Eight days, 149kms on a way-marked hiking route linking the ancient pathways and tracks between villages from the southernmost point of Corfu to the northernmost point, along the way crossing the island from east coast to west and back again as well as summitting the peaks of the island’s tallest and second tallest mountains.
From Hydra we caught a hydrofoil back to Piraeus and from Athens airport a flight to Corfu town. It has a lovely cobblestoned old quarter, a crumbling Venetian fortress and if you ignore the flocks of day trippers from cruise boats, a very pleasant vibe.
We spent a few days there, then headed to Asprokavos in the south of Corfu to walk the Corfu Trail.
Day 1 – Asprokavos to Spartera loop: The nearest town to the southern tip of Corfu is Asprokavos. After checking into the hotel in Asprokavas, we headed out for the first leg of the hike.
A trail leads from the outskirts of town into light forest and up to the ruins of the Monastery of Arkadoulis, which marks the southern most point of Corfu.
The path follows the cliffs and on a clear day you can see mainland Greece, although it was overcast the day we walked.
The trail drops back down to the beach and after a long walk on sand, there’s an awkward clamber around some rocky promontories. To avoid soaking our boots, we walked this section barefoot. The rocks were sharp and the weed was spiky. It wasn’t pleasant.
The path then climbs back up to the cliffs and inland to the village of Spartera, then drops gradually until reaching Asprokavos.
An easy walk and nice to get out hiking, although we were shocked at the amount of rubbish. Many times we saw dumped building/renovation materials by the side of the road or down lanes running from the roads. It seemed that either official places to get rid of this sort of waste do not exist, or they are expensive so people just dump instead, and if there is any penalty for dumping it isn’t enforced or isn’t enough to deter the dumpers. Very disappointing.
We weren’t too fussed on Asprokavos either. It exists, it seems, so that inhabitants of a certain island at the other end of Europe can stay in very average hotels whose public areas are constantly bombarded with thumping music, eating very average food, perhaps visiting the very average beach and drinking cheap beer until the small hours. The relative absence of sun and beaches in their home country perhaps makes Asprokavos attractive. To those seeking a decent night’s sleep ahead of a long hike, it was more of an endurance exercise.
Total walk distance: 12kms.
Day 2 – Asprokavos to Santa Barbara: From Asprokavos on the west coast, the trail heads north east and then around the edge of a lovely lake.
We seem to be following the Spring northwards and there were many flowers.
Then the trail is through olive groves and small villages until reaching the west coast and a long walk up the beach.
This section of the walk ends with another beach walk and the trail notes warned of a need to cross a stream running down to the sea. We had tevas in our day packs for just this situation. John weighed up the the inconvenience of changing shoes while standing on coarse sand and managed to jump it albeit with one slightly wet boot. Julie knew she was no chance of jumping it but succeeded in the potentially more difficult task of removing hiking boots and socks while standing on one leg. Two years of Bikram yoga paid off right there. Thanks, Belle!
Total walk distance: 23kms.
Day 3 – Santa Barbara to Paramonas: Back to the beach, up the headland and then down to another long walk on the beach.
When the beach finally ran out, the track notes instructed us to climb into the dunes and turn right after the third juniper tree. This was unhelpful, as the only thing we knew about junipers was the aroma they impart to a good gin. We found some spiky trees with berries. We split a berry, closed our eyes and inhaled. Not much aroma in the berries, but no other options so we went with that.
The next instructions were to look for a pistachio bush, at which point we wondered if a horticulture course might have been more useful than a law degree. We never did find that one, but somehow nonetheless ‘emerged on the sand road’ as specified in the track notes.
There followed a long, hot walk in the sun on a track between Lake Korission and the sea. There were many juniper bushes, as we now knew them to be, and we began to fantasise about a gin and tonic. Or three.
After reaching the top of the lake, the trail wound through some olives groves, and some more olive groves, with occasional great views of the beach, and after a killer climb in the mid afternoon, a downhill track through, you guessed it, olive groves, terminating in the sleepy seaside village of Paramonas.
Total walk distance: 20kms.
Day 4 – Paramonas to Benitses: First up, a lovely climb straight up out of the village.
The trail again runs through olive groves and some lovely forest for the most part, with two more steep climbs rewarding us with great views inland. Some of the landscape looked almost Italian.
There were those olive groves again, a source of relaxation for both man and beast, it seemed.
The final section for the day was a very steep but beautiful descent through lush forest.
Our destination was the pretty village of Benitses.
