My face mask and other sketchbooks - a week in Corfu
Updated: Sep 2, 2020
Waking up to a new place to explore after an evening flight from London the day before.
I deliberately chose to stay in the old part of Corfu Town, surrounded by the grace and elegance of the Venetian architecture, layered with the influences of the French and British in more recent times. The Old Town is a tightly packed warren of winding lanes bursting with restaurants, bars and small shops.
The historic Konstantinoupolis Hotel was in the perfect location being close to the port and the picturesque urban fabric.
In the morning I wandered around the old town walking south along the coast amazed at the clarity of the water and the green islands that provide the foreground to the rugged Albanian coast to the east.
I stopped along the sweeping bay to the south of the town and sketched the panorama and the peninsula dominated by the Old Venetian Fortress.
My plan was to continue south to a place I had always wanted to see - the small island monastery and Mouse Island at Kanoni - perhaps the definitive image of Corfu.
I eventually reached Cafe Kanoni that sits on the hillside with stunning views of the this iconic scene - a perfect place to have lunch, especially if you love planes as the airport runway is very close.
After an omelette and sketch, I walked down to the monastery and walked around - such a beautiful white jewel set amongst the deep blues and verdant greens of its surroundings.
I decided to walk the long way home, firstly crossing the causeway linking Kanoni to the Perama with a row of tourists sitting directly under the flightpath of the aircraft and locals taking a shortcut with their mopeds - an interesting combination!
I had been to Corfu in the 1980s for a family holiday and I wanted to return to the area in which we stayed all those years ago. The village of Kontokali was an hour and half walk to the north of Corfu Town, so after breakfast I set off along the pretty mundane coastal road stopping at supermarkets for refreshments to cool me down in the morning heat.
I had rewatched a few episodes of The Durrells before coming out here and was was quite intrigued by the charismatic house used in the series. An almost perfect shambolic but oh so desirable dream Mediterranean coastal place to live.
As I approached Kontokali, I saw on the peninsula a house close to the hotel we had stayed in almost 40 years ago. As I got closer, I realised I had come across the house used in the series.
I walked along the small beach towards the house and spent a couple of hours sunbathing, sketching and bathing in the warm sea. To see the house properly, I had to sketch perched off a series of rocks ten metres from the shore and at one stage almost lost my watercolours as a boat passing close by, created a series of waves that hit the rocks! It was almost like a quirky scene from the tv series.
After a beer in a beach club next to the hotel we had stayed at in Kontokali, I started the walk back to Corfu Town. The area around the village was surprisingly undeveloped compared to all those years ago, although the infrastructure and roads seemed considerably busier.
As I walked around the harbour towards the Old Town, the sun was starting to set and created a wonderful light on the historic buildings to the south. I couldn’t resist sitting by the quay in the sun sketching the intricacy of the architecture before having dinner in the town.
Up early today as I was catching the 8.30am hydrofoil to Paxos.
An hour by sea from Corfu Town, Paxos is a tiny island, approximately seven miles long by three miles wide, with over 30 white pebbly beaches. It’s considered to be an island of outstanding beauty, with an unhurried way of life and no airport to bring in mass tourism.
The boat services in this unusual year are somewhat less frequent than normal, so I unfortunately had a limited time on the island - enough however to enjoy a good walk to visit Longos - a beautiful little waterside village with several delightful restaurants and bars surrounding a small harbour - perfect for a coffee, a sketch and watching the world go by in this attractive location.
My route took me passed remote villages and beautiful quiet coves. If only I had more time to soak in this island’s laid back atmosphere, but the return hydrofoil was beckoning.
Back in Corfu Town later in the afternoon, I took a stroll to a small cafe with a great view of the Metropolitan Church Panaghia Spiliotissa (known as Corfu Cathedral) and enjoyed a beer while sketching in a location with a nice warm coastal breeze.
Later I walked through the town to another square (Pl Dimarchiou) and stopped for dinner. Most of the lamb in my delicious dish went to local cats however - I can never resist!
Today’s plan was to hire a cycle - I’d made some enquiries at the beginning of the week and there were no conventional mountain bikes available so it would have to be an electric one - a choice I didn’t regret after numerous hills!
I had to wait for the shop to open in the morning and so had time to stop around the harbour and sketch an interesting tug tied up by the quay.
Then back to pick up the bike and following a recommendation by the friendly shop owner, I headed over to the north western coast to Palaiokastritsa 25 km away - a beautiful hilly village and resort area that nestles in the folds of steep verdant slopes of olive groves and citrus orchards.
I spend some time swimming and sketching on one of the wonderful beaches - the dramatic rock formations divide the area into small coves, many of which can only be reached by boat apparently. A truly stunning place.
Then I decided to follow some quiet country roads across to the west coast towards Ipsos where I spent some time chilling by the beach with a coffee - rather flatter around here and a very different coast to the west coast.
I continued south back towards Corfu Town arriving in the evening - the electric bike proved a great way to see parts of the island without the worry of steep hills.
On the walk back to the hotel, I added some colour to the tug sketch I had started earlier as I passed by and finally headed for dinner and bed.
My final full day and I decided to stay in Corfu Town and further explore this fascinating urban maze. The night before as I strolled through the town, I looked for locations that might work well for my ‘final’ day sketch and whilst there is so much to draw here, the Liston quarter was my focus. The imposing colonnaded main street was constructed during French rule and apparently imitated the Rue de Rivoli in Paris.
The street overlooks the English cricket pitch and Spianda, a large city square that sits adjacent to the sea. The area feels like the heart of the town whether during the day or at night. Even during 2020 and the pandemic, the place bustles with ‘socially distanced’ life.
After a leisurely breakfast at a small cafe, I moved on to The Liston and found a nice shady spot to spend the morning sketching. A little local boy whose parents worked in a nearby kiosk joined me on the pavement with his drawing book as I sketched.
Then a light lunch overlooking the beautiful park and an afternoon of finding new places with coffee and beer stops en route. Corfu Town has proved a wonderfully rich place to visit, a perfect and fascinating place for urban sketching.
I had to sketch the characterful Hotel Konstantinoupolis before leaving and the relaxing day ended with dinner overlooking the sea in a small waterside restaurant, watching the sun set and the day gradually turning into night.
Up early for my leisurely walk to the airport which is so conveniently located immediately south of Corfu Town. I decided to take the coastal route to maximise my last remaining views of the beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea.
Half way along, I stopped for a coffee at a local cafe before continuing the remaining 15 minute walk to the terminal bustling with new arrivals and coach loads of tourists finishing their package holidays.
I wondered initially before departing on this trip whether Corfu would be perhaps a little too much of a two dimensional tourist island - what I found was a truly beautiful, scenic island and an absolutely charming town layered with the influences of so many cultures that I could have spent weeks quite happily exploring and sketching.
(Note to myself - really want to go island hopping around the Greek Islands again when life is back to some sort of normal!)