‘Somewhere between Calabria and Corfu the blue really begins…you are aware of a change in the heart of things: aware of the horizon beginning to stain at the rim of the world: aware of islands coming out of the darkness to meet you’. So begins Lawrence Durrell’s 1945 ode to Corfu, Prospero’s Cell. Even today, visitors to the island often arrive by sea, approaching from Italy in the west, of the Greek mainland in the east. Emerging in the early morning sunshine, the pastel-hued houses above Corfu Town’s old port are a jumble of slim tiers with narrow passages runningbetween them, made brilliant with washing hung out to dry from every balcony like festive bunting. The tall Venetian mansions display ancient coats of coloured paint, blurred by successive winters and giving visitors to the town the feeling of stepping into a watercolour painting.
The town is centred on a wide tree-lined esplanade called the Spianada, whose French arcades echo the Rue de Rivoli. A drop of Britishness is to be found on the noble sweep of this square, which is transformed into a cricket pitch throughout the summer – the world’s only working sports field within a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Meanwhile, the Corfiot countryside boasts an elegiac greenery, unrivalled across Greece and contrasting remarkably with the solemn barrenness of the Aegean. Bathed in brilliant white sunlight throughout the summer months, the winter rains ensure a sublime frondescence across the island, with the inland valleys thickly carpeted with wild flowers, studded with gnarled olive trees and dense groves of stiffly swaying cypresses. The sophisticated north-east is known as Kensington-on- Sea, and is the site of the Rothschild family’s imposing summer villa. It is here that the luxury villa lifestyle comes into its own, with the hillsides sprinkled with secluded, high-end properties boasting private infinity pools and awe-inspiring sea views, with the snowcapped Albanian-Epirote mountains rising mysteriously in the east.