Gone to blazes

Much to the annoyance of my family, I have always operated a strict two hour ‘safety policy’ when it comes to the catching of flights.

Not for me the hurtling down corridors with items flying out of my hand baggage as I look for the right gate for a departing flight.

On occasions, this policy has stood me in good stead, and never more so than the other week when we were due to fly out to Cephalonia.

En route to Gatwick, we were held up when a car overturned on the approach to the Courtlands Car Park and promptly burst into flames.

Within minutes the fire brigade were on the scene to extinguish it and thankfully nobody was hurt, but behind us there was chaos as queuing cars were diverted to other car parks.

It was with a sigh of relief then, that we boarded our Aestraeus flight for a much-needed holiday. The flight took three hours and 48 minutes and we were kept updated with the football results on the way.

An unnecessary service in my eyes, but most welcome for all the fellas aboard, it seemed.

Safe arrival

Upon arrival we were warmly greeted by our Tapestry rep, Jo, and transported by coach along a mountainous route to Fiscardo, 90 minutes away.

With bags safely deposited in our cool and spacious room, it was down to the bar for a drink.

The Almyra Hotel is a small and very pretty family-run operation in the hills overlooking Fiscardo bay and the Isle of Ithaca.

The hotel terrace has beautiful views, enjoyed better when handed a glass of wine by one of the smiling staff for whom nothing seemed any bother at all. At last I felt able to shrug off the stresses of work and the World Cup.

Chatting to the owners, I was not surprised to hear that many guests return year upon year, either to the hotel or to the Panorama Apartments next door.

Agent to the rescue

After breakfast the following morning, we ambled down into the town of Fiscardo, 10 minutes away.

The town itself is the original picture of Greek tradition and culture, being untouched by the 1953 earthquake which damaged large parts of the rest of the island, all of which has been rebuilt sympathetically.

The pretty harbour shining in the bright sun looked exactly like the images you find on every hotel wall, minus the old lady or the donkey.

During the summer, restaurants and tavernas welcome the tourists and it has to be said, the standard of the Greek cooking here is very high. Spoilt for choice at lunchtime I opted for the fresh sea bass and it was truly the best I’ve eaten anywhere.

Back at the hotel I spoke to a couple who had scoured the Internet for a Tapestry holiday as they’d been so impressed with the quality of Tapestry properties in Turkey the year before.

Despite their efforts, everything seemed full and it was only when they visited their local travel agent that they managed to be accommodated.

Well done that Essex agent who found a cancellation!

Cage-d tiger

I had imagined that I’d get to Cephalonia and do as little as possible, but some of the available trips couldn’t be passed up. The next day we joined a coach tour of the island which promised a wine tasting into the bargain!

Our first stop, Myrtos Beach, voted one of the best beaches in Europe, certainly lived up to its reputation; you’d probably recognise it yourselves, as it featured in the film of Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, with which the island is now so strongly associated.

And if we were looking for Captain Correlli himself, he appeared as if by magic, upon our arrival in Melissani Lake.

Brandishing an oar (was I naïve to expect a mandolin?) he took us out on a boat to explore this magical subterranean lake, pointing out the interesting rock formations between cracking jokes and singing.

Not quite the X Factor, but it certainly made for an entertaining diversion!

Roll out the barrel

The wine tasting followed at the Robollo Winery, a cooperative run by local wine growers, and we were guided in the tasting by Bill, a very knowledgeable Yorkshire man – most unexpected in these parts.

Naturally, wanting to be supportive, we loaded up with boxes before heading off to Saint Gerassimos.

This atmospheric and tranquil church holds the remains of Saint Gerassimos himself in a silver sarcophagus and is very popular with the islanders.

A rather stern nun gave me a look that suggested that Saint Gerassimos would prefer to be left alone, and so we hopped back aboard, bound for the Gentilini private wine estate.

There we were greeted by Marianna Cosmetatos, present owner of the estate. Marianna was brought up in England and educated at Roedean before taking over her father’s business.

In her cut glass English tones, she explained that the days of nasty Greek retsina were over, and that Greek wines are now attracting connoisseurs from all over the world. Heck, even M&S and Waitrose are after her bottles.

During the tour of the winery I was allowed to have a sniff at the bung hole of an opened barrel of their best wine. The fumes were rich and intoxicating and someone offered to hold my left leg to stop me falling in. I told them not to bother and to leave without me…

Read more of Maureen’s columns