The first time I arrived in Kerkyra (Corfu), nineteen years old, I travelled by ferry boat with my boyfriend. We came to the island just as the sun was rising and my first glimpse of Poli Kerkyras (Corfu Town) had me spellbound. Clear sky, blue sea and buildings the colour of sandstone, built in the Venetian style, bathed in the early morning light. What an introduction!
Sadly, Kerkyra’s beauty has also been it’s downfall because it’s become such a popular destination for foreign tourists. There are places which have been ruined by enormous hotels, swimming pools, bars which advertise karaoke and English breakfasts, and people who make me embarrassed to be British. There is also the terrible island bureaucracy. (I got married in Kerkyra and I actually have a different date on my marriage certificate to the date my wedding ceremony took place, but that’s another story!) But away from the paperwork and the tourism, there are still places which are achingly beautiful and almost untouched by the 21st century. It’s these places that have my heart.
It’s hard to paint a picture of the beauty of Kerkyra in a paragraph, but I’m game if you are. First, there is the sea all around, lapping at the base of cliffs and on the shores of sandy and rocky beaches. It sparkles in the sunshine and at times it’s so crystal clear you can see the bottom even when you swim far out and the water is as deep as a building is tall. But when a storm hits and the thunder booms, the rain lashes down and sheet lightning flashes over the sea, the winds can sometimes whip up some impressive waves – at least by Mediterranean standards.
Inland, there are tiny mountain villages where old people can’t read and write, but know how to grow or raise or find all their own food. There is the bustling harbour town with its modern shops and cafeterias, old Venetian fortresses and twisting alleys concealing hidden patisseries and tavernas. There are dense, cool olive forests, too, where snakes slither in the undergrowth and the cicadas are as loud as an orchestra.
The summer air in Kerkyra is full of mystery and memories. Now, sitting here in the heat of the afternoon, I remember one night when we were swimming in the sea at midnight, looking up at a moonless sky so full of stars we could almost see the Milky Way. Phosphorescence sparkled on the surface when we moved in the water and as I looked up at the mountain that towered behind the beach, a shooting star crossed the sky.
There is a timeless magic in this place. You can almost sense the people who have walked here before you, as if their love and care and attachment to the land has endured after they have gone. Kerkyra feels like an island looking backwards at its own past, not with anger or longing or even satisfaction – just looking back because that’s the way it is facing, because that is what it has always done.
Images are my own work, except the sea at night, which is from Pixabay.