Visit Nidri – Greece’s Hidden Gem

To get a real feel of a place it is always best to travel outside of the high season and avoid the hordes of tourists. Granted not a lot of the typical postcard and expensive coffee shops will be open but what will be open are the usual shops the locals use like the butchers, bakers and honey pot makers.

NidriOne such place is a little island called Nidri. The island is around forty minutes away from Lefkada town in Greece. I must warn you though to get to the beautiful island of Nidri outside of the season requires a fair amount of travelling due to the local airport that usually services the island being closed. The way around this is to fly into Corfu, take a ferry journey and then get strapped in for a three hour car journey. The joy of driving is soon reignited though when cruising up and over the mountains with the view of the glistening Ionian Sea. Nidri is a small island that is surrounded by wispy white clouded mountain peaks. The surrounding islands include Sparti, Madouri, Skorpidi and Skorpios.  All easily accessible by boat these offer lush green lands and secluded beaches hidden by weather worn cliffs.

Nidri has been a popular location for sailors for many years partly due to the exclusion of docking fees. Many a sailor has left their boat there only to return years later to find it untouched. The locals are wonderful people who all have a story to tell. You will find many a rugged sailor perched on the end of a bar ready to tell you some of their captivating sailing adventures. Getting an adopted grandmother is pretty easy as well.  Walking into any restaurant and being kissed and hugged is pretty much the norm here whilst filling up on some of the food specialities. Some of the best dishes include the seafood platters which are so fresh you can watch the fish being caught from outside the window!

One of the best ways to get around Nidri for those that are brave enough is to hire a little moped, however even the most skilled of drivers may find it hard to navigate round some of the smaller roads running up and through the mountains. There are a few hidden gems tucked away in the cliff tops. These range from stalls selling honey made right there from the honey farms. Nidri honey is considered some of the best in the world so the locals tell me. Little churches nestle amongst the lemon and orange trees whilst lose chickens run amok through the olive groves. Crossing the paths of goat herders is a daily occurrence whilst waving to one man and his donkey. The next town is never too far away and you will soon find yourself amongst white washed villages with brightly coloured doors and windows.

Past the blue tinted strawberries and climbing up through the rugged landscape into the lush green woods reveals little streams that trickle back down the mountain. Ascending the mountain the sunlight shatters through the clouds and splits into shafts of golden rays. The very top reveals the rushing sounds of a beautiful waterfall as it cascades down the rocks and lands into a pod of clear ice blue rainwater. It is inviting as it is freezing but has to be jumped into, even if just for that perfect picture moment.

Kefalonia – a Guide

Earlier this year, inspired by a tasting of Greek wines, I decided to take the CWB family on holiday to a Greek island.

Eschewing the prospect of being just another tourist in some large, beach-front hotel floating on a lilo in the pool by day and eating at identikit tavernas every night, I arranged for us to stay at a secluded, olive grove with just six bedrooms, a pool and breakfast on the terrace.

Ironically, despite studying classics at school, it was my first trip to Greece except for a very brief business trip to an anonymous suburb of Athens a few years ago.

So if like me, you are a Greek novice, here is a basic guide to visiting Kefalonia.


Gentilini Retreat, a 20ha olive grove in the hills above Argostoli, converted into six bed-and-breakfast bedrooms and a pool with a view of the mountains. You’ll need a hire car to get around.


All the big name car hire companies are on the island, plus plenty of local ones, which tend to be cheaper, such as Pefanis. Book well in advance to get the best prices.


En Kefallinia in Lakithra serves organic traditional Greek food with refinement and elegance.

To Castro at St George’s castle, the hilltop, former capital of the island just outside modern-day capital Argostoli, serves well-made home-cooked Greek food, with great views as well (the views at next-door Palatino are even better, the food less so).

Kiani Akte a seafood restaurant over the water in Argostoli; meat dishes can be a bit basic, but their fresh seafood is some of the best.


The island’s native grape variety is Robola – citrussy and elegant with a minerally, white pepper finish. Pure white limestone soil makes for elegant wines, the best are from vineyards cooled by sea breezes or altitude.

The biggest producer is the Robola Co-operative, the best is Gentilini. Both do tours and cellar door sales.

Also look out for dry red Mavrodaphne (more commonly made sweet on Patras).

