We are definitely seeing both the pros and cons of visiting an island like Kefalonia in the “off season”. During the summer this part of the world is packed with visitors spilling out of every beach bar, museum and taverna while in the winter many of those tourist hot spots close down, hibernating until the following summer season.
The weather has been amazing and we are still finding plenty to see and do but you have to be a bit clever about planning things and sometimes its not what you know but who.
After an unsuccessful trip over to Sami on the other side of the island to visit some caves we had heard about (finding the sites closed after a 45 minute drive was disappointing) I turned to a local Facebook group to ask if anyone knew whether we’d missed our opportunity.
A couple of very wise islanders informed me to look for any days a cruise ship would be docking as in the winter months those are the only days the caves are open. It just isn’t financially worth their time to open on days they may only get one or two visitors, but cruise ships brings the potential of hundreds of people so they make exceptions on those days.
Now whether you love or hate Google it is incredible what you can find out and five minutes later I had a date for the following week when a German cruise ship was hitting the island for six hours with trips to our longed for caves listed as excursions. Not only that but it was the last cruise ship of the season, so our last chance to visit these sites during this trip.
So on the morning in question the boys and I set off for Drogarati caves. We arrived to find the coffee shop and visitor centre open but the caves still closed but were told that they would open once the first coach from the cruise ship arrived. Bingo, we were so happy and took a seat to enjoy a cold lemonade while we waited. A short while later a man appeared saying he’d been told we were hoping to visit the caves and could go down right away if we wanted.
Of course we jumped at the offer and set off across the courtyard to the entrance.
Walking down the seemingly endless steps to the first chamber builds your anticipation, it gets damper and cooler the further you descend until you find yourself at the mouth of the cave network.
As your eyes adjust to the dim lights you can hardly believe what’s in front of you, hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites cover every surface, formed over 150 million years as water has forced it’s way through the rocks leaving it’s minerals behind. If like me you struggle to remember which name fits which rock formation, Stalactite has a T for Top as they grow down from overhead and Stalagmite has a G for Ground because they grow up (Jake informed me that if they touch and join together they are then called columns).
With the coaches yet to arrive we were the only ones in the cave. There are currently two large areas connected by a small walkway open to the public but a new, unopened space has recently been discovered and it is believed that the cave network is much bigger than previously thought. Being on our own meant we could enjoy taking our time following the (very damp) red carpet through the walkways, stopping to marvel at the shapes and colours of the rocks around us.
The boys practised their yodelling, laughing as their voices echoed and bounced around us.
A few times I attempted to rein them back, to point out interesting shapes and read the signs dotted around, but I didn’t need to, they were both so intrigued and getting so much out of their own exploring that I let them carry on at their own speed and our conversations since have proven that they learned plenty.
After 45 minutes and a couple of laps we were ready to begin the climb back up, we’d read that there were pseudo scorpions living here but we didn’t spot any and I for one was quite pleased about that.
Arriving back at the surface there was still no sign of any other visitors and so we decided to chance our luck and drive the short distance to Melissani cave to see what was happening there.
Again we arrived to expectant staff but no tourists but as we walked to the entrance the first coach arrived. Still, we were first to go in and the boys raced down a hill towards the caves. As you get closer you realise that the hill leads directly to a huge, crystal clear lake where guides on boats are waiting to ferry you around the inside of the caves. Once seated and with other tourists loaded beside us our guide set off, rowing the boat expertly around the edges of the lake and through a tiny gap into a darker, covered chamber
The guide was great, he really focused on the boys, I think as they were the only children, telling them all about the water and how it actually comes uphill from the other side of the island (I’ll write another post about that!) and how the cave was discovered. He offered to take photos and pointed out stalactites shaped like dolphins.
We finished the boat trip, made our way back up the top and spent a little time exploring the area, then we drove down into the town of Sami and found a little taverna for a spot of late lunch while we recapped everything we’d seen.
I am so glad that we got to visit these places during our time here, I think they will leave a lasting impression on all of us. If you ever visit this part of the Greek islands then seek out Drogarati and Melissani, you won’t regret it.