Greek revival: how Corfu’s 14th-century ghost village came back to life

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The corniche roadworthy that winds on Corfu’s north-eastern seashore takes maine past forested coves and dreamy beaches that gully thousands of tourists each year. But portion astir visitors basal themselves successful 1 of the galore coastal resorts, I travel a lonely and sinuous roadworthy up into the mountains. My destination is Old Perithia – an atmospheric erstwhile shade colony – and Mark and Saskia Hendriksen, the mates who person helped revive it and crook it into 1 of Corfu’s astir spellbinding attractions.

As I ascent higher, the aerial cools, the olive trees crook to pines and I wonderment whether I person taken a incorrect turn, until abruptly the colony appears, arsenic if hidden until the last moment. “Of people that’s intentional,” says Mark Hendriksen arsenic I conscionable him by the entrance. “The colony was built successful specified a mode arsenic to spot but not beryllium seen,” helium adds.

Old Perithia successful  Corfu

With houses dating from the 14th century, Old Perithia is Corfu’s astir past village. Built to beryllium harmless from pirate attacks, it’s adjacent the apical of the island’s highest peak, Mount Pantokrator, surrounded by dense wood and with views implicit the Ionian Sea towards Albania. And yet for decades this was a shade village, abandoned successful the 1960s erstwhile tourism deed Corfu and villagers sought their fortunes down by the coast.

“The irony is that tourism is what primitively killed Old Perithia,” says Mark, “and present tourism is bringing the colony backmost to life.”

When Mark, a steadfast from London, and Saskia, who is Dutch, archetypal visited Old Perithia successful 2009, it was a beauteous but abandoned relic of a bygone age. But they fell successful emotion and devoted themselves to restoring the village, seeing its imaginable arsenic a haven for visitors turned disconnected by Corfu’s packed and gaudy coastal resorts.

The Merchants House successful  Old Perithia
The Merchant’s House successful Old Perithia, which was restored to a luxury B&B by Mark and Saskia Hendriksen, who realised the island’s potential. Photograph: Yannis Michalas

The mates began by restoring an elaborate analyzable of connected properties into the Merchant’s House, a luxurious B&B with six suites. “We thought that this 1 restoration mightiness service arsenic a catalyst,” says Mark. “If we could amusement that determination was accidental here, it mightiness entice backmost the aged villagers.” Gradually tourists started arriving, intrigued by the task and seeking bid and quiescent successful the hillsides. And arsenic involvement successful the task grew, the archetypal inhabitants of Old Perithia besides began to return.

“I ne'er thought I would beryllium back,” said Nikos, who was calved successful Old Perithia and remembers agelong mule rides arsenic a kid from the colony to the coast. Now helium runs Ognistra, 1 of 5 tavernas successful the village. “The restoration task has brought hope, not conscionable to the village, but to the island,” helium adds.

The immense summation successful visitors means that his taverna, which is unfastened regular for astir of the year, is ever engaged serving accepted Corfiot dishes specified arsenic a pastitsada (macaroni with rooster) and sofrito (veal successful vino and ail sauce). Nikos has been capable to bash up his aged location and instrumentality permanently to the colony wherever helium was born.

A locomotion done Old Perithia evokes thing of its past glory and aboriginal potential. Elegant chromatic mansions successful assorted states of ruin and repair enactment the streets, galore with ornate features inactive visible, specified arsenic frescoes, sundials and coats of arms. At assorted points, you drawback glimpses of the oversea done undulating crenels successful the mountain, similar beams of airy bursting done turret windows.

A luxury chamber  successful  the restored Merchants House
A luxury chamber successful the restored Merchant’s House. Photograph: Yannis Michalas

When Mark and Saskia arrived, lone astir 10% of the houses were successful a habitable state. Today it’s 35% and growing, acknowledgment to a delicate restoration process overseen by Greece’s notoriously finicky Central Archaeological Council, which has classified the colony arsenic a “historic monument”. Houses indispensable beryllium restored to their strict requirements, including interiors. Streets tin beryllium paved with chromatic only. Cars indispensable beryllium near extracurricular the village. Only LED lights are permitted. There are nary swimming pools. This does mean Old Perithia looks (more oregon less) however it did 500 years ago. It is simply a surviving fossil of a colony but, crucially, it is living.

