Corfu keeps calm and carries on.
First of all, we wish you a very Happy Easter!
Did you all remember to put your clocks on an hour last night?!
It must be a sign of our age that time flies by so fast. Last summer sped past like the flipping pages of time in a Disney cartoon, and now we are already back into spring mode and Corfu is preparing to celebrate its biggest holiday of the year; Easter.
Lots happens in March as people and nature come out of their winter slumbers. 1st March sees an interesting tradition, the bulbs of the large Sea Squill, symbol of vitality, long life and fertility are thrown on to roofs and hung on livestock pens to bring these things to the house or animal pens.
The other interesting tradition associated with the first day of spring is the ancient Greek tradition of wearing the "Marti" . Making a small twisted bracelet on the last day of February from red and white thread; these talismen are worn all month to protect the wearer from disease and the strong rays of spring sun. In some places they also put them around their water jugs, water being such a precious commodity, to keep it cold and protect it from the sun. Some take it off and hang it from a rose bush as soon as they see the first swallow, (which would have been tricky this year as they arrived early in February!)
March weather took a remarkable dive temperature wise, after a very springlike February,which also had half its normal rainfall; but we then made up for that in March. It did manage to clear up for our wonderful Easter carnival parades. As they reach their conclusion then lent then began, but first we had Clean Monday; our favourite day of the year. We get to go to the beach in droves to eat Lenten picnics and fly our traditional kites while the men battle for the highest place in the sky! It is our last chance to enjoy a tipple of our own special wine without having to worry too much about work the next day!
25th March is a big annual holiday. It sees flags flying, bands and school children parading in all villages big and small and of course with great pomp in Corfu town itself. Corfu's heritage of brass bands march around the town centre watched by huge crowds. This is celebrating Independence Day, the day Greece was liberated from 400 years of Turkish Ottoman occupation. It is a day full of traditions and customs. Traditionally the menu would be fried salt cod served with very garlicky Skordalia, mashed potato.
Easter is late this year; 1st May, long after Western Easter. This year the late date means we have lots of people taking advantage of Ryanair and Easyjet flights to come and sample some of our bizarre Easter traditions like pot throwing in Corfu town. They will also see the wonders of a Corfu spring where the brilliance of the colours of vibrant flowers and bright blue skies almost hurt the eyes. It's a great time for walkers as temperatures can be in the low 20's, each year we see more and more donning boots and setting off up ancient cobbled paths and along peaceful rural lanes.
This weekend we too change our clocks to summer time and suddenly everyone changes gear and starts to prepare for the busy summer season. Many of you have suffered through numerous storms (albeit with very friendly names!) that hit northern Europe, so the idea of some Corfu sun must be very appealing. This year's warm, and remarkably dry (if you dont count March!) Corfu winter bodes well for another hot and glorious summer. Our regulars know exactly what their Corfu holiday entails, but maybe for the new visitors to this beautiful island it might help to illustrate the joys of a Corfu holiday. Those in the know will recognise some of the photos and can make that dreamland journey there until you can be there in reality.
The East coast has particularly crystal clear seas, transparent in all shades of blue, generally calm being in the Corfu channel. Here you can learn to scuba dive, ski, or have a laugh on some of the many water toys on offer or leisurely explore in your own small boat. The scenery is stunning with steep olive clad mountains dropping straight down to the coast. It has become known as the playground of the rich so shiny gin palaces are par for the course BUT we have an unpretentious secret; KAMINAKI. Known to but a few aficionados it has all beauty of some of the better known places but without the $signs!
The expanse of the North and West coast has many safe, sandy beaches with the beautiful backdrop of the foothills of Mount Pantokrator to be explored. Friendly people welcome you in waterside tavernas and shops. Here springtime offers walks through shady olive groves, spotting wild orchids and myriad wild flowers for the Flora lovers, Hoopoes and Golden Orioles for the birdwatchers, tortoises and lizards for wildlife watchers.
Once into full summer life is more about swims with long lazy lunches, a Mediterranean siesta on the beach which may well turn into an early supper, or perhaps an ice cold beer before heading home for a refreshing shower. It might mean a late dinner taking in a spectacular sunset followed by a stroll around the village now the air is cooler, after a day chilling with a good book by the pool.
