Michael Barrymore appeared to be following me around
My Rough Guide
Sunday 06 July 1997
As a self-diagnosed islomane, a condition described by Lawrence Durrell as an "intoxication" at being "on a little world surrounded by the sea", I have to nominate Mathrki, north-west of Corfu. It's just a wooded hill sticking out of the sea, a hundred or so metres high and a couple of kilometres long, with two hamlets, two tavernas and a few rooms for rent. The sense of isolation is balm to the soul, making it a paradise for misanthropes and hard-core loners.
Michael Barrymore on Corfu. Stuck in Corfu town one Sunday, I walked out to the little bar that overlooks Pondikonssi, which sits at the end of Corfu airport's runway, to watch the planes. Then Barrymore and a friend sat down at the next table. Perhaps mistaking me for a non-Anglophone, they proceeded to discuss Barrymore's plans to dodge the media when he flew home. Barrymore seemed to be following me around the islands - on Zkinthos, his name had attached itself to so many posters for expat bars and restaurants ("Great place! Luv, Michael Barrymore!") I lost count. I contemplated saying hello, but the travel insurance didn't cover dangerous sports.
It would probably be cheating to mention the kitchen of Marianthi and Panayiotis Vassilas, of Lkka, Pax, but their traditional Easter Saturday magaritsa - sheep intestine stew - knocked the spots off the offal served at Bofinger, Roland Barthes' favourite restaurant in Paris. So it has to be the Arekia taverna in Zkinthos town. This simple taverna has communal tables and benches, no menu and serves only its own barrel wine. But its basic taverna fare is exquisite. Around 10 every night, local musicians burst into kantathes, the Ionian folk form influenced by Italian opera imported centuries ago by the region's Venetian invaders.
Signomi - sorry - will cover almost any social gaffe, and then pirazi - never mind! - is the only dignified response to disaster. Eketeh katholou domatia? - do you have any rooms? - is vital for anyone winging it on the road. Contrary to the belief of the thousands who still try it, shouting slowly in English won't get you anywhere. Milateh Anglika? - do you speak English? - might, however, get them on your side.
The one I'd like to spend some time in is the Pension Ostria in Ai Niktas on Lefkdha, a beautiful little hotel that sits on a low cliff overlooking the western sea. For town atmosphere, the cold-water rooms of the Hotel Patron in Lefkdha town are unbeatable, although you shouldn't expect to get to sleep until after 2am most nights. I stayed at Corfu town's friendly Atlantis so often I almost became an employee - their acceptance of credit cards (most Greek hotels don't take them) proved a lifesaver when the drachmas ran out. Corfu's Bella Venezia rivals the ritzier Cavalieri for comfort, cost and, again, credit card friendliness.
This came at the end of two days walking in the Livthos farming region of Kefalloni, after fending off the 15th attempted attack by packs of off-leash farm dogs. (A friend had taught me the trick of grabbing a rock and letting the dogs see it, which works.) Multilingual cries for help failed to produce assistance, and I was contemplating throwing myself on the mercy, and bonnet, of the next passing car. The rock got me out alive, but I can't recommend the area to pedestrians or cyclists.
Astkos, on the mainland opposite Ithki, to Igoumentsa, opposite Corfu. It passes through spectacular mountainscapes, particularly between Ionnina and the coast, but 12 hours bouncing along in three different buses does little to ease the traveller's occasional companion, haemorrhoids.
On one island, a very sweet taverna owner seemed on the verge of attempting to seduce me. While male bisexuality is common in Greece, homosexuality is still largely taboo and out gays virtually unheard of. As one queer to another, I wish I'd got to know him, if only amicably, but at that moment his daily delivery of produce arrived. As the van had agreed to give me a lift to my next destination, I had to clamber aboard and bid him adieu.
I went travelling to see if there was anywhere in the Ionian more beautiful than the spectacular horseshoe bay of Lkka, Pax. I now know there isn't.
8 John Gill wrote 'The Rough Guide to Corfu'. Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter 'Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.
Charter flights to Corfu from Gatwick start at around pounds 130; expect to pay pounds 20-pounds 40 more from regional airports, and the the same again to Keffaloni (which also serves Ithki), Preveza (for Lefkdha) and Zkinthos airports. Eclipse (0990 010203) is one of the biggest flight handlers.
Ferries ply between the islands, but island-hopping is not as easy as in the Aegean, except between neigbouring Keffaloni, Ithki and Lefkdha. Mathrki can be reached by day trips from northern resorts such as Sidhri, and a weekly ferry from Corfu town.
Pension Ostria (00 30 645 97483) Ai Niktas, Lefkdha (pounds 45 a night); Hotel Patron (00 30 645 22 359) Plata yios Spirdon, Lefkdha (pounds 20 a night); Hotel Atlantis (00 30 662 35560-2) Xenofntos Stratgou 48, Corfu (pounds 24 a night); Bella Venezia (00 30 662 46500) Zambeli 4, Corfu (pounds 35 a night).
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