GO CORFU:A brilliant speck in the Ionian sea, the struggling island of Corfu seduces and charms even in its difficulty, writes PETER MURTAGH
LAWRENCE DURRELL’S WHITE HOUSE sits at one end of Kalami Bay, its turquoise waters twinkling gently in the midday sun. It looks rather as he described it in Prospero’s Cell, his account of life on Corfu, that “brilliant little speck of an island in the Ionian Sea”, where he lived with his family from 1936 to 1939.
The red-tiled, three-storey, square house is indeed “set like a dice on a rock already venerable with the scars of wind and water”. Durrell fled England, whose culture and weather he loathed – “English death” he called it rather harshly – for his “unregretted” Greek island home.
A former fisherman’s house, it’s a rather simple building, yet utterly beautiful – sturdy and tranquil at one and the same time. You gaze upon it at the far end of the crescent-shaped beach and think: “My God, what would it be like to live there and write every day in the morning?”
It must be a little gold mine for the Atheneos family, Tassos and Daria, whose ground floor taverna spills onto the venerable rock on which the house stands, as well as on to the boardwalk jetty. From May to September, they are rarely short of customers. The upper floors of the White House, which Durrell helped the Atheneos family to build, contain rooms to let.
Across the road, there is also the Tassos Boat House Apartment. The Elena Apartments and Villa Elena are beside it. And if you fancy eschewing the holiday car hire, you can always hire a Tassos Kalami Boat and flit from bay to bay ( corfu-kalami.grand kalamicorfu.com). We cooked gently in the sun while lying on the pebble beach, occasionally basting ourselves with a swim in crystal-clear, snorkel-friendly water, before ambling over for lunch. You sit there, totally relaxed; a mature wisteria providing welcome shade; the sea lapping gently against the rocks.
Tassos and Daria make the most of their association with Durrell who rented the house from their family. On a pillar in the centre of the terrace, his kindly face and genial smile greets diners. As a gesture no doubt to the memory of his brother, the naturalist Gerald (My Family and Other Animals), there are colourful ceramic creatures – a fox, a snail, an owl and a rabbit – dotted about the place.
For lunch, I have “Durrell’s Pasta Salad” – a delicious mix of spaghetti, olives, chopped tomatoes, cucumber and feta cheese garnished with chopped fennel. Moira, my wife, has a Greek salad (tomatoes, cucumber and feta) and the children, Patrick (22) and Natasha (20), go for sole. There are a few starters, tzatziki (cucumber, yoghurt and garlic dip), hummus (chickpea dip) and grilled haloumi (rubbery, salty cheese, a Cypriot speciality), pita bread and olives, a beer or two and a litre of house white.
The lot (all delicious and what a setting!) comes to €80 for the four of us, one of our more expensive holiday lunches but worth every cent, as the Greeks are the first to appreciate.
Corfu, like the rest of the country, needs all the visitors (and their euros) it can get. Signs of what has happened to Greece are apparent the moment you leave the airport. On the coach to our hotel, the outskirts of Corfu town are littered with closed premises; one can only assume they have gone bust. In our resort, Gouvia, about 10km north of the town on the island’s east coast, the picture is even worse.