The magic of Fiscardo, Cephalonia
Fiscardo is a small town at the top of the Greek Island, Cephalonia; the largest of the Ionian Islands. Located to the west of mainland Greece, Cephalonia became quite popular after the book, Captain Correlli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières followed by the movie starting Penélope Cruz and Nic Cage. [Note: if you’re interested in reading the book do so before watching the movie. They’re both good but of course, the book is better and has a totally different ending than the Hollywood version!]
Just over 12 years ago, I visited Fiscardo, a beautiful harbor village, when my husband and I did our very first flotilla vacation. A flotilla vacation involves hiring a yacht for a week or two. You get a yacht, are helped by a crew to leave and arrive in moorings, are told where to go and when to arrive at the next destination and for the course of holiday you visit each destination with others doing the same thing.
During our flotilla vacation we had around 8 other boats in our group. We didn’t sail around with them – we just met them at the final destination each evening. It was a great opportunity to have fun sailing during the day and then tell tales in the evening over drinks. Every boat always has a story – someone inevitably picked up the anchor of someone else’s boat, another boat saw dolphins and someone learned something new.
A flotilla vacation is absolutely brilliant for newbie sailors!
I remember arriving in Fiscardo with my husband, Simon, and another couple Tim and Sonia. Previous to our trip, Simon and Tim took a weekend sailing course – a precursor to chartering a yacht. When we arrived in Greece I looked at the 33’ yacht and thought, ‘Oh-my-God…are we really going to sail that for a week?’ The yacht seemed huge and there were so many unknowns for me. I sailed a bit in the past but I didn’t really know how to sail.
I was always a passenger – I sat up on top and looked pretty!
After collecting our yacht, named Emerald, we put away our clothes, poured a drink and I secretly said a prayer that we’d survive a week on the Ionian sea. I was half excited and in love with the surrounding area and half scared about getting out and actually sailing. The next day, with no time to investigate the town and surrounding area, we left the beautifully idyllic Fiscardo. We pushed off our mooring, motored out of the harbor and attempted to put the sail up. For some reason the guys couldn’t get it up (hehehehe). They struggled to winch up the mainsail. I looked at the other boats and said, ‘why are all the other boats going in the opposite direction?’ The boys quickly realized that they were going with the wind rather than going into the wind. Important note: to raise the main sail you must go into the wind!
Within seconds I lost all confidence in my husband and his friend!
We turned the boat into the wind, managed to get the mainsail up and thereafter we were hooked for life. Despite the fact that we had difficult start that very first flotilla vacation gave us the bug.
Little did we know that we’d return to Fiscardo 12 years later with our own yacht!
So…here I am this evening listening to music piping through my outdoor speakers, down lighting from the boom helping me to see, while typing in my 56’ Oyster yacht cockpit. We’re moored up stern to the jetty in front of a fantastic restaurant called Captain’s Cabin. I actually think we’re in the same mooring we had when we first glared across at our flotilla yacht many years ago.
This time around, I’ve however, spent several days in Fiscardo and have found more of it’s magic!
When we first arrived to the area our initial intention was to moor on the island of Lefkas, an island above Cephalonia. The winds were too strong for the mooring so we diverted to Fiscardo. Around 7pm we entered the harbor, did a quick spin around and quickly realized that there was no room at the Inn! We left the port and sailed down the island finding an empty harbor where we moored for the night. We were surrounded by goats and that’s it! The next day we woke and prepared to get into Fiscardo. Around 10:30 we entered the harbor and noticed a couple spaces free along the hard. I went to the anchor, Simon backed us up and my cousin, Loryn, prepared to throw someone our warps (back ropes).
Mooring in Fiscardo is a high-pressure situation
There are loads of people eating, walking around and having a look around. When we entered the harbor people stopped to look. When we started to back up, and our bow thrusters sounded, people dropped what they were doing and stared. I felt as if we were the center of attention and I didn’t like it! What if we mess up?! Fortunately, I managed the anchor well, Simon back up perfectly and Loryn threw the warps to someone who helped us out. For at least a half hour we had to work on getting our gangplank out, backing up a bit more and fiddly stuff. Meanwhile there were loads of people sipping their coffee’s and eating food a few feet next to us! We had a captive audience. Once we turned off the engine, Simon said, ‘I didn’t want to tell you this, but I was so nervous about mooring up! But once I started to back up, my nerves left and I felt fine.’
When all is said and done, we got into Fiscardo and once we were there I didn’t want to leave for a few days!
The plan was to venture to the south of Cephalonia to get near the airport. My father-in-law was scheduled to fly into the island within 5 days. Once we were docked at Fiscardo I asked hubby if we could stay for a while and hire a car to pick up my father-in-law instead. He thought it was a great idea and when we found out that it’s free to moor on the hard the decision was easy! The money saved in mooring fees could pay for a rental car. The magic of Fiscardo is all about the people, food and scenery
The people you find in Fiscardo
As we moored up several people lined up to take our lines. Being private sailors, rather than chartering a boat, made me think we’d be all on our own. I was wrong. As we neared the jetty there were people on the jetty and along the boats next to us that all offered to take lines. Even the waiters at the restaurant were prepared to help in any way that they could. One guy got low on the stern of an adjacent boat to keep and eye on our rudder to make sure that it didn’t hit the back ledge. He yelled out, ‘You’re okay – you’ve got another foot!’
Within 5 minutes of turning off our engine we already made a handful of new friends
The yacht next to us held two couples on a flotilla holiday in addition to a skipper that later introduced us to the seasonal flotilla staff. The waiters brought us nice cold beers and joined in on our discussions about our history in Fiscardo. And passers-by were quick to ask questions and find out who we were and how we came to sailing Britican.
Footballer John Terry befriended us!
