Mixed reflections on Corfu

It’s my last day. Sadly I am not going to find that romantic island, caught in the warm words of ITV’s The Durrells, better known as My Family and Other Animals, which I vaguely remember reading for O level 50 years ago. Nor will I recreate my 16 year old youth when my folks took me to on a Club Med holiday as a skinny, rib-showing teenager. I stayed in a grass hut, use beads as money, fell in love and learned how to water-ski. Yes folks, hard to imagine the hippy Mark. To get my Premier Vague badge I had to sit on a pontoon, the speed boat would swing by, a guy with a rod would grab the handle, you grab it tightly refusing to let go, take the slack and around you go in a big circuit, finally coming back in to the beach, letting go and sinking gracefully into the water while the boat goes of to collect. the next punter. Imagine my delight when the person in front of me on the pontoon is an attractive young lady who I am far to shy to even acknowledge except fleeting glances from under lowered eyebrows. Half way around, in the far distance the top of her bikini flies off. She cannot let go of the handle and so comes around back to the pontoon and sinks into the water in front of a line of eager, wide-eyed, hormonal boys.

Anyway, I digress. Corfu’s wonderful coastline is best read about in guide books and viewed from a distance with turquoise waters, wooded craggy headlands, crescent shaped bays, sandy beaches and distant horizons. It is best appreciated from the high coastal roads around the mountains through gaps in the old olive trees and the mixed woodland.

By actually going down into the ‘white-washed, fishing villages’, a different picture is revealed. Each one looks very similar to all the other with a bay of sand/stones, lined by rather a lot of bars and apartment and small hotels and cheap restaurants. Nothing quaint or traditional. I am not going to say anything about the range of humanity that holidays here. Suffice to say someone needs to run workshops on sun safety and covering up. You get a lot of flesh for your money – most of it lobster red or leather brown.

The best places to visit are by taking the car into the mountains that form the spine of the island and find the peace of the small inland villages. A small clutch of homes, 50% relatively new and 50% overgrown and dilapidated, will huddle along a contour or around a small shaded square and church which provides a centre to the community. All the churches have stand-alone bell towers alongside from the place of worship.

I have told you about Doukades. 350 folk live here around a small square with a shop/bar, a church and three tavernas. Spiro runs one. He used to run restaurants at the high end of Milan and Genoa. He came back to the village of his birth. When busy he does a good imitation of a steam train blowing down. Glorious, cheap, local dishes and local wine.

The locals are very friendly, quick to welcome and chat. If all the time was spent in the mountains amongst ancient olive trees, with locals, eating local food with local wine and overlooking the wonderfully picturesque coastline then Corfu would be a wonderful place to visit.

The past, and present, glories of Corfu Town

The Weather said ‘rain showers’ so what a good day to venture into Corfu Town. And what a gem it is. In fact with only one heavy shower it was ideal conditions to visit a place that oozes history. The origins of the town can be traced back to the 8th century and since them the influence of Venice is heavily felt in trade, fortification, architecture and food.
The Old Town is sandwiched between the Old Venetian Fort facing eastwards, and around the headland guarding the port where the cruise ships now dock, is the gargantuan new fortress which, despite its name, originates in 1576.

My tour of this lovely old town starts down in the old port, where, after following a line of traffic for miles with no likelihood of finding a parking space, I accidentally enter a crowded car park through the exit barrier, jump the queue of rotating drivers and squeeze into the only free space amid some very angry faces. ‘I’m British’ I mouth; a very pertinent fact as the Duke of Edinburgh was born here, and he is Our royalty). The new fortress dominates the skyline above and overpowers all that lies below it.

Then it is a dive into the narrow streets of the old town. Churches, domes and Venetian facades with flaking plaster and rusty balconies mingle with squares & fountains & parks & cloistered walkways. The colour washes on the buildings add an extra dimension as the sun and clouds play catch up across their surface and facades. The colours of clay cover the slopes & angles of the roofs and, along with pitted columns and faded statues, give the town a soft, familiar hue like a pair of faded slippers.

.Surprises are found around every corner. The wicket of the Corfu cricket club, who, I found out from the car park attendant, play in September. The artificial wicket requires little preparation and offers little respite for bowlers. Boy, what a glorious place to play, surrounded by such Venetian glory.

The town museum lines the cliff top promenade of the Peoples’ Garden and houses exhibitions of Asiatic art.

The tourist buses unload their cargoes outside the old fortress. This is a hugely impressive structure, protecting the town from land and sea alike and separated from the main island by Lover’s Canal. Why it is called that I have no idea.

Corfu Town has a charm and a warmth and a buzz about it that can be enjoyed, even on a short visit. I wish more of the island retained as much character and atmosphere as is captured here amongst the muted colours of the old town.

