I was recently faced with a conflict of conscience. Upon discovering somewhere awesome do you shout about it from the rooftops or ring-fence the magic with a “Nothing To See Here” sign to keep everyone else away? Luckily – I went with option 2!
The following article appeared in Family Traveller Magazine
The holidays saw us reconnecting as a family on the island of Corfu, the second largest of the Ionian islands, just off the northwestern coast of Greece. We’re huge fans of the Greek Islands, but this one truly has something special:
An Isle where mountains meet the sea A lighter purple on the blue And grey-green olive trees, sun-kissed Show silver glinting through
We were guests of Simpson Travel and our check-in at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 was seamless.
After a short 3 hour relax in the leather seats of our charter flight, we touched down into Kerkyra Airport, Corfu, the UK’s closest Greek Island, that re-assuring wave of holiday heat hitting us as we excitedly exited the steps.
Simpson’s travel documents were the best I’ve ever experienced – everything from flight details to “leave one person to collect the baggage and send another through to pick up the hire car” type detail saw us sailing through the arrival experience and winding along the picturesque roads of Corfu Old Town, marvelling at the fortress and venetian inspired architecture before you could say Flaming Cheese Saganaki! And, believe me, I was going to be saying that phrase a LOT during the week!
An hours stunning coastal drive, flanked by crystal blue waters and olive groves and we were met by the smiles of the lovely Gaynor, the Rou Estate Manager, who led us along a limestone path to the 3 bedroomed Villa Muscari.
A hamlet in the foothills of Mount Pantokrator in the North East corner of the island, The Rou Estate boasts 14 stunning stone villas set within fragrant terraced beds of lavender, rosemary and agapanthus. A wooden arched door led into our private outdoor dining area with breathtaking views out to the sea, with Albania beyond and while the children excitedly ventured down stone steps to check out our garden and plunge pool, I got us settled us into the villa – the perfect blend of contemporary and classic. A food basket in the kitchen was a welcome sight for a mum with hungry mouths to feed and meant I could instantly enjoy our surroundings instead of heading out for supplies!
The stunning hamlet was renovated for Graham Simpson by architect Dominic Skinner, who worked with Sir Norman Foster for years and the place is a testament to his hard work and vision. The terraces of olive groves led us down to the stunning infinity pool for that first night celebratory dip, followed by alfresco dinner at The Garden Terrace Restaurant where the enthusiastic Spiro not only served a delicious Corfian meal against a cinematic panorama but took our orders for croissants and bread which duly arrived warm and fresh from the local bakery (which his mother runs!) the following morning.
And so began a perfect family week – with lazy days by the pool, reading under olive trees and sampling the very best that Corfu has to offer.
You don’t have to just chill though as The Estate also boasts it’s own air-conditioned gym and all kinds of fitness can be organised for you whilst there, from alfresco yoga sessions to bike tours, to horse riding. In the name of transparency I will confess that my gym kit enjoyed it’s little jaunt to Corfu in my bag – and there it stayed! There was just so much more to do!
Strangely, I did mange to find time to research The Granary: The estates treatment rooms run by the supremely talented Vanda, who gave me one of the best massages I’ve ever had! Surrounded by limestone walls, candles flickering around me, smells of Ylang Ylang and Lemongrass, I could feel the stresses of my everyday world seeping away.
Moments to myself are a rarity these days and Vanda seemed to intrinsically know exactly what I needed. I came out of that room a new woman – energised, revived and ready to enjoy the oasis with my family. Let’s just pretend that I didn’t fall asleep – nor dribble. Who would do that?! *looks away
When it came to beaches, there are several gorgeous options. For a stony beach, the 10 minute drive to nearby Kerasia proved a big hit. The lack of sand meant the water was the most exquisite crystal blue so perfectly lazy afternoons were spent with the children fish watching while I indulged a spot of people watching on the beach!
Then, salty and sleepy at the end of the day, we’d wander to the gorgeous Kerasia BeachTaverna for a spot of dinner. As a family, the relaxed corfian taverna experience was refreshing – none of that dressing for dinner or evening pressure of so many holidays, you just rock up as you are!
Trey and I actually managed a bit of precious couple time while the kids skimmed stones on the beach to pass the time until the dinner arrived. Happiness all around!
For a sandy beach, it was all about Kalamaki, about 20 minutes drive from The Rou Estate, along the stunning coastal road. On the advice of Gaynor we’d park at Nicola’s Taverna in the shade – which becomes the holy grail of parking in temperatures that can touch 45 degrees! The Taverna Cafe even had beach toys to borrow and, crucially, the beach was sandy and big enough to escape the crowds!
Kalamaki beach was the stuff of dreams. White sands, blue waters, loungers and big umbrellas and shallow waters for as far as you could see – perfect for kids to play in safely. Locals braved the heat and wandered along the beach selling everything from fresh coconut and watermelon to reflexology. Naturally I thought it only appropriate to support local custom!
Another day, we braved the islands biggest waterpark – Aqualand . Given the choice, I’d have stayed at Rou on my lounger with a book but what a day. Who knew?! Water slides, wave machines, lazy rivers – you name it, we did it! The kids literally didn’t stop and, having been sceptical as to how enjoyable it would be, I can’t recommend it enough! I usually can’t stand those places and all I can think of is verrucas and floating plasters (!) but it was clean and we had a great day!
The Rou Estate has been sympathetically restored around the original fountain and lazy afternoons were spent lounging around the main infinity pool where the children made great friends with some of the other children staying, lazy evenings were spent catching the last rays of sun before it disappeared behind the mountain, before heading down to The Garden Taverna to sample some local delicacies.
The estate proved to be the perfect mix of social and private – the infinity pool and Barbecue night were a big hit and a great chance for socialising, whilst private pools and sun terraces meant that you could re-connect as a family behind your villa gate.
The set up also worked well for us as a couple, as, with the children safely tucked up, Trey and I could enjoy a glass of wine on our loungers in the evenings – taking in the breathtaking views out to sea, listening to the memory evoking sounds of busy crickets all around us.
We made family memories that week.
It’s the happiest place we’ve ever been. Sometimes a place just touches your soul and you leave breathing deeper, appreciating life!
Which is why there were tears all around when we left.
And why we’re already counting the days till we can return!
THE FINE PRINT:
We were guests of Simpson Travel for the purposes of writing this blog and my work as a travel journalist for Family Travel Magazine.
All views are my own.