In the heart of an unspoiled Greek island, an Athenian woman has made her home and built a richly multi-national cultural hub. In this unspoiled agricultural region, where mountains meet the sea, numerous nationalities rub shoulders and enjoy the authentic charm of Greek entrepreneurialism, creativity, and hospitality.
In the leafy village of Lakithra, overlooking the Ionian Sea and just eight kilometers outside the Kefalonian capital of Argostoli, with its shorelines, squares and alluring shopping streets, Anna Parali is living her dream.
Enterprising Anna left her Athens home in 1999 to make a new life on Kefalonia and spotted, in Lakithra, the perfect location for her idea for a bar and music venue. Along with best friend and experienced waiter Stratos Kuruvakalis, and her then-partner, Stelios Kantzouris, she set about making the vision into a reality, despite numerous obstacles.
Eighteen years later, having withstood the Greek financial crisis, she now emerges as the charismatic host of the Mescalero Cafe-Bar, a small jewel of a meeting place, opened in 2011. Its modest size belies its large and growing reputation across the range of nationalities – residents and holidaymakers – who now count themselves as regulars.
“Nobody thought we could make it happen. But with determination, the vital help of my builder brother and the faith put in me by Stratos [Kuruvakalis], the early struggle to attract an audience and prove our worth has paid off. We’ve transformed into a thriving bar and eatery, boosted by our rooftop terrace which is ideal for our summer musical events, featuring local musicians and vocalists as well as bands from Athens.”
This locale and its popular venue are the product of an eclectic but harmonious mix of cultures. The seven principal Ionian Islands, of which Kefalonia is one, have their heritage in centuries of Venetian rule which gave them a distinctly Italian-Greco culture, rather than becoming part of the Ottoman Empire. Adding a further twist to this hybrid foundation, the Mescalero’s vibrant Mexican styling is relaxing and distinctive.
The bar’s name holds interesting parallels too: hundreds of years ago the Mescalero Apache Tribe of South Central New Mexico fiercely defended their lands and sought solace and inspiration from their creator’s life-giving sacred place, known as White Mountain. Anna and Stratos’s equivalent mountain guardian, which has overseen their efforts and achievements, is the mighty Mount Ainos, towering more than 1,600 meters above Lakithra. On clear days, the summit view encompasses the Greek mainland plus the islands of Zakynthos, Lefkada, and Ithaca.
Lakithra itself lies in the Kefalonian region of Livathos, on the central south coast, within easy distance of the island’s airport. The undulating landscape is still studded with small farms and groves of eucalyptus, olive, palm and citrus trees. With its magnificent coastline, sandy beaches and network of elegant restaurants, rustic eateries and bars, it’s an ideal vacation base. Alongside tourism, fishing and farming remain the dominant trades: visitors can still drink in the genuine community spirit and customs, thanks to numerous local events and festivals throughout the year.
Says Anna: “There’s plenty to do and see in Livathos. The area has a wealth of historical monuments, like the Castle of St George, the Mycenaean tombs at Mazarakata and Lakithra and Byron’s Rock. Some of Kefalonia’s best sandy beaches are also here, like Trapezaki and Lourdas.”
After a day exploring villages, beaches, and historical settings, the Mescalero is the ideal place to kick back and enjoy the live music, fuelled by Anna’s take on Mexican food and cocktails. Regular rooftop acts include British singer, Sarah Brayshay, who opened their 2018 summer season, performing solo or alongside fellow Brit, guitarist, and singer John McHugh (YianniMac), who launched the bar’s musical tradition, with rock guitarist Stelios, back in its debut year.
Visit another evening, and you might enjoy the fabulous Rock Trio – Dionisis Kalafatis, Lefteris Markantonatos and Costas Athanasatos – and their mix of electric and acoustic guitar with cajóns or drums. And don’t miss the backbone band of the Mescalero – Dutch couple Phil and Elli Van Lith and Brit Rojer Ash, whose blend of vocals plus accordion, keyboard and guitar are popular year-round.
Anna sums up her formula: “We believe that listening with your friends to your favorite music, under the stars, is all you need to re-energize your body and soul. It’s wonderful that our alternative, upbeat approach is enjoyed by Greeks alongside many other residents and visiting nationalities. Our sign outside says ‘all that wander are not lost’ – and that’s true because they end up here!”
The Mescalero seduces and succeeds in tandem with the recovery and stabilization of the Greek economy in general, perhaps a small symbol of the hard-won resurgence and future prosperity of the country. And yet, as the venue gains in popularity, it also manages to retain its “hidden gem” appeal, aided partly by its rural location.
“Our vision started coming to life in 2011, with our motto ‘deserve your dream’,” enthuses Anna. “We never lost sight of that goal, even in the worst moments of financial crisis. And, now, we’ve developed our own international tribe of followers and friends. We can’t thank them enough. We’re all so lucky to be living and working in this beautiful place.”