Fly and flop holidays are out as keeping active on your beach break is the only way to get away from it all and explore a destination in a new light. If the laidback Mediterranean lifestyle and a plethora of adventures on land and sea is what you're picturing for this summer, the Greek island of Kefalonia couldn't be more perfect for getting the best of both worlds.
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Kefalonia, the setting of Louis de Bernière novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin, is a scenic beauty where the goats wander freely and islanders gather in the streets to sing in the evenings. The largest of the Ionian Islands, Cephalonia or Kefallinia as it is also spelled, is as charming as you'd hope to find a Greek holiday destination.
A far cry from the party islands of Mykonos and Zakynthos, it is free from major development and has no intention of attracting crowds of tourists. It's precisely this, along with the pristine beauty and authenticity that make the paradise isle a hotspot for activity, adventure and wellness holidays.
Traditionally loved by couples and families for its unspoilt beauty and tranquillity, Kefalonia offers wild mountains, hard-to-reach beaches and crystal-clear waters loved by active travellers. Throw in the heavenly sunsets and a stylish boutique hotel and you have an idyllic summer holiday with days filled exploring the glorious landscapes and resting beside the pool, and nights spent feasting at the tavernas and meeting the locals in the capital of Argostoli.
The relaxed coastal corner of Lourdas in the south of the island is an excellent base, where just a few metres from the lovely beach lies chic and rustic boutique hotel F Zeen, a superb home from home.
Wonderfully at one with nature, the recently opened adults-only hotel was designed to fit seamlessly into its surroundings of pine forests, cypress trees and the overlooking Mount Aenos. F Zeen's style is simple, luxurious and unpretentious. Here you'll find bougainvillea plants, magnificent sea views and the smell of pine forests creating a beautiful setting.
With a focus on relaxation, wellbeing and deliciously healthy eating, family-run F Zeen was made for grown-up holidays that involve escaping to a natural location and de-stressing at a relaxing retreat. The rooms are natural, chic and could be straight out of an interiors magazine with their minimalist, design-led features: think taupe walls, industrial furniture and warm, neutral hues. If you've come here with being active in mind, check into a gorgeous Superior Retreat set in the hillside and reached by an uphill walk of around 135 steps. It's worth the trek and you'll be rewarded by the simplistic beauty the boutique hotel does best, complete with an amazing sea view from a spacious balcony. From the queen-sized beds to the walk-in showers and natural Greek amenities by Apivita, the Superior Retreats offer a sanctuary and the utmost comfort.
The spa, with its massages using seaweed oil, body scrubs to make you glow and rejuvenating facials, as well as the two glistening pools are the ultimate places to relax at F Zeen, while eating at the restaurant allows you to experience healthy and delectable dining you never thought possible. Vegan potato salad, meat mezze boards, herb falafel, fresh sea bass and vegan chocolate truffles are some of the most delicious delights on the menu. Here, everything is homemade and cooked to order, with local ingredients and even olive oil from home-grown olives used throughout the dishes.
Getting active at the hotel is a treat thanks to the daily yoga classes led by one of the owners Tasia, which range from core power yoga to chakra vinyasa, and take place in the most breathtaking setting - a yoga deck nestled in the hotel's gardens overlooking the sparkling sea. If you're after something more fast-paced, the well-equipped outdoor gym has everything from TRX training equipment to a cross trainer, punch bag and weights.
Outside the hotel is where the real adventures start. Outdoor Kefalonia is an activity and tour company offering big experiences on the island. Start with the terrific hike to the secluded Fteri Beach (50 euros per person), in the northwest of Kefalonia, a hidden beach that is yet to be discovered (even by many locals). The downhill hike, which takes around an hour before you reach the beach, follows an old path where you might be lucky to spot a goat herder with his flock along the way. For those who prefer a challenge, it is possible to descend through a canyon by rope. Once you arrive at the beach, you can swim in the crystal-clear waters and will most likely have the place to yourself to sunbathe on the hidden beach.
With the most breathtaking waters surrounding Kefalonia, you will adore the water-based adventures like kayaking. Following the scenic coast where sea caves, natural arches and rock gardens are aplenty, a sea kayaking tour is a terrific way to see the island from the water. Sea Kayaking Kefalonia offers a variety of day trips for different abilities. The Argostoli Lighthouse to Minies tour (65 euros per person) takes in south Kefalonia over six hours as you paddle a distance of five nautical miles. Along the way, you'll stop for a short break and a snorkel at Palaiostafida Bay, where the gloriously clear water is perfect for spotting fish. The scenery soon changes, bringing tall limestone cliffs that are stunning against the turquoise waters. A final stop then takes you to a remote beach, where you can enjoy a swim and a delicious Greek lunch on the sand.
Witnessing the epic sunsets is a must in Greece and there's no better way to do this than on a Jeep safari (45 euros per person for three to four hours) with Outdoor Kefalonia, which passes pretty villages as you travel high up into the mountains along a gravel path. Driving to the west coast of the island towards sprawling beach Platia Amos and the convent of Kipouria, the 4x4 tour affords you with majestic views of the island shrouded in clouds and a picturesque setting from which to watch the sunset at such a height.
At night, Argostoli is a lively place to meander through the town and watch the streets come alive with Greek music as the locals sing and play instruments. The shops are open until late and offer treats including traditional mandola sweets, olive oil, wine and gifts. There are also clothing, beauty and jewellery shops, as well as bars and restaurants to enjoy a lovely evening in town.
Book it: F Zeen opens for the 2017 season on 15 April, with Classic Retreats starting from €160 per night on a bed and breakfast basis. For further information or to book, visit uniquekefalonia.com