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Corfu: Our Drive Around the Greek Island

Author: PenelopeCorelli
Date of Trip: July 2009

Wednesday, July 15: Corfu, Greece

Awoke to gorgeous views of Corfu harbor!

Had breakfast in the Lido and disembarked by 8:30am. Took the free shuttle to the port entrance, then waited for the person from Inter-Corfu Rent a Car to arrive. We saw our car, but the representative from the rental company didn’t arrive on his scooter until almost 9:15am. (He said he’d be there at 9). While we waited, we met a taxi driver at the port who used to live in Tampa; he moved here six years ago when his grandfather died and left him some land. In Greece, expect people to be 15-20 minutes late, he said. Many people were using the cruise shuttles into Old Town Corfu (Kerkyra) at a cost of $9 per person, one way, $16 round trip. Taxis, which can hold four persons or more, can be had for €10 into town — cheaper — but people there were wanting to pay more and wait longer for the ship’s bus into Old Town Kerkyra. (Both the island and the main town have the same name. Corfu is the English name; Kerkyra is the Greek name for the same place.) Our car rental receipt said €47.20 for the day.

We had a Suzuki Jimmy red 4WD – put the back roof down, opened the sunroof, and headed out. The rental company provided a map of the island. We drove up the coast a way, past Kassiopi, and then turned at Pelekio (I think) where we saw a sign that said “Old Perithia”. After a while there were no more signs; we drove around, exploring. We saw a sign on the main road indicating a restaurant. We went up the rough dirt road and came upon an old deserted church with a bell tower. Most bell towers in Greece are flat stone edifices (not more than a few feet wide) with cut out arches that hold the bells and then a stone cross on top.

We got out to take photos, noticing an outdoor cafe area. There wasn’t anyone here, but the restaurant seemed to be open. A restaurant in a deserted area couldn’t do much business, we thought. We saw a couple more cars and parked next to them. Sat down at a very cute place — Ognistra, which means “Fireplace,” where Corfiot grandmothers cooked traditional dishes – and found that we were here at Old Perithia (There’s a New Perithia, also), the oldest village on Corfu Island. We ordered from the menu, which had traditional Corfiot food, lamb and vegetables, garlic and olive oil. Wow, we were excited to have discovered such a great place! As the food arrived at the table, we heard the sound of cars — and looked to see a string of 4x4s driving in, full of tourists! They stopped at the restaurant and sat down to have drinks and snacks. The owner said it’s like this every day. “They’ll be gone in a few minutes,” he said. And after about 20-30 minutes, they took off – back down the dirt road, and the quiet came again as we enjoyed the ambiance of this lovely place.

The owner, Nikos Chirdaris, a man in his mid to late 30s or so, told us about the town. (The older I get, the less accurate I am on age analysis. He was younger than we were, but not a young man.) There are only two people still residing in the area, an old couple that raises goats and lives nearby. Everyone else just works here during the day. There are five restaurants or tavernas here, as we found when we walked around the village, and a tourist shop or two. The owner’s mother does all the cooking at this taverna; the building was built in 1872. Everything is cooked from scratch from natural foods, and very reasonably priced.

Cate had a rabbit dish, with a grape sauce and fries – €9. Jim had a Greek sausage and we shared a plate of moussaka with fries. Two Sprites — called “lemonade”, two ginger beers, and a Greek coffee (like Turkish coffee, using Brazilian beans, optional sugar added, then cooked). We spent €35. Nikos was so sweet; he gave us a bottle of olive oil from his trees. He is there seven days a week in the summer, from May through October, from 10am to 12am — 14 hours! The tourists come early; the locals arrive later in the day for an evening meal. (In the winter, the taverna is open Friday through Sunday for Lunch or Dinner with a reservation. Locals are usually the only patrons then.) I noticed later when using the restroom in the restaurant, a small table with items for sale: plastic bottles of olive oil and a bakery item in small wrapped packages with a basket for coins.

We walked around the village a little — very cute, very old. I found this paragraph about the village in the restaurant brochure that I asked for & received from Nikos and it’s also on the Corfu Restaurants website:

OLD PERITHIA A historic monument of the 13th Century, situated 700 meters high, just below the highest peak of Mt. Pantokrator. It is the oldest village on Corfu Island and also the only one, which has kept the character of the old times. It is a living monument of natural beauty, consisting of 130 houses of Venetian style and 8 churches of the Byzantine style. The Village’s crooked roads are edged with wonderful old houses of an excellent architecture, decorated by traditional large jars with flowers, arches, cellars, lofts, canopies of marble and Byzantine style tiles on the roofs. Set in a magnificent mountain environment with olive groves, cypresses and a wide range of wild herbs and bushes, the old village of Perithia is a visit worth any time of the year. Another reason to visit Perithia is the traditional Taverna OGNISTRA.

After lunch we drove past the old church there to try to find the monastery, the highest point on Corfu. Turned on an “adventure” road — Cate loved it — gravel, bumpy and one lane, useful for a 4WD vehicle. We never found the monastery, although we saw what looked like small ruins — who knows how old. Maybe next time.

Driving along, we stopped at a house with a porch stand where I bought a jar of local honey for €4 and a bar of olive oil soap for €1.

We drove down to a beach area near Roda. Jim and Cate changed into swimsuits — there’s a cabana — and went into the water. Placed towels on two lounge chairs & put up a beach umbrella there. They said that the water was very salty. While they were in the water, a lady came over & told me there was a €6 fee for the chairs. I didn’t know where she came from, and she couldn’t explain where to pay the money. It seemed so “unofficial”, but I guessed she must have come from a restaurant nearby. Perhaps they own the beaches & chairs. So I removed everything & we left, driving on up the hill.

There was a traffic signal ahead (very few anywhere) so oncoming cars could pass- a very narrow road allowing only one lane of traffic through a town with a light at both ends, so we stopped. Five minutes passed, 10 minutes. No one was coming through the light. There was now a line up of up to 10 cars behind us. The light turned green, and we drove through — as we did, a large tour bus came driving up the road straight at us, having no intention of stopping. The driver had either ignored the traffic signal at the other end of the town, or had stopped for a while on the street before moving on. So since he was coming, all the cars had to back up (couldn’t turn around) far enough to find an area to stop so this inconsiderate & obnoxious driver could get by .

Found another beach — this one at the scenic area of Paleokastritsa on the west coast of the island. Parked the car along the road and followed a paved trail down to the water. It was an old road that formerly led to a hotel — now deserted and overgrown. Jim and Cate went into the water. Several people were there, including a young adult girl wearing only a swim thong.

Left after a few minutes as it was a way back to Kerkyra, and we didn’t want to be late returning the car and getting back to the ship.

Stopped to buy three ice creams at a small store (€1.30 each), filled the car with petrol, and headed back. When we got back, we had a few minutes to drive around Old Corfu Town, getting back on the ship just in time at 4:15pm.

Other Notes:

I observed a small amount of graffiti (more in Kerkyra than elsewhere). Saw a grocery store in every town. Tourist-friendly towns have signs in English — if there’s no English, it’s not for tourists! Cicadas were humming in the lowland areas. Passed a delivery truck/mobile grocery wagon — live chickens. People came around to buy food. Drove around to find a castle — marked with a symbol on the map — One-way lanes, never found it.

Yes, I like this place enough to return! Next time I want to visit Old Kerkyra & the castles there, go back to Old Perithia, & find the other castles & the monastery. Renting a car made all the difference.

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