Greek revival: how Corfu’s 14th-century ghost village got here again to life | Corfu holidays

The corniche street that winds alongside Corfu’s north-eastern coast takes me previous forested coves and dreamy seashores that draw 1000’s of vacationers every year. However whereas most guests base themselves in one of many quite a few coastal resorts, I observe a lonely and sinuous street up into the mountains. My vacation spot is Outdated Perithia – an atmospheric former ghost village – and Mark and Saskia Hendriksen, the couple who’ve helped revive it and switch it into one in all Corfu’s most spellbinding sights.

As I climb increased, the air cools, the olive timber flip to pines and I wonder if I’ve taken a fallacious flip, till all of a sudden the village seems, as if hidden till the ultimate second. “After all that’s intentional,” says Mark Hendriksen as I meet him by the doorway. “The village was inbuilt such a method as to see however not be seen,” he provides.

With homes courting from the 14th century, Outdated Perithia is Corfu’s most historical village. Constructed to be protected from pirate assaults, it’s close to the highest of the island’s highest peak, Mount Pantokrator, surrounded by dense forest and with views over the Ionian Sea in direction of Albania. And but for many years this was a ghost village, deserted within the Nineteen Sixties when tourism hit Corfu and villagers sought their fortunes down by the coast.

“The irony is that tourism is what initially killed Outdated Perithia,” says Mark, “and now tourism is bringing the village again to life.”

When Mark, a writer from London, and Saskia, who’s Dutch, first visited Outdated Perithia in 2009, it was a wonderful however deserted relic of a bygone age. However they fell in love and devoted themselves to restoring the village, seeing its potential as a haven for guests turned off by Corfu’s packed and gaudy coastal resorts.

The Merchants House in Old Perithia
The Retailers Home in Outdated Perithia, which was restored to a luxurious B&B by Mark and Saskia Hendriksen, who realised the island’s potential. {Photograph}: Yannis Michalas

The couple started by restoring an elaborate complicated of linked properties into the Service provider’s Home, an expensive B&B with six suites. “We thought that this one restoration would possibly function a catalyst,” says Mark. “If we might present that there was alternative right here, it would entice again the outdated villagers.” Regularly vacationers began arriving, intrigued by the venture and looking for peace and quiet within the hillsides. And as curiosity within the venture grew, the unique inhabitants of Outdated Perithia additionally started to return.

“I by no means thought I’d be again,” stated Nikos, who was born in Outdated Perithia and remembers lengthy mule rides as a toddler from the village to the coast. Now he runs Ognistra, one in all 5 tavernas within the village. “The restoration venture has introduced hope, not simply to the village, however to the island,” he provides.

The large enhance in guests implies that his taverna, which is open every day for many of the 12 months, is all the time busy serving conventional Corfiot dishes equivalent to a pastitsada (macaroni with rooster) and sofrito (veal in wine and garlic sauce). Nikos has been in a position to do up his outdated home and return completely to the village the place he was born.

A stroll by Outdated Perithia evokes one thing of its previous glory and future potential. Elegant stone mansions in numerous states of destroy and restore line the streets, many with ornate options nonetheless seen, equivalent to frescoes, sundials and coats of arms. At numerous factors, you catch glimpses of the ocean by undulating crenels within the mountain, like beams of sunshine bursting by turret home windows.

A luxury bedroom in the restored Merchants House
A luxurious bed room within the restored Retailers Home. {Photograph}: Yannis Michalas

When Mark and Saskia arrived, solely about 10% of the homes have been in a liveable state. At present it’s 35% and rising, due to a fragile restoration course of overseen by Greece’s notoriously finicky Central Archaeological Council, which has labeled the village as a “historic monument”. Homes have to be restored to their strict necessities, together with interiors. Streets might be paved with stone solely. Automobiles have to be left outdoors the village. Solely LED lights are permitted. There are not any swimming swimming pools. This does imply Outdated Perithia appears (kind of) the way it did 500 years in the past. It’s a residing fossil of a village however, crucially, it is residing.

