It was with great joy and relief that I discovered 14 years later that the things I had loved and remembered were unchanged: the coastal path to Agni touched by the scent of cypress and olives and the echo of the cicadas; the deep blue clear sea washing the bleached white stone beach, and the haunting barren land of Albania on the horizon. And again I was struck by the beauty of the coast on this north-eastern corner when seen from the sea, with olive trees cascading down mountain terrain to the shore, rolls of black netting attached to the branches to be unfurled in autumn to catch the falling fruits.
This time we were three adults, two children (boy eight, girl almost four) and a baby of nine months, seeking a beach holiday where the children would be able to meet others and be a little independent, but which would be relaxing and enjoyable for us, too. We found a travel company offering 10 properties in Kaminaki and chose the top of the yellow house that occupies a prime spot on the beach, where the children could be easily seen from the shaded terrace. We were greeted by the beaming owner, Mandalena Katsouros, whom I immediately recognised as the jolly lady who had kept a keen eye on her cottage many years before. Now she quietly tends her flowers and spends many hours beneath the fig tree watching children on the beach.
For the children, Kaminaki was a paradise. They made friends immediately, as my son's holiday diary testifies. Day one is spent describing the journey, ending with his first swim and noting that he did not like the stones on the beach. Day two, however, started with snorkelling at 8.30am when he met Emerald. Thus the gang grew to nine, including the girls from the taverna and the boats. The diary was not continued . . .
If you want a gently shelving, sandy beach, this stretch of coast is not recommended. But for children who are able to swim, or at least are confident wearing armbands, it is ideal. Apart from swimming and snorkelling, much time was spent playing on Lilos, climbing over rocks, drawing on stones and singing (so well that they were recorded by a music teacher from Hammersmith for use in her lessons).
Kaminaki has grown, but not been spoilt: there is now a small supermarket, a gift shop selling newspapers and an additional taverna. Boats can be hired from Asterios, whose pontoon floats on the rocky side of the bay. The original taverna on the beach is quiet and does not impinge on those living close by, and Spiro's English wife, Sue, was kind and helpful when our daughter needed a doctor one evening. The flip side of Kaminaki's disappointing food is that the beach itself is not overrun by visitors.
Although we had a rep from our operator, CV Travel, her visits to Kaminaki were not pre-scheduled. With only two taverna telephones available and an inadequate telephone system, I did not speak to the local office, so we relied a lot on locals.
At pounds 250 for two weeks (plus about pounds 35 for petrol), the boat we hired was good value and added enormously to the success of the holiday. It enabled us to visit many of the tavernas close by along the coast for lunch: the Nikolas at Agni was excellent value; The White House at Kalami was disappointing; at Kouloura the only taverna was first-rate and the Eucalyptus at Agios Stefanos was good.
We did weaken and hire a car, arranged by our CV Travel rep, for three days; it was a Daihatsu Zebra, a Japanese version of the Mini Moke. On one journey we took the coast road to Kassiopi and round to Acharavi, then turned inland and up to Episkepsis. At all turns the views were ravishing wherever you looked and the countryside remains mercifully untouched by tourism.
We had an exhilarating return journey in the mountains, push- starting the Zebra backwards round hairpin bends. Miraculously in this way we managed to reach Nissaki village, within walking distance of Kaminaki, before the engine seized up totally on yet another blind corner. A replacement was with us within two hours, but we were left with the impression that this was not an altogether unusual experience.
The Zebra also enabled us to spend a morning in Corfu Town. Entering on the road that follows the harbour, we had superb views of the old and new (16th-century) forts. The town was not at all crowded - an indication of the recession. After coffee in the beautiful Liston arcade we strolled around the narrow shopping streets.
The town has an Italian feel with many elegant buildings, and in less hot weather it would be worth exploring further. We all enjoyed the market near the Palace cinema, which sells fruit and vegetables as well as fish. Herb sellers on street corners offer bunches of oregano to tempt the passer-by.