The ruins of Perithia

Well, I think I’m getting the hang of this place. Firstly head out to the glorious coastline of craggy headlands, wooded oaks and olive groves, splashed with the colours of bougainvillaea, smart, cliffside villas overlooking sandy/pebbly bays and coves and turquoise waters and try to find in coastal villages any remaining evidence of the romantic Corfu of yester year. Then, rather than staying in the oven of apartment blocks, tourist shops, eateries and bars, cluttered with a scattering, at least until high season, of lizard skinned, loud & inappropriately clad Germans & Brits, moving up into the mountains for the real island.

The first trip is up the slithering, sharp meanders of the coastal road up the east coast to Kassiopi, which still has an element of charm for the visitor.

A perfect crescent of bars & restaurants line the harbour, overlooked by the omnipresent apartment blocks and guarded by the ruins of the medieval castle.

The intriguing image, through the breakwater and over the narrow straight, is that of the mainland, which at this point has given way to Albania.

It is so different to the white-washed buildings and assorted shapes and sizes of any Greek landscape. Through the haze, in the distance, block upon block of dull, grey blocks of functionality are indiscriminately arranged in layers along the even duller rocky coastline. There is no real colour, no soft shapes, no variation – just a drab presentation to the modern world.

Leaving the tourist fleshpots, it is a drive through the wonderful landscape of Corfu’s mountainous centre. Here are the crags and rocks, the ancient, wizened olive trees with giant, gnarled girths, the mixed oaks and Cypress trees, all smothered in the herby smells of yellow gorse and white and pink flowered shrubs, up to Old Perithia. Following a single track above the tree line the air cools and for the first time it feels fresh and one can breathe deep again.

Perithia is a ruined village, dating from the 14th century in the middle of the mountains. Despite the fact that 95% of its 130 dwellings are in ruins there are two ruins for sale and 5 tavernas that are open for business and staffed by the last inhabitants of this rubbled ghost of a village. Quite why there are 5 tavernas operating, I don’t know. Maybe tourist coaches battle up here through the potholes and dust in the high season. The village is famous for producing honey and ….ginger beer!

After a wander in the peace and emptiness, a drink of some pretty average ginger beer (we make it better in the UK) it is back down to dinner on the bay.

Baking in Corfu

This trip to the island of Corfu has taken a while to take off. One reason is that it is so frigging hot. What is wrong with our planet? It is early June and the thermometer gets as high 34° after about 1 o’clock so there is no incentive to get out of the shade and into the sauna of the car to start exploring the island. The first few sorties out have been around Gouvia, where we are staying in a little oasis of green and pool.

Another reason for the slow start is that this is the party area, with lines of bars, eateries passing themselves off as traditional tavernas, minimarkets, apartment blocks. Thank goodness its not high season. It would be rocking with karaoke and pumping happy hours. So I’ve not really had the urge to take any photos as this could be anywhere.

Sadly the whole island is blighted with huge areas of rotting bags of waste along the roads. The islands only landfill site had been closed by the EU as being illegal and there is nowhere to dump the trash so it simple lies there in growing piles of black bags which also reduces the incentive to wander around snapping picturesque images, even if I could find them around here.

So, eventually, braving these elements, we venture further afield to try a beach on the west coast, supposed to be really nice. Paleokastrista consists of a public stoney/sandy beach around a crescent bay lined by low apartment blocks and hotels and high craggy rocks up to low mountain ridges. A couple of smaller bays lie around the corner. Exciting holiday activities are on offer – you can pay for a pair of sunbeds + an umbrella + Wi-Fi, you can hire a speed boat for the day, you can chug with the local fishermen (now no longer netting fish but netting tourists) along the coast for a bit to visit 4 caves in 40 minutes (hmmm), the banana boat is a must, sit in a bar and watch the international tourist enjoy themselves, all under the pong of the huge pile of rubbish in the carpark.

Oh, two images of contradiction – the sign up the hill to the monastery and the hoard of goats that clip down the narrow road, bells ringing and scrotums, or is the plural of scrotum-scroti, swinging, chased by a red faced goat-herder. I think he is in control.

We decide to spend a few hours on the beach and swim in the sea – looks good but freezing. I can’t remember when I last did a beach. Probably when my two girls were of an age. Is it really fun? Find a space on the clinker between the couples and families. Lay out towels which absorb the sand, sit down and lie out (boy, is it a long way down there….and even further to get up again, grunting and swiveling and pushing, trying to avoid pulling something), sand covers every patch of oiled, sweaty body wether it comes from leaning outside the towel, the shaken towel from neighbours or the bathers as they pass. Fun? Na. Backache, sore elbows, sand in every crack, fold, orifice. You can’t read without breaking your back or cracking your neck,  every time you want to drink you have to sit up, gulp, flop down. It is just so much hard work. So you simply watch the beach and think how daft all this is.

