“Marvellous things happen to one in Greece – marvellous good things which can happen to one nowhere else on earth”, Henry Miller – The Colossus of Maroussi
We continued our tour around the island by driving south of Corfu Town to some of the early holiday destinations on the island.
We quickly left the rugged mountainous of the north east where the bare granite slopes of Mount Pantokrator rise steeply before plunging dramatically into the sea to where, although only a few miles away, the flat and sandy south east where tall cypresses march in columns down green fertile slopes to the shore.
In 1984 I stayed in the village of Perama at a modern hotel complex called the Aelos Beach Hotel which was only a short distance from the main town. The hotel was an unattractive concrete structure with a main building with restaurant, bar and shops and the accommodation was in a string of bedroom blocks that were located amongst pretty bougainvillea shrubs in the large hotel gardens. We drove past it today and it is now a modern beach resort, very up-market and most likely beyond my budget.
Lots of visitors get drawn to Perama now because this is where the Durrell family lived in the 1930s.
We didn’t stop because we were heading for the next village of Benitses.
In the 1980s Corfu was expanding rapidly as a tourist destination and was acquiring an uneviable reputation as a party island and magnet for unruly British tourists on boozy Club 18-30 holidays. They were drawn in the main to the hedonistic town of Benitses which was well known for heavy drinking, beach parties, wild behaviour and street fighting. There was a story at the time that even the island police were frightened to go in there after dark but I am not sure if this was really true.
In 1984 we drove straight through, not daring to stop but at ten o’clock in the morning it was still recovering from the night before and didn’t live up to its dangerous reputation at all, no dead bodies or burnt out cars and we went through entirely without incident on our way to the north of the island.
Over the next twenty years or so the locals who lived in the village grew tired of its reputation and ill-disciplined guests and made a determined effort to throw off its bad ill-repute. Benitses set about reinventing itself with the addition of a swanky marina, up-market hotels and a string of classy bars and tavernas. The rowdy youngsters were carefully redirected to Kavos in the the far south of the island where they were kept as far away as possible from families and the mostly well behaved.
Kavos must have been delighted because in a 2017 survey it was in the top ten of European destinations that are spoiled by boozy Brits. The others (in no particular order) were Ayia Napa in Cyprus; Red Sea resorts in Bulgaria; Magaluf, Barcelona and Benidorm in Spain; Malia in Crete, Riga in Latvia and Hvar in Croatia. Such surveys make me ashamed to be British.
In 1984 I confess that we contributed to this a little bit and this I my Mum after way too much local retsina wine and most likely a glass or two of ouzo as well…
I am happy to report that things are quite different today in Benitses and we had no fear of parking the car and taking a stroll along the waterfront next to the marina and the thin shingle beach before stopping for mid-morning coffee.
And that could have been it, we were ready to leave and move on but we spotted a half-hidden sign pointing to the old village so we decided to explore a little.
Benitses it turns out has a long and interesting history stretching all the way back to the Roman occupation two thousand years ago and we took the narrow path that climbed into a lush green valley with interesting buildings and intriguing lanes and as far as the village church basking in the sunshine at the very centre.
Some scholars suggest that Corfu is the setting for the William Shakespeare play The Tempest. He did, after all, go missing for a long time and presumed travelling in Italy and the Adriatic so this is not completely unlikely and the path took us through an olive grove with gnarled black trunks twisting away like Chubby Checker and each with a knotted witch hiding in the branches and all rather like walking through Act 4, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Can you spot the white faced witch…
I was glad that we had stopped off in Benitses and had found it so delightful and hospitable, it is always good to have previous prejudices and misunderstandings corrected. I am no longer going to tell stories about fighting and boozing in the streets of Benitses but rather about charming flower fringed streets, local people pleased to welcome us and an enchanting and polite seaside resort and village.
We left Benitses and made the short journey to the nearby Achilleion Palace.
Click on an image to view the Gallery…