Even footballer John Terry, who happened to be watching the World Cup at the bar behind our boat, struck up a conversation with hubby. John then joined Simon for a tour on Britican – now that kind of magic doesn’t happen every day! Throughout our stay we were blessed to meet so many great people. One evening our daughter, Sienna, fell asleep at the dinner table. It was a very late evening and she was exhausted. One of the waiters pulled over a sofa chair and had us pick Sienna up and lay her down. Next thing I notice is that Sienna has a coat over her body! The waiter covered her up to make sure she was warm.
That type of kind gesture didn’t happen once – it happened day after day
Sienna became friends with the son of the Bakery. It didn’t take long for Sienna to start coming home with different cookies throughout the day. She joined the local kids to catch a variety of marine life. Every hour or so we’d be graced with a small fish, a starfish and weird snake like fish with hundreds of legs.
Yes it’s true that most people are happy when on vacation and it’s easy to strike up conversations. But I’ve been to many locations where the locals are not so happy to spend time with tourists. Fiscardo is one of those magical places where everyone – whether they’re a tourist, seasonal staff or a born and bread Cephalonian – seem open to join in conversation and extend kindness.
The food of Fiscardo
The harbor is graced with around 30 eateries – all of them unique in character. Some offer traditional Greek food with a bright white and blue facade whereas others provide elegant French food amidst dainty tables, lace menus, white lanterns and freshly picked flowers. While discussing food with one of the flotilla staff members they announced, ‘You can get the best Thai food here – would you like to join us for dinner?’ Throughout our stay, we tested out various venues for breakfast, lunch and dinner and each time we moo’d like cows. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. We ate everything from a fresh fish platter to mousaka through to great salads. It would be unfair of me to recommend one place over another as they all offered excellent food and a unique ambiance. And there’s certainly something for everyone. You can get a burger and fries, pizza or a kebob through to a gourmet four-course meal. As far as children are concerned there was often a child’s menu or I simply asked for a small portion of something and every restaurant was accommodating.
The one place worth mentioning, however, is the Captain’s Cabin (photo taken there above). We were fortunate to moor the stern of our boat right up to this restaurant. Not only has the food been excellent but the staff are amazing. If I needed help getting on or off the boat, they were there. They always said ‘hi’ to my daughter while patting her on the head. We’d even get served our beers on our boat rather than having to walk off it!
The sites of Fiscardo
The harbor of Fiscardo is lined with yachts on every side. Some yachts moor up to the hard whereas others drop an anchor and then tie long ropes from their stern to a tree or hard standing. Looking out at the view, I can see sailboats, catamerans and a few powerboats. There are also several small Greek fishing boats. Behind the yachts on two sides of the port are beautiful restaurants, boutique shops, super markets and bars. Cars are not allowed making the whole village a pedestrian’s paradise.
Rising up above the town are a few small bed and breakfasts, homes and more restaurants. Of course there’s a lovely little church too. Unlike other popular towns there’s no huge hotel or large establishment taking precedence over the views. In fact, aside from the town, the majority of the view consists of a variety of green trees, green mountainside and deep blue water. I love those long thin evergreen trees that rise up like long fingers – they’re dotted all over the place. While sitting on my boat, I can see the harbor and neighboring island, Ithica. Considering that we had several days in Fiscardo, my cousin and I decided to do one of the circular hikes promoted on signs throughout the town. After surveying the trail map, we decided to do a 4.7 km /2.5 hour hike leaving and returning to Fiscardo. The trail had amazing markings – we never wondered which way to go. As we walked along, we enjoyed seeing stone walls on either side of the path, abandoned buildings and loads of greenery and flowers. We went up and and we went down. We saw the sea from the top of the hills and we saw the sea from a couple amazing beaches. One of the beaches we discovered was accessible by foot only and the whole beach had white stones only. Loryn and I stood on the beach and had to use all our willpower not to run into the sea and swim!
After a couple hours, however, we realized that we indadvertedly got ourselves onto a 10 km walk!
Instead of being close to the ending point we realized we were only ½ way. By the end of the walk neither my cousin or me could barely walk anymore. I think it was about 5 hours when we made it back to the boat. Walking 10 km is not big deal but when you’re going up and down mountains it’s not easy! Furthermore, there were all these spider webs and massive spiders above our heads. On occasion, however, there were a few that were lower than head level. At one point I was walking along and my forehead hit a web…I instantly rebounded backwards, took my hands to my head shaking the web out and yelling, ‘Loryn make sure there’s no spiders in my hair!!!’
Of course Loryn found my rebound to be hilarious and had to work hard to prevent herself from peeing her pants
By the end of the walk we started getting delirious however I wouldn’t have taken back the experience for anything. We transversed Northern Cephalonia and saw goats, flowers, grasshoppers, snakes, trees, beaches and the sea. It was wonderful.
So…overall Fiscardo Cephalonia is amazing
Perhaps this article will inspire you to pay a visit to the amazing town? Just a few tips. All the charter companies seem to visit Fiscardo (SailingHolidays.com, SunSail, Neilsen) so you need to get in rather early to find a spot on certain days. I found Sunday to be the quietest day but who knows if it’s like that every week. It seems that 10:30 to 11:00 everyone leaves so get in around that time to secure a spot. Mooring in Fiscardo is FREE – yes…it’s free. And if you get in near Captains Cabin there’s water there. We filled up our 1000 litre tank for 5 euros. No electricity or facilities but it’s nice to get some water. For children there’s a playground up near the church. The food prices and grocery store are tourist prices. DON’T buy water in Fiscardo – for 6 large bottles it’s 13 euros and in other places it’s 2 euros for the same amount. There are 3 grocery stores and you can get most things but don’t stock up there – if you know what I mean. If you’re sailing the Ionian check out Fiscardo!