Corfu: Little Britain On The Med
The British love Corfu. In fact, the locals expect more of us than ever to turn up this year. Peter Victor took his family to find out why
Sunday 01 April 2007
As we drove from Corfu Town to Aghios Stefanos on the winding road along the island's east coast the omens were not good. Five tired souls - two adults and three children - shattered and sweaty after a night flight from Gatwick airport.
Squeezing our appropriately named Citroën Jumpy hire car past nighttime lorry drivers on particularly vertiginous stretches, we swerved to avoid British beer monsters swilling booze and ramming down fast food as they stumbled into the road. Others on mopeds wobbled across our lane towards the next skinful. We arrived, fit to drop, at our villa on the north-east coast of the island just before sunrise, collapsed into bed and slept like the dead.
When Katy, my partner, shook me awake the sun was already high in the sky. Taking in the view from the villa's balcony on the hillside above the bay, gazing across the Ionian Sea towards Albania, it would have been easy to convince ourselves we were still dreaming. Wisps of cloud were evaporating into a deep-blue sky. Below, ringing the cove, a string of boats waited at the edge of an improbably blue sea. Just outside the front door, the swimming pool was warm enough for the kids to leap in after a hurried breakfast.
A walk down the steep hill from our villa to the bars and restaurants around the small harbour reassured us that Aghios Stefanos was nothing like the industrial drinking stations we travelled past en route. Here, the emphasis was on food and families; every bar and restaurant welcomed us warmly. Waiters entertained and quizzed the kids, elderly Corfiots offered sweets.
Some villa operators claim 55 per cent of sales are concentrated in Aghios Stefanos. Holiday demand always exceeds supply in the summer months. Our villa - three large bedrooms, and an open plan dining room-cum-lounge - suited us perfectly. When not exploring the area we sat poolside watching the children tire themselves out. Lucia, 10, a relatively strong swimmer, was allowed into the two-metre deep end. Cecilia, eight, and Solomon, fearless as any five-year-old, was confined to the shallow end with the aid of the pool cleaner's pole and net.
Then we would amble down to the seafront to the family-run restaurant-bars, shops, and a mini-supermarket. We hired a boat and motored to seafront eateries. We bounced over the waves, the children screaming with delight, and we got caught in choppy waters as the wind turned.
We headed for land, food and restorative local beer. The area is a favourite with Britons: "Some have found it a favourable place to purchase property. Others have been attracted by references to Aghios Stefanos in Gerald Durrell's books," a tourist board spokesman told me. This, and a wave of publicity after a visit from David Cameron and family, means the industry is expecting another bumper year.
For families like ours Aghios Stefanos is something close to perfect. Great food: plenty of fresh fish, salads and, if you cannot withstand child demands for chips with everything, the restaurants offer those, too. There were many great beaches nearby, fantastic scenery and great walks.
The omens had been totally wrong. We laughed at how misplaced our fears had been as we relaxed in the evenings, chatting about our day over a glass of wine, the chirruping of insects and the surf the only sounds. One more reason to go to Aghios Stefanos: children sleep more soundly there.
THE COMPACT GUIDE
HOW TO GET THERE
Peter Victor travelled as a guest of charter flight-only operator Avro (0871-622 4481; avro.co.uk) and Meon Villas (0870-850 8551; meonvillas.co.uk). Avro offers flights to Corfu from five UK airports including Gatwick and Manchester from £99 return. One week at the Villa Elia at Aghios Stefanos for up to six people with a private pool, cleaning and the services of a local representative costs from £859. It can also arrange car hire and flights.
Greek National Tourism Organisation (020-7495 9300; gnto.co.uk).
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