Friday, 28 August 2015

Sun, sea and sand at Agios Stefanos, Corfu

My recent impromptu trip to Greece was a first for me, a life-long backpacker. It was the first package holiday of my adult life. Travelling alone I was aware I 'd probably be accommodated together with another loner. As I was waiting for the boarding I scanned the crowd, trying to spot potential roommates. The only woman travelling alone was a sensible looking woman in her 50s-60s, dressed in practical beige and reading Bible. In Greek. "Giddy with excitement2 are not words I'd use to describe my sentiments at the time. 

Luckily I was paired with a fellow spur-of-the-moment-world-traveller and together we wondered which part of the island of Corfu (or, Kerkyra as the locals call it) fate would throw us. It threw us to the small village of Agios Stefanos in the North East part of Corfu.

Don't let your romantic imagination run too wild, though. It was a small village tucked away in the mountains alright, but not one of those tiny picturesque villages where time stands still, inhabited by stray cats, monks and hundred-year-old grannies. Though how could it have been - places like that don't exactly have hotels now do they? But, compared to the larger tourist haunts on the island; those English breakfast served all day long- party hellholes the village was rather serene.

And I'm sure had I really wanted to, I would have found those cats, monks and grans within a brisk 20-minute-walk to one of the neighbouring villages. But in 40+ ºc temperatures the thought of a pool, cold beer and a stack of Swedish detective novels sounded so much more attractive.

Most of the tourists in Agios Stefanos are Brits, which means that the choices for having fun are geared for their tastes. Yes, that means Premiership football, karaoke nigts, pub quizzes and Boy George impersonators. 

Some of the restaurants do have genuinely good food, too, though. Here are our picks, should you ever find yourself in Agios Stefanos:

For meat and wine lovers:

Olympia, on the sreet leading to the beach, right before the beach

Excellent for meat dishes. Especially slow roasted lamb shank and a Corfiot specialty  of sofrito are worth a try (or three!) Selection of interesting (and reasonably priced!) Greek wines, too - my favourite is this wonderful Grenache Rouge rosé from Peloponnese in the mainland.

For a meze feast:

Zorbas (how else...), on the main street

Great selection of appetizers - have fried white bait and calamari. Their keftadakias (Greek meatballs) are probably the best I've ever had. Slow-cooked stews are very good too.

Octopus and then some more octopus:

2 stars restaurant on the street  leading to the beach

Mezes are their strong suite, too, other than that the food is nothing special. This is, however, the only place in the village where you can get marinated octopus, a specialty of the Greek isles and quite possibly the best thing I had all trip. Make sure to have their skordalia, too!

Fish and seafood with a view:

Fantasea, on the hill overlooking the beach

Best views in the village. Good for fish and seafood. Another interesting wine list - especially this Amethystos (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Assyrtiko blend) by Domaine Costa Lazaridi from the region of Drama in Eastern Macedonia is worth a try.

The week flew by quicker than I thought, though at the same time it seemed to go on forever. My travel companion pointed out that towards the end of the week the pace of my steps was significantly slower and I actually seemed to relax. God knows I needed it. Holiday, that is. 

Waking up in the morning to the sound of the waves crashing in the shore, lounging by the sea with nothing more to worry than which beer to sample next, lunching on fresh seafood, sipping chilled wine and gazing at the view overlooking the sea...

Enjoying the siesta, swimming, admiring the sun: the sizzling golden ball setting over the mountains painting the evening sky gloriously purple...

Having the cooling breeze caress your skin, still glowing from the sun at dinner time, marveling at the starry sky, quite unlike anything I've ever seen outside the desert. A pitch black sky draping itself over the sea, its velvety darkness pierced by millions and millions of bright stars hanging so low you'd think you could just reach out and touch them...

Then, on the penultimate day it happened. The wind came, out of nowhere, the way it does in the South this time of the year, riotously announcing the summer is over. And so was our holiday, too. But that new life... that's only just beginning.