Another morning car drive took us to Strinilas, where we sat enjoying the cool mountain air in the shaded village square. They are proud of their local wine here, and, although slightly sweet, it was very refreshing. The car also gave us the chance to visit the Panorama restaurant on the road to Porta, high above Agios Stefanos. This is a wonderfully tranquil area with spectacular views of Albania and its rivers pouring into the sea.
We had by this time become so used to changing our travellers' cheques at restaurants and the larger supermarkets of Nissaki and Kassiopi that we arrived for our first meal here with almost no cash. A fellow guest gave us a 5,000 drachma note (about pounds 15), asking only that we bring that sum the next day to his boat outside the Nissaki Beach Hotel (about five minutes on the coastal footpath from Kaminaki).
It was touching to encounter such unconditional trust from a complete stranger. When he subsequently joined us for a glass of retsina we discovered that he was Captain Ari, one of the organisers of local boat trips. (For those who do not wish to hire their own boat, these captains run trips along the coast between Nissaki and Kassiopi and also to Corfu Town, operating from the Nissaki Beach Hotel jetty.)
The hotel was popular with teenagers whose families were renting villas in Kaminaki and Kalami, as it gave them nightlife and tennis courts to hire.
The Nikolas taverna at Agni offers a boat service for restaurant guests, operated by the father of the restaurateur. It is possible to be collected and returned to Kaminaki, although the timing has to be flexible and a nominal charge of 200 drachmas per person seems expected. It is well worth the cost, because this is a truly memorable way to see the coast at night and eat well on the water's edge at Agni.
The longest jaunt in our 15hp boat was to Kassiopi, which took about one hour. Not to be missed is Kouloura - a spectacular waterside villa and garden with adjoining harbour and one delightful taverna where I tasted briami for the first time - a wonderful mixture of aubergine and potato. This whole village is apparently owned by a well-known Italian family and has had much renovation work carried out on buildings and harbour walls. A decorator was adding the finishing touches to the shutters of a row of white cottages during our visit.
We had been warned to return before 2pm as the cape can become quite difficult to negotiate later. The self-styled 'boat lady', Anna, wife of Asterios, confirmed that more large boats and cruise ships pass through later in the day - many of them ignoring the speed restrictions and thus creating a large wash.
So, despite the saying about never going back, for us it was a success. We hope to return again when the youngest is on the verge of swimming and to be greeted again by Mandalena Katsouros and 'the shrill, triumphant cries of the cicadas'.
Operators: CV Travel (071-581 0851/584 8803) was a Corfu specialist when it started 21 years ago. The group claims a 60 per cent return business for its holidays - although clients vary in their choice of countries, now that Corfu is only one of CV's locations. It was certainly true during our visit that many had been returning for years to Corfu. CV is not cheap - it charged about pounds 3,000 for our holiday, including flights, house, boat, maid and taxi transfers - but is efficient and reliable.
Do ask about suitability for very young children, as several of the properties I saw in Kaminaki (not only CV ones) had features which were not really safe for children under four. For an additional pounds 55 per head you can have the benefits of gold class travel, including use of the VIP lounge at Gatwick. This is obviously a good way of wooing a clientele which might otherwise be nervous of boarding a plane to Kor-phew.
Other operators include Something Special (0992 552231) and Martyn Holidays (061-831 7000).
Boats: from Asterios, organised by the day - about pounds 30; also doughnut and torpedo rides behind Asterios's speedboat, about pounds 6 per child.
Cars: Prices vary enormously. Our Daihatsu Zebra from International cost about pounds 40 a day, but Katerinas in Nissaki has a new fleet and many special offers.
Books: Corfu - Windrush Island Guide
Landscapes of Corfu - Sunflower Countryside Guide
My Family and Other Animals - Gerald Durrell
Prospero's Cell - Lawrence Durrell.
Map: Bartholomew Clyde.
Apartments: Nissaki - J. Mackrell & Co, Corfu (010 30 663 91318); Kalami and Agni - P. Collier, UK (0525 240536)
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