The saving grace comes on the way home with an instinctive diversion into the mountains to find the traditional village of Doukas and the amazing Taverna Dukas with papa serving and mama cooking. Lamb casserole to die for, beef stefano to fall for, a cheap half litre of red and homemade yogurt with strawberry sauce on the house. My faith has been restored.

A good time is had by all

After our trials during the day, yesterday, we dine at the hotel Kyma with Nikos and his family of Sophia, Maria & Waga. They have rooms and Sopia & Maria’s cooking is to die for.


The house red flowed as always and was supplemented by copious amounts of ouzo & the local hootch. Wonderful mussel saganaki, excellent service & wonderful friendly people. Thank you.


The dingy ride back was rather precarious with screams of anxiety mixed with shrieks of laughter echoing around the bay. Heads a bit crunchy in the morning.

A three hour sail to the sleepy village of  Paghadi. The crew worked hard to get us there.



He’s counting & painting marks on his 60 metre anchor chain.



I say sleepy – more like dead!!





Showdown at Platania

The most hilariously exhausting day yet. With our engine repaired we set off for a wonderful sail across to Platania on the mainland 3 hours away. We round the harbour wall to find the fishing fleet, huge working boats, tied up to all available moorings. We anchor and have lunch to consider our options.

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First step is for Steve & I to break out the dingy and scout out the quayside. No mooring eyes so we decide on plan A which is to anchor in the corner & put out to long lines, one to the lamppost & one to a rusty rail in the wall. With Lynn on anchor &  Steve on helm it is the job of Chris & I to busy about in the dingy taking & tiring ropes to the quayside under the gaze of twenty or so surly Greek fishermen.

My job was to run around quay first tieing a rope then untieing it and moving around the quay to a better spot. At one point I had to explain how the circumference of a circle works to prevent me following the rope into the water. After 45 mins we had one anchor and one line in place when a friendly agreed to leave and free up the pontoon. He then tangled his anchor up before moving off & leaving the jetty free. At that point one line is snagged on our ruder requiring Steve to dive in to release it. A catalogue of disasters managed and solved by the merry crew – well, at times not so merry!!!!

2 hours later we are moored safely in the corner surrounded by the fishing boats who will leave at some ungodly in morning. Phew. G & Ts well earned. Chris awarded the Crew Urn Award for his dingy work. What about my knots!!!!!!



And we retire for a well earned dinner looking proudly at our handiwork. A team effort.


A stormy night & trouble in the high seas

Capt Steve anchors up in bay around from small village. We have a confrontation with an American who thinks we a bit close. Means Chris has to move our long line & makes us late. Huh! Again we dingy across to walk to village to eat & return in the darkness just beating a colossul thunder & lightening storm and beating rain.


The morning finds rough seas & overcast skies. We make our way out of shelter to find big, yes big, waves – bit like fairground ride. 40 mins out an engine stops. We limp to port & call out the mechanic Stephanos & his local buddy who get the ferry over & who arrive several hours later to hum & ha and then replace the fan belt while we have show down with a rather enormous car ferry.





Our day is rescued by the lovely Liana at the cafe Aramis. Iced coffees to die for and wonderful pork & prunes made by mama.


The male crew pose for pics – more at play than at work. Downtime is required. Sorry about shirt in middle – rather let side down.

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Anchor girl shows off her crew

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The wonderful hilltop village of Rousoumi. Destroyed by an earthquake and then rebuilt. A very trendy, rather hippyish community with loads of restaurants, cafes & grockle shops with classy goods. 20140607154408_IMG_0191





And my favourite!



Long lines to shore

2 days without wifi so a summary of the days is very easy. Sailing, anchor up for lunch in a bay, sail a bit further and on these days Chris takes rope in mouth, swims to shore & ties us up to sway gently between knot & anchor.



The view of the restaurant where we had yet another ‘ traditional Greek ‘ meal and of the boat from the restaurant.


That’s us bobbing,ney swaying in the front, with subtle sunset behind. The meal was a bit iffy but reasonable red wine, rather sweet, for 6 Euros a litre. This grows between the five of us until the Croatian group next door get us over for a very bad dance to very ify music. The journey back to the boat in the dingy is even more hazardous in the dark.

It has been requested by some of you, well one, that I prove that I am here and I do do stuff. One image of me at wheel.


