Boating in Kefalonia’s Melissani Cave

You know what’s coming, even as you walk through the tunnelled entrance to the Melissani Cave and down a flight of steps. And yet the first impression of one of Greece’s most famous geological formations still has the power to make you gasp. Through a 36m tall opening, the shafts of daylight that come streaming in from above bounce off the water and light up the chamber with haunting, ethereal blues. If there’s a rowing boat with visitors already drifting through the chamber, it looks for all the world as if they’re about to be beamed up by a supernatural force.

Visiting the Melissani Cave has rightly become a must-see for visitors to Kefalonia. Its two chambers, covering a distance of 160m, offer very different experiences. The first is all about the mystical blues created by the opening in the cave, formed when the roof collapsed centuries ago.

And the second, closed, chamber is reached by passing through a passageway so narrow that your boatman may need to stop rowing. There are 20,000-year-old stalagmites here and an island in the middle where excavations revealed a number of artefacts (oil lamps, plates and figures depicting the god Pan and several nymphs) that have added to the legend of the cave. This is apparently where one of those nymphs, Melissani (or Melissanthi), drowned after being rejected by Pan. Hence the cave’s other name, the Cave of the Nymphs.

Τhe water in the cave is brackish as it mixes with other sources, one of which is Katavothres, near Argostoli, all the way on the other side of the island – so far away that it is filtered and emerges fresh.