The north coast has a local bus service making it easy to visit lively resorts like Kassiopi with is pretty harbour, or Sidari with its sandy beach and watersports, and Historic Corfu town which with its strong British and Venetian influence is a beautiful and interesting place to spend a few hours. There are various excursions and boat trips to cover those who want to explore as well as those happy to just relax. As summer slides into early Autumn we all enjoy the more gentle warmth of a fading sun. It is easier to be more active and explore the island by car, foot, boat trip... the odd end of season storms freshen the air and restore vitality to dry landscapes and we have a second spring. The island slowly winds down and by October starts to slip from holiday mode into an ancient way of life; collecting the olives.
So, whats new in Corfu?
Our own villages change so little, but that of course is their attraction.
ACHARAVI being the larger place sees a few changes, last summer finally saw the work laying drain pipes behind the beach, which were somewhat behind schedule, finish. Tracts of the beach which had slowly been taken over by tavernas and car parks were reclaimed giving us a back our big expanse of beach. The tavernas, some now with smaller terraces, are now right bang on the beach so even better to watch the sunset or have that delicious plate of kalamari;squid, by the sea.
The Central bar has had a makeover and is under new management for the second time since George left, untried by us as yet, it is looking good; modern stylish and inviting. There is a new fruit and veg shop; excellent, by the fish shop opposite the big Dimitra supermarket.
Last summer a new restaurant opened on the main road, Le Jardin, tried and tested by us, it is only open in the evenings and is Greek and Mediterranean food with a modern twist.
Afros is also under new management and now has tables on the beach after the beach work was finished.
There is a new bakery with delicious cakes near Katerina pool apartments road number 5.
The branch of the other bakery opposite Tete a Tete is closed, probably just as well as temptation was just to great at Castaway Travel!
There are a couple of new ATM's so money is never too far away!
Beachside Bungalows remain one of our most popular accommodations and the sea is even nearer now the sand dune has gone, a virtually an uninterrupted view of the ever changing colours of the Ionian sea, and the sunsets.
The dreaded Palm weevil continues to devastate Palm Trees all over the island, soon Palms will be a tree of the past like Elm trees in the UK. Sadly Beachside Bungalows trees have all been affected so Palm Tree houses is a misnomer really. We need help renaming them! Ideas anyone?
KAMINAKI the tiniest jewel on the East Coast, with its 5 families, two tavernas and summer ski school, as usual remains eternally unchanged. The jetty on the rocks had a face lift, making it easier to access the ski platform and coastal path over to Agni and beyond. Dimitrios has now taken over from his father, as the water ski and fun provider of sofa and doughnut rides. He has proved as successful as his father in getting young and old alike up on skis, whilst also checking the boat hire is running smoothly. This does not mean Anna and Asterios are out of the picture. Asterios is still a dab hand at fixing engines and Anna still presides over the beach, on hand as ever with helpful advice for worried parents or exploring tourists. Spiros and Sue at the taverna still produce fresh, home cooked food always appreciated by the regulars and newcomers. His fresh mushrooms in cream sauce were quite the hit in 2015. We wait to see what new dishes will be presented this year!
Mr Prokopis, celebrated his 90th birthday in December but he still oversees the olive crop and pruning of the trees. For him, time really has stood still, like the famous story of when kettles were put in the apartments, Mr Prokopis nearly called out the fire brigade, never having seen one and being completely unbelieving, that an “electrical” item could remain plugged into a wall and not catch fire! He still always goes round unplugging! Old habits die hard; Mrs Prokopis had a better winter and her constant chattering in Greek is missed by many. Again that lovely belief that everyone understood Greek, no matter how many times she was told they did not. She felt it was “unwelcoming” if you didn’t talk, so talk she did. Although the beach front remains totally unchanged, up on the main road, the new mini market proved very handy for forgotten essentials, whilst Aphrodite's Supermarket delivery service was a blessing, especially in the heat of the summer, delivering your order to the door. Aphrodite has now opened a small garden centre too and there is also now a pharmacy and a new bar opening on the main road.
The live music and dancing at Roumeli at the weekends has proved as popular as ever, as has the offer of lifts home from Vitamins taverna. Vitamin's daughter Amalia had a baby girl this year, so the next generation is set to carry on the family tradition in the taverna. Further along at the local kafeneion Dina, who served hot thick coffee all year round to the Greek men busily arguing politics with each other will be sadly missed. She was known for surprising unsuspecting visitors with Greek sweets or a fresh egg!
Nissaki itself saw a few changes this winter. The huge Eucalyptus tree, which towered over the small harbour, was a victim of one of the bad storms and came crashing down. Luckily no major damage, but it has changed the famous landscape. Mitsos taverna,is still run by the family; many will remember, Great Grandmother Eleni, sitting by the steps and peeling buckets of potatoes for lovely home made chips.Now the grandchildren along with Agathi and Katina are running it and they too have welcomed a baby girl into their midst this year. Another face that will be missed this summer will be Fonda, the boatman, who passed away this winter. He rented the small boats from Nissaki for many years and could always be found sitting in Mitsos taverna, usually with cigarette and always a smile.The North East coast is famous for celebrity spotting and of course 2015 was no exception. For those lucky ladies who took an early morning dip and coffee at Kerassia in September, you would have shared the sea with cast from Greys Anatomy. Dr. MacDreamy sat and enjoyed the quiet, after his daily swim at Kerassia Taverna . We also saw stars from Coronation Street enjoying the delights of crystal clear waters as well as regular Esther Rantzen, who then appeared on BBC one show, telling people how wonderful and safe holidays in Corfu are. We have become rather blase about the list of foreign Royals who enjoy Corfu's beauty, mainly from big expensive yachts with all the gear, though it is worth a mention that Prince Edward and his family also holidayed with friends at Kouloura last summer. A beautiful quiet corner of the North East coast, they stayed in a characterful, luxurious, renovated monastery right on the water, owned by the Agnelli family.
AGIOS STEFANOS in the North West reverts back to a rural farming and fishing community in the winter months. All the families living in the village, have olives groves around the village of Avliotes and the hillsides surrounding the village. The crop was good this year, and it is the daily routine for the women to organise the olives, and the men when the sea was calm, to set sail and fish. Vangelis and Anthoula carry out minor upgrades to the houses as they do every year. Their son Mihalis is starting high school this year and still eager to practice his English every opportunity he gets.
Spiros and his family from the Hotel Nafsika had a difficult winter as George, Spiros' father fell and broke his hip, due to complications he had to be treated in Athens, so was away from home for a long time . Happily all is well now, so Theodora will be back in the kitchen and George will tend the pool in the summer. A pharmacy is due to open in the village, which will save the bus ride to Sidari, very useful. The tavernas will all be opening again in 2016, the local village kafeneion will be run by Mihalis' son, following in his fathers’ footsteps. The ski school and boat hire will be operating from the far end of the beach and there is talk of a daily boat to the off lying island of Erikoussa, which would prove very popular.
A possible note for your diary; there will be a free Rock festival in Arillas on 2nd and 3rd July profits and proceeds are to be donated to the children's charity Smile of the Child. A much loved and worthy charity in desperate need of funds.
For those coming in the latter part of the season there will be the 3rd Arillas beer festival from 12 to 16 October. A great event with music and small breweries from all over offering their beers. The Corfu brewery came second in Europe last year and hopes to do even better this year.
We love it when Corfu is used for films and TV productions. Corfu is proud of its links to Gerald Durrell and was once again the backdrop for a third remake of "My family and other Animals". It is wonderful to think the old town, except for telegraph poles, is very much as it was in Durrells time. The vintage cars and costumes were quite a sight to see, and caused great interest when traffic was halted or diverted to allow a scene to be shot!
This is coming to UK TV, on ITV on a Sunday evening soon, so keep an eye out, not to be missed. Here is a taster, it looks promising and definitely has some beautiful photography of the island. My Family and other Animals.
The Daily Mail has a good review; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3509637/Mischief-mayhem-lashings-animal-magic-Gerald-Durrell-s-books-idyllic-childhood-Corfu-rag-tag-family-menagerie-delightful-creatures-heartwarming-new-series.html
Sue was very lucky this winter and had a ride in a small plane over Corfu. WOW we know Corfu is beautiful but seen from the air it is something else. That was on 28th December and that was the kind of weather we had all winter until March!
This is Vlacherna, Paleo and Acharavi seen from 3000 feet! Can you spot Beachside Bungalows?
The rain fell mainly on the plain elsewhere this winter and we have basked in 18 and 19 degrees, and sometimes more, of glorious winter sun. Never missing a chance for a coffee and a chat, locals in their droves took to the outdoor terraces of the Liston coffee bars and many new ones that have popped up in tiny squares in the side streets too. Something most only have time for in the quiet off season months, so all opportunities must be grabbed when you can!
Last year began with so much hope. A new left wing government surprised the world by simply being elected and then by making huge promises about change, anti austerity measures and renegotiating the debt. Greece was energised. The main road to Sarrocco square caused excitement this winter as work to pedestrianise the area near Marks and Spencer, and pave it, uncovered the remains of the gateway of the Porto Reale in the old city walls. The idea has been put forward of glassing over the roads, so that the ancient city walls and gate can be seen whilst strolling through the town. This work should be completed by summer 2016. It is progressing well and the new paved and cobbled streets shaded by mature trees make wandering around the town are a pleasure with a photo opportunity around every corner. It is not surprising it is a UNESCO heritage site.
We both have had a quiet "down time". We did what we do best, caught up with friends and checked out each others homemade wine. The jury is out as to whose is best but the lean is towards Theo's. Again! Despite the mild winter our log fires always seem to be the best place to shoot the breeze.
Our families are well. Theo is busy preparing the Captain Aris for another summer season cruising the Corfu seas. The season is due to start earlier than usual this year so the pressure is on! I wonder whether any of you will see the monk seal which has taken up residence in our waters? I think the likelihood is you will see more dolphins than seals, but you may get lucky. They are an endangered species. Theo himself received a beautiful present; a mosaic of the Captain Aris for his landmark birthday, by local artist Alyson Deleglise.
Elena is now a professional young woman; (How did that happen?! She was playing with cardboard boxes while we edited the TRAVEL WITH FRIENDS brochure at the printers only yesterday wasn't she?!) She is following her vocation as a psychologist and is very committed.
Carole has had a busy winter with looking after 93 year old mum and 18 year old daughter who is studying in the UK. This was probably the best olive crop in many years so Spiros has been making regular trips to the olive press. Olive oil has become a precious commodity after the blight on the trees in France & Italy, so the price is higher this year. Like many, Spiros has changed his approach to collecting the olives. In Corfu the traditional way, was to lay nets under the trees and let nature take its course; when the south wind blew the olives would fall onto the nets laid all over the olive groves, which after the crops were safely harvested, then the nets were then gathered up ready to be relaid the next winter. More and more people are now manually harvesting the olives directly from the tree. The trees are pruned, thus giving wood for fires, and the olives are stripped, then taken to the press, usually all within 2 days. So very labour intensive, but wonderful golden oil is the result.
Izzy the donkey, although going blind now, contentedly still wanders around the land, but now cannot manage the steps into the house (thank goodness). Sadly Bruno, our big soppy German shepherd rescue dog crossed the rainbow this year. Inevitably his place by the fire was not vacant for long, as on one of Spiros many trips to the press, he saw stray dogs by the side of the road and of course had dog food in the car, so stopped to feed them. When he drove off, one determined little thing, tried desperately to chase the car and would not give up. So, as well as the oil coming home that day, so did Bailey, as she is now called. She has a taste for wires, metal, anything really, her score up to now is two TV remote controls, one usb stick, one mobile phone and we are still counting! Nothing is safe, including the two cats, who are not amused at all at having their tails bitten at any opportunity.
Sue has been enjoying her winter pastime of walking with her loony Labs. She has also been involved with several collections of donations taken up to the Greek border for the refugees.
In order not to be too repetitive we always have to reread our last newsletters, and this time we felt saddened as we read and reminded ourselves of the road Greece has travelled over the last 12 months and more. We had lots to ponder on over the last year, and think you might like to hear our reflections of that journey.
What was poorly discussed, was that Greece's biggest problem was that its bargaining tool would have been leaving the Eurozone, but the electorate wanted change AND to stay in the Eurozone. In any case leaving the Euro was never an option, the economic chaos it would have caused and the time it would have taken was too great. Unfortunately all logical arguments as to why Greece's enormous debt should be restructured were rejected. A massive NO vote in a nationwide referendum; voting not to accept the extreme austerity measures imposed by the ECB caused uproar and the government was pushed to make a U turn when effectively forced to shut its banks to stem the hemorrhaging money, and because they had just run dry in the absence of yet another bail out injection from the ECB .
Despite the usual scaremongering by the press no holiday makers were inconvenienced in the slightest and the majority didn't even know there was a crisis! More than that, for British holiday makers they were able to reap the exchange rate benefits of a weak Euro.
