Kalispera! We'd arrived in the mountain village of Paleokastritsa on the Greek island of Corfu. In Prospero's Cell (1945), Lawrence Durrell described it as being drenched in the slither of olives on the north-west coast. The little bay lies in a trance, drugged by its own ordinary perfection - a conspiracy of light, air, blue sea and cypresses. The rock faces splinter the light and reflect it both upward and downward; so that, staring through the broken dazzle of the Ionian sun, the quiet bather in his boat can at the same time look down into three fathoms of water with neither rock nor weed to interrupt the play of imagination and, some 75 years later, its breathtaking natural beauty remained unchanged.
Within minutes of stepping off the bus and casting our eyes upon this view the incessant rain, gale force winds, unseasonably cold weather and the full-on craziness of our 2019 festival season seemed but a dim and distant memory.
The Paleo Inn, our base for the week.
When we first went to Corfu in 2017 we'd visited in June, before the tourist season had got fully underway. The tiny deserted cove to which we'd previously laid claim was now lined with sunbeds and beach umbrellas, presided over by local fisherman Spiro. Breaking the habit of a lifetime we rented beds - but declined the services of Spiro's grandson who'd run up and down the precarious steps carved out of the cliff to collect lunch from the village tavernas and deliver it direct to your sunbed - instead opting to bring a picnic of freshly baked village bread, tubs of homemade tzakizi or olive pate along with juicy misshapen Greek tomatoes the size of your head.
We thought that after more than three months of blisteringly hot weather Corfu would be starting to look a bit parched but it was as green and lush as it was on our first visit and we soon realised why. On the first evening, whilst sitting beneath some ancient plane trees in the village sipping an ice cold Alpha beer, we were mesmerised by the brilliant lights illuminating the night sky, until it dawned on us that it was a huge electrical storm somewhere over the Ionian Sea. When it finally reached Paleokastritsa we were forced to run to the nearest tavern to shelter from torrential rain, thunder and forked lightning. Such was the violence of the storm that the village lost its electricity supply for eight hours and we had to dine by candlelight. We might not have been able to see what we were eating but we can verify that it was delicious. It turns out that Corfu gets quite a lot of rain - but at least its warm rain.
Much as we'd have been content to spend a week on our sunbeds, basking in the 30°C sunshine punctuated with a swim in the calm and crystal clear waters of the Ionian Sea, it would have been a sin not to explore the rest of Corfu so, after three days of sun worshipping, we headed to Kérkyra, Corfu's foremost town.
Corfu's public transport system is pretty good, with bus stops clearly marked with the latest timetables printed in both Greek and English. While the buses aren't always on time and often cancelled altogether if it rains, at 2.50€ for a 40 minute journey, they're a lot cheaper than at home. Halfway to Kérkyra a couple of tourists realised in a panic that they'd caught the wrong bus so the driver pulled over whilst the conductor escorted them safely across the dual carriageway and led them to the correct bus stop in order for them to continue their journey, excellent service!
When we'd visited Kérkyra back in 2017 (see HERE) we explored the forts and the town's two main museums so, after a restorative iced coffee from one of the swanky cafes lining the esplanade, we decided that we'd just wander without a plan.
|Greece's first president, Ioannis Kapodistrias (1827 - 31)|
Although carved reliefs featuring athletes with clubs and balls dating back to Ancient Greece have been discovered, the modern game of cricket was only introduced to Corfu during British rule (1815-1864). Our visit, on a Sunday, coincided with a match being played. When asked where in the world he'd most enjoyed playing cricket, former England captain David Gower replied, Corfu Town.
We'd loved Kérkyra when we'd first visited and this time was no different, the joyful atmosphere as Greek families dressed in their Sunday best, strolled leisurely along the esplanade, gossiped over ouzo in the shady cafes or ran after errant toddlers on tricycles really was something special.
Kérkyra has a relaxed, old-world elegance featuring predominately Venetian architecture peppered with French and English-Georgian building styles which reflect the influence of several centuries of foreign occupation.
Erected in 1807, the elegant arcades of the Listón border the west side of the esplanade and were inspired by the Rue de Rivoli in Paris.
Described as Greece's largest living medieval town, the Old Town is a fascinating maze of narrow streets, steep stairways and arched alleys squeezed into the northern half of Kérkyra between the esplanade and the port. The marble-paved, traffic-free streets are often compared to a miniature Venice (obviously without the canals) and still retains the Venetian name, Campiello.
In Venetian times the town was surrounded by the city walls (demolished during the 19th Century) and with Corfiots forbidden from living outside these fortifications, the only way to expand their dwellings was by building upwards producing the area's unusually high architecture.
The only sight to speak of was this pretty 17th Century Venetian well on the Campiello's Platia Kremasti where a mega posh restaurant, also called The Venetian Well, usually sets out its tables. It was closed when we visited so we took advantage of the deserted space for photos.
How fortuitous, my 1970s Anokhi dress matches the plaster!
On the upper storey of Kérkyra's oldest bank, the Ioniki, which was built in 1846, you'll find the Banknote Museum which was a lot more interesting than it sounds - honest! Who knew about Greece's Raisin Crisis which nearly bankrupted the country in 1893? It's free, friendly and fascinating - go!
Lunch was taken under the colonnades on the Listón at Aegli, Kérkyra's oldest restaurant. Needless to say, we ate Greek salad washed down with a bottle of Mythos and were delighted to be served by the same waiter as our visit in 2017.
With washing strung up across alleyways, elderly women sitting on stools weaving or watching babies and cats snoozing in tiny sun-splashed squares, the atmospheric back streets were a wonderful place to walk off our lunch.
Kapodistriou Street runs behind the Listón to the southern end of the town and is lined with handsome townhouses, most of which were built by the Venetian aristocracy. Like much of the surrounding area, many were destroyed after the heavy bombing by the Germans in 1943.
Wherever you look in Greece you're overwhelmed by its beauty - just look at this tiny Orthodox altar in the middle of the bus station.
Cultural trip accomplished, we jumped back on the bus to Paleokastritsa only to find this lot waiting for us outside our room (the word was obviously out, those crazy British cat people were back with their endless supply of biscuits!)
There's more, much more.....see you soon!