REVIEWER: ANASTASIA MIARI
Located in the north of the island of Corfu just passed Kassiopi, Old Peritheia stands as a reminder of the island’s rich history. Corfu’s oldest village - abandoned since the 1960s - sits at the foot of the island’s highest peak, Mount Pantokrator. Access is along a winding road that snakes up past sun saturated beach-side tourist hot spots and traditional Greek villages. The testing drive up dirt-track roads and unforgiving bends is worth it. Old Peritheia presents an escape from the tired tourist towns. Tucked into wild flower meadows with a view of the Ionian, Old Peritheia’s ruins are not the only draw up here in the cool, mountain air.
The village’s impressive location was its making and its undoing. Inhabited since approximately 700 AD, the ultra-fertile land was an obvious draw to the Venetians when they arrived on the island in the 14th Century. With them came the island’s first olive trees and plenty of wealth. Wine, olive oil and honey were made in abundance and sheep lived in the surrounding meadows. Colourful Venetian stately homes were built by hand. Marble and stone structures, still impressive - even in the form of ruins - are entangled in vines as they battle the test of time.
The 1960s saw most of the village leave with the introduction of cheap air travel and package holidays. Suddenly the land near the beaches was hot property – a money-making spot ideal for tavernas and souvenir shops. Two of the original population have remained in the ancient village, braving cool winters in isolation here at the top. Now, the village welcomes its status as the last heritage protected village on Corfu. Unlike the beach-side villages, Old Peritheia sees a steady stream of visitors throughout the winter months. Five tavernas are open all year round and a handful of the old stone structures - including The Merchant's House - have been restored. Far from abandoned, Old Peritheia is a hive of activity, the preserve of nature – home to millions of bees, friendly foxes and the odd wild cat.
hotel name & website: The Merchant’s House, Old Peritheia, Corfu, Greece
who: The man and I
why: A break from the usual Greek Easter vacation to Corfu
when: June 2016
stay: A delight. Bnb owners Mark and Saskia do their very best to make every stay a personal and fruitful experience. The two make a point of welcoming their guests and inviting us into the world that they – as visitors themselves – have fallen in love with. On arrival, Mark takes visitors on an hour-long tour of the village. Having written a book (which we are kindly given on the tour) about the village, Mark is the resident Old Peritheia expert. Hard hat-less and inquisitive, we duck into the ruins while Mark gives us a run-down of their history. ‘Here’s the old school house, before that it was the family home of the stately Skordalis family’… ‘This particular building was bought off one of three brothers by an Italian man who quite soon after, vanished off the face of the earth.’
location: Way up high into the mountains. We’re a good twenty minutes away from the beach, but the location is conducive to relaxation. Though abandoned, the village is far from silent. Bees and birds fill the surround – a humming hive of activity without human interference. The air is cool and fresh, making a morning run or a hike up the mountain a very do-able activity – even in the summer months. The Merchant’s House is easily located at the top of the village just below the first church.
rooms: There are six suites at the Merchant’s House, with a double bed in the main bedroom and sofa-beds in the living room, should guests have ‘well-behaved’ teens accompanying them. Pain-stakingly restored in the traditional Venetian style, the suites meld modern and ancient luxury for a timeless feel. I’m told even the bed covers were made especially for these suites, with the textile company having taken swatches from photographs of traditional Venetian buildings in Corfu town.
The couple have gone to great lengths to cater to everyone’s specific needs. The mattress is so comfortable, I sleep through my morning walk alarm and sink deeper into slumber. Each room is equipped with a flash-light (there’s no street lighting in Old Peritheia at night) and an umbrella. Handy for those with tech that needs charging, the power sockets in the bedrooms continue to work even when the key card is removed from the wall. Yes, in spite of its humble ‘bnb’ status, The Merchant's House has key cards for entry and power supply – one of the finer details we love about this place.
pool/gym/beach status: No pool and no need for a gym – a hike out into the expanse of nature surrounding the village is better. The beach is just a short drive away so hire car is necessary.
food situation (mini bar, breakfast, restaurant): The mini-bar is well stocked and breakfast is bountiful. Mark makes his own jams – from strawberry to kumquat and Corfiot grape. We eat al fresco on the terrace and feast on the panoramic views. Mark and Saskia take us to dinner at Capricorn, Old Peritheia’s very first taverna. They insist that out of the five in the village, they can’t choose a favourite. This one is cosy and promises delicious traditional dishes. Of note is the rich, cinnamon infused Moussaka and garlicky Sofrito.
bar: No bar – no need. Fresh air induces a natural high.
data (wifi?): The Wifi is speedy, but really, we’re rarely on our phones. There’s a whole world to explore out there.
kiddie agreeable: To preserve the relaxed atmosphere, Mark and Saskia ask that only the best behaved teens accompany their parents on holiday. No tantrum toddlers here, thanks.
specialty: The Merchant’s House is one of the oldest buildings on Corfu, tucked into this enigmatic village high up in the mountainside.
price scale: Completely reasonable for the personal service and unique atmosphere.