Alternative tourism activities at Kefalonia
The Bavarian Stables are located between the villages of Zervata and Koulourata and are run by Conny, a German trainer who specializes in horse trekking, hurdles and dressage.
With their well-trained and obedient Haflingers and Bavarian Warmbloods, anyone can take up riding whether beginners or experienced, young or old.
Hiking & Exploring
Hiking in the region is an easy activity that does not require any special knowledge or equipment. It’s up to you to decide how far to go or what route to choose. Mountain bikes are also available for rent, so that you can enjoy the peaceful countryside off the beaten track. If the temperature is not too high, cycling can be excellent exercise for the whole body.
Whether beginner or experienced, the diving school at Agia Efimia offers scuba diving lessons with experienced instructors as well as certification for the CMAS or PADI scuba diving diplomas. Special dives can also be arranged in advance, but for those who simply want to experience scuba diving for the first time, an introductory lesson lasts only 90 minutes.
Boat rentals are available at Agia Efimia and Fiskardo. You may think it’s hard, but with proper instruction it can be a great way to spend the day! Discover your own tiny cove or feel the freedom of having an entire beach to yourselves – just remember to pack a picnic basket!
Kefalonian Hunting Farm
The Kefalonian Hunting Farm occupies an area of 1000 stremmas in the region of Anemomylos at Pessada, in the southern part of the island. The high specifications of the game reserve meets European and US standards, while it is one of the few that exist in Greece. It has been operating for 23 years and has hosted famous hunters from all over the world.
MARINE LIFE OF KEFALONIA
THE SEA TURTLES OF KEFALONIA
The Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Caretta-caretta the only marine turtle nesting in Greece and the Mediterranean. Zakynthos is has the largest hatchery left in the Mediterranean where about 2,000 nests are laid annually. Kefalonia has a smaller population, with less than 150 nests between Skala and Lixouri.
The female turtles nest on the southern facing shoreline of the island. Many of these beaches are so far untouched by human development and therefore offer the turtles a safe place to nest, secluded from the outside world. However, in the past 20 years tourist development has been encroaching into these untouched nesting habitats.
The Katelios Group was founded in 1993 and has observed, monitored and recorded the feeding and breeding behaviour of the turtles nesting on these sandy beaches. Incorporating a conservation programme to promote the protection of these main nesting areas from any rapid development, most are already stable and therefore offer the females a safe nesting ground to lay their eggs.
The Group currently monitors the nesting behaviour of the turtles on the main beach at Mounda Bay. With the data collected its being used to produce a conservation plan in an effort to protect the turtles and their habitats throughout the island of. Research work starts in the spring, with the beaches firstly being cleaned of waste deposits left over the winter months.
The beach is then mapped and marked, allowing the exact positioning of each nest to be recorded. The nesting season is June to August during this time the beach is monitored nightly from 10.00 pm. to 6.00 am. where every emerging turtle from the sea is recorded. This includes the length and width of the shell and the health of each female.
The nest position, and the number of eggs in each clutch, each female can lay between 80 to 180 eggs. The tag numbers are recorded and turtles without tags are marked. After an incubation period of around 55-60 days, the hatchlings emerge late at night or early hours of the morning and make the precarious journey to sea.
These tiny creatures sense the right direction in which to go because they are attracted to bright light. At night, the sea is the brightest area with the moonlight reflecting off the water. Each hatchling makes this journey often precarious over lots of obstacles such as sandcastles, holes and the chance of being eaten by seabirds before they reach the sea, so this made dash is two fold, the first to strengthen their muscles and the other survival.
With the help and support of the local fisherman and compensation for any damaged nets, the support and co-existence of people and turtle, locals and tourists alike is giving valuable support and is essential in the protection of these nesting grounds.
THE MEDITERRANEAN MONK SEAL
Centuries ago The Mediterranean Monk Seal was an everyday event, found in great numbers emerging from the sea and stretched out lazing on the sandy shores. The Mediterranean seal, the Monachus monachus today is the number one species under threat of extinction in Europe.