Mythos beer is strong, malty and crisp – it goes perfectly with a plate of pork souvlaki.


Myrtos is beautiful and perhaps the most famous (it was used for a scene in Captain Corelli), but not necessarily the most accessible and has a strong rip tide.

Beaches with lots of golden sand and shallow water are plentiful; two of the best can be found at either end of the airport at either Ammes or Minies.


With much of the island destroyed by an earthquake in 1953 and only a few remains from classical antiquity, Kefalonia is a better place for relaxation than full-on sight-seeing.

The island’s mountainous landscape and winding roads are perhaps its most interesting feature, so the drive can be as much of the trip as the destination.

St George’s Castle is a ruined hilltop fortress that was formerly the island’s capital (allow 1 hour, plus time for a meal).

For even more spectacular views, journey up to the highest point on the island, Mt Enos 1,682m high (allow 2 hours for the drive up and down – longer if you want to go for a walk at the top).

St Gerassimo Monastery – now rebuilt, it is incongruously both ancient and modern. It features the body of the eponymous saint in a glass case (allow 30 mins).

Robola Co-operative – next to the monastery, this is the largest wine producer on the island and specialises in the island’s native grape, Robola. There is an opportunity to walk around the winery and taste some of the wines (allow 30 mins).

Melissani Lake – an underground lake some 20,000 years old whose roof fell in around 5,000 years ago. Nowadays accessed via a walkway cut through the rock in the 1960s. Allow 30 mins for the visit plus time to see the water flowing out into the sea at Karavomylos and time for a meal on the sea-front.

A short drive through Sami takes you up a hill to an ancient hilltop citadel – now mostly ruins but partly restored (allow 30 mins to walk up and take in the views, more if you have a picnic up there or want to explore).

Gentilini Winery – a few kilometres from the retreat, the winery is on a cliff edge with views across the sea to Lixouri. Allow an hour or more for a guided tour and tasting with owners Marianna and Petros or wine-maker Chris Carter.

Fiskardo – a pretty fishing village at the northern tip of the island, it was unaffected by the earthquake, but has inevitably become something of a tourist magnet (allow 2 hours to wander round, browse shops and have a coffee).

Assos – another hilltop castle set on a spur, but you’ll need to walk the 2km up to this one. Allow an hour to wander round the beaches and harbour of Assos and a couple of hours to walk up to the castle.

The stars – with almost no street lights, the sky over Kefalonia is beautifully clear. Greeks tend to eat out after dark, when it is cooler and the wasps have gone home, and we would typically sit out for a while whenever we got back just listening to the cicadas and looking up at the sky.

For kids

If they tire of beaches and sandcastles, take them to:

Prokris – an outdoor playpark in Mazarakata open from around 7:30 in the evening. Adults can enjoy beer and, on Saturdays, souvlaki straight from the grill.

Ionian Sea Hotel and Waterpark – take the “Turkish Slipper” ferry from Argostoli to Lixouri, follow signs to Xi beach, then turn off to the water park, an outdoor swimming pool with 5 slides, plus sun loungers for those who just want to relax.

The ferry departs every half hour and takes half an hour – allow a whole day for the entire trip.

There’s plenty more that we did not have time to do – but that’s the point of a holiday; always leave something to come back to.

Links & addresses

Gentilini Retreat – website

Robola Co-operative – Omala, 28100, Kefalonia (no website)

Gentilini Winery – website

En Kafallinia -  address (no website)

Prokris – follow signs in Mazarakata (no website)

Ionian Sea Hotel and Waterpark – Lixouri, Kefalonia (no website)

Gentilini Wines, Kefalonia – Greece

Kefalonia’s Gentilini family, originally from Italy, traces its arrival on the Greek island back to the 1520s; several centuries later, in the early 20th century, the last Gentilini married a Kosmetatos and the name died out.

Marianna Kosmetatos, a direct descendent of the Gentilini-Kosmetatos line, is the current owner and manager of the Gentilini winery with husband Petros.

Both are returned expats of a sort – Marianna’s father left the country after a coup and had his daughters educated in the UK, whilst Petros’ family went to Australia.

Kefalonia, one of the largest and less overtly touristy Greek islands has a European, rather than Turkish, heritage that included civilised society, gilded furniture and balls but 7,000 years of history were destroyed by a huge earthquake in 1953.

