Follow the footsteps of the Durrells
Luscious, seductive and the sun is always shining. That’s the way Corfu is depicted in ITV’s charming new drama, The Durrells. What’s more, the island is teeming with snakes and tortoises, and there are quaint tavernas filled with boisterous locals beneath olive groves on the edge of sparkling, cerulean seas. But does the pristine, pre-war vision bear any relation to present-day reality? Corfu certainly suffered some over-development in the tourism boom of the sixties, but it still offers opportunity for a host of authentic Durrell-esque experiences, and a whole lot more besides...
In the footsteps of the Durrells
In 1935, the dysfunctional Durrell family — pretentious twentysomething novelist Lawrence, gun-crazy second son Leslie, man-hungry teenager Margo and animal-loving Gerald (who grew up to be the conservationist and author of My Family And Other Animals, based on his time on the island) — upped sticks from chilly England, led by their long-suffering mother, and settled near Corfu Town For a similarly idyllic location, your best bet is to rent a villa in the pretty north-east corner, where The Durrells was filmed. The lovely bay of San Stefano is a perennial favourite with British holidaymakers. Or you could even stay in the apartments at the atmospheric White House in nearby Kalami, where Lawrence wrote.
If you’re keen to catch sight of a few tortoises of the kind that fascinated young Gerald, visit in late June when they’re at their most active. There’ll be some snakes around then, too. Harmless, most of them. Hiring a motorboat is a must. You could even spot a pod of dolphins, or even a ponderous sea-turtle.
Discover Margo's Bay
One of the island’s prettiest spots for dropping anchor and having a swim is the tiny bay that hosts a little stone shrine to St Arsenios, just south of Agni Bay. This is where Margo sunbathes in the first episode of The Durrells, much to the consternation of the young priest tending the shrine. If you search, you’ll find a sea-level cave there. It’s a shimmering chamber accessed by a corridor in the rock, with a separate underwater exit for the adveturous. Climb up to the shrine, too, for a look. It isn’t manned by any priest, but be warned: you may find a family of baby bats inside, dangling from the ceiling. The shrine is best visited early or late in the day, to avoid the tourist boats that plough in around noon.
A jewel of a town
Too many people arrive in Corfu, get whisked off by taxi to their accommodation, and then hurtle home without ever discovering Corfu Town. This jewel is a unique blend of cultures, which pay testament to the nations that have controlled it during its multifarious history. Where else in Europe can you find a British cricket pitch, in front of a French colonnade of cafes, which gives way to crumbling Italian architecture? It is best reached by boat, rather than by car. For a few euros, you can moor up in Mandracchio harbour, beside the Old Fort. Then climb to the top of the fort and enjoy the magnificent view over the town’s ramshackle rooftops. Afterwards, visit the blackened remains of St Spyridon, Corfu’s patron saint, in the church that bears his name. But the best thing to do in Corfu Town is simply to explore the endless narrow winding streets, housing lovely little bars and shops. If you have time, take your boat a mile or two further south to gaze on Mouse Island and the church of Panagia Vlacherna. But be sure to leave enough time to speed home in daylight.
And don’t miss...
Try to visit Angelokastro, on the west coast near Paleokastritsa. It’s a derelict castle atop a precarious pinnacle of rock, built by the Byzantines. Scan the sea below for rocks in the shape of ships. Legend has it that the sea-god Poseidon punished the locals for helping his enemy Odysseus by petrifying one of their vessels. Then there’s Old Peirithia, near the north coast, an abandoned village dotted with tumbledown churches.