With only 200-250 living in Greek waters and less than 500 are thought to remain in the world. Diminished into two surviving areas, one habitat is the Atlantic coast of northwest Africa and the other, here in the waters of the Mediterranean. Where they remain still the most endangered mammal in Europe.
With only around 20 being recorded around Kefalonia’s shores. They survive in these waters with another threatened and endangered species, the sea turtles Caretta caretta.
The surviving monk seal population in Greece has decreased to seriously low levels. Apart from the common hostility to these marine creatures from fishermen, the disruptive effects of two world wars and the now rapid progress of industries and the associated pollution, the most significant factor in the species’ decline is the accelerated increase in mass tourism.
This along with tourist developments next to the coastlines inevitably brings the increasing disturbance and destruction of the natural habitats. Not to mention the rapid increase in pleasure and motorboat activities which, during the breeding and weaning seasons, are regarded as a major threat to the species.
This pursuit of enjoyment by an inconsiderate minority can cause fear, abandonment of the pups and unfortunately, in some cases, death. Believe it or not even in ancient Greece, monk seals were protected, their display of great love for sea and sun placed them under the guardianship of the gods Poseidon and Apollo.
These animals were mentioned by Homer and Aristotle and even depicted on one of the first coins to be stamped in 500 BC. The fishermen and seafarers, who caught sight of the animals playing in the waves or plodding slowly on the beaches considered that to be a omen of good fortune.
Chronicled throughout history, we have all been made well aware that humans have hunted seals for their own survival for many hundreds of years.
The trusting and inquisitive nature of these creatures has made them easy prey for hunters and fishermen who dispatched them instantly using spears, but when the animals were netted and clubs were used, these savage culls became a blood bath. The seals were killed mainly for the pelts that went into making of clothing, shoes and tents giving excellent protection against adverse weather conditions. The meat of the animal was consumed with the fat being rendered down for oil to be used in lamps.
Evidence has suggested that after the fall of the Roman empire the species was severely depleted. However, a decrease in its necessity, with the introduction of the more refined olive especially within the Mediterranean areas may have possibly allowed the monk seal to gain a interim recovery period, though not to original levels.
During the Middle Ages trading in seal pelts once again peaked in certain regions, practically wiping out the larger colonies. For the ones that survived a hard lesson was learnt, they no longer grouped together on open beaches and rocky outcrops, but instead found refuge in caves and along inaccessible and rocky coast lines.
Consequently today these reclusive creatures hide so well that little information is now available. The seal Monachus-Monachus or Monk seal as is also known is so called because of the flap of skin behind its head, which looks like a monk’s cowl and belongs to one of the largest species of seal in the world. Its life span is up to 40 years but today mostly only 20 if lucky, with males and females looking almost identical. Males weigh in at about 315 kg with an average length of 2.4 m. The females are only slightly smaller, weighing approximately 300 k. Adults are generally brown or grey on the back. A white patch is common on the underside of the belly, and others have irregular mottled light patches on the stomach. The older males tend to be black. Pups are born between 88 -103 cm in length and weigh 16 -18 kg. The Mediterranean monk seal pups are born with a white or yellow patch on the stomach and have a black, woolly coat.
The Mediterranean monk seal has been virtually eradicated from most of its original habitat by human encroachment and females now pup only in caves in remote and relatively undisturbed areas. Males and females are thought to reach sexual maturity between 5 and 6 years, although some females may mature as early as 4 years.
The Mediterranean seals give birth about once a year, usually every two years. The seals are always born on land, in dark, well-protected sea-caves. The birth period last from August to December. The new-born are about one metre in size and weigh approximately 15 kilos. They will suckle for about three months and then learn to find their food for themselves. Monk seal pups can swim and dive at about two weeks of age and are weaned at about 16-17 weeks. They need food equivalent to 5% of their body weight per day and will travel huge distances to find it.
Their main diet is fish, octopus, squid and seaweed. Despite being a mammal, the Monk seals metabolism allows it to hold its breath under water for up to 15 minutes. Special muscles in the nose block off its nostrils helping it to dive down to depths of around 100 metres.
Around Kefalonia’s rugged coastline there are many large sea caves and these make ideal places for these creatures to live. If you are lucky enough to see a monk seal, do not follow it or frighten it disturb any way only observe from a distance.