Of more interest to would-be winemakers is that the island is cooled by winds from the north and is composed almost entirely of pure white limestone which reaches over 1,600m at its highest point.

The island has three PDOs – for Robola, sweet Mavrodaphne and sweet Muscat.

The Gentilini winery is just 30 years old and dates from when father Kosmetatos returned from a self-imposed exile – a man with artistic tendencies, he designed and built a house on a cliff edge with 180-degree panoramic views.

Behind it stands the vineyard, winery and tasting area. Early plantings of Chardonnay were not a great success and the focus of the vineyard is, increasingly, indigenous varieties including Mavrodaphne (made dry) and Tsaoussi.

The winery – all organic and gravity-fed (easily done on the steep hillsides) – also buys in grapes from growers both on the island and from the mainland, around 40 tons annually to make a range of red, white and rose wines of increasing quality and complexity.

Each year a number of experimental wines are made – last year was a late-harvest dessert wines, this year, with a new winemaker arrived most recently from the UK’s sparkling wine industry, they are trying out a traditional-method fizz based on early-picked grapes.

I first tried Gentilini’s Classic Robola at a presentation of Greek wines by Konstantinos Lazarakis MW for the Circle of Wine Writers earlier this year. Staying at the Gentilini Retreat – a 20ha olive grove with rooms and a pool, run by sister Eleni Kosmetatos – I was invited down to the winery for a tasting by Marianna.

With lots of temperature-controlled stainless steel and small oak barrels, quality is high – and this is reflected in the prices which start in double figures for the entry-levels wines and will push, or possibly hit, three figures for magnums of the top Reserve red.

The whites have a minerality and precise purity that reminds me somewhat of Austria much further to the north; the reds, from traditionally-sweet Mavrodaphne and fulsome, bosomy Agiorgitiko have a more crowd-pleasing fruit-forward softness, but with plenty of stuffing, too.

All wines are 2012 in bottle, except where noted, and we accompanied the tasting with some Gentilini olive oil and local graviera cheese, the name apparently taken from Gruyere.

Notes – the entry-level Gentilini wine, often sold as unlabelled house-wine by local restaurants; good, straightforward and pleasant; fresh and citrussy.

Aspro – Tsaoussi, Muscat and SB blend; low in alcohol and acidity, Tsaoussi is not a great grape for making wine and needs the support of the other grapes here. Nonetheless, the result is crisp, toastiness, white flowers, persistence, aromatic herbs.

Classic Robola – 50/50 whole bunch (for elegance) and de-stemmed (for fruit); flinty, mineral nose; crisp and mineral, persistence – incredible freshness, grown at over 500m on pebbles over limestone (tank fermented). Good.

Cellar Selection Robola – 20% barrel fermented (2 weeks plus 1 month lees stirring) harvested 2 weeks later – bigger, fuller, more texture and depth, touch of oaky toastiness on the finish, maybe needs some time for the new oak to settle down. Good.

Rose – Moschofilero & Agiorgitiko blend (red, white & pink berries); cranberry red, bubblegum nose & red fruits (but no carbonic maceration) very crisp & mineral, quite tannic – needs food (not at all a provencal rose).

Unique Blend Red – Agiorgitiko (plus some Syrah); soft and fruit-forward, bramble with pepperiness

Eclipse 2011 – chocolatey, spicey, leathery liquorice and gaminess, fresh acidity, ripe bramble fruit, depth and persistence, minerality. Good.

Eclipse 2012 (barrel sample) more concentrated than the 2011. Very Good.

Eclipse Reserve 2012 (barrel sample) another step up again. Very Good Indeed.

Syrah 2009 - some Mavrodaphne (18m in barrel) minty, spicy, dark fruit, complex nose – soft velvety texture, pepperiness, dense structure and concentrated firmness, ripe tannins, muscular. Good.

Dessert wine (283 half-bottles made as an experiment, air-dried SB & Muscat) 12% alcohol, peachy nectarine, roasted skins, fresh acidity, savouriness and depth -  more intense than elegant. Not made commercially – which is a pity. Good.

The Robola is imported into the UK by Eclectic Wines of London SW6 3RA (


Gentilini Winery – website

Gentilini Retreat – website