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Hidden Villages Of Corfu, Greece

(February 2001)

There’s something about venturing off in a destination where few tourists tread. You get a feel for the area, its people, and their way of life. My jeep tour of the hidden villages of Corfu, Greece, offered just that.

Corfu is located in the western part of Greece along the Ionian Sea near the Albanian border. Compared to continental Greece, this enchanting island, often called “green island” for its lush vegetation, is known for the olive and lemon groves that line its countryside. Added to that, the dramatic mountains and the turquoise sea that surround it only enhance its beauty.

Our jeep tour to the hidden villages of Corfu took us down narrow country lanes, up winding mountain roads, and through several beautiful traditional villages. What we saw were hillsides filled with olive trees and the occasional cluster of villas (many dilapidated) above and around the rocky vistas.

We followed the twisting road up the side of Pantokrator Mountain, Corfu’s highest, to where the tiny village of Sokraki is nestled. On the way up, we saw a magnificent view of the islands below and Albania off in the distance. Were it not for four-wheel drive trucks, this tiny village might never see foreign visitors. Only a few decades ago, the main form of transport between mountain communities was walking on footpaths. Many of these small mountaintop villages are secluded because, during Byzantine times, they were built as escapes from the pirate raids and malarial mosquitoes that often invaded the coast.

Our jeep tour arrived en masse and was watched closely by a few curious locals sipping coffee in a tiny café. Numerous women were still wearing the bolia, a traditional white headscarf. They seemed pleased to see us, and gave us big, gap-toothed smiles. We wandered through the narrow alleys around the crumbling stone houses into a picturesque village square with hanging flowers. While there, we dined in a tiny taverna (a Greek restaurant/bar) to sample meze (Greek peasant’s lunch of olives, hummus, baba ghanouj, and other appetizers), local wine, and of course the local favorite uzo.

It was from Sokraki that we went off-road and took a dirt track to the 2,000-foot summit of Troumbeta. From the summit, we could see the sea, a bright blue band in the distance. The dirt road emerged onto a ridge with spectacular views back to the coast. There we saw limestone plateaus carpeted with bright yellow broom grasses.

Along our winding descent, we encountered numerous donkeys that are still used for transport among villages. At the bottom of the mountain, we reached the village of Skripero, which is known for its fantastic bird’s-eye views of Corfu’s mountainous coast.

If you prefer to stay on the beaten path, the biggest attraction is Corfu’s capital, Corfu Town. The town of Corfu offers unique surroundings that have been left over from other civilizations. Built on a cape that projects into the sea, the town is separated into a northern and a southern section. In the northern part, there is the Old Fortress with massive ramparts that are cut off from the town by a moat. For centuries residents lived within this citadel, which was founded by the Byzantines. Venetians, who occupied the island for 400 years, greatly expanded and developed the town and its architecture. You will find old high-sided Venetian buildings with elaborate iron balconies, and narrow side streets and alleys with marble pavements.

Other attractions include the 300-year old Church of Saint Spiridon, which holds a priceless collection of religious icons. For those wishing a very leisurely vacation, Corfu’s numerous beaches are first-rate.

All in all, Corfu seems to have a split personality as far as tourism is concerned. On one hand, the trendy beach resorts and discos have long been the favorites of many young Europeans seeking lively nightlife. On the other hand, there are the private, secluded villas and quaint, isolated beaches that attract travelers who prefer a more subdued atmosphere. Nonetheless, many tourists seem largely unaware of the spectacular beauty of the island’s interior that offers a glimpse into a way of life seemingly untouched by time.

Other Corfu Resources:

Corfu Online: Online guide with happenings, destinations, commerce and public services, and general information about the island.

Corfu Information: Offers history, places to visit, photos, business directory, and more.

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