For thousands of years the dolphin has been a symbolthat in Greece has played an important role in the cultural and artistic heritage of its people, and for them it represents an expression of freedom and beauty. No other animal on the planet has had such a magical connection with humans.
Since ancient times the dolphin’s lack of aggression, sense of fun and ability to contact the deepest human emotion and spirit has become legendary. Dolphins are mammals from the whale-porpoise family known as cetaceans which scientists believe may have evolved from early land mammals that returned to the sea.
Their skeletons have uncanny similarities to ours, and they have a complex language, each dolphin having a personal signature tune as unique as a fingerprint. Although they are quite large and powerful animals there have been no reports of any unprovoked attacks on man but however many have been known to kill a shark with a single blow.
Dolphins will allow people to grasp their strong dorsal fin for a ride, carry children on their backs and even leap out of the water next to swimmers. There have been numerous instances of dolphins saving peoples lives, from fishermen to swimmers, divers and windsurfers. In the last decade dolphins have even been used in the treatment of depression. International Dolphin Watch, an organisation established to protect these mystical creatures, believe it is essential for the overall well being of dolphins that they be able to breed, feed and roam in their natural environment.
Unfortunately through the polluting of the Mediterranean as well as the excessive fishing with the use of fine filament nets, the dolphin population has been drastically reduced and is continuing to do so in the sea surrounding Greece. Nowhere is this more evident than around Kefalonia where in the past dolphins were quite common, chiefly in the deep waters between Ithaki and Zakynthos. Nonetheless dolphins are still seen following boats to and from these islands and a small group can usually be found in the Gulf of Argostoli, especially around the fish farm area. It is hoped that with the tighter environmental control and stricter regulations from the EEC and the Greek government, particularly concerning fishermen, we will once again see these magnificent animals thrive.
WILD LIFE OF KEFALONIA
Also described as the semi-wild Ainos ponies. There are two schools of thought here, one is that these are not wild horses at all but semi-wild ponies, that owe their existence to the villagers’ old custom of keeping herds of horses free on the mountain in order to avoid the cost of feeding them and that they were abandoned in the wild after the Second World War.
Over the centuries countless domestic horses have escaped or were intentionally released, they formed into small herds and the strongest flourished.
Their populations only checked by the supply of food and water. Therefore in the scientific sense, these animals are actually domestic horses returned to the wild. Even free roaming (but not wild horses) can lead a good life up to 25 years or more, provided of course that they are not suffering from any physical disability or disease.
They share their territory with many native animals. Years ago there was enough food and water for all.
However, due to many reasons, including over felling of trees in the past, as well as numerous destructive fires, times are hard. Especially after being left in isolated conditions on the slopes of the mountain.
Struggling against adverse conditions, fending and rummaging for food and water. With the lack of natural shelter to protect them from the cold and snows of the winter and the droughts of the summer. Along with inbreeding for over 55 years I personally would call these animals wild – furthermore a pure breed.
Very recent the British ornithologist, A.Vittery, with the contribution of a few German scientists from the University of Munich, compiled the first check-list of the birds of kefalonia, which numbers 222 species of birds, about 50% of the total National list. Of these, 58 breed on the island, 28 appear mainly in winter and the remainder is encountered during the spring or autumn migrations.
Forty-eight species of birds have been recorded on Ainos itself, most of which species can be found throughout Greece. Such birds are:
The Owl (Athene noctua), the Blackbird (Turdus merula), the Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala), the Coal Tit (Parus ater) and finches (Fringillidae). Various other species are also present, but the fact that they can be found on a mountainous island is of special ecological significance. Such birds are :The Rock partridge (Alectoris graeca), the Woodlark (Lullula arborea) and others.
There are also at least 15 kinds of diurnal birds of prey who come to winter in the mountains. Species such as Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) nest on Ainos, as well as the Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), the Peregrine (Falco peregrinus), and possible theShort-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) and it is also possible that a pair of Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) live on the mountain. Vultures (Gyps fulvus) make an occasional appearance, and during the autumn migration you can often see small groups of Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus).
