Gerald Durrell moved to Corfu at the tender age of ten. A young man in the heart of an ecological treasure wrote a novel later in life based around his time there: My family and other animals. From the pages there are many magical lines of the experience they encountered before the outbreak of WWII. There was one line that stuck with me – I had read the book as a prescribed novel at High School; “Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen.”
The Greek name for Corfu is Kérkyra, which is also the capital city. We stayed just outside Corfu Town or Kérkyra on the port-side, which is a 5 minute walk from the centre of town. Kérkyra is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which makes it a great place from where to embed oneself in the culture. And what exactly is the culture? Well, this is an island that have been passed through many hands through treaties and wars. Kérkyra itself is heavily influenced by the Venetians. There were a few times during various treaties that Corfu was handed over to the British Empire and its proximity to Italy means that it retains its Venetian connection.
The town itself is situated between two fortresses, the New Venetian Fortress to the West and the Old Venetian Fortress to the East. The British connection can be seen by the presence of a cricket green in front of the Old Fortress. Both of these fortresses are worth spending time exploring for the history and the scenery. From the top of the Old Fortress you have a 360 degree view, which is definitely worth the long slog in summer heat. You can venture along a lovely coastal walk towards the south of town where there is a famous windmill at the end of a pier. This is quite close to the airport, which is a twenty minute walk from town.
Coincidentally, Gerald Durrell lived in the White House in Kalami, which can be booked for accommodation while you are on the island. This is on the North-eastern coastline. Corfu, much like Zakynthos is a large island, thus a car is generally more convenient and safer than other motorised transport, even though it is very readily available. We headed north in our Fiat 500 convertible, the top down, with a packed breakfast consisting of Greek yogurt, honey and nuts. Every beach on the East coast is a little drive down a dusty road away. You will drive through olive groves and in between private plots of land owned by the real Greeks. Kalami is no different, so do yourself a favour and pop by.
The north of the island has a few dotted touristy locations. Corfu’s fame came from two sources; one was Gerald Durrell and his brother Lawrence’s writing, the other was a secret agent from the United Kingdom. Bond… James Bond. This island was used as the location for the film, For your eyes only. This is in spite of the plot of the film being set in Spain. As a result of the publicity the north of the island is quite touristy in places, which is great if you want a bite to eat and a quick drink, while looking across the ocean. However, there are some spectacular spots that should not be missed.
This is a cliff front with stairs to the bottom on the North-West coast. You can see the heel of Italyin the distance, while grabbing a drink or have a meal at a Greek Taverna .
This is a long stretch of beach, at the end of which a little Greek Taverna is located with the most delightful menu and staff. There are some great views too.
Pagi Village to Palaiokastritsa
This is where the famous James Bond car chase was filmed. Find yourself driving through mountainous villages as you head down to the picturesque Palaiokastritsa.
The south of the island has a town called Kavos, which is famous as the party town for the school-leavers of Europe. This can be skipped but if you want a party evening, this could be a good night out.
So how can I write about all the sights without mentioning the fabulous food? Well, rest assured, here it comes. Due to the close proximity of Italy, coupled with the historic Venetian invasions, there is a fusion of cuisine. You will find many Italian herb mixtures in Greek dishes; you will find things like lasagne occupying menu space beside moussaka. Also, you will have a choice between Ouzo and Limoncello as a nightcap. The traditional Greek salad, as we love it with no green leaf in sight, instead is subtly enhanced by a dusting of finely sliced green leaves and the dill is left off for balance. You will also find another curious thing on your menu, either as a desert, aperitif or night cap; kumquat
The kumquat fruit is a citrus fruit that grows naturally in only a few places in the world. It is like a tiny compressed orange, the peel of which is sweet, the pulp, however, is tart. In Corfu you will find Kumquat liqueur, candied, in loukoumi (Greek for Turkish delight), in deserts and even specially flavoured sweets from hotel lobbies. If there is something that is quite authentic of this island, it is the Kumquats.
The hangover of British rule is a wide selection of locally produced dark beers. There is also local brands of Retsina wine. Retsina wine has a distinct smell of pine trees, which is also quite obvious in the taste. This is a traditional method of making Greek wine, which is to add a pine branch to the fermentation of a dry white wine. It can be great paired with the right food, for instance herb-heavy lamb and salty food in general.
So what then of the pollen-like stickiness of the island? – if I may paraphrase? Corfu will leave you wanting more, perhaps our time was not enough. The food is devilishly good, the scenery spectacular and you get a distinct homely feeling that puts your worries to bed. It is the perfect blend of warmth and green vegetation. Overall it is not priced like some tourist destinations, so you can do a lot more and enjoy a lot more of the local attractions. For these reasons, it sticks to me, much like the sentiment from a wise child’s memories: “Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen.”