Could autumn in Corfu become your new family holiday favourite? Family Traveller’s John Lewisohn finds himself seduced by the island’s late September beauty on a stay in an expansive villa with sea views over to Albania.
“My childhood in Corfu shaped my life. If I had the craft of Merlin, I would give every child the gift of my childhood.” These are the words of Gerard Durrell, the famous author and naturalist. Like many people I feasted on the evocative scenes of 1930’s Corfu showcased weekly on TV by, The Durrells. Hunkered down in a grim UK Winter, how exotic seemed the endless sunlight and glittering seas enjoyed by this eccentric family.
A luxurious take on the island of the Durrells
Now here I was in Corfu, at the end of September. But rather than the constantly crumbling house the Durrells endured, I was in Villa Korali, a sprawling mini-estate looking over the Adriatic towards the Albanian Coast where the town of Sarande seems almost within touching distance. In fact, day trips can be taken to visit Albania, but necessitate a drive back down to Corfu Town. Sadly, that adventure was one we didn’t have time for, this time.
Corfu in autumn is blissfully easy going and peaceful
It turned out Korali Bay, the location of the Durrell’s home – the famous “White House”, now a restaurant – was only a few kilometres from our villa. The North East of the Island is characterised by vertiginous corkscrew roads revealing secret bays. It’s also the place for small seaside villages filled with excellent tavernas where we dined on calamari, octopus and Greek salads. Getting a table in this late Summer period was never an issue. Although in high season, we’re told booking days, if not weeks, in advance is essential. A long lunch, a glass of retsina and a swim in the still warm gin-clear sea is another reason why this off -season period is an ideal time to visit.
Enormous Villa Korali is perfect for holidays in Corfu with extended family
Villa Korali, like many of the Villa Collective properties, can house an entire extended family or a large group of friends. There are eight bedrooms, all en-suite, in addition to a glorious light-filled living room overlooking the hotel-sized swimming pool. Two enormous al-fresco dining tables – that even President Putin might deign to sit at given their size – complement an outdoor kitchen which includes an impressive gas BBQ. Of course, there was a more than adequate indoor kitchen too, with its own wine cooler. Another, brick-built, traditional outdoor BBQ was so large it seemed you’d need to fill it with a forest worth of charcoal. And in addition to all this, there was also a private tennis court and pool table, as well as table tennis and table football for endless competitive battles.
Now of course, none of this comes cheap – and an in-house chef needs to be factored into the cost during high season. But weekly rates, when divided by eight for example, offer far better value than a 5-star Corfu hotel. Plus, few hotels would give you a fraction of the space or have a beach just yards away and private, beautifully tended gardens to boot.
Exploring Corfu off-season is the best type of laid back adventure
Corfu Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site and location of the island’s international airport, is about an hour’s drive south. But take the route north to Kassiopi, the nearest seaside town, to see how mountainous it is in the northern half of Corfu: an area dominated by Mt Pantokrator and its many foothills.
On a cloudy day we drove up to one of the oldest, if not the oldest, mountain villages in Corfu. There was a choice of tavernas here, where we enjoyed a rustic lunch including an excellent rabbit stew. The views from the restaurant, down the valley towards the sea, gave a sense of traditional Corfu; a complete contrast to the busy coastline.
Corfu is also home to one old style golf course. It’s set in the Ropa Valley – one of the only flat part of the island we saw – and theoretically about an hour’s drive from Villa Korali. However, don’t trust Google Maps! Our suggested route took us down a very rough path which seemed to be entirely populated by feral dogs and rubbish tips, with no sign of lush fairways anywhere.
The course, when we eventually found it, exuded an early 20th Century charm and looked like the kind of setting one would expect to see Edward Fox in: wearing plus-fours and smoking a pipe. We don’t think a round would unduly challenge even high handicappers and you can rent clubs, plus there’s the reward of a well earned beer in the elegant clubhouse after. Be aware, that during summer playing here could be a very sweaty endeavour. Yet another advantage of an off-season visit.
Villa Collective is the perfect host at Villa Korali
Villa Collective can arrange for your fridge to be stocked prior to arrival, although we arrived to a welcome pack of essentials and several bottles of wine. The nearby mini-supermarket turned out to be surprisingly well stocked too, if a little on the expensive side. However, we also found an excellent local fishmonger selling some big grouper fillets, sea bass and octopus. During high season Villa Korali’s in-house chef will discuss your requirements each day.
This north east corner of Corfu is undeniably smart and home to more villas than hotels. It’s long been popular with up-market travellers attracted to the many scalloped bays and the rugged terrain means there’s an appealing lack of over-development.
Kassiopi Town, just five minutes drive from Villa Korali, was still thrumming with life in late September and offered an excellent choice of tavernas and bars, many overlooking the bustling harbour. A night out here provides an interesting contrast to the villa, but frankly it’s hard to tear yourself away from the luxurious sanctuary that is Villa Korali.