One of several tavernas that the villagers themselves are now restoring
One among a number of tavernas that the villagers themselves are actually restoring. {Photograph}: Ullstein Bild/Getty Photos

On my stroll I meet Vasilis, whose dad and mom have been among the many final to desert Outdated Perithia within the Nineteen Sixties. Because of the restoration venture and the uptick in tourism, he was in a position to return along with his household and take over his father’s long-dormant beehives. He now earns a residing making honey to promote to guests. “I grew up with my dad and mom’ tales about life right here,” he tells me. “There was a faculty, a restaurant, a bakery, farmers, artisans … this was probably the most essential villages in Corfu. It means lots to return right here, the place my roots are. What makes me particularly glad is that my kids like it right here and wish to be taught beekeeping, and so the traditions of the village will proceed with the brand new technology.”

At present Vasilis and his household are among the many 20 or so everlasting inhabitants of Outdated Perithia. Whereas Mark and Saskia might have kickstarted the revival, the villagers themselves have now taken possession of the venture, restoring their outdated homes, church buildings and tavernas. “After all, we are able to’t cease vacationers coming, however I would like this to stay an authentically Corfiot village,” says Vasilis. “I by no means wish to see a grocery store right here.”

The prospect to see the “actual Corfu” is without doubt one of the village’s predominant attracts. The opposite is plentiful mountain climbing alternatives. The Corfu Path, which runs from the north of the island to the south, passes by Outdated Perithia. There are additionally hikes to the highest of Mount Pantokrator or to neighbouring villages. However I’m content material merely wandering the encompassing paths, amid the wildflowers, timber and occasional tortoises. The village has additionally grow to be a retreat for writers and artists. “Many guests come right here simply to color,” Mark tells me. “There’s one thing particular right here, one thing completely different.”

Old Perithia
Outdated Perithia has been labeled as a ‘historic monument’ by Greece’s Central Archaeological Council. {Photograph}: Yannis Michalas

In the course of the peak of the pandemic, the isolation of the village was a protect that allowed life to proceed comparatively unscathed. “Folks understood and appreciated what that they had, went again to their roots and so have cared extra for his or her land and properties in Outdated Perithia,” says Mark. “Nonetheless, this 12 months we’ve seen a rise in bookings, primarily as a result of the village is without doubt one of the most secure and usually quietest locations to remain.”

As a part of its Blue Freedom plan, the Greek authorities has prioritised the vaccination of islands to encourage vacationers. In accordance with its on-line vaccination tracker, simply over half of eligible islanders have had each jabs (about 66,000 individuals).

On my stroll, I cross by the gorgeous pink church of St Iakovos Persis. In maybe essentially the most symbolic instance of Outdated Perithia’s revival, the church’s bells, which had lain silent for many years, started to toll once more because the village celebrated its first wedding ceremony and first baptism in over 50 years.

An orthodox church in Old Perithia
An orthodox church in Outdated Perithia. {Photograph}: Szymon Mucha/Alamy

The arrival of a minibus of vacationers interrupts the peace considerably, so I head to the coast. It’s solely a 15-minute drive to Agios Spyridon seaside, a sandy spit of land which backs on to a protected lagoon, sparing it from any crude overdevelopment. Throughout the water, the gleaming white buildings of Albania appear nearly inside swimming distance.

I come again within the night, when the daytrippers have departed and the village returns its peaceable splendour. To greatest recognize a keep in Outdated Perithia, you actually need the liberty of a automobile to come back and go as you want. After dinner, I wander up the hills once more. The air is contemporary, every part is serene and I can perceive why the villagers have all the time longed to return.

The subsequent morning, I swing by Vasilis’ home to purchase a jar of honey. “It’s humorous,” he tells me, “20 years in the past, I’d have instructed you that Outdated Perithia had no future. Now I really feel like our greatest days is perhaps but to come back.”

Suites at The Service provider’s Home in Outdated Perithia begin from €120 per evening

Supply by [author_name]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *