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Corphew! It's a scorcher; IT'S sunshine and scenery are no secret, but TOM ROWLEY has discovered there's so much more to Corfu - an island with riches that cannot be eroded by the dire economic climate.


OLIGARCHS' gently bobbing yachts share the few miles of sea to Albania with the gaudiest of cruise ships and the finest restaurants have paper tablecloths.

The speed limit seems optional but even the ambulances pootle at lunchtime.

Welcome to Corfu, the island with multiple personalities. Part Kensington, part Blackpool, home to the rural jottings of 'My Family and Other Animal's' author Gerald Durrell and the international decadence of banker Nat Rothschild.

A mile from his sprawling villa is ours - looking down on the pinks and yellows of the houses of San Stefano, a small bay clustered round the Ionian Sea.

Like the village, the villa is as unpretentious as it is luxurious. Nestled among olive groves, its spacious terraces enjoy uninterrupted views down to the sea.

The first impression is one of space. The house is supposed to sleep eight and does so comfortably, with up to a dozen spaces at each of two outdoor dining tables.

As we arrived, caterers were measuring for a wedding reception a fortnight later and it is not hard to see why - this place would be perfect for a party.

It is called Villa Damianos after its owner, the gregarious Corfiot who runs the bar in San Stefano.

Having Damianos on hand is perfect. He is not intrusive, but was at our side taking a fish order before we had even thought of a barbecue. His bar is lively and the best place to chat with the locals over one of his justly famous mojitos.

Regulars line the bar. It's no surprise, given Damianos opened it in 1984 aged just 16 and has since become friends with thousands of Brits. Both his children's godparents are English customers.

But he suddenly became less jovial when we talked politics. He was scathing about Athens' austerity measures and said tax rises are crippling local firms.

Despite these ripples of resentment towards the mainland, Corfu is an island at ease with itself. Even though it was just a few days before the election, as we walked round Corfu Town politicos lazed at their street stalls, sipping drinks. Saving the economy can wait, their iced coffees can't.

After all, the island caters for such different tastes - from our upmarket corner of the north east coast to the brash bars nearer the airport. The only thing that is compulsory is relaxation.

The invitingly calm Ionian circling the bays round San Stefano makes achieving this easy. It is hard to keep out of it and we soon chartered a yacht with a Greek captain.

Chilled Potis Theofilakos, the engaging owner of Dolphin Yachts, came aboard with us as we sailed from Gouvia marina, a few miles out of Corfu Town, to Kassiopi, a beautiful village in the far north.

There is nothing quite like the joy of yachting on a calm sea, especially when Potis is in charge - leaving us with little choice but to sip his chilled beer and lounge like the stars of a Ralph Lauren commercial.

He stopped in a deserted, bright blue lagoon to let us plunge off the back and splash around. It is not hard to see the appeal of the week-long charters Potis offers. One English couple even rented a yacht from him for four months, he tells us.

During an enjoyable and wideranging chat, he said that he enjoys the order and energy of Britain. But as he dropped us off in San Stefano, we knew where we would rather be.

We dined in the bay at Taverna Galini, set up 50 years ago by the grandfather of the current owner, Nikos. We enjoyed a delicious meal enlivened by Greeks at the taverna next door striking traditional choruses.

My friend Claire, a restaurant consultant joining me on a busman's holiday, said the menu's 'Famous Steak' deserved its title. The feta pie, drizzled with honey, is also a must-try.

After a little more pace, we took a motorboat from the knowledgeable Giannis of Giannis Boats in our bay the next day. He gave us a coolbox and a map and sent us on our way, twisting and splashing from one uninhabited, but beautiful, bay to another.

We whizzed past Rothschild's squat villa, scene of the famous yacht meeting between oligarch Oleg Deripaska, Peter Mandelson and George Osborne a few years ago, and moored at Agni, one of the island's most picturesque bays.

We ate at Taverna Agni on a table on the beach, surrounded by vivid potplants and olive trees.

The traditional Greek mezze was never-ending and top quality. But it is the prawns that are standout - insanely rich with cinnamon and tomatoes but, somehow, they work. Family-run since 1973, this is probably the best restaurant on the island. The trouble is, there is too much choice.

Taverna Kerasia, where we ate on our first night, and Taverna Panorama both not only offer fine food but compete for the best view.

The former, the only taverna on Kerasia bay, is the closest to the sea. It was thrilling to watch the sun set on Albania and stroll along the deserted sand - effectively your private beach. The seafood spaghetti, with mussels, prawns and calamari, is particularly recommended.

Meanwhile, Taverna Panorama is not a misnomer. Five minutes' drive from our villa, it is the only restaurant not on the sea. But, if anything, it affords even better views. It is cheaper than the other tavernas and its expertly grilled food was a welcome break.

But getting about the island on land is also relaxing. We had the privilege of a rented car and I had the greater privilege of not driving it on Corfu's famously testy roads. But I did not entirely escape taking the reins and one afternoon we drove to Agios Markos for a horse trek.

None of us are natural horse riders, but Sally, who runs Trailriders, expertly matched us with animals to suit our personalities and we had a brilliant time trotting through the hills.

On his yacht, Potis told us fewer Germans are coming to the island, scared by flag-burning in Athens after recent budgetary wrangles. But it is politics that frustrates this proud nation, not people - those we met could not have been more welcoming.

Whatever Greece's financial travails, this enchanting island has a richness that defies deficits.

FACTFILE ? Tom Rowley booked his villa through Sanderson Young estate agents, which offers a selection of luxury villas throughout Europe. The full range is at www.sandersonyoung. ? Villa Damianos is PS1,400-PS3,500 a week for up to eight people., 0191 223 3500.

? He hired a yacht from Dolphin Yachts. Weekly charters start at PS950. See, or call 00 30 21049 61033.

? The motorboat came from Giannis Boats in San Stefano,, 00 30 26630 81532.

? The horse trek was organised by Trailriders, www., 00 30 26630 23090.


BEST BAR NONE: The view from Taverna Kerasia.

MONEY MAN: Nat Rothschild's villa nestles in the hillsides on the north east coast of Corfu.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Nov 11, 2012
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