|Sunset in Corfu|
We all piled onto the ferry and sat out on deck on the overnight crossing. There were hundreds of us, not just Brits but many Scandinavians, Dutch, Germans, Irish - you name it. I remember trying in vain to lie down and sleep, as J (who was into heavy metal at the time) found some fellow Guns and Roses fans with a bottle of Jack Daniels and proceeded to have a wild party. In the morning when we docked in Corfu, I was frantically searching for her, and eventually discovered her feeling very sorry for herself in the ferry toilets.
Having teamed up (I can't remember how) with some fellow Brits, we found ourselves a dormitory-style room on the roof of a very low budget hotel in Corfu town. It was pretty squalid - I seem to recall you had to troop down several floors to a bathroom - but it was a base from which to explore the island, and on the second day, we started hearing about a place called Pelekas.
Pelekas was a bit like the mysterious island in Alex Garland's "The Beach," in that backpackers in Corfu Town talked about it in mythical terms - Pelekas was where the party was. We heard tales of campfires on the beach every night, beautiful surf and what's more, plenty of cheap places to stay. With two of our new friends, we rented some scooters and headed up there and it was indeed magical. There was a beautiful unspoilt beach, accessed by walking down a long winding road from the pretty hill village above, which seemed entirely populated by backpackers, and was buzzing with bars and restaurants in the evening. The next morning, we piled our bags into a taxi and headed for the hills.
We immediately found a local woman offering us a cheap, clean and very pleasant room off the main square with a gorgeous view, and spent the next few days on the beach, often returning late at night after a session round the campfire with various backpackers playing guitars. It was blissful.
|Corfu's West Coast|
If you've been to other Greek islands, Corfu is a little different: it's greener than other Greek islands such as the Cyclades, and there's a definite Italian influence on the architecture and also the food. It's rich with olive, lemon and fig trees and there is teeming wildlife - as chronicled by Gerald Durrell in "My Family and Other Animals." The huge green cicadas at our villa were so loud the Doctor even complained that he couldn't concentrate on reading; here's a photo of one landing on my silk culottes, to which it seemed extremely attracted.
|This cicada liked my culottes|
The northeast coast of the island, near where we stayed, is apparently sometimes called "Kensington on sea" because it's full of posh English. I reckon this comparison is outdated - unlike today's Kensington, it's not ritzy or full of European playboys. It's probably more like Dulwich-on-sea -- there were quite a few middle class Brits around, but they were enjoying themselves in quite a low key way, splashing in the sea and having nice lunches in tavernas rather than cavorting on yachts.
|Views from the water|
Oh, and one day we paid a visit to the West of Corfu - to my old haunt of Pelekas. First, we swam at the beach - still beautiful, but much more developed, with a huge hotel complex down one end, plentiful beach bars and now two winding roads down there, with several car parks charging 4 euros a pop to park. The boys loved the surf there, and it's still a great beach -- but it was not quite the idyllic spot I remembered.
|View from Pelekas village today|
Was Pelekas still a haven for backpackers? I asked. No, no longer. "They don't come to Corfu now. With flights being cheaper they go to Goa and Thailand," she explained. "When we moved here, we heard about Pelekas's party heyday in the 80s, and we couldn't quite believe it. There were people renting space on balconies and sleeping on the beach."
So that made me feel quite old, and nostalgic, but also grateful. I had experienced a bit of history, and now that was over, and a new crowd (retired expats) were moving in. Who knows - maybe one day I'll be retiring up to the hills of Corfu too?