With some luck, a keen observer may see, some rare species, such as the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), the Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus), Lanner (Falco biarmicus), the Saker Falcons (Falco cherrug) and others.
Nevertheless, the most important feathered inhabitant of the island is the Black Woodpecker (Drycopus martius), the largest woodpecker in Europe. It has jet-black plumage and a red crown. It lives mainly in the cool depths of the forest at high altitudes.
The White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopus deucotos) the smallest of the woodpecker family. Also there is the Raven (Corvus corax) and the Goldcrest (Pegulus regulus).
According to recent reports, the following mammals are to be found in the National Park:
1.Rabbit family: the Hare (Lepus europaeus).
2.Insectivorous: the hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor), the mole (Talpa stankovici).
3. Various rodents: (Mus musculus domesticus,Rattus rattus,Apodemus sylvaticus,Glis glis).
4. Carnivorous: the fox (Vulpes vulpes), the marten (Martes foina), the weasel (Mustela nivalis) and the badger (Meles meles).
One animal that is of great interest is the mole (Talpa). It is an insectivore and lives in tunnels. It builds its nest deep down in the earth, a spherical nest lined with dry leaves, grass and roots. Each mole lives in its own nest. The mole feeds on the flesh of insects and their larvae, millipedes and earthworms; the latter it can also store.
One mole in particular was found to have stored 1,200 earthworms, weighing 2 kilos in all.
According to the results of research carried out in the Ainos National Park, there are eight species of reptile and one amphibian. The common toad (Bufo bufo) is the only species of amphibian that has been tracked down, whereas the reptile population is made up of one species of turtles (Testudo hermanni), three types of lizard (Algyroides moreoticus,Algyroides nigropuctatus, Podarcis taurica) and four species of snakes (Elaphe situla, Telescopus fallax, Coluber gemonensis, Vipera ammodytes).
Apart from these, you can also see in the greater area of the National Park the Montpellier snake (Malpolo monspesulanus), two species of legless lizards (Ophisaurus apodus, Anguis cephallonicus) and the common green lizard (Lacerta trilineata).
Another species found in the Kefalonian National Park is the Holy snake or Virgin’s snake (Telescopus fallax). The photograph was taken during the celebrations of the 15th of August at the village Arginia, on the slopes of Ainos. During those days the snakes appear in the villages Markopoulo and Arginia among the ruins of the school and the old church dedicated to the Holy Virgin. The inhabitants, considering them holy, collect them and set them in front of the icon of the Holy Virgin.
Their discovery is announced by bell ringings so that everyone will know how many snakes were found in each village.
Their appearance is believed to be a good omen.
It means a good year, a profitable harvest, good luck, marriage for the unmarried girls e.t.c., while their absence means the opposite. After the 15th of August the villagers return the snakes to the place where they were found.
The Kefalonian Fir Tree, Abies cephalonica, is the main species in the National Park. It was named thus as it was first discovered in Kefalonia and classified as a unique species. Owing to the isolation of the island, the species has remained pure and has not produced hybrids. The Kefalonian Fir Tree, a conifer and gymnosperm (external seeds), it belongs to the abies family.
It can thrive at heights of 800-1600 metres but can also be found at higher or lower altitudes elsewhere in Greece. It develops in the shadow of another tree where it can remain for a hundred years. When it leaves behind this maternal clump of trees, however, it develops very quickly and can live up to 500 years.
On rare occasions it can reach a height of 30 Peculiar to the Kefalonian Fir Tree are its needles, which are 15-22mm long and arranged in spirals. Hard and pointed, they are flat and a dark green colour on top, while underneath they are shaped like the keel of a boat with two parallel white lines running along the length.
The tree blossoms in May and June. Just like other types of fir tree, the male blossoms are separate from the female ones, although they coexist on the same tree. The tree bears fruit when about 20-30 years old, and continues up to a hundred years old, with a full crop every 2-4 years. Its seeds have only a 60-70% chance of germinating. It thrives in rich, deep soil, which is loose and moist. It can also develop in rocky, chalky ground. It can survive droughts and high temperatures as well as cold winds.
