Monday 24 July 2023

Another Greek Epic - The Historical Village of Doukades

Kalispera! I'm sure you're aware of the terrible wildfires currently raging in Rhodes, Athens and Corfu. We've heard from our dear friend George in Rhodes, the fires are really close to his home in Stegna but thankfully he, his family & friends are safe. 

George is currently volunteering with the island's fire service & battling the flames and the photos he sent us over the weekend are truly horrific. I do hope that my travelogues inspire one or two readers to travel to Greece, this beautiful country relies on tourism and from what I've seen on the news and read on social media, unlike the big travel companies, the Greeks are going out of their way to assist travellers caught up in the tragedy offering lifts to the airport, refreshments and room in their homes.

Anyway, on to the last of my Corfu posts. This is Doukades, a traditional mountain village a five kilometre walk from Paleokastritsa. The settlement probably originated during a period of devastating pirate raids on Corfu’s coastal communities when people retreated to the more remote interior. The earliest written reference to Doukades is from 1616. 

The Theotoki Mansion, said to be the most impressive house in the village was home to Georgios Theotokis, Prime Minister of Greece from 1899 - 1909. 

Lady Jane Digby (1807 - 1881) - William Charles Ross

Another resident of the Theokoti Mansion was Lady Jane Digby, a notorious aristocratic beauty who was born in Dorset in 1807. At 17, Lady Jane married Lord Ellenborough, the governor-general of India later scandalising English society by divorcing him and moving to Germany. After an affair with Ludwig I of Bavaria she married Baron Karl von Venningen of Munich before embarking on an affair with the Greek Count, Spyridon Theotokis. After a duel between her love rivals she divorced the baron, converted to the Greek Orthodox faith and married Spyridon. The couple moved to his family home in Doukades but divorced after their son Leonidas died after falling from a balcony. Lady Jane then went on to have an affair with Greece's King Otto before meeting General Christodoulos Hatziperos, hero of the Greek War for Independence, where she acted as his queen, living in caves, riding horses and hunting. Lady Jane then travelled to the Middle East and fell in love with Sheik Medjuel el Mezrab, who was twenty years her junior. The couple married under Muslim law and stayed together until her death 28 years later. Lady Jane adopted native dress, lived a nomadic lifestyle in tents in the desert and learned Arabic in addition to the eight languages in which she was already fluent. 

Keen to know more? You can buy a secondhand copy of her biography, A Scandalous Life: The Biography of Jane Digby by Mary S Lovell HERE.

Lady Jane Digby by Joseph Karl Steiler (1831)

Jane, herself a born gardener and a garden lover, celebrated her arrival at Doukades by planting a cypress tree in the grounds, It is still there, tall as a tower now, a dignified and delighted memorial to her - her only memorial in Greece. E. M. Oddie (1935)

On the approach to the village we passed a sign marking The Battle of Kratsalo (1403) where the local militia, aided by the Venetians, fought a bloody battle against Genoese invaders. Eventually the Genoese retreated, shouting This is another state! in broken Greek (Kratos + allo) which is said to be how Corfu's adjacent mountain range, Pantokrator, got its name. 

With such an interesting history you'd imagine Doukades to be bustling with tourists but, at 9am on a Monday morning, other than a dog walker and an elderly man out buying bread, we were the only people about. After astonishingly cheap frappes in the cafe-cum-minimarket we wandered the narrow lanes, chatting to cats and playing which house should we buy?  Right in the heart of the village THIS was a contender.

There's three tavernas in the village square with Elizabeth's, established in 1960, being the highest rated. In more normal conditions (ie., below 45°) we'd have ventured out later and had lunch there but, keen to escape the hottest part of the day, our trip didn't coincide with opening hours. The perfect reason to go back!  

Our guidebook recommended a viewing point at Saint Symeon so after leaving Doukades we wandered through some olive groves, passed a small monastery, marvelled at the rocks and were eventually rewarded with a vista to die for.

And that was it for exploring! We spent the rest of our trip basking like lizards in the glorious sunshine. Back at home the weather's been dismal and with the forecast for more of the same, it took all of 48 hours to book our next escape.

But that's ages away. It's back to the day job - festival trading - we're off to Womad in the morning! The wellies are packed and there's plenty of booze to help drown our sorrows if the weather really does turn out to be as miserable as expected plus Femi Kuti is amazing. Check him out HERE

If you're going, look out for us in the main arena and come and say hello, it'd be lovely to meet you. 

See you soon!

Saturday 22 July 2023

Another Greek Epic - Kerkyra & The Old Soap Factory

A trip to the island's premier town, Kerkyra (Corfu Town) is always a highlight. As usual we caught the bus from Paleokastritsa. The journey takes around forty minutes, we usually catch the 9.20am there and take the 3pm bus back. 

I've been following Ethnasia on Facebook for ages before I realised that they were based in Corfu Town and was very excited to stumble across their shop within a few minutes of getting off the bus. Their handmade, ethnic-inspired jewellery is just as gorgeous in real life and I was spoilt for choice - in the end buying Third Eye & Ofis pendants, an Ofis ring and another snake-type ring set with gemstones. Stunning & stylish assistant Alexandra was so lovely and made us very welcome, I could probably have browsed the shop all day. 

We'd swooned over the exhibits in The Museum of Asian Art back in 2017 and decided it was high time for a repeat visit. The museum is set within the glorious State Rooms of the Palace of St Michael and St George. 

A passionate collector of Asian art, Gregorios Manos was born in Corfu and rose to become a diplomat. In 1919 when he was Greek Ambassador to Austria, he offered his large collection to the state, on the condition that he could retire on a pension and spend the rest of his days as curator of the museum. Sadly it took until 1927 for any agreement to be reached and Manos died in poverty a year later, reputedly all spent out after a lifetime of collecting. 

I wore my new jewellery straightaway! 

Visitors aren't allowed to photograph the exhibits so, rather than risk getting told off, I pinched this photo from their website. The exhibits are magnificent, comprising hand-painted 18th century silk kimonos, courtesan's masks, Samurai armour and swords, 12th Century Indian erotic art, tribal jewellery, Ming dynasty ceramics, Afghani temple treasures, Khmer Buddha heads, opium pipes, ginger jars and Japanese rice screens. The museum is also hosting temporary exhibition of nomadic textiles which is utterly gorgeous.

At 11.50am we dashed across town to the Patounis Soap Factory, just in time to catch the free tour which takes place every day at midday although the shop is open to customers between 9.30am and 2.30pm

Said to be the oldest soap factory in Greece and one of the few remaining soap factories in the world, the Patounis family have been making hand-crafted soap on Corfu for five generations. Established in 1850, the company moved to its current premises in 1891 and most of the original equipment remains in use today. The factory is listed with the Greek Ministry of Culture as a monument of industrial archaeology and the Patounis soapmaking technique inscribed on the National Inventory of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Greece. 

The soap uses only the basic raw material of traditional soap making; naturally occurring oils, soda, sea salt and water. No artificial fragrances whatsoever. The smell is absolutely amazing.

The factory produces three soaps, olive oil soap (made with pure virgin olive oil) and highly recommended for sensitive skin, green olive soap (made of olive pomace oil which contains chlorophyll) which is renowned for its disinfecting properties as well as being excellent for skin and hair washing (but short hair only, apparently) and green laundry soap (made from olive pomace oil with extra alkaline) which is brilliant for both handwashing and for household chores. Patounis also sell soap flakes which can be used to fill tulle or organza pouches and used as a moth repellent or dissolved in water and used for everything from personal hygiene, fruit & veg prep, cleaning floors, bathrooms and work surfaces, clothes washing or as an organic pesticide. 

Patounis have now discontinued making the Olive-Palm soap due to the ethical issues (deforestation) in its production.

If you're a fan of living museums like The Black Country Museum a visit to the Patounis Soap Factory should go to the top of your list. We loved it. HERE's their website.

Needless to say, we couldn't leave without buying a couple of bars and it is absolutely incredible (and really good value). I've always loved handmade soap but I think this might be the best I've ever tried. If you can't get to Corfu, don't despair, its available online. This UK seller sells Patounis soap on both eBay HERE and Etsy HERE.

Lunch was, as always, eaten al fresco on the Listón, the elegant terrace of shady cafés bordering the Esplanade and reminiscent of Paris's Rue de Rivoli, hardly surprising as the area was designed and built by a Frenchman.

With temperatures in the mid-40s, we made the most of our shady table and lunch was a long and leisurely affair. The food at Aegli, the oldest restaurant in Corfu Town was up to its usual deliciously high standards and, being in such a good spot, the people watching opportunities were second to none. 

If I were as rich as Croesus this sold gold snake headpiece would definitely have come home with me! 

After a final wander through the atmospheric streets it was time to catch the bus home and within minutes of disembarking we'd changed into our swimming gear & were cooling down in our almost-private swimming pool.

Although we only visited Corfu Town once during the fortnight we spent on the island, we did catch the bus back there on our last day as, most conveniently, the airport is a twenty minute walk from the town centre - another reason why travelling with just a small carry-on bag is the sensible choice, especially in 45°C heat!

Stay tuned for my final instalment which hopefully I can squeeze in before we head off to our next festival.