Hiking in Corfu: Greece's Verdant Isle

  |  Gorp.com

"Corfu is all Venetian green and spoiled by the sun. Its richness enervates.
Its valleys are painted out boldly in heavy brush-strokes of yellow and red.
The Judas trees line the dusty roads in terrific purple explosions.
Everywhere you go you can lie down on grass."

—Lawrence Durrell

Sixty years have passed since the novelist penned these words; more recent travel writers have not been so kind. They decry the despoilment of Corfu by big tourism, from Club Med and multi-story hotels to beaches packed with package tourists on two-week holidays. Yet in my own travels, I found the island of Durrell's day. I marveled at the Judas trees, their mushrooming forms splashing purple blooms across courtyards, the air thick with their tangy scent. Yellow spikes of sparto cling to rocky mountainsides, while bright pink anemone cluster at the bases of ancient olive trees. Kerkyra (KER-keer-rah), the northernmost of the Greek Isles, is Greece in technicolor. Green shutters dress up pastel apartments. Rust-red cupolas cap church steeples. Whitewashed staircases lead down rugged slopes.

Corfu is Greece, and yet is a culture unto itself. It sits at an historically strategic crossroad where the Ionian and Adriatic Seas meet. It's the island of Odysseus' shipwreck, the prison of Shakespeare's Prospero. Shaped by successive waves of foreign invasion, Corfu retains a cosmopolitan European feel. Teams play cricket on the Esplanade; young couples twine hands over a cup of latte along the distinctly French Liston. Centuries-old Venetian forts flank Corfu Town, the island's metropolitan hub; the ruins of 9th century Norman castles sprout from high points along the island's shoreline.

Graced by winter rains, Corfu's mountains and valleys run lush and thick with greenery, from tangled thickets of maquis to olive groves dating back to the Crusades. How better to immerse one's self in the countryside, and the culture, than to walk? Ruins of the Temple of Artemis peep out from the weeds along a winding city road; an old woman leads a stick-laden donkey down a dusty back road. Joyful music spills from bayside tavernas, and old men punctuate their conversations by waving their pipes outside the Kafeneio.

Spending several seasons in Corfu, I discovered its many trails. Ancient tracks link villages, passing through a multitude of natural wonders and slipping by forgotten history left hidden in the woods. If wanderlust grips your spirit, forget the tourist-laden beaches, the fancy hotels, and the nightclubs. Take to the trails of Corfu, and discover the soul of Greece.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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