A pilgrimage to the isle of Corfu
Gazing out across the waters of Corfu from my villa’s infinity pool, I see rickety boats and intrepid paddle boarders. Further away, across the Ionian Sea, is the craggy coastline of Albania. Sea views often sound clichéd, but Corfu really is spectacular – and a perfect destination for spring.
I picked Corfu as I’m a fan of Gerald Durrell’s My Family And Other Animals, an autobiographical book about the British naturalist and his time as a child growing up on Corfu.
But we’re here to fully switch off, too. Our home for the week is Villa Skyline, an impressive new build carved high into the rock face of Corfu’s north-east coast. It is one of the villas on offer through Villa Collective, a platform launched by father-and-son team Richard and Nick Cookson offering rentals on high-end Mediterranean villas directly from their owners, often villas not available anywhere else.
The six-bedroom villa offers uninterrupted sea views with direct access for swimming, and there’s a separate summer house with dining area and huge barbecue for entertaining. Villa Skyline is also close to Agni Bay, a beautiful beach with some of the best tavernas in the area, only a three-minute drive away or 15 minutes’ walk.
There’s an optional butler and chef service although we go for the daily maid option, who replenishes our fruit bowl, changes linen and tidies after our two messy teenagers. Our fridge has already been pre-stocked by the concierge so there’s a bottle of Champagne already sitting in an ice bucket on arrival.
It’s a nose-to-tail service: we’re picked up from the airport in a sleek black Mercedes minibus and the concierge has sorted car hire, with the vehicle delivered to our front door by the rental company, a family-run local business that beats its bigger rivals on price. Tempting as it is to wander no further than between the pool, sun lounger and massive fridge, I’m keen to see the sights, so the car is essential.
It’s a half-hour drive down the coast to Corfu Old Town. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, its historical influences date to the 8th century BC. Forts here were once used to defend the Republic of Venice against the Ottoman Empire. The town’s Venetian architecture is worth seeing by meandering through the twisty alleyways. There’s plenty of places to stop for a decent beer too.
The next day we headed northward on the coast road, getting stressed over which of the stunning beaches to visit. (Don’t they say relaxing is the hardest thing for City workers? I’d agree.) We end up choosing Kalami Bay, a small but pristine beach that also happens to be the Durrells’ former home. The family moved to Corfu before the Second World War and their books have inspired tens of thousands of holidaymakers to make a pilgrimage to the island ever since.
The crew are a cheerful bunch serving G&Ts from the bar. They tell us how we might spot a pod of dolphins chasing sardines
Lawrence Durrell lived here with his wife in The White House, a former fisherman’s cottage facing the sea. Today, the ground floor of the White House is a pleasant taverna, with old photographs of the Durrell family adorning the walls. The stone-built al fresco taverna boasts 180-degree views of Kalami Bay so it’s easy to see why the naturalist loved it here so much.
Many of the dishes are based on traditional Corfiot recipes, handed down over the generations. Corfiot chef Lefteris Lazarou is the first Greek chef to be awarded a Michelin star, and I’d highly recommended the crispy anchovies in panko crust. Crayfish risotto with green asparagus and crayfish oil is also delicious.
The next morning after a breakfast delivered by staff of locally made honey, fresh figs and the white peaches typical of Corfu, we take the short stroll from the villa to Krouzeri Beach, where Madalena tours whisks us along the north-east coastline by boat, passing pretty bays and skirting Albania by a mile – so close our phones switch to the Balkan country’s (expensive) network.
From our villa we whiled away the better part of our trip, using our paddle board from the local Agni Boat Hire to drift into neighbouring Agni Bay
The crew are a cheerful bunch serving G&Ts from the bar. They tell us how, if we’re lucky, we might spot a pod of dolphins chasing sardines, although the skipper stresses there will be no jumping to swim with them as they’re wild animals and should be respected. “It’s not good for them to get too close to boats and people, especially if they have babies.” That’s us told.
We stop for lunch at Kassiopi, an old fishing village. The boat-filled harbour is lined with shops and restaurants but we eat at Porto Nuovo, overlooking the harbour, with downable cocktails and a tasty local crab linguine. Above us up the hill sits the ruins of a Byzantine castle. En route back, we swim more, and jump off the boat at yet another unspoiled beach. We stop to snorkel at Nissaki, where sea caves are home to shoals of brightly coloured fish darting among the rocks.
But it was from our villa that we whiled away the better part of our trip, often using our paddle board from the local Agni Boat Hire to drift into neighbouring Agni Bay, where a small taverna serving fresh local seafood became our saving grace at midday.
For the final night we thought we’d better put on some clothes, so we went for dinner at the nearby Nikolas Taverna for a slap-up Greek meal, with calamari, souvlaki and beef stifado, washed down with bucket loads of local white wine. Cats weave in and out of the tables – cats are always hanging around Corfiot tavernas, looking for leftover whitebait. Gerald Durrell loved animals and, squinting at the horizon, I could imagine him scooping these cats up to take home.
Visit Corfu yourself
Villas on Corfu with Villa Collective range from £7,000 – £16,000 per week. To book visit villacollective.com or call 0203 950 1588
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