Once all the mewing about stuff is done & sails are up & we are motoring I go up the flat front, stick my headphones in and start the learning process with my words for the 16 songs I have to learn in 3 weeks as the horizon passes. Lucy, hope you proud of me.




Messing about in boats

We sail across the bay to a deserted island, moor in Monastery Bay, tho no monastery for several centuries. The dingy is off loaded & we mess about a bit as you do. Then back to port for dinner. 80 boats arriving morrow for regatta so we off early. 20140606073725_IMG_0046 20140606074337_IMG_0050



The sun shines again on Steni Vela

Yay! The sun comes out. A beautiful morning with blue skies and a good breeze. Still no way to get off so we set sail straight away, hoist the main sail and the jib and off we go across the bay. We make eight knots at one point. I take the wheel and we head for a small cove for lunch. Yes, I said I take the wheel.



The cove has a single small olive farm on each side. Some of us even swm ( not me- too fresh!)



We move across to moor up at the small harbour of Steni Vala – a collection of 3/4 restaurants/bars and a few houses behind.






Refreshments in the bar include iced coffee & beer. A short stroll over the hill by the small church to a deserted pebbled bay before G & T and dinner. 1st time in 48 hours Chris & Denyse have been on dry land.



British weather on Alonnisos

This all comes as a bit of a shock. Yesterday statred with clear blue skies and we set off to sail east in brisk wind. The jib goes up, the main sail goes up and we tack a couple of times heading for the island of Alonnisos making 7 knots. It is then that the weather breaks-grey skies & then rain.






Are we happy – oh, yes, sailing is fun.

Through the rain we power on to port and tie up. Here we find two problems as well as the rain which will go on for 24 hours.

Problem 1 is the unpredictable surge which sends the boats backwards & forwards between anchor & quayside ropes. All very manageable for skipper Steve & crew.

Problem 2 is the fact that the quayside is about a metre above our rear deck which effectively means we are marooned on board & unable to get off without taking one’s life in one’s hands by sliding up an 80degree slippery wooden plank one way and then guaging when the swell will bring the boat within jumping distance to get back on board. As there is a force 6 wind outside the harbour we stay put overnight and all the following day. Some of try the plank of death to go shopping and ablute in local cafes. For others is a leap too far and they spend 36 hours watching the humans as they walk past.

After 24 hours it stops raining but sadly no sun comes out. We manage to get three off for suplies and to skank the wifi code from the cafe oposite. It is sporadic & to keep connected you have to be out in the elements and wave the tablet over your head. Hopefully all will settle down for tomorrow.





Sailing to Agnondis

Just a few mile down the coast we nestle in the small bay of Agnondis. We have lunch tied to the rocky shore and when the wind changes we move over to the quayside. Some sailing photos 20140602082459_IMG_9889   20140602082110_IMG_9882 20140602081851_IMG_9874 20140602091124_IMG_9910 We cross to the for coffee & later dinner at this small restaurant. 20140602131055_IMG_9920   Can you see us tied up in the background? 20140602131429_IMG_9926

A day in town

The wind was blowing a bit this morning so decided,thankfully, to stay in harbour. After breakfast of bacon & eggs we get the bus around the island to Skopelos Town. Maybe we would find Pierres & Meryl there. Sadly no but did find a proper Greek looking church & some quaint narrow streets and bustling harbour. In fact found lots of little churches all spread about the town.





The stray cats on their way home after a hard day in the bins.



Locals at work and play.






À short sail to Skopulos

All hands on deck to undo ropes, start engines, leave port and set sail in the sunshine. Sorry, I lack the nautical lingo but will make every attempt to include it as I pick it up. I heave up a couple of fenders, those balloon type things along the side, and I untie them (impressed!). Off into the Aegean and navigate a course through the islands. After a couple of hours arrive here in Skolos. 20140531103426_IMG_9715

This is the island where they shot Mama Mia. Yes,really. Having tied up we explore Loutraki looking for Meryll Streep, those steps & the church. We find lots & lots of steps. Some of us give employment to local taxi drivers for the tortuous journey up & down to the top of the village. Couldn’t find the church; found lots of steps tho. No sign of Colin or Pierres nor allthose sexy girls. 20140531131859_IMG_9760

Only locals relaxing & playing cards.


Evidence of hard fishing!

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Hello Greece

Arrived in Skathioss last night. Now preparing the boat & collecting supplies for two weeks around Aegean with good friends Lynn & Steve and Chris & Denise..




Here is the boat – sorry, catermaran. It’s huge. Four cabins, 2 in each hull. And that is captain Steve fiddling about with his ropes – a essential skill. I am told and one I will have to learn if we are not to loose fenders. Yes, it has proper sails!



See you when I can find WiFi.