite place in Kefalonia. It is not very attractive architecturally, but neither are any of the other post-earthquake towns. When we drove into the center it was like coming into some market town in a mostly agricultural area of the mainland. We had to pass through it twice before we found a hotel and when we went in to check it out it looked like it was run by drug addicts. But even that did not discourage us and on our third pass through the center we spotted the Hotel Melissa, a leftover from the seventies with old Greek National Tourist Organization posters of everywhere but Kefalonia decorating the walls, since at the time nobody had heard of the island, including GNTO. The most remarkable thing about the hotel were the giant personally autographed posters of Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz and the many photos of the sets they had built for Corelli's Mandolin. In fact this was one of the hotels the crew stayed in. (Nicholas Cage stayed in a villa up the road and Penelope Cruz stayed in the next town). Further evidence of Sami's historical or cultural heritage is Captain Corelli's Cafe on the waterfront where it seems the most important criteria for hiring waiters is that they look like Nicholas Cage. I might call it a coincidence has our waitress at Il Familia restaurant not looked just like Penelope Cruz. Clearly there is an effort to wring the last few euros out of a movie that most people have forgotten. The book was better but hiring a bunch of Louis de Benieres look-alikes to wait tables is not as glamorous.

Antisamos Beach, KefaloniaSami has a small beach at the edge of town just outside the harbor, with white stones, turquoise seas, and surrounded by pine trees. But the beach it is known for is Antisamos, featured in Corelli's Mandolin and one of the finest beaches in Greece. It's a 3 kilometer drive through the forest before you get to the bay and stop to admire this white stone beach that stretches for a quarter of a mile in a valley between green hills that do not have a single house on them(yet). There are two large beach bars that offer free parking and free beach beds and umbrellas for their customers, which means for the cost of a soda or coffee you have a place to call your own for the day. We came at 8pm on Friday night as the sun was disappearing behind the mountain leaving most of the beach in shade and there were not more than a dozen people there. We came back on Saturday and the parking lot, beach, bars and beds were packed with people, a whole different experience.

Sami StreetSince most of the buildings on the main streets in Sami were pretty much built at the same time there is a formula to them that is interesting though slightly mind numbing. They are all two stories with a shop downstairs and residence upstairs. The character of the town has to do with how each owner or tenant chose to decorate his building, like going to a suburban neighborhood from the fifties where every house is the same but people have personalized them so they all appear different, in comparison to a neighborhood where every house is a different style and built at a different time. That's the thing about Kefalonia. Most other places in Greece you can have houses next door to each other that were built centuries apart. In Sami not only are most of the buildings from the same year but they were probably begun on the same day. So any character is added later as people live and work in them.

Sami HarborThe streets are wider too. Anyone who has driven through a village in Lesvos or the Peloponessos understands the trauma of coming face to face with another car or why all the cars and trucks are scraped. Villages hundreds of years old were built for donkeys and humans and not for automobiles. But in Kefalonia where they had to start from scratch they figured in the fact that we were moving from a four-footed to a four-wheeled world and in Sami the port road that separates the restaurants from the tables on the quay is as wide as some parts of the national road. Only there are few cars. In July it is a car owners paradise. You can park anywhere on one of the interior streets and walk a few steps to the waterfront. Compare this to Fiscardo which was undamaged by the earthquake and driving a car into the village is impossible so they have built a large parking lot above the village and the streets are for pedestrians. In Sami there is room for cars and people but the waterfront is either closed at night to automobile traffic or people just don't do it, allowing pedestrians to safely walk the seaside promenade on warm summer nights should they not want to walk along the harbor for some reason.

Sami fish restaurantsThere is a line of fish tavernas on the waterfront, some of them old and established family run restaurants like Gorgona and Delfinia which serve fresh fish and the usual Greek and Kefalonian dishes to Greeks and foreign yachters who are here for the night. Walk a bit further and try Il Familia, a more modern style mezedopoulion with fresh fish and pastas run by two brothers from Sami who returned after years of working in Athens, bringing with them an actual chef who specializes in traditional and neo-Greek cuisine as well as Italian pastas and pastries. Their wine, grown and bottled in Kefalonia, is very nice too. If you want to leave the tourists and sailboaters behind walk to the small fishing harbor and try To Karnagio, a psistaria (grill-house) seafood restaurant and let me know how you like it. We planned to eat here because it looked like the most interesting until we saw Il Familia and were swayed by the upscale decor and the friendliness of the owners. A good choice as it turned out.

Sami has a rich history and there are a number of archaeological sites in the area including the Acropolis of Sami, a Roman aquaduct and baths, Venetian bridges and historic monasteries in the surrounding hills. There are also a number of traditional villages nearby which you can hike to on the old paths.

From the harbor there are daily excursion boats that visit towns and beaches of Kefalonia and Ithaki which sits a few miles away across a narrow strait of sea. There are also daily ferry boats to Ithaki.

For hotels in Sami see Booking.com's Sami Page

Karavomilos

Lake KaravomilosA long stone beach with a beach road that has been closed to traffic separates Sami from the village of Karavomilos which features a beautiful lake that powers a water-mill, right next to a nice xifia-tree shaded taverna on the sea. Just above the lake is the famous cave-lake of Melissani where you walk down into the earth to a small dock where the skippers of large rowboats wait to show you around. The water from both lakes comes all the way from Argostoli. Another cave just above Sami called Drogarati has no lake but steps lead you down to a large cavern. Many people who come to this cave prefer to hang out in the tourist cafe and gift shop or take a dip in the pool rather than actually go into the cave itself, perhaps fearing a trip to the underworld in a land where earthquakes are common.

There are a number of hotels in Karavomilos which you can see photos and get information about on Booking.com's Karavomilos Page

Agia Efymia

Agia Efymia, KefaloniaSharing the bay of Sami is the fishing village of Agia Efymia, or to be more accurate the former fishing village. It is now a popular stop for sailboats and has a number of nice restaurants, a handful of hotels and rooms, and a very narrow stretch of stone that might be mistaken for a beach and where people actually do swim. There are better spots along the coast and it is not that far from Sami where you can swim at Antisamos, one of the best beaches on the island. Like Sami this is where the cast and crew of Corelli's Mandolin stayed and that has become part of the town's history and/or Mythology. All things considered it is a nice place to spend a couple nights or even more if you want to use it as a base to explore the island. Agia Efymia has a couple great restaurants, the Pergola and the Paradise Beach tavernas. The latter is along the coast road past the harbour and nearly at the end of Agia Efimia with tables on the small pebble beach. Great food, true traditional Kefalonia cooking and special chocolate soufflé cooked to order.

For hotels see Booking.com's Agia Efymia Page

Return to Matt's Kefalonia Index

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