Total walk distance: 17.5kms.
Day 5 – Benitses to Pelekas: The trail gets progressively steeper as it tracks north. Day 5 includes climbing to the summit of the second highest peak on Corfu, Agi Deka. It was worth the climb.
The trail also gets more forested and is lovely, and the occasional villages are also very pretty.
Total walk distance: 17kms.
Day 6 – Pelekas to Lipiades: This is a stunning day’s walk, heading first to and along Myrtiotissa Beach. In one of those delightful ironies of history, there’s a naturist beach at the bottom of the cliff and an ancient monastery at the top. Perhaps this could be the key to reversing the decline in the number of young people joining religious orders?
The trail crosses agricultural land, more of those olive groves and through more tidy villages, reaching once again the rocky coast.
Total walk distance: 22kms.
Day 7 – Lipiades to Agios Georgios: The beach at Lipiades is truly beautiful and being still a little ahead of the high tourist season, mercifully empty.
The trail climbs steeply from the beach to the mountains again, with views over the west coast and the bay of Paleokastritsas. According to the Odyssey, after being released by Calypso (see the Lipsi section of our Dodécanèse post), Odysseus built a raft and sailed north but hit a storm brewed up by Poseidon in revenge for Odysseus having blinded his son. Odysseus washed up on Scheria, and locals assert Scheria is Corfu and the rock in the bay of Paleokastritsa is Odysseus’ petrified boat. For a master mariner, he seems to have lost a few boats in his travels.
The trail goes through mountain villages and reaches a point where it is possible to leave the trail and follow a road up to Angelokastro, a Byzantine fortress which was the capital of Corfu from 1387 until the 16th century. It was never breached, despite numerous sieges over the centuries, and it is easy to see why.
We left the trail and walked far enough on the road to get a good bird’s eye view. We didn’t feel the need to climb to the top. We’d had days of fantastic views over Corfu already and didn’t fancy a long walk on the road.
We returned to the trail and continued on to the beach resort town of Agios Georgios which was our destination for the day. A short walk day with time for a dip in the hotel pool in the afternoon. Very restorative.
Total walk distance: 13.5kms.
Day 8 – Spartilas to Agios Spyridon: We were picked up from Agios Georgios for a short transfer to again pick up the trail at Spartilas. This was the longest day of the trail and also included climbing to the top of Mount Pantokrator, the highest peak in Corfu. It was also the most impressive.
First there was a steep rocky climb to reach some stupendous views and the ruined chapel of Taxiarchis.
The trail crosses high meadows and then there’s some more climbing.
Reaching a road there is a choice to leave the trail and walk to the top of Mount Pantokrator. Come all this way and not go to the top of the highest peak? No way. It was actually not that arduous.
The weather was closing in and we reached the top just before the clouds closed the view.
Luckily, the weather didn’t last long and after a short stop we were off again. Backtracking to the trail, we continued steeply down and then across a ridge to the abandoned village of Old Perithia.
At least, it used to be abandoned. Rick Stein filmed a segment in a local tavern here and now it is a popular day trip destination and taverns have mushroomed all around the square. The smells were amazing. The hubbub was enticing. But with over 10kms to go, stopping would have led to beers and a taxi, so we plodded resolutely out of the village and on. And on. And on.
We descended through stony hills and light forest.
And then after a long, hot walk in open coastal country, we reached it. The northern most point of Corfu.
Total walk distance: 24kms.
Day 9 – Kalami: Wait! There’s a Day 9? Well, sort of. From Agios Spyridon we caught a taxi to Kalami where the organiser had booked us to stay for two nights. The track notes give instructions for an add-on walk on Day 9 which is not part of the Corfu Trail but an additional loop walk on the ‘mountain flanks’ around Kalami.
Arriving in Kalami after completing the trail, we decided to reserve judgment on that until the morning. That night while we were at dinner, someone snuck under our table, amputated our feet and replaced each one with a 10kg lump of macerated meat. At least, that’s what it felt like when we got up to leave.
Next morning, feet still sore, we eyed the sky and black clouds threatened rain. Hmmm, mountain flanks in the rain or a day with our feet up? No contest, really.
We strolled the town, which took all of about 10 minutes, saw the White House where Gerald Durrell lived in the late 1930s and caught a water taxi around to a nearby bay for dinner on the beach watching the sun go down.
And that was the end of the Corfu Trail, and indeed of our time in Greece. The next day we returned to Corfu town and caught a ferry to Saranda in Albania to commence the next adventure.