View from the Lighthouse – Tales from Corfu

Jules reports back from her spring break to her beloved Greek Islands ... 

Having had a challenging start to the year, to say the least, I decided it was time for a spring break! As usual, I longed to be back on the gorgeous Greek Islands and due to availability and flights we ended up this time heading for Corfu.

Being a great fan of The Durrells TV series and, from my zoo days, a lifelong fan of Gerald Durrell and his pioneering conservation work, I was keen to explore the land of his childhood and visit some of the locations on the island where the family spent their pre-war years in Corfu.

So first challenge of the week of was leaving home in the middle of the night and driving to Southend airport which had nightmare queues both at check in and security … so much for our nice ‘convenient, efficient’ little airport! At least the flight was on time and we landed in Corfu around midday, Greek time.

Having collected our hire car we navigated our way up the coast for almost an hour through the resorts of Dassia, Gouvia & Ipsos. I was disappointed to see how built up everywhere was, with an abundance of commercial ‘tourist tat’ and massive, unattractive hotels - I suppose it’s a sign of the times but the burger bars, cocktail clubs & huge inflatable beach toys were not to our taste! …. However, if you know where to go (and we do!), there are some stunning villas and small boutique hotels, all mainly in the quieter, more traditional, mountainous area in the north east.

Passing through Nisaki with its handful of small tavernas and the local supermarket/bakery/ATM/open all hours style shop ‘Aphrodite’s’(!) we rounded a few more hairpin bends to find the sharp downhill turn to our destination – Kaminaki Beach.

Kaminaki Bay at dusk (from The Lighthouse)

Actually locating our villa was something of a challenge as there are no signs and dragging our luggage up around 200 steps used far more energy than a spin class! Once safely in ‘The Lighthouse’ we met local Simpson Travel rep Di, who talked us through how everything worked and told us about the local area. Keen to have a by now very late lunch (it was 5pm!) we walked back down the hill to Spiros Taverna on the beach but they were not serving food until 7pm … disaster! So back in the car we went up to Nisaki and had a well earned first cold Greek beer and some seafood and Greek salad in Taverna Roumeli, yum!

Having stocked up with fruit, snacks and wine (essentials of any villa holiday!) back we went and settled onto the sun terrace in front of The Lighthouse and watched across the sea as the night drew in. It was overcast and quite windy on that first day and the next morning, the waters were still very choppy – we watched a small yacht tacking its way right across to Corfu town, looking as if it were under the waves many times!

Breakfast with a view at The Lighthouse

On Monday, we decided to take a short drive further north and check out Kalami Bay. But first we headed off the main road to the little fishing village of St Stefanos, unfortunately half way down the road we had a very large puncture! John quickly changed it and we continued into the village.

Agio Stefanos Bay

Most of the waterside tavernas had their ‘cling film’ covers across the open sides, so not wanting to be ‘boiled in a bag’, we chose a taverna at the end of the jetty which had an open terrace and sat watching the world pass for a couple of hours. The water still had quite a swell to it and we were amused to see a floating ‘duck house’ in the bay made from the top of an old boat and home to a large duck sitting on a nest!

In the afternoon we returned to the main road and a little way down the coast found Kalami Bay. This picturesque village was immortalised by Lawrence and Gerald Durrell in their novels and remains a place of unspoiled natural beauty. The ‘White House’ was a fishermans cottage which was rented by the Durrells when they moved here in 1935. Today the White House restaurant serves authentic Greek cuisine and snacks and offers beanbags outside in the summer and a jetty on the rocks, so you can visit by motorboat too.

Boat hire … brings me to the next day! Hiring a boat along the shores of Corfu’s north east coast is a quintessential part of a holiday in this area. Tavernas in the bays of Kalami, Agni and Kerasia all have jetties waiting to meet and greet their visitors! Most of these tavernas will also supply a water taxi service, so you can enjoy an evening meal and take the boat back to your own bay!

Boat hire from the jetty below The Lighthouse

So, being that there is a boat hire spot immediately below The Lighthouse on the beach, we decided to give the car a rest and take to the waters…. All was well until we had dropped anchor in a tiny cove for a swim and realised we couldn’t get back in the boat! The problem is that the ladder on the back of these little motor boats is vertical and not very long … so when you are below it in the water, it’s impossible to pull yourself upright as the handles are chrome and slippery. After much huffing and puffing we finally hoisted ourselves on board and decided it was time for lunch!

Mooring up (on a jetty this time) in Agni Bay we had a fabulous feast of garlic mussels and huge yummy prawns at Taverna Agni on the waterfront. 

The next day we ventured inland to the ‘top’ of Corfu – Mount Pantokrator. As the roads wound up and up, we wondered at how anything was ever built on the side of such steep slopes! The mountain villages seemed full of derelict vehicles … a sign maybe of running out of fuel or breaking down and not being able to get the car back out?! The steepness can be seem on the contour lines of the map and it’s peak at over 900m tall is less than 3km away from the coast! The mountain roads and hairpin bends lead to the summit where there is a welcome café and spectacular views. Along the road sides we saw beautiful spring flowers including orchids and the rare Swallowtail butterfly.

