I remember sitting at home and browsing on my laptop for things to do in Kefalonia. Although I don’t tend to do that much planning before visiting a place, I do like to have a basic idea of the best spots to visit.
An image of a vibrant cyan cave caught my attention. The water was translucent beneath a solitary rowing boat and shimmering ripples reflected off the walls of the cave that encircled the body of vivacious water.
I knew at once that I wanted to see this gem for myself and excitedly showed Lewis picture after picture of the breath-taking Melissani cave.
My excitement only increased when we landed in Kefalonia and the car rental company told us passionately, “You absolutely must visit Melissani cave. It is the best thing to do in Kefalonia.”
Of course I was going to be stoked!
So now we were driving across the island towards the coastal town of Sami, the nearest town to the underground lake. After a morning exploring the haunting ruins of Drakopoulata, my stomach was left twisting in starvation. The plan was to stop of in Sami for some much-needed food before exploring Melissani cave.
Sami is the second-largest port in Kefalonia after the capital of Argostoli. The town consists of post-earthquake architecture, making it a lot less architecturally-attractive (is that a even a word or did I just make that up?) than the village of Assos on the west coast of the peninsular.
The area surrounding Sami is beautiful. Lush vegetation fringes the town and then only a short distance away are several natural landmarks such as Melissani cave, Drogarati Cave and Antisamos Beach.
Our bellies took us to ‘Stoa Bakery’, hailed as having some of the best apple pie in the world. Although I wasn’t initially visiting for some apple pie, our late arrival to Stoa Bakery meant that pretty much all their pies were out of stock except from 2 slices of apple pie. Well, I guess that meant we were having apple pie for lunch. Not the most conventional lunch, I must say! Oh, and did I mention that I don’t like apple pie normally?
It seemed like the day for trying new things and continuing with that theme I also ordered a coffee. I’m a tea girl through and through but I couldn’t resist the freshly-ground higher-grown coffee that Stoa were offering and my, am I glad I gave it a go!
My flat white coffee was heavenly. I could have drank it all day. I loved it so much that I didn’t put any sugar in it. In contrast, if I ever have coffee back home, I put at least 4 sugars in it. True story.
I even enjoyed the apple pie! Like I said, I’m not naturally an apple pie girl but this pie was delicious. I can certainly see why Stoa receives so many rave reviews online.
Not only was the food exceptional but the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. They even gave us a map and wrote on where we would find Melissani cave.
Needless to say, my first impressions of Sami were grand.
Melissani was a very different experience altogether.
The undercarriage of our 4×4 creaked as we bumped up the dusty, steep track that lead us away from the beautiful coastline and into the back-roads of Sami. The road grew increasingly narrow as we took the most unassuming turns, following the frequent signs to Melissani cave.
As the land flattened, a great dusty carpark opened up in front of us, surrounded by modest trees and shrubs. In the centre of the carpark was a great tent-like building, a separate ablution block and on the far side of the car park were several coaches, their juddering motors chugging vociferously.
We crunched to a halt as far away from the other vehicles as possible. Was this it? There was certainly no cave in sight. I took out my phone – which I seem to use as a crutch these days – and took a look on maps to see where the lake was.
“It’s just down there.” I pointed to some trees near the coaches.
However, I nearly let out a wail of despair as I took in the ugly chain that separated the carpark from the dusty footpath to the cave. ‘No Entry.’ It read in bold capitals. That was incredibly disappointing. There was no entry to look at the cave from above, something which I knew for a fact used to be part of the experience. There’s even an abandoned observation deck up there.
“I’ll go find out what’s going on.” I proclaimed decisively.
I exited our vehicle before marching across the dirt. The smell of diesel fumes hung rebelliously to my nostrils and I wrinkled up my nose in disgust. I could also barely hear a thing above the chorus of coaches singing together in anything but harmony.
Eventually I made it to the ticket office for the cave where there was a queue of people lining up in the dark.
“Hello,” I began, smiling. “Is access to the cave from the top closed?”
The woman at the desk stared through her black sunglasses. “Yes.”
“Oh, when will it be open again?”
Her attitude made me recoil in horror. Plus I found it absolutely ridiculous that they just decided to shut off a footpath which lead around the apparent beautiful grounds.
As of current, the only way to actually see Melissani cave was to pay €7 per person to go into the cave for a 10 minute boat ride. Queues for the boat rides can range from a minimum of 30 minutes (if you’re lucky), all the way to 2 hours (if you arrive at midday which is the best time to view the cave). Once it is finally your turn to go in, you are crammed into a small boat with up to 8 other people and then taken for a rapid spin round the cave.
I didn’t take up the offer of the boat ride. I had absolutely no desire to be queueing for hours in the musty underground, surrounded by hundreds of people.
Nothing appeals to me less than being hurried round the same conveyer belt as everyone else. There’s just one route that everyone must go down. I decided to visit Melissani cave as I thought there would be more freedom in activities. I would have loved to have wandered round at my own leisure and taken a peep into the cave from above. But this was not possible. The area was highly regulated. It’s just a mass tourist site essentially and reminded me a bit of queueing up at Alton Towers for a rollercoaster.
I sighed as I wandered back to our car, feeling like I’d completely wasted a trip out here. I felt even more anguish as my turned my attention to just how much I needed to pee. But one look at the queue to the toilets made me gag. A line of women snaked round the carpark. I could barely see the end of it!
I was keen to just get out of here. But first, I decided to fly the drone because I wanted at least one look at the cave from above, even if it was just on my phone-screen.
Our experience at Melissani cave sucked. The staff were rude. There were way too many people. The price you pay plus the length of time you queue for, just to have a quick tour of the cave, makes me think it’s just a rip-off and not worth the time or money.
I later found out that the viewing-deck atop Melissani cave has been permanently closed as some idiot tourists thought it would be funny to jump into the lake from there.
Don’t get me wrong, Melissani cave is undoubtable a natural wonder. However, it has been taken over and regulated so much that it has lost its spark. Just another place ruined by humans.