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Family travel: It’s all Greek to me

Maria Pieri and family get hopelessly lost in Corfu — and discover the heart and soul of the hilly Greek island

Family travel: It’s all Greek to me
Krouzeri Beach. Image: Maria Pieri

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The clutch of our hire car is beginning to exude the smell of smouldering rubber. I’m thinking: trip abort, trip abort. I’m also thinking of placing the entire blame for this misadventure on the four dishevelled and slightly bewildered French tourists we’d stopped earlier.

“Are we near Paleo Perithia?” we’d asked, finding them midway up a mountain in the middle of seemingly nowhere. They’d shrugged and smiled, and we’d engaged in a smiling and nodding exercise, pointing at maps and laughing until it became clear — yup, they’re just as lost as us. And now, with the car having ground to a halt, we’re stuck, unable to climb any further.

We’re on the north east of the island, searching for mountain village Paleo (‘Old’) Perithia, a Heritage Protected Site that’s hidden — too well — among a dense forest of cypress, olive and oak. “It can’t be that hidden,” I grumble. “Rick Stein managed to find it.” That was back in 2008, for an episode of Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escapes, which showcased the village’s cobbled streets, ancient stone houses and vineyards heavy with ripening grapes. I recall him raving about Taverna Foros’ onion pie. I picture a slice and a glass of vino waiting for us at the top as we attempt a third ascent. But even this mouth-watering image fails to allay my fears our car will overheat and break down again, or — worse still — splutter back to life and launch us over a cliff edge.

Our earlier approaches had taken us through Kaminaki, Nissaki and one other ‘aki’, but each time we kept finding ourselves back on the same crossroads going up to Katavolos. Eventually, my partner surveys a particular sharp turn and shakes his head gravely, confirming my fears: these windy roads have defeated us. The little old women who stared at us as they gathered their washing, and the little old men who muttered as we went up and down these hills clearly knew best. And yet. And yet… Without even trying to, we’ve seen much of the heart of this Greek island; its vineyards, clusters of whitewashed buildings, chicken coops, banks of wild flowers, and elaborate roadside shrines. We’ve seen a part of Corfu not many get to see. Yes, some things eluded us — a certain 14th-century village hidden in the mountains, say, with four or five tavernas, 130-odd, deserted stone houses — and possibly four lost French tourists exclaiming at the architecture.

Next time someone tells me how to get somewhere, I might listen more carefully (or use a better satnav). But I can’t help but think if you really want to see what makes an island tick, getting lost is pretty much the only way to find it.

Footnote: Paleo Perithia is located off the main road between Kassiopi and Acharavi. Apparently.

Lakones village, Corfu island. Image: Getty

Lakones village, Corfu island. Image: Getty

The lowdown

Sea Taxis… Are the way to travel, especially in the hilly east of Corfu. Our Simpson Travel rep, Jacqui, suggested where to dine: Taverna Agni and Taverna Glyfa, both of which run a speedboat taxi service to the surrounding bays and coves each evening. The kids loved the sea trip; we loved not having to drive.

Fresh food…. Taverna Agni is all about great seafood and Greek staples with a twist, including a fantastic beetroot, walnut and yoghurt dip. On menus across the island you’ll find the classic Corfu dish sofrito (beef in wine sauce with garlic and parsley), saganaki (an appetiser of fried cheese — usually graviera). My kids happily made do with steaks, grilled chicken, Greek salads and fish and chips.

The beaches… Our nearest beach was a steep, five-minute walk from our villa, Krouzeri. Like most beaches in the north east, it’s a shingle-and-sand affair, so far quieter than the sandier west coast tourist hotspots (in return for your custom most tavernas offer free sunbeds too). There are some more lively areas nearby (Ipsos and Nissaki, for example), but the main party town is Kavos, in the south.

Words of welcome… Each Greek island has it’s own dialect and the natives were most pleased when I tried to speak the lingo in my Cypriot-twanged accent. Greek hospitality is rightly famous — Panayiotis, the owner of the Krouzeri Taverna, on Krouzeri Beach, insisted on reserving sunbeds for us the morning after our initial visit.

Corfu Town… The Venetian-built capital city of Corfu has plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. A highlight is Spianada Square (the largest square in Greece), flanked by fortresses and mansions and home to a maze of alleys where we bought beautifully carved olive wood utensils and toiletries made from local lemons and olives.

The villa… An hour’s drive from the airport (45 minutes from the ferry port), Kyma is a large, modern red-brick villa. Having four bedrooms spread over two spacious floors meant we could all get some peace and quiet when we needed it. The kids fell in love with the infinity pool (no surprise there) but it faced some fierce competition from the nearby beach. The villa is set on a steep (but manageable) slope around 500ft above Krouzeri, which has its own taverna, watersports facility and small jetty for water taxis. The beach here is flanked by two bays, Agni and Kaminaki, accessible on foot along beach paths. Or you can hire a boat for the day (around €90/£63) to really explore the coast.  

How to do it Simpson Travel offer a seven-night stay at Kyma costs from £608 per person based on eight sharing, departing 1 May 2016, Price includes seven-nights’ accommodation on a self-catering basis, return flights and car hire.

Published in the Winter 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller Family (UK)