Contrary to those reports there we no queues in Corfu; ATM's were filled and everyone was able to take money on their cards exactly as before. Certainly life for Greek city dwellers became much trickier. This fiasco brought about the resignation of our so called rock star FinMin Yianis Varoufakis (Minister of Finance) who refused to perpetuate what he called "extend and pretend" economics, and with that, for many, the beacon of hope was extinguished.
Spurred on by his experience in these negotiations, he and other activists have just launched a Pan European democratise Europe movement; Diem25. So he is back in the news, though curiously this time his wardrobe seems to be of little interest!
Alexis Tsipras, the Prime Minister, has proven himself to be a consummate politician, not the idealist he at first seemed and so many now see it as just more of the same ol', same ol'. "Tha Doume" as they say in Greek; we'll see.
Whilst all this was going on the world's eye was off the ball and Greece's island borders with Turkey were being flooded with refugees fleeing war torn Syria and elsewhere. Soon tiny islands like Leros were swamped, with Lesvos taking the brunt and refugees outnumbered the local population. The daily tragedies of leaky boats sinking and tragic numbers of people drowning, including tiny children, meant heartbreaking pictures filled newspaper front pages, together though with heartwarming pictures of human courage and kindness. The Greek population, struggling under its own problems however has shown “That dignity and decency can be preserved, even through the hardest times.” 3 nominees have been selected to represent the Greek islands in a bid to award them a Nobel Peace prize for the amazing work they have done helping these desperate people. It is almost beyond comprehension that risking the life of your entire family is better than living with what you have left behind. Local people have given all they have and then some, charities have been set up, the hands on approach of locals, such as the team that called them selves "The Dirty Girls of Lesvos" are wonderful to witness and all over Greece collections of cash and warm clothes have gone to where they are most needed. As we write the situation goes from bad to worse and we can only pray that the world comes to its senses soon.
With daily footage on your TV screens you would think that the country is sinking under the burden of their terrible plight, but these poor people want to move through Greece and follow a route to the borders far from our shores. So we have a very important message to convey. We think that all of you who have signed up for our newsletters are Greekophiles and many have shown us your concern for the burdens piled onto Greece's weak shoulders. The best way you can help Greece now is holiday here and persuade your friends and family that there is no better place to have a holiday! You are Greece's best ambassadors to let the world know what a wonderful place it is to visit. It is just as true now as it always was. The economic upheaval has settled into just another routine, everyone is getting on with life as normal. No part of it will affect your holiday; the ingredients of your holiday will be as always; hot, sun filled days of relaxation tinged with the warm glow of the constant Greek hospitality. Helping Greek tourism will help Greece stay on its feet.
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We constantly marvel at how many years we have been in operation because it doesn't feel like that many; it is TRAVEL WITH FRIENDS 20th Anniversary this year! We count ourselves lucky to have a wonderful office; though in truth in the peak season months when its hot we don't see it so much; we like true Greeks hide from the heat in shady places (occasionally a beach side taverna with a sea breeze!) till the heat of the day passes. So many of you have been with us from our first baby steps and are now friends who verify our name. Ours is a truly family affair, we have watched each others children grow into lovely young adults and they too have built lasting friendships which bridge two cultures, and in some cases are now introducing their children to Corfu holidays. Our website has been refreshed and updated. We are in the process of developing an online booking system too, watch this space...
The independent traveller now has a better and better choice of flights with Ryanair adding more airports and all airlines having more flights. for those flying from the UK you can check who flies from your nearest airport on our flights page.
We are, as always, very honest in our description and photographs and hope all the smallest queries are answered, but if you still are not 100% sure, we are also always at the end of the phone (+44) (0) 7954651004 , or email; email@example.com.
This year's bookings are very encouraging. So! Onwards and upwards!
Our aim in our newsletter is to keep you up to date with snippets of local life from your favourite place and to tell you of anything new in our programme with the hope that you will then feel that little tickle in your mind that won't let you go until you book another holiday. We cannot help too using it as a platform to introduce you to the many things that we love about Corfu, Greece and the Greeks, we hope we convey our love of Corfu and have been able to give you a little insight into life here beyond the beach.
We still have some availability throughout the summer so it's never too late! Contact us now, we look forward to hearing from you.
Looking forward to hearing from you soon!
Sue and Carole