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Kefalonia and Ithaca - nature as the key for a new beginning

UNESCO recognizes extraordinary Global Geopark of the 2 islands

26 May, 15:06

    (by Patrizio Nissirio)

    ARGOSTOLI - In the still-pleasant heat of May, Lambros Papalambros, a jewelry designer as well as a trekking guide, is climbing fast amid rocks and goats through the cyclopean walls of the ancient acropolis of Sami, one of the villages of Kefalonia. The area is enveloped by thick vegetation - olive trees, cypresses and especially oak trees - like most of this Ionian island which, like its 'smaller sister' Ithaca, is once again attracting tourists after two difficult seasons.

    Walks through nature, along hundreds of kilometers of trails, are in fact one of the main attractions highlighted by locals, along with splendid beaches - including the famous Myrtos - and the incredible turquoise sea.

    And nature here has much to offer: in April 2022, Kefalonia and Ithaca were recognized as a Global Geopark by UNESCO, an area whose unique quality is symbolized in particular by a phenomenon thanks to which seawater falls non-stop from a sinkhole close to the main city of Argostoli through a subterranean path where it mingles with rainwater from the mountains to reach lake Melissani, on the other side of Kefalonia, a crater with crystalline water and stalactites, which can be explored with small rowing boats. Overall, 49 sites can be visited on the two islands, along with the sea that surrounds them.

    "It's not just a matter of natural beauty - said the park's geologist Eleni Zoumbouli - nature influences culture, human activities inland and at sea, history and its events. This is also why it is important to get to know it and visit it and this is the idea behind the Geopark".

    The recognition could have a significant impact on tourism.

    "These remain islands that have been loved especially by the Britons, with over 60,000 who arrived in 2019, followed at a distance by Italians, some 35,000", explained Gerasimos Timotheatos, president of the association of hoteliers on Kefalonia and Ithaca. "Then there was coronavirus, but this year we expect many Italians to return".

    And for Italian visitors, along with the local beauty and food, Kefalonia also represents a place holding a difficult memory - a monument remembering the thousands of soldiers killed by the Germans following September 8, 1943, after they refused to surrender and hand over their weapons. Ex-president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, during a visit to the island, indicated this episode as "the first act of Resistance by an Italy freed from fascism".

    There is also another Italy, on these shores, with the name of wine producers Gentilini whose wines well represent the growth of Greece's wine production over the past 20 years, including the typical Robola, and its coat of arms with a stylized lion of St Mark.

    And Venetian echoes - after 300 years of power starting from the 1500s - are the protagonists of traditional local cuisine, starting with the names of dishes: agliada, or baked potatoes mixed with garlic, oil and lemon (in other parts of Greece a similar recipe is called skordalià, from 'skordo', or garlic in Greece); toasted almonds (called here with a clear Italian echo 'mandole', from 'mandorle'); or a dessert made with dried fruit ('mandolata').

    And if Kefalonia offers quiet corners also during high season, those who want to be far away from everything and everyone, can take a boat from Sami to reach Ithaca - which in spite of its suggestive name and a statue of Ulysses in the center of the main city Vathì does not correspond to the coveted homeland of the Odyssey. It is almost entirely enveloped by vegetation and has a few, tiny villages. Nature is the absolute protagonist, alongside the legendary Greek hospitality ('filoxenia') on which local operators are investing in the hope that the pandemic will soon become only a distant memory.

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