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Cephalonia Postcard One - Introducing Cephalonia

Date Created: 01 July 2012

Arguably the most beautiful of the Ionian islands in Greece, Cephalonia became famous as the setting for both the film and the book, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Comprising blonde beaches, alluring fishing villages, eccentric traditions and distinctive local wines, this is an island to savour slowly. It is well worth hiring a car to discover how the past is always present in Cephalonia.

DISCOVER THE WEIRD AND THE WONDERFUL IN CEPHALONIA

Staring into the face of a saint can be a strangely unnerving experience. In the corner of an ornate chapel in Cephalonia, I peer through the glass lid of a silver casket containing the mummified remains of this Greek island’s patron Saint Gerasimus. In the gloom of his last resting place, I can just determine a faded shroud above which a leathery countenance stares sightlessly back. I linger, breathing in the strong scent of incense and scrutinising the blackened face before suddenly realising that a queue of disgruntled women dressed in black are waiting to kiss the glass and pray for miracles. Miming apologies, I move swiftly on.

Although St Gerry, as he is affectionately known on the island, has become familiar to millions through the book and the film, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, he is still a potent symbol to the islanders. In the late sixteenth century he took over an abandoned chapel to establish a nunnery. He spent the rest of his days tending the villagers and their children and living in a cave which can still be seen in the floor of the tiny chapel.

Following his death in l579, many miracles were said to have taken place and when his body was exhumed in l581, decomposition had not taken place and he was subsequently declared a saint. So strong is this legend that the chapel in which he rests is packed with pilgrims wishing to pay their respects. It is also said that on his feast days, recreated by de Bernieres in the book, when his body is carried in procession, miracles have taken place. Yet as I discover during a stay on this ravishing Greek island, this is merely one example of the myth and magic lying at the heart of Kephalonia.

Anyone with knowledge of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin will be aware that the island on which the action takes place is beautiful. Yet I was not prepared to find it quite so breathtaking. The beaches are half moons of pristine blonde sand (many of which have been awarded EC Blue Flags), the sea is the colour of peppermint and the mountainous interior is a combination of verdant valleys dotted with cypress trees and slopes covered with wild euphorbia, poppies and herbs. So rich is the soil that the local Dropola grape which makes the distinctive local wines will grow on no other island.

It is said that the grapevines were first introduced to the island by Kefalos, the son of Hermes and messenger of the gods after whom the island is named. When visiting the Robola Wine Factory situated in the Arcadian Omala plain near to St Gerry’s church, the proud proprietor reveals that ‘to drink our wine is to make the heart happier’ and after tasting some of the eleven labels, I am in no position to argue.

Written by Beverley Byrne.

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