A foodie guide to Kefalonia
The largest of Greece’s Ionian Islands, Kefalonia (also spelt Cephalonia) has taken Greek food to another level. The famously spirited locals are known for nurturing the very best out of their rugged soil with love and passion – ‘meraki’ as it’s called in Greek. Their wines (especially Robola), cheeses, honey, extra-virgin olive oil and other local products are highly prized, with every sip and bite having the ability to bring back a cherished memory.
When you eat kreatopita (the one-of-a-kind Kefalonian meat pie) you’ll be transported back to the smell of wild herbs and the epic landscape of Mt Ainos, the island’s national park. Just as you’ll be reminded of the tales of wine growers when you drink a glass of chilled Robola. And when you snack on mandoles (glazed almonds), you’ll be left with the sweetest aftertaste, convincing you that you might just have found your next favourite Greek island.
So get your appetite ready as we sample local products and head to olive groves, vineyards, apiaries and cheese producers in our ultimate foodie’s guide to Kefalonia.
What to eat in Kefalonia: The local products
Cheeses, olive oil, honey & sweets that taste of Kefalonia
As you explore, you’ll quickly understand Kefalonia’s close connection with food. Olive groves, almond trees and vines merge with the landscape, and goats and sheep roam freely in the countryside. So you won’t be surprised that visiting an olive press and a cheese producer is at the top of your list of must-do foodie experiences on Kefalonia.
Sample cheeses and yogurts at a family-run farm
There are more than a dozen cheese factories that you can visit (some of them 5th generation family-owned), producing an estimated 100-120 tonnes of Kefalonian cheese a year. The bulk of that is feta (which has a unique taste because of the blend and quality of the goat’s and sheep’s milk used) but you’ll also get to sample the likes of myzithra (similar to cottage cheese) and prentza, which are byproducts of feta production, as well as manouri (semi-soft) and kefalotiri and graviera (hard and yellow, often grated over pasta). You’ll also love sampling the yogurts (made from sheep’s milk). There’s no way you’ll leave empty-handed.
Discover the meaning of olive oil and honey
Next up, you head to an olive oil press. Once you’ve tried Kefalonian extra-virgin olive oil, there’ll be no turning back. They say the delicate flavour is because the trees get a cooling breeze from the Ionian Sea during the summer and are protected by Mt Ainos in the winter.
And keep an eye out for road signs pointing to an apiary and honey for sale. Around 70,000 tonnes of Kefalonian honey is harvested between June and August! It is delicately scented with wild thyme and, if you’re lucky, Mt Ainos’ black pine, which the bees feed on.
Treat yourself to a Kefalonian sweet
Your final treat (and it’s quite a treat) is to make a daily ritual of nibbling something sweet. Don’t even try to resist the temptations in a bakery or pastry store when you see the nougat or pasteli (sesame seed) bars. But the most authentic Kefalonian sweets are almond-based, going back to the 16th-17th century Venetian occupation. The sugar-glazed almonds called mandoles are named after the Italian for almond (mandorla) and are still made in the traditional way, heated and stirred in copper cauldrons and dyed red with seaweed. Other almond delicacies include mandolata (a nougat made with honey, sugar and whisked egg whites). They were prized by Venetian aristocrats when sugar was a luxury.
The ultimate foodie experience is to find yourself a traditional village kafeneion and see what freshly made syrupy sweets they have, like baklava, galaktoboureko (filo-covered milk pie) or karydopita (walnut pie), or maybe a quince-based sweet like pastokydono or comfeto to go with your Greek coffee.
What to eat in Kefalonia: The local dishes
How to order food like a Kefalonian
Fresh fish and locally sourced meat and vegetables will make just about every dish in Kefalonia memorable. But if there’s one type of food that screams ‘Kefalonia’, it’s the pies (or pites, as they’re known in Greek). Every chef (and in family-run tavernas that often means the mother in the kitchen) will have their own version of pies, from bakaliaropita (with salted cod) and anginaropita (artichoke hearts) to tyropita (cheese pies from feta or a mixture of cheeses) and hortopita (wild greens). Whether you’re in Argostoli or Lixouri (Kefalonia’s ports), or villages like Fiskardo, Sami, Poros, Skala, Lassi and so many others, you’ll find a selection of pies, each made a little bit differently.
But the undisputed pie king of Kefalonia is (drum roll, please!) … kreatopita (meat pie) – a succulent mixture of veal and lamb, generously spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, cooked into a rich tomato sauce with marjoram, garlic and chopped carrots, leeks and potatoes. Heaven in a slice!
Pick your favourite dish and recreate it at home
Another classic Kefalonian meat dish is tserepa, referring to the clay vessel in which chicken (marinated overnight) is slowly cooked with oregano, garlic, tomatoes, lemon juice and potatoes until tender and delicious. The tserepa pot is heated on coals but there’s nothing to stop you from recreating the dish in a pot at home.
You’ll also find all your favourite Greek food, like moussaka, pastitsio, souvlaki and gyros, grilled octopus and fried squid, and of course Greek salad (horiatiki) and all those vegetable-based dishes we all love. Local favourites are tsigaridia (sautéed greens) and bourbourelia (a well-seasoned bean and legume soup, finished with a drizzle of olive oil).
What to drink in Kefalonia: The local wine
Learn about Kefalonia’s wine legacy, starting with Robola
Wine and Kefalonia go a long way back but it was during the time of the Venetians that the island’s wine-producing heritage really took root. The Venetians’ greatest legacy was the Robola grape, which (despite being tricky to grow in the stony, limestone soil) has become synonymous with Kefalonia. The Venetians called it Vino di Sasso, ‘wine of stone’.
The dry whites that it produces (with citrusy yet earthy flavour and sometimes oaked) are served in every taverna and restaurant on the island thanks to the efforts of the Robola Cooperative, a collection of around 300 growers found mostly in the so-called Robola Zone in the Omalon plateau and the southern and northwestern slopes of Mt Ainos. The cooperative is effectively Kefalonia’s largest wine producer.
Visiting a winery and learning more about PDO Robola (the only PDO named after a grape varietal rather than a location) is a must for any self-respecting foodie. And if you’re visiting at the end of August, you might be lucky enough to catch the Robola Wine Festival, celebrating the crushing of the season’s first grapes. (Check out an official source to see the exact dates each year.)
Go on a mini wine tour to taste the difference
It doesn’t end with Robola. Other grapes are grown in Kefalonia, notably Mavrodaphne (producing intense ruby-coloured reds and roses) and Muscat (dessert wines made from dried raisins).
Numerous wineries offer wine-tasting and vineyard tours. The Petrakopoulos Winery, near the picturesque village of Thiramonas, continues a centuries-old tradition of small-scale Robola production (limited to 25,000 bottles), while the nearby Orealios Gaea, on the slopes of Mt Ainos, is named after the rare terroir and surrounding nature.
Sarris Winery is located in the south-west part of Kefalonia, in the area of Svoronata, close to the island’s airport, offering wine tasting of awarded robola wines.
If you are interested in exploring the other grape varieties, there are wineries around Lixouri – among them Haritatos Vineyard (with reds and roses from Mavrodaphne as well as wines from Moschato and Muscat grapes); Domaine Foivos (Mavrodaphne, Muscat and red and white Mantzavina wines and with innovations that include experimenting with ageing bottles underwater) and Sclavos Wines (producing a blend of Mavrodaphne and Vostilidi and the scarcely pronounceable Metageitnion grape).
Finally, near Argostoli is Gentilini Winery which, as well as offering vineyard tours and wine-tasting, doubles as a retreat with accommodation in the winery.
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