Fiskardo, Assos & Myrtos Beach
I'd advise this excursion if you only had 1 day for a trip outside Argostoli. The end destination is Fiskardo, a picturesque port village that is the only major locale on Kefalonia to have survived the 1953 earthquake. Its charm comes from its surviving 18th-century structures and its intimate harbor, which attracts yachts from all over.
You can make a round-trip from Argostoli to Fiskardo in a day on a KTEL bus (10€). But with a rental car, you can detour off the main road to the even more picturesque port and village of Assos (it adds about 10km/7 miles), and then reward yourself with another detour down to Myrtos beach, one of Greece's great beaches.
Plenty of restaurants dot Fiskardo's harbor. I can recommend Tassia's, Vassos, Nicholas Taverna (up on the hillside), and Panormos (around the bend). The latter two offer rooms as well. For advance arrangements, contact Fiskardo Travel (tel. 26740/41-315; firstname.lastname@example.org). If you think you might like to stay for as long as a week and can afford something special, contact the (British) Greek Islands Club, which offers waterfront apartments and houses (www.gicthevillacollection.com).
Sami, Melissani Grotto & Drogarati Cave
When you arrive in Kefalonia, you may come first to Sami, an unexceptional town on the east coast and the island's principal point of entry before tourism put Argostoli in the lead. Sami is still a busy port. Besides the unusual white cliffs seen from the harbor, travelers are drawn by two caves to the north of Sami, both of which can be visited on a half-day excursion from Argostoli. Of the two, the Drogarati is the more rewarding.
Spili Melissani, about 5km (3 miles) north of Sami, is well signposted. Once you're inside, you will be taken by a guide in a rowboat around a small, partially exposed, partially enclosed lake, whose most spectacular feature is the play of the sun's rays striking the water, which creates a kaleidoscope of colors. It's open daily from 9am to 6pm. Admission is 6€.
On the road that leads west to Argostoli (4km/2 miles from Samiles), there's a well-signposted turnoff to Drogarati Cave. Known for its unusual stalagmites, its large chamber has been used for concerts (once by Maria Callas). You walk through it on your own; the cave is well illuminated but can be slippery. It's open daily from 9am to 6pm, with an admission of 4€.
Despite the recent claims that Oysseus's Ithaka is a peninsula off Kefalonia, Ithaka continues to attract those who are willing to go along with the traditional linkage of several sites to Homer's epic. Such associations aside, Ithaka appeals to many visitors: It may be small and not easily approached, but its rugged terrain and laid-back villages reward those who enjoy driving through unspoiled Greek countryside.
Although there are (infrequent) ferry connections to Ithaka from Patras (Peloponnese), Astakos (mainland, opposite Ithaka), and Kefalonia (Fiscardo), I'd strongly recommend that you approach Ithaka with a rented car from Argostoli. The boat connecting Kefalonia to Ithaka (its little port shows up as Pissaetos on websites) sails not from Argostoli but from Sami, the port on the east coast of Kefalonia; to make a bus connection with that boat, and then to take a taxi from the tiny isolated port where you disembark on Ithaka, costs far too much time. Rather, in your rented car, drive the 40 minutes from Argostoli to Sami; the boat fare for the car is 12€, for each individual 3€. Once on Ithaka, you can drive to Vathy, the main town, in about 10 minutes, and you'll have wheels with which to explore Ithaka and return to Argostoli, all within a day. Most visitors will be able to see what they want of Ithaka in 1 day before driving back to the little port where the last ferryboat to Kefalonia leaves, usually at 5pm -- but ask!
Vathy itself is a small port, a miniversion of bigger Greek ports, with their bustling tourist-oriented facilities. For help in making any arrangements, try Polyctor Tours, on the main square (www.ithakiholidays.com; tel. 26740/33-120). You might enjoy a cold drink or coffee and admire the bay stretching before you, but otherwise there's not much to do or see here. Instead, drive 16km (10 miles) north to Moni Katheron; the 17th-century monastery itself is nothing special, but the bell tower offers a spectacular view over much of Ithaka. For a more ambitious drive, head north via the village of Anogi, stopping in its town square to view the little church with centuries-old frescoes and the Venetian bell tower opposite it. Proceed on via Stavros, and then down to the northeast coast to Frikes, a small fishing village. Finally, take a winding road along the coast to Kioni, arranged like an amphitheater around its harbor; this is the place to stay if you want to give some time to Ithaka.
As for the sites associated with the Odyssey, what little there is to be seen is questioned by many scholars, but that shouldn't stop you; after all, it's your imagination that makes the Homeric world come alive. From the outskirts of Vathy, you'll see signs for the four principal sites. Three kilometers (2 miles) northwest of Vathy is the so-called Cave of the Nymphs, where Odysseus is said to have hidden the Phaeacians' gifts after he had been brought back (supposedly to the little Bay of Dexia, north of the cave). Known locally as Marmarospilia, the small cave is about a half-hour's climb up a slope.
The Fountain of Arethusa, where Eumaios is said to have watered his swine, is about 7km (4 miles) south of Vathy; it is known today as the spring of Perapigadi. The Bay of Ayios Andreas, below, is claimed to be the spot where Odysseus landed in order to evade Penelope's suitors. To get to the fountain, drive the first 3km (2 miles) by following the signposted road to the south of Vathy as far as it goes; continue on foot another 3km (2 miles) along the path.
About 8km (5 miles) west of Vathy is the site of Alalkomenai, claimed by Schliemann to be the site of Odysseus's capital; in fact, the remains date from several centuries later than the official dates of the Trojan War. Finally, a road out of Stavros leads down to the Bay of Polis, claimed by some as the port of Odysseus's capital; in the nearby cave of Louizou, an ancient pottery shard was found with the inscription "my vow to Odysseus," but its age suggests that this was the site of a hero-cult.
For lunch back in Vathy, I would recommend Gregory's Taverna (aka Paliocaravo) on the far northeast corner of Vathy's bay (keep driving, with the bay on your left, even after you think the road may give out). Ideally, you will find a table on the water, where you can look back at Vathy, while enjoying a fresh fish dinner (not cheap, but fresh fish never is in Greece). And if you are so enamored of Ithaka and its Homeric associations, you could spend a night or two at the Perantzada 1811 Hotel, in Vathy (www.arthotel.gr/perantzada). As its name indicates, it is a converted early-19th-century mansion, but the amenities (and price) are both luxurious and the most up-to-date (including A/C and Internet access). A more moderately priced choice would be the Hotel Mentor (www.hotelmentor.gr) right on the harbor.