Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I chose to visit Corfu to experience two things: the setting for Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals and the famous Corfiote beaches. I grew up in a seaside town and hated going to the beach - we looked down our noses at the tourists who flocked to the sea to do nothing but sit on the sand. Now I'm one of them!

I knew that Corfu is now a top package tourist destination and has become really built up. I also knew not to expect the island to still be anything like what it was in the 1930s when the Durrell family lived there. Even so, I wasn't quite prepared for the urban sprawl of Corfu Town. The run down buildings seemed to sweat in the heat. I was disappointed.

Our apartment was in a resort in the built-up town of Gouvia, with an amazing swimming pool but no real beach to speak of. The kids loved it. Gouvia itself was a little seedy, with empty shops and too much litter, but it had character and it was on all the major bus routes.

A day trip into Corfu Town revealed the charming old town, presided over by two Venetian fortresses. Narrow alleys, colourful shop windows, street cafes and horse drawn carriages ... this town is well worth a visit.

The town's charm lies in its lively atmosphere, grand Venetian architecture and leafy streets, and enables the visitor to overlook the dilapidated state of the buildings.

But the best thing about Corfu isn't the main town. It's the small villages and the lush vegetation that you find when you get away from the built-up areas. And the beaches. The best sandy beach we visited was at Paleokastritsa, a series of coves with dramatic slopes covered in trees dropping down to the crystal clear sea. The beach is shallow and the waves gentle, so it's ideal for kids. Boats take visitors to the sea caves that dot this section of coastline. Paleokastritsa is also so popular that the tourists busses arrive in droves.

My favourite place on Corfu, though, is without a doubt the quiet and unspoilt village of Kalami. And not only because it is the area immortalised by both the Durrell brothers.

Though the village now boasts dozens of holiday villas and several souvenir shops, you can still easily imagine how Kalami looked in the halcyon days of the 1930s. Perhaps it's because the village is at the base of a steep slope and not accessible to tour busses. Or perhaps it's the fact that the beach offers few boat excursions or water sports. Or the fact that the beach itself is made up of large pebbles and impossible to walk on without shoes. For me, all of these things are bonusses - and the best thing of all is that you don't get sand into everything!

At one end of Kalami beach lies The White House (pictured below), Laurence Durrell's former home and now a taverna that makes excellent seafood. I highly recommend the swordfish.

I left Corfu with a lovely brown tan, infinitely more relaxed and happy than I arrived. Our next stop was Santorini, perhaps one of Greece's most popular tourist destinations. But I was sad to leave Corfu. There was still so much of this island I hadn't yet seen and still so much of that lazy, friendly island life to soak up. Oh well, next time ....

Monday, September 28, 2009

What I love about Greece

For those who've requested pictures, you'll have to bear with me. I haven't got the digital pics from my husband yet and I still use a film camera, which means I need to get the negative processed, developed & scanned before I can share them with the world. I know it's old-fashioned but I just love the quality of real film!

Now here are the 5 main reasons I love Greece (and most particularly the Greek Islands). I know that one tends to experience a place differently when you're there on holiday, but I still think that if I had the means I'd move there tomorrow!

1. FRIENDLY. The Greeks are the friendliest nation. Everywhere we went people smiled and made conversation. And the Greeks love children. So many people chatted to my girls, patted their heads, offered them cakes and sweets ... not exactly what I want to encourage in this dangerous world, but in Greece you truly feel that it's well-intentioned.

2. EASY-GOING. Despite the legendary Mediterranean temperament, the Greeks are so laid-back. The atmosphere feels so unpressurised and relaxed (and I don't think it's just because I was on holiday and relaxed!). I never encountered any aggression while in Greece. Far from it. Considering the narrowness of the streets, drivers are incredibly patient with one another. I watched a bus waiting as a taxi dropped its passengers and luggage and the bus driver did not hoot once. Here in Johannesburg drivers are very quick to hoot - for example, if they think you haven't taken off quickly enough at a traffic light. I know that the metals in the earth here in Jo'burg add to the aggression levels, but the Greek Islands really are at the opposite extreme.

3. SAFETY & SECURITY. Coming from South Africa, it is a real novelty for me to be able to walk around the town streets alone at night and still feel safe. And theft seems to be almost unheard of. With the assurance of a local we once left all our towels and bags unattended on the beach while we went off to a taverna for lunch. It was all there when we got back. I would love to become trusting once again and lose that urban suspiciousness.

4. SUNSHINE. The sun in Greece has a wonderful golden quality to it, so different from the bright whiteness of our African sun. Rather than an intolerable heat that burns, the Greek sun turns the skin brown. And apart from a little rain and wind, we had amazing weather throughout. Let's face it: this is the Mediterranean. Even the winters are bearable in comparison with many other places on earth.

5. NO MALLS. What a great place to raise kids. There are no shopping malls and virtually no strip malls, at least on the islands I've visited so far. I actually watched as a group of kids gathered in the town square in Oia (Santorini) on a Friday night to play with a skipping rope and ride bikes. No getting dressed up in brand name gear to hang out at the mall, where drugs and predatory grown-ups abound.

Next post ... Corfu.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Heaven on Earth

I'll post more in the following days, with pictures, but for now I'm just popping in to say "hi". This deliciously long and lazy holiday is now nearing its end and I'll be back to the day job on Monday. In the meantime, I'm still feeling so relaxed and deeply contented thanks to my stay in paradise.

As much as I love travelling, I haven't really been to that many places. The only continents I've visited are Africa and Europe, unless the Arabian peninsula counts as one these days. So I guess I really should be visiting new places when the opportunity arises (which isn't every day when you have kids and live at the back end of nowhere, geographically speaking). But I'm so glad I've revisited Greece instead of exploring somewhere completely new.

Five years ago my husband and I honeymooned in the Greek Islands, and it was simple luck and the roll of a dice that we landed up here rather than Mozambique, Mauritius or Spain. Now I'd be quite happy never to visit any other place on earth, because Greece resonates with my soul.

My next blog post ... what I love about Greece.