First up, an admission. The last time I set foot on Greek soil it wasn’t pretty. It’s taken a decade and a half to even contemplate returning, such was the fright that was a week’s clubbing in Zakynthos that marked the end of my A-level exams. Bargain-bucket cocktails, nuclear sunburn, neon agogo… But here I am, back in the Ionian Islands on neighbouring Kefalonia, and ‘pretty’ is the first word on my lips.
Pretty, because it’s been half an hour since Mr Smith and I left Kefalonia’s shoebox-sized airport and all we’ve seen is wildflowers. No tour buses, souvenir tat or even tavernas. It’s springtime, and greenery and buds are dotted everywhere along the coast road that leads to the Emelisse – a carpet of starry yellow daisies drops down to half-hidden beaches licked by piercing blue sea. There’s no two ways about it, Kefalonia is stunning. And stunningly quiet.
We pass through the odd village. Mr Smith rounds a bend and narrowly avoids taking out a stray goat. But that’s it. Nevermind neon – we’ve barely seen another sign of life. Our first tip? If you're looking for off-the-beaten-track luxury in Europe, this is your destination. Our second secret? Go in May. All those wildflowers are in full bloom, the sun is just strong enough to kiss your skin to glowing and you’ll practically have the place to yourselves.
And so to Kefalonia’s poshest hotel, the Emelisse. Perched above the little port of Fiskardo at the island’s most northerly tip, it’s the kind of establishment where things just tick along like clockwork. We’re transported from carpark to reception by chauffeur-driven buggy and while porters handle our bags, Mr Smith is handed a cold beer.
I should probably mention from the off that we’ve bought 10-month-old Baby Smith. It’s his first foray into luxury hotelville since crawling and – ahem – he is capable of making a bit of a racket. But we needn’t worry. Throughout our stay Baby Smith is treated like a rock star – cooed over by waitresses, spoiled with off-menu titbits from the chef and generally made to feel like the shore’s most significant arrival since Captain Corelli. Efharisto, Emelissians.
With 64 rooms, the Emelisse has all the facilities we’d expect of a larger hotel – a couple of open-air restaurants, two pools, an Elemis spa, tennis. But despite its size, it feels thoughtful and intimate. We can order a picnic and pedal bicycles down to tiny Emblissi beach; it’s possible to cosy up under starry skies to watch movies on the pool bar’s projector; and chartering the hotel’s speedboat to secluded coves for romantic beach barbecues à deux is another option. We’ve found out all of this from the manual in our suite. There’s plenty of space to lounge about in here among the four-poster draped in silky Italian cotton and roomy sofas. It’s pretty minimalist, making good use of natural materials – slate-tiled floors, teak furniture – and there’s a walk-in drench stocked with Korres goodies.
But really our room is all about what’s outside: the panoramic sea views from our balcony elicit a squeal of delight from Baby Smith so shrill that across seas somewhere in Corfu glasses smash. ‘Looooooook!’ he yells excitedly and I agree – it’s breathtaking, the views stretching for miles past the hotel’s olive trees and scented lavenders down to the sparkling shore.
Grabbing our attention most? The infinity pool. Spilling over to the open sea, it’s irresistible for a cooling flop, elbows propped over the edge watching sailboats ease by. Staff in Converse pad past serving drinks from the open-air bar; there’s even a set of steps leading down to a private pontoon from where you can plunge into the sea itself. At dusk we have an Ibiza moment, sipping glasses of fizz to a chillout soundtrack as the moon rises up over the water and staff light lanterns poolside.
While we’re talking pools, there’s also a separate kids’ paddling area underneath the main infinity number which means any over-excitable yelping (that’s Baby Smith again) is basically drowned out by cascading water. So should you have the misfortune to find your lounger next to some ghastly child-bearing couple (us), you’ll barely hear the bambino. (Hooray.)
