“Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen.” ― Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals
I owed it to a lifetime love of Gerald Durrell’s novels, recollecting his childhood in Corfu, to visit. I imagine what life would be like in the 1930s here, in some ways – out of the bustle of Corfu Town, and away from the package tour destinations, much the same as today. We are staying in Liapardes, on the north west coast. Narrow, potholed laneways snake their way through the countryside, from time to time clearing to give breathtaking views. If you are unlucky you will meet the bus coming the other way, necessitating a major repositioning of all vehicles. The width of the road forces one driver to stop, and a grateful and cheery wave (usually) is your reward. It feels like everyone in the island gives you a greeting. Garden plots spring up in unlikely places. Cats and dogs wander at will. Cicadas are deafening.
Our villa is managed by the owner, a man who spends early evenings in a mad game of Tetris, frantically repositioning his guests’ hire cars to ensure they fit, and we are instructed to leave the keys in them for such purpose. Each morning his mother and father arrive on a scooter, shouting a cheery “Kalimera” – Dad will then take his daily position next to the swimming pool and Mum to get on with the cleaning and cooking. The rest of the family are kept busy attending to the daily business of a guesthouse. The peace of the swimming pool and adjoining bar is occasionally disrupted by an energetic discussion/staff meeting taking place, involving hands periodically thrown in the air. Guests basking in the sun pretend not to notice.
Restaurants abound in the village, so it is the afternoon’s lazy discussion as to where we eat tonight. Dancing and music decide us where it is on offer. We watch the troup consisting of two girls, an older gent, and two teenagers, dance and dip away, but the star of the show was a little German (I think) girl who was absolutely mesmerised by the swirly skirts. She edged closer and closer and eventually was asked up to dance and from then on there was no way she was leaving the stage. After about the fifth dance, she thrust her cardigan to her mother and donned a special sash. She was in heaven.
We have two beaches to choose from here, one is the traditional European setup, with sunbeds, bars/restaurants etc, and a myriad of boats to hire or be ferried to other spots. The other beach is more what we are used to after a trek through the olive groves, with an enticing peek here and there of bright blue water. It is a beach surrounded by rocky cliffs, although it is visited by the “Canteen Boat” so you will not go without an iced coffee or beer, which are deemed to be essential to any day out. Both are blessed with crystal clear turquoise water, where you can see the fish swim around you – and go in for a nip or two. The more adventurous of us can dive off the rocks. The salt content is such that you bob around like a cork, there is no need to work to stay afloat.
We visited Corfu town just to stroll around and it is a riot of peeling pastel colours. Elegant townhouses, which look to be occupied for the first two floors but get progressively rundown as they go up. A couple of blocks of shops selling the usual tat, but beyond that it is blissfully quiet. We visited the church of St Spiridon, the patron saint of Corfu. In Durrell’s book a story is told of the saint’s sarcophagus being paraded around town, and in the press Margot is separated from her mother and propelled forward toward it. As it is the custom to kiss the saint’s sarcophagus, mother yelled after Margot “don’t kiss the saint”…to no avail, and with stunningly violent gastric consequences.
We ate a nice meal in town, with our drinks sommelier having a belly that hung a good six inches under his flabby T shirt.
Whilst there are many well-known beaches and villages, the real beauty is finding the quiet out of the way gems. After following a hunch, we found one such diamond called Agni. A small half-moon beach of stones with sunbeds, flanked by tavernas and small jetties projecting into the clearest water. I remember years ago whilst in Crete, worrying about how to pay for our sunbeds, where we had to go to get one etc. The chap I asked simply looked at me quizzically and said, …”Just sit, someone will come..” and yes, that is the system.
So, Corfu. I’m so glad we went and tasted, for a short time, the life and surroundings so beautifully described in Durrell’s books. I urge you to read them if you haven’t already.