One of respective  tavernas that the villagers themselves are present  restoring
One of respective tavernas that the villagers themselves are present restoring. Photograph: Ullstein Bild/Getty Images

On my locomotion I conscionable Vasilis, whose parents were among the past to wantonness Old Perithia successful the 1960s. Thanks to the restoration task and the uptick successful tourism, helium was capable to instrumentality with his household and instrumentality implicit his father’s long-dormant beehives. He present earns a surviving making chromatic to merchantability to visitors. “I grew up with my parents’ stories astir beingness here,” helium tells me. “There was a school, a cafe, a bakery, farmers, artisans … this was 1 of the astir important villages successful Corfu. It means a batch to instrumentality here, wherever my roots are. What makes maine particularly blessed is that my children emotion it present and privation to larn beekeeping, and truthful the traditions of the colony volition proceed with the caller generation.”

Today Vasilis and his household are among the 20 oregon truthful imperishable inhabitants of Old Perithia. While Mark and Saskia whitethorn person kickstarted the revival, the villagers themselves person present taken ownership of the project, restoring their aged houses, churches and tavernas. “Of course, we can’t halt tourists coming, but I privation this to stay an authentically Corfiot village,” says Vasilis. “I ne'er privation to spot a supermarket here.”

The accidental to spot the “real Corfu” is 1 of the village’s main draws. The different is plentiful hiking opportunities. The Corfu Trail, which runs from the northbound of the land to the south, passes done Old Perithia. There are besides hikes to the apical of Mount Pantokrator oregon to neighbouring villages. But I’m contented simply wandering the surrounding paths, amid the wildflowers, trees and occasional tortoises. The colony has besides go a retreat for writers and artists. “Many visitors travel present conscionable to paint,” Mark tells me. “There’s thing peculiar here, thing different.”

Old Perithia
Old Perithia has been classified arsenic a ‘historic monument’ by Greece’s Central Archaeological Council. Photograph: Yannis Michalas

During the tallness of the pandemic, the isolation of the colony was a shield that allowed beingness to proceed comparatively unscathed. “People understood and appreciated what they had, went backmost to their roots and truthful person cared much for their onshore and properties successful Old Perithia,” says Mark. “However, this twelvemonth we’ve seen an summation successful bookings, chiefly due to the fact that the colony is 1 of the safest and mostly quietest places to stay.”

As portion of its Blue Freedom plan, the Greek authorities has prioritised the vaccination of islands to promote tourists. According to its online vaccination tracker, conscionable implicit fractional of eligible islanders person had some jabs (about 66,000 people).

On my walk, I walk by the beauteous pinkish religion of St Iakovos Persis. In possibly the astir symbolic illustration of Old Perithia’s revival, the church’s bells, which had lain soundless for decades, began to toll again arsenic the colony celebrated its archetypal wedding and archetypal baptism successful implicit 50 years.

An orthodox religion  successful  Old Perithia
An orthodox religion successful Old Perithia. Photograph: Szymon Mucha/Alamy

The accomplishment of a minibus of tourists interrupts the bid somewhat, truthful I caput to the coast. It’s lone a 15-minute thrust to Agios Spyridon beach, a sandy spit of onshore which backs connected to a protected lagoon, sparing it from immoderate crude overdevelopment. Across the water, the gleaming achromatic buildings of Albania look astir wrong swimming distance.

I travel backmost successful the evening, erstwhile the daytrippers person departed and the colony returns to its peaceful splendour. To champion admit a enactment successful Old Perithia, you truly request the state of a car to travel and spell arsenic you like. After dinner, I rotation up the hills again. The aerial is fresh, everything is serene and I tin recognize wherefore the villagers person ever longed to return.

The adjacent morning, I plaything by Vasilis’ location to bargain a jar of honey. “It’s funny,” helium tells me, “20 years ago, I would person told you that Old Perithia had nary future. Now I consciousness similar our champion days mightiness beryllium yet to come.”

Suites astatine The Merchant’s House successful Old Perithia commencement from €120 per night