Melissani Cave and Underground Lake in Cephalonia

The grotto of Melissani is one of the most impressive natural wonders in Kefalonia. Its two halls flooded with water and ancient stalactites offer a magical experience, especially when the sun shines into the cave and changes its colors.

Discovered in 1951, it was only opened to the public in 1963. Since then it became one of the primary holiday attractions in Cephalonia.

The History

Discovered in 1951 by speleontologist Giannis Petrochilos, the cave was opened for visitors in 1963 and has since become one of Kefalonia’s primary tourist attractions. According to legend, the cave was once a shrine to the Greek god Pan and the nymph Melissanthi. Her unrequited love for the god led her to commit suicide in the cave’s light blue waters. Archeological excavations in the cave uncovered exhibits such as a clay figure of the nymph, a pottery plate and a disc depicting dancing nymphs that testify to this ancient myth.

The cave is home to two water halls separated by an island. The first hall has a big oval opening through which sunlight shines into the cave. The water is brackish, a mixture of sea and natural freshwater.

From this hall you can reach the closed part of the cave which has a lot of Stalactites and flowstones with bizarre shaping, some of them resembling dolphins (Dolphins being the symbol of Cephalonia). In the end of the hall you’ll find an islet where excavations have taken place. A short tunnel connects the islet to the rest of the cave. Your rowing boat will take you across the lake, passing the islet and into the closed part of the cave where there are some 20,000-year-old stalagmites.

The best time to visit the cave is around noon when the sun shines directly over the lake, lighting it up in incredible shades of turquoise. However, it can get quite crowded then so you might want to go earlier in the day.

The Lake

Easily one of the most astounding natural sights in the world, this extraordinary cave and underground lake are a must-see for any Kefalonia visitor. The cave’s roof collapsed centuries ago, allowing sunlight to filter in and illuminate the waters of the lake. The slanting rays of sun that fall on the lake’s cyan-blue waters are at their best just before and after noon, when the cave takes on an ethereal glow.

The emerald-blue hue of the water is caused by the presence of carbonate in the cave’s karst environment. Like the famous cenotes of Mexico, this unique water is brackish, mixing seawater with fresh groundwater recharged inland by the coastal carbonate aquifer.

Located near Sami, Melissani Cave is accessible by car on a well-paved road from the port town of Argostoli. It’s also possible to book a tour from Sami or a variety of other destinations on the island.

A tunnel leads from the entrance to a smaller, closed cave, which is where you’ll take a rowing boat out onto the open part of the lake. The cave’s 20,000 year old stalagmites and stalactites are breathtaking, but the highlight of visiting Melissani is undoubtedly the beautiful, crystal-blue lake itself. The islet in the middle of the lake, where archaeological excavations have uncovered oil lamps, plates and figurines of nymphs, was once believed to be where nymph Melissanthi drowned after being rejected by god Pan.

The Cave

The cave is B-shaped and has two chambers or halls separated by an island in the center. Stalactites and stalagmites cover the walls of the cavern giving it an ethereal beauty. Its waters are a crystal blue-green color. It is said that the stalactites in this cave are sixteen to twenty thousand years old.

Aside from its natural beauty, the cave has an interesting place in Greek mythology. During antiquity the cave was a sanctuary dedicated to Pan and Melissanthi, a nymph who committed suicide in its lake due to unrequited love for the god. There are still some remnants from the time of the sanctuary that can be found at the entrance of the cave.

The entrance fee of 7 euros per person includes the boat ride to see the cave. Try to avoid visiting during the peak times of noon and 2pm as it can get crowded with tour groups. The best time to visit is before or after noon when the sun is shining through the opening in the cave roof and illuminates the water of the underground lake.

The lake is a brackish mixture of fresh and saltwater. The lake has a depth of 30 meters and is fed by springs. Aside from the lake, there is also a small second cave called Drogarati that you can explore.

The Experience

Despite being a popular attraction, Melissani Cave and Underground Lake remains a stunningly beautiful spot that leaves a lasting impression on anyone who visits. A visit here is a must if you are visiting Cephalonia!

The cave lake gets its name from a Greek myth that says it was where nymph Melissanthi drowned after being rejected by her love for Pan. The emerald blue waters of the lake are a mixture of salt water from the sea and fresh water that seeps in from a natural source.

It is also a protected area as it is home to many species of birds and reptiles. The best time of day to visit Melissani is around noon, when the sun shines through an opening in the cave’s roof and illuminates the lake with a spectacular blue glow.

Visitors can explore the two chambers of the cave on a short boat ride that lasts about 20 minutes. The boat ride is included in the entrance fee which is 7 euros per person. It is worth tipping the friendly and knowledgeable guide who knows all about the history and geology of the site.

Make sure you visit on a sunny day, and bring some water and snacks. A sun hat and sunscreen are recommended. While you are here, don’t forget to try some local wine! You will find some great boutique vineyards in Argostoli, Lixouri and elsewhere in the island.