It’s hard work leaving such a sanctuary but eventually we strike out, following the coastal road south for 20 minutes and braving the winding descent to Kephalonia’s best-looking beach, Myrtos. Lunch is at neighbouring Assos, a deliciously low-key affair comprising a clutch of tavernas such as Platanos. Sitting here, drink in hand, gazing at stupendously clear waters might eat up entire afternoons. Back near the Emelisse, Fiskardo is Kefalonia’s answer to Padstow, a semi-circle of restaurants set around a yacht-filled horseshoe bay. There’s even a Rick Stein equivalent in the shape of Tassia Dendrinou, the ‘Greek Delia’, whose restaurant Tassia has welcomed Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, among many a more pedestrian daytripper.
By now it’s our last night, and from our balcony we’re treated to the spectacle of a rare electric storm. Breakfast rolls around and the sun returns. We eat on the terrace overlooking Emblissi beach and it’s divine: figs, honey-drizzled yoghurt and the kitchen’s never-ending spread of homemade cakes, pistachio, apple, almond. From here we’re catching a ferry to Ithaca and the Perantzada, the Emelisse’s stylish little sister. Word is, it’s stunning and as we head out again along that beautiful coast road, I finally pack away my outdated notions of ugly 18–30s tourism. This corner of the Ionian Sea sure is pretty.
Anonymously reviewed by Emily Kerrigan (Foodie reporter)
Reviews of Emelisse Hotel from Smith members
Whenever you book a stay through us, we’ll invite you to comment when you get back. Read the Guestbook entries below to see what real-life Mr & Mrs Smiths have said about this hotel…
The hotel has it's own mooring and also steps directly into the sea for easy swimming. The hotel has two pools and neither are busy as there are many other small hidden areas you can relax in, making this a lovely and private resort. The staff was very attentive and helpful and never intrusive. Helpful to have the bus to Fiskardo.
The reed mat on the floor in our room had seen better days and really was a bit grimy and broken. For the style of hotel it would be a small detail to fix. There was a Nespresso machine in room but you could only buy a pack of 10 pods… I only wanted one cup!!
Nicolete, SilverSmith stayed on 9 Jun 2013
All staff are very friendly and helpful. The decor is a combination of contemporary trendy and chic. We had a lovely room with a pool shared by 4 other couples; this was beautiful - very relaxing with a good view of the sea and island beyond. The hotel is well kept and very clean. Bed linen and towels are changed daily and our room serviced twice daily. Our own pool area was impeccably kept with fresh clean towels replenished every day. Any problems with our room were promptly seen to. Breakfast is well stocked at all times with an excellent selection of choices to suit all. My husband and I found the shuttle service into Fiskardo very useful and prompt, every hour to and from the hotel, the last bus leaving Fiskardo at 23.10. There is a good variety of entertainment each night. The hotel has some wonderful areas for sitting and relaxing with spectacular views. We didn't use the spa facilities.
Although we didn't eat at the hotel in the evenings that often, we enjoyed the food, however the hotel does not offer an extensive wine list, this was a little disappointing for us.
ELIZABETH, SilverSmith stayed on 24 Jul 2012
We chose Emelisse for the first 4 nights of our honeymoon and could not have picked a better hotel to relax and chill-out. The hotel arranged an airport transfer for us and we were greeted on arrival by a chilled glass of water with cucumber ribbons, local sweets and a fresh towel to freshen up. We were very happy with the room, great size balcony – had a nice view – and the bathroom was excellent. Only small issue was with the bed, which we felt could have been harder for our liking. Room service and both bar and restaurant food was excellent with an adequate selection of food options for vegetarians. All staff were very friendly and helpful. We enjoyed the pool table and the chill-out area with internet access. The seaside cove near the infinity pool was fantastic and we enjoyed jumping off the board into the open sea, which was crystal clear. The hotel provides a great shuttle service to and from Fiskardo, which gave us further options to choose restaurants and bars outside the hotel. The harbour at Fiskardo is very pretty, and unconventionally we had an amazing Thai meal – we fancied something spicy – at the Lord Falcon restaurant, a great place which allowed us to relax after our wedding.
Rafael, BlackSmith stayed on 5 Jun 2012