Kalimera Corfu!

 Funny… it just didn’t seem like Greece. We’d been dazzled by the blue and white on Santorini, subdued by the mainland Greek’s grey and shades of olive and now Corfu looked like Greece’s bohemian cousin, in her green, orange and pink. But then maybe it was Corfu Town’s shabbiness, its charm and its palette of ochre that gave it the taste of Italy.

This was especially so in Guilford Street. Here bougainvillea and grape vines arched over the lane, white roses framed the doors of a small cream church and a pair of double pink sheets hung high above an antique shop where the owner, late on Sunday night, bent over in the window, dusting his red velvet chairs reduced from 1000 euro down to 550 euro.

Even the shaded side lanes, in their dirty orange, damask pink and chipped dull ochre, displayed Italian charm. They showed off jeans, socks and underpants strung across their ten foot alleyways. And on one corner of Guilford Street and a no-named lane, in a large round Greek pot, two thick bougainvillea trunks headed up and around the first floor’s shutters and windows, its leaves had burst out into masses of brilliant orange flowers.

We stayed at the top of Guilford Street at the salmon pink Bella Venezia Hotel with its dark green shutters and breakfasted under spring green wisteria and soon to burst out bougainvillea. We squeezed our own oranges in a ginormous orange squeeze machine. We ladled out huge dollops of thick Greek yoghurt and topped it with spirals of runny honey. We spooned shiny orange mounds of homemade kumquat jam on top of Greek flaky pastries and tucked into lashings of crispy bacon sprinkled with dill. Sounds greedy? Sure. And I loved it.

What’s more, this “charming, cosmopolitan Corfu Town …” says Lonely Planet, “takes hold of you and never lets you go.”

Down the other end of Guilford Street at Town Hall Square the Bougainvillea Restaurant showed off its namesake in the sky – like Lady Di’s outfit in front of the Taj Mahal. And a couple of minutes’ walk from the square, on Sunday morning, St Spyridon Church heralded all that glistens is gold, as its chandeliers lit up the already gleaming gold of its richly decorated ceiling and its host of dark mysterious paintings and religious icons.

Greek Orthodox priests in long beards and black flowing robes added to Corfu Town’s eclectic mix. They could often be seen wandering the maze of lanes, where small shops in burnt-silk orange, shimmered and sparkled with kumquat liqueur, marmalades and jams. We chewed on their bitter-sweet Kumquat glacé and soon after, downed long hot mugs of thick orange chocolate.

These old lanes reminded me of Venice. Not surprising, for Venetian nobility controlled Corfu Island from 1568 to 1789 and it’s their legacy that now stamps Corfu Town a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Outside the city is the grand Achilleion Palace – designed by an Italian, Raffaele Caritto in 1889. They filmed the James Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only here. And yes, it’s a feast for the eyes, with its Greek sculptures in the garden and views out to Corfu City.

Yet another palace, in a large treed setting, is Prince Phillip’s birthplace, the Mon Repos Palace this time, looking out over the Ionian Sea, to mainland Greece and further north, Albania.

Both palaces are a mere local bus ride from Corfu City. “We say on Corfu Island, we smell the spring,” the hotel waitress told me. I could’ve touched the cream and yellow honeysuckle from the bus as we wound into the hills, through a lush green carpet of vegetation, dotted with orange datura and oranges and lemons. The scene was broken only by pencil cypress trees.

And just like Gerald Durrell who wrote about his childhood in Corfu, in My Family and other Animals, “ … the magic of the island settled over us, as gently and as clingy as pollen.” Yes, “spring had arrived and the island was sparkling with flowers,” wrote Durrell.

I wonder if he glimpsed the orange bougainvillea.


(First published in WildTomato)

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Janet Hart

Janet Hart lives in Nelson, where she taught English in secondary schools for nearly 30 years, before dabbling in a little historical New Zealand Art. In 2012 she took up Magazine Journalism, which now consumes her.