Back down the mountain, we eventually found our way across to the other side of the island and called in at the Corfu Donkey Rescue which provides shelter, food and healthcare to old, sick or abandoned donkeys. They also have some rabbits, horses and 5 roosters (who were supposed to be hens!).

Arriving into Palaiokastritsa, I think we took a wrong turn … instead of the ancient ruins and local tavernas we had hoped for we found noisy ‘clubs’ and more commercial shops and hotels … so about turn and we headed back to the eastern coastal road! Stopping as we came to Ipsos, we had a ‘pit stop’ in a quiet taverna on the side of the harbour which turned out to be a lovely family run affair who presented us with a selection of home made dips and fresh bread. There were shoals of fish waiting for the left over bread in the waters below!

Later, just before returning to our villa, we stopped at the strangely named taverna actually owned by the couple who built The Lighthouse called ‘Vitamins’. Bagging the last front row table for the evening with a sea view, we had some traditional food, listening to the neighbours cockerel serenading the end of the day!

A visit to Corfu Old Town the next day gave us chance to wander the old cobbled streets and visit some of the ancient historical sites. There are palaces, museums, fortresses, gourmet restaurants and traditional taverna, plus a lively harbour and fascinating architecture. However, even being off peak, the narrow alleyways were packed with tourists, so after a lovely lunch of mixed starters in ‘The Old Town Restaurant’ we decided to navigate back out of the city and return to our sanctuary in the north!

On Friday, we made our last outing in the car, this time to the Antiniotissa Lagoon in the north (where the walking trip ‘The Corfu Trail’ ends), hoping to see some wildlife (the lagoon is a haven for wild otters), but it was mostly fenced off, so we headed back into the mountains to the ancient village of Ano Perithia. Another very ‘dodgy’ windy road lead eventually to this pretty little settlement which was clearly abandoned a very long time ago.

A word of warning if you go here – park a little way out of the village and walk the last way, as the ‘car park’ consists of piles of rubble and sharp rocks …! As well as exploring the old buildings and few farms left in the surrounding hills, there are a handful of small traditional tavernas to be sampled. We opted for ‘Fogos’ as visited in the past by Rick Stein and Lawrence Durrell. A charming taverna with rickety wooden chairs balanced on a dirt floor and the upstairs communal loo had an open view across the houses next door! Our tasty lunch consisted of grilled lamb chops and a mixed vegetable pie, nom nom!

Loo with a view!

Walking off lunch we walked further up the hill, surrounded again by spring flowers to a bee farmer who said he had 70 hives each home to around 60,000 bees!! Having purchased some of his tasty products, we headed back to the car and slowly made our way back to Kaminaki. 

Saturday, our last day, we refused to get back in the car (a week of wrestling with the windy roads, scary lorries round blind bends and low undercarriage on rocky lanes was enough to test the nerves!) and opted instead for a lovely walk along a tiny section of ‘The Corfu Trail’ which leads from Kaminaki Bay to Agni Bay … supposedly less than a mile … aha, maybe not!

First challenge was in the next bay, negotiating how to bypass the huge monstrosity which was an all inclusive hotel and out the other side … then back on the path, no signs and various options of which a goat would not have even been happy to try (not that we even saw any goats!) Meeting a few other confused walkers (going in the other direction) we eventually arrived into Agni Bay, hot and bothered and definitely ready for lunch! This time we enjoyed the hospitality of Nikolas Taverna, an old family run affair who provided a water taxi to return us to Kaminaki a few hours later!

That night as the sun set, we walked a few minutes from the bottom of The Lighthouse to the taverna on the edge of the next bay where we had some cocktails to say ‘Yammas’ for the last time to the hospitable people of Corfu.

Dusk from The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse this stunning villa which we booked via our tour operator partners Simpson Travel, is a Greek version of a ‘Grand Designs’ project! Once you have got used to the herculean climb up the steps, the view is worth it and all three levels having large deck areas to soak up the sun at all times of the day. Unfortunately, the pool is not heated and being that we were visiting early in the season the sun hadn’t time to warm it up … my first dip on arrival certainly woke me up – it was like swimming in glacial waters! The master bedroom on the top floor has a wrap round deck and an amazing music system (there are no neighbours to annoy!) and the main lounge area has a huge corner style squishy sofa with TV (though why anyone would want to watch TV when you have such a glorious view outside is beyond me!), and the state of the art kitchen and massive fridge have all you need to entertain if you so wish, including an outdoor BBQ area on a separate terrace. The pool is on the bottom level at an angle across from the villa, so you have a direct view down the line of the beach below with portholes in the walls, making it look like a boat as you look up from the sea!