Apart from the Kefalonian Fir, there are also many other species of trees and bushes, like the hollyoak, holm oak, smoke tree, sumack or Roudi, two types of wild strawberry and many others. You can also see small bushes and grasses, such as asphaka, thyme, ladanies and amaranth.
The bush Flomis fruticosa grows everywhere. According to research by Phoetos and Damboldt the flora of the Ainos region only covers two main groups, the Pteridophyta and Spermatophyta and consists 350 species, but it is certain that there are many others that are not mentioned in studies.
Out of the 8 species and sub-species that are peculiar to Kefalonia, the following 4 are indigenous to the National Park : Viola cephalonica: appears at a height of 1500-1600m and grows in the crevices of chalky rocks as well as in stony ground. Saponaria aenesia: can be seen at heights of 400-1400m and grows in chalky, stony ground. Scutellaria rubicundasubsp. Cephalonica: found at heights of 1500-1600m and grows in rocky, chalky places. Ajuga orientalis subsp. aenesia: appears at heights of 400-1600m and grows in chalky, stony ground. Many others grow on Ainos, which are also indigenous to other places in Greece. Some of these were first discovered and classified in Kefalonia and, of course, on Ainos, such as Poa cephalonica, Campanula garganica cephallenica, Erysimum cephalonicum and various others. They were therefore given the island’s name. Later, these species were discovered in other areas of Greece. Abies cephalonica, of course, also belongs to this category of indigenous flora.
ST. GERASIMOS is the patron-saint of Cephalonia.
In the monastery it is kept incorruptible and fragnant the holy relic of St. Gerasimos.
Before 1554, the monastery was devoted to Theotokos.
After 1560 Gerasimos Notaras, monk from Trikala Corinthias, made it an important nunnery.
The monastery celebrates twice a year: On 16th August (the Dormition of Saint) and on 20th October (the removal and the granting of the remains of the Holy Relics).
During these days of celebration, litany processions take place with the participation of thousands of pilgrims from all over Greece.
Although a new monastery has been built, there is also the old church where it is preserved the Saint’s hermitage and several items that the Saint used. Saint Gerasimos died on 15th August 1579 and the Patriarchate declared him Saint in 1622 when on 20th October 1581 his Holy Relics were found incorruptible and fragnant.
The monastery was founded during the Byzantine era. In the nunnery are kept the Holy remains of the right foot (sole) of Apostle Andrew.
The sole brings on it the ordinary flesh of the Saint while it is visible the hole from the crucifixion of the Saint.
MONASTERY OF ST. APOSTLE ANDREW
The monastery operates as a nunnery. There is also the admirable Ecclesiastical Museum that one can visit.It was founded in 1988 and is located in the old Katholikon of the nunnery which is the only building of the nunnery preserved from the disastrous earthquake in 1953.
MONASTERY OF KIPOURIA
This monastery is located in a distance of 15 km from Lixouri.
It is very old, built in 17th century. Its name is owned to the many gardens that there were in that place and which the holy fathers looked after so as to survive.
It is built in a fascinating location on the edge of a cliff above the sea. The monastery is also wellknown for the sunset the visitor can enjoy from there. Various Saints’ relics are kept in the monastery as well as the sculs of its founders. It operates as a manly monastery.
MONASTERY OF KORONATO
This monastery is located in a distance of 3 Km from Lixouri. It was firstly built in the end of 15th century but in the following century it was destroyed probably by earthquakes. According to tradition,a shepherd was feeding his sheeps in the place where the convent is now built.The ram was moving away from the flock and was going to a water foundain that is below a fig tree at the place where the church was before the earthquake. One day the shepherd followed the ram and found on the fig tree an icon of the Virgin which also carried to his house. However, the icon kept on returning to the place where the shepherd had found it. After announcing this miracle publicly a church was built at that place. It operates as a nunnery.
MONASTERY OF THEOTOKOS OF SISSION
The monastery was built in the 13th century when according to tradition Francisus of Assisi organised a monastery. Its name, “Sissia”, probably derives from the word Assizi. In the monastery there are considerable portable icons as well as the icon of “Virgin of Sission” which was made in the 15th century. .Presently, the monastery operates as a manly monastery.