Every so often, one of those rare days comes along that I know will linger fondly in the memory for some time. Free from worry, pressure and expectation, our impromptu visit to Corfu Town was just that.
As I explained in my previous post, our days in Ermones had revolved around unadulterated sun worship, gorging on beautiful Corfiot seafood and quaffing a liberal quantity of cocktails by the pool. While too much of that can only be a good thing in my eyes, we would have been wasting an opportunity if we hadn’t taken a foray into the island’s capital, Corfu Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and only a 30 minute bus ride away.
Just a few weeks before, I’d been drawn in by some striking pictures of the old town on the Instagram account of my Greek school friend, Dimitra, who had spent her summer holidays there. As a native, I knew she’d be able to share with us the insider knowledge we craved: where do the locals eat?
The bus, which eventually picked us up from our hotel after deviating quite significantly from the timetable, reached its final destination on a scruffy plot of land operating as a depot. So far, so unimpressed; I was anticipating a labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets brimming with a potent sense of the past. But with the help of some 21st century technology, we discovered the old town a few minutes later and got the eyeful of culture we were looking for.
The rich history of the island, which can be read about here, is clearly demonstrated by the formidable old fort which dominates the bustling port. Further into the meandering passages, shuttered windows and flowering balconies are reminiscent of Paris or Venice which is a direct result of four centuries of Venetian rule before the British, French and Greek governments made their own marks.
Back home in Britain, we’re fed emotive images of the great turmoil caused by the crippled Greek economy but there’s no sign of that here. Glossy boutiques exude opulence and indulgence, chic cafes buzz dynamically with expressive conversation and polished ladies laden with the exploits of their spending strut confidently through the winding streets, chichi toy dogs in tow.
After finding our bearings and absorbing the charm of the place, we were certainly ready for refreshments. Settling on a couple of high stools poised outside an elegant little bar-cum-cafe, we would spend the next three hours supping zingy margaritas and enjoying one of the best pastimes there is: people watching. From the bionic blonde whose plastic surgery portfolio could give those of The Real Housewives a run for their money, to the stream of giggling schoolgirls ordering chain-gulped iced coffees from the pretty Greek version of a 20-something Joaquin Phoenix (swoon), this was one of the foremost people watching experiences of my life. Somehow, TV and film can’t compare to the entertainment that comes from surveying the curious actions and conversations of human beings unknowingly going about their everyday lives.
Now for food. Our dinner venue had come highly recommended by my Greek informant, Dimitra. Entered via an inconspicuous passageway off one of the main shopping streets, I reckon Bellissima has to be Corfu Town’s best kept secret. Despite its Italian name, Bellissima serves traditional Greek fare from its charming situation on a romantic little square. Sat outside at tables with red check tablecloths, we devoured saganaki (king prawns with feta in a tomato sauce), spetzofai (spicy sausage with peppers), more seafood pasta (Craig’s true vice) and the ultimate Greek classic of chicken souvlaki.
This was a feast capable of feeding a large family with Grecian appetites so eventually we had to admit defeat with a dull ache of disappointment. The family which runs this place delivered everything we had hoped for from an authentic meal; the warmest hospitality was lovingly combined with food which was unpretentious, homely and bursting with flavour. And just to top it all off, a group of traditional singers, musicians and dancers performed in the square as we ate to make this an all-encompassing experience of Corfiot culture.
This day trip represented one major life lesson learned: never underestimate the value of taking in some culture. We could have so easily have spent our entire week languishing in luxury by the pool at our hotel but this little sojourn enriched our holiday far more than we could’ve imagined.