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Cephalonaa Postcard Two- Legends and Lakes, Mosaics and Myths, Snakes and Seaside Villages the limit to discovery is unabated

Date Created: 02 July 2012

....From our base at the Hotel Mediteranee near the sophisticated modern capitol Argostoli, touring the island is a simple affair. Taxi’s are cheap, although Greek driving is bullish, and there are plenty of excursions available from the hotel. We hire a car to visit St Gerry and the vineyards and travel on to the spectacular caves of Droggarati and Lake Melissani in the mountains. The caves, accessed by a number of steep steps, represent a vast underground cathedral spiked with eerie looking stalactites and stalacmites.

At Lake Melissani, legends abound. It is said that a pretty shepherdess, looking for a lost lamb fell into the lake thereafter known by her name. Another myth tells of the nymph Melissani who threw herself into the lake because the god Pan did not return her love. It is said that the ‘petrified dolphins’ clinging to the walls of the cave were the couriers by whom the nymph sent messages to her beloved. Whatever the legends the truth is that a short boat journey across the sapphire surface of this formerly subterranean lake takes introduces visitors into a kaleidoscopic display of refracted light and iridescent colour plus a vibrant operatic performance by the boatmen.

En route for the picturesque fishing village of Fiskardo, where we linger over a long lunch beside the harbour, I am struck by the way in which every twist and turn of the road seems to produce an endless stream of film set scenes. Fiskardo, with its colourful Venetian buildings and balconies overflowing with flowers was one of the few towns to survive the massive earthquake of l953. A lazy location of colour and light, it simply cries out to be photographed. Other scenic spots have of course appeared in the film based on Captain Corelli, such as the gloriously unspoilt beaches at Antisamos and Myrtos and the ancient town of Sami which was transformed, by means of a massive stage set, into pre earthquake Argostoli.

Other attractions include Assos, a whitewashed village built on an alluring isthmus overshadowed by Mount Ainos. To the South of the island, Skala is scenically situated at the foot of the mountains and as well as a comprising a host of hotels and tavernas, its gently sloping beaches are perfect for families. Apart from a very congenial lunch at the welcoming Tara Beach Hotel, it is worth visiting Skala for the extraordinarily vivid three dimensional floor mosaics belonging to a Roman villa discovered in l957.

Here myth and reality combine for this area of Cephalonia is purported to be the site of Homer’s Ithaka. Although this assertion is heavily contested by the neighbouring island of Ithaka it is tempting to think that these fertile valleys and wooded hills might have been known to Ulysses. Passing through the surrounding luxurious landscapes, it’s easy to imagine ancient civilisations cultivating the land. However as we reach the village of Markoupoulo, the strange magic of the island is once again reinforced.

Every year, we are told, on 15th August, this village becomes infested with a small species of non – poisonous snakes. The villagers take the snakes into the tiny church of Panagia of Langouvarda where they are placed on icons and other religious artefacts. Here they slither at will before disappearing as suddenly as they arrived. Legend has it that the snakes were once nuns who, when threatened by pirates, begged the Virgin to turn them into snakes. The mysterious appearance of the reptiles during one day of the year is regarded as a sign of good fortune and locals draped in snakes will gladly pose for photographs.

In l941 the island became the location of another strange tale. John Capes, a stoker, was on board the British submarine ‘Perseus’ when she struck a mine off the coast of Kefalonia and sank to the sea bed. The sole survivor of the crew, he escaped to the shore where he was found by locals who nursed and sheltered him from the Italian soldiers who then occupied the island. Eighteen months later he escaped to safety but his story, not surprisingly, was disbelieved. It was considered impossible to escape from a submerged submarine, yet fifty years later the reality has now been proved.

Sadly John Capes died before his story was verified but his son recalls how his father longed to return to the island to thank the people who risked their own lives to save him and to see once more the site of his salvation. Even in relatively recent times it would seem that the island’s magic is still at work. Could it be that good old Saint Gerry might have had a mummified hand in this most recent miracle on the idyllic island of Cephalonia?

Written by Beverley Byrne.

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