Photo story: getting to know rural traditions in Kefalonia

Traditions cling to this Ionian island like the gnarled olive trees that hang from its limestone cliffs and frame its legendary beaches.

By Jeremy Flint
photographs by Jeremy Flint
Published 7 Apr 2020, 06:00 BST
In Kefalonia, shepherds keep plying their ancient trade, producing meat, milk and cheese.
Photograph by Jeremy Flint

Kefalonia is an enchanted island, married to the past. Shepherds, cheesemakers and olive oil artisans ply their ancient trades in the countryside while, in sleepy harbour towns, fishermen sell their catch on the water’s edge.

The Pantazatos family has been making goat’s cheese in age-old wooden barrels for generations.
Photograph by Jeremy Flint
Dionisis Siliverdis leads his flock to forage and graze.
Photograph by Jeremy Flint

On the slopes of southern Kefalonia, agricultural practices remain largely unchanged over the centuries. Here, two shepherds — Dionisis Siliverdis (above) and Panagiotis Toulatos (below) — lead their flocks to forage and graze. Both have grown up in this tradition, following in their ancestors’ footsteps to become experts in animal husbandry — and producing meat, milk and cheese. The Pantazatos family has been making goat’s cheese in age-old wooden barrels for generations and today they combine tradition with innovation to make this island delicacy.

Farmer Panagiotis Toulatos followed in his ancestors’ footsteps to become an expert in animal husbandry.
Photograph by Jeremy Flint
Olive oil production dates back millennia in Greece — it was described by Homer as ‘liquid gold’.
Photograph by Jeremy Flint

The gnarled olive groves that sweep through the interior and meet the coast are the lifeblood of the island’s rural economy — more than a million trees carpet the island. Olive oil production dates back millennia in Greece — it was described by Homer as ‘liquid gold’. 

Soak up local life in Argostoli, the island's biggest harbour town.
Photograph by Jeremy Flint

Life on the island is slow, especially outside the summer season. To soak up local life, take a seaside stroll along the promenade of Argostoli, the island’s biggest harbour town, pausing in local restaurants to sample ouzo, wines from the island and catch-of-the-day dishes.

Melissani Cave is one of Kefalonia’s most magical sights.
Photograph by Jeremy Flint

The ethereal beauty of Melissani Cave is unleashed at midday when the sun filters through the cavern’s roof, framed by green trees, to make the crystal-clear turquoise pool shimmer. Hike down and hire a gondolier to get up close to the stalactites and flora. As the light overhead shifts, the water’s hues are transfigured.

Watch the hues of the sea transfigure at midday, as sun filters through crystal-clear water.
Photograph by Jeremy Flint
There's excitement in the air in Argostoli as fishermen unveil their catch to locals ready buy fresh fish.
Photograph by Jeremy Flint

Following an early start, the fishermen draw in their nets and return to the picturesque fishing port of Argostoli to unload their catch. As they untangle their lines and prepare the fish for sale, there’s excitement in the air — locals gather to buy the produce fresh off the docks. This is a daily ritual, common to towns throughout Kefalonia. Seagulls circle expectantly overhead and the harbour bustles with activity in the morning sunshine. 

Seagulls circle expectantly overhead in Argostoli as fishermen unload their nets.
Photograph by Jeremy Flint

Myrtos Beach is widely considered to be the most beautiful on the island. Scooped out of the rugged northwest coast, it’s certainly the most dramatic: here, sheer limestone cliffs swoop down to meet clear Ionian waters, and a zigzag road of hairpin bends provides the only access to the pale pebbles and coarse sand. Goats graze freely on upper ledges — join them at the lofty lookout to take in views of the ocean stretching towards a cloudless sky.

Myrtos Beach is widely considered to be the most beautiful beach on the island.
Photograph by Jeremy Flint
A goat grazes on an upper ledge of one of the limestone cliffs that frame Myrtos Beach.
Photograph by Jeremy Flint

Published in the April 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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