Tuesday, January 10, 2012

THE ISLAND IN WINTER

love Corfu in winter.
I am naturally a winter person – I love warm gloves, hot water bottles, blazing fires and gut-warming drink. I love soups and quilts and thought the discovery of fleece was a boon to mankind second only to penicillin. When the temperatures climb into the forties Celsius, as they often do here in Corfu in summer, I yearn for winter.

When you live in Corfu, your friends back in the UK, or wherever they may be, who have probably only ever visited you in summer, always assume that you spend the winters with beach barbecues, wearing a slightly heavier version of summer clothing perhaps, with the addition of a cardigan and a lower grade of sun protection. 
Not so my dears!


It is rarely necessary to dress as my sister (above) does in Canada, but it can happen.

Last Sunday, for example, was a mostly sunny day, but blustery and bitterly cold, with temperatures in the single digits. We went out for a much-needed road-trip up the coast to Avlaki, to blow away the après-Christmas blues and give the dog a run. (I use the word ‘run’ loosely – she valiantly trudged along the stony beach, winter-length fur blowing into her eyes, refusing to give up.)


We wore coats, hats and gloves, with scarves in reserve. Rather than the beach barbecue of our friends’ imagination, we consumed cheese sandwiches on the hoof, coffee from a Thermos, and a Mars Bar each.

A white and grey heron glided gracefully down to inspect the likelihood of food scraps, then turned, banked and made a faultless landing on the small lake behind the beach.


There is a footpath that leads from Avlaki across the thickly wooded headland, down to a windblown lagoon and another, isolated, beach. On the way we found a most unusual fungus that we assume to be a Toadstool, though we christened it, for obvious reasons, the Muffin Mushroom.





The view of Albania had its usual dream-like quality, intensified this day by the brush-strokes of pure white along the higher mountains.


Snow is visible on the mainland for most of the winter, a dramatic backdrop to daily life and one that summer visitors cannot envisage.


Corfiot ski enthusiasts, their balance and skills honed by summer water skiing, can soon be enjoying the snow slopes after a short ferry crossing and a swift car ride along the superb and scenic Egnatia Highway..


We do have snow in Corfu too, high up on the north-facing side of Mount Pantocrator. Occasionally, it makes its appearance at a lower level and can be seen from the town of Corfu.


It has even snowed at Kontokali, at sea-level
Villages like Petalia and Strinilas, high on the mountain, can look quite alpine.
This was the view of Pantocrator and Spartillas, seen from Dassia in January 2005



This is Petalia, at the same time.

In these high villages,firewood is piled neatly under the overhanging balconies; a young shepherd, clad in the shaggy cloak that looks as if it might have been worn by his great-grandfather, can be seen sometimes clattering off the stony mountain paths. He is herding the beautiful russet-coloured cows and the sly-eyed goats that have been grazing up where new grass has made its appearance on the rock-strewn plateau. This is another world from the one we inhabit in summer. A world where men hunt and carry shotguns and still smoke in the cafeneion and always knew no good would come of joining the EU,

We have torrential rain at times, high winds that sometimes force the domestic flights from Athens to turn and go back to Athens, violent storms that take down trees, cause power cuts, deprive us of TV for days on end and generally frighten the horses as they say. Truly frightening are the unpredictable mini-tornadoes that can wreck a small harbour in moments.


Off Benitses, 2000


Kanoni, Mouse Island, as tourists never see it

But we do also have the most beautiful, balmy days of sunshine and blue skies. According to legend, there are 5 - 6 days of serene, sunny weather in mid-winter when the god of the winds, Aeolus, brings calm weather and sun so that the kingfisher may lay its eggs and hatch them. His daughter, Alkyone, had married a mortal, and when he died in a shipwreck, Aeolus transformed the couple into a pair of kingfishers. Thus Alkyone gave her name to the bird and to the Halcyon Days of winter. Luckily, our sunny days usually number many more than 5 or 6.

How beautiful Corfu can be in winter, when so many of us may not have money to spare, but have the time to enjoy the bounty of Nature. Gathering edible plants was always a favourite winter occupation with Greeks. Most men and boys enjoy a spot of fishing, from the beach, a boat or a jetty.



Neighbours are generous with their oranges and lemons, their walnuts and almonds and their eggs; even the foreign residents now make their own olive
oil, wine and tomato paste. Our food comes to us at first-hand, second at the most, fresher, healthier and more fragrant than you can imagine.

I love Corfu in winter - even though the weather forecast is for minus temperatures next weekend....

Sunday Night 1/15/2012
Mostly clear and colder with a shower around before temperatures fall below freezing
Low Temperature-4°C
RealFeel: -11°C
Monday Night 1/16/2012
Clear and cold
Low Temperature-3°C
RealFeel: -9°C



Thanks to our friend Frosso Moraiti for allowing me to use her lovely photos


13 comments:

  1. Lovely Mum!! I'm sure this article will be quite an eye opener for some people who dont realise that yes...winter comes to us too!! Anf funnily enough, Corfu becomes, to some, a lot prettier!
    Joanna x

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  2. Wonderful!! so true...!

    I remember back in 1993 or 1994 it snowed again on Pantokrator, and we went up in my just restored VW Beetle! As we left to return, a blizzard started and all the "niorantes" Corfiots in the new SUVs etc, got stuck in the snow! There was monumental traffic jam in and around the village of Strinilas, which made it impossible for the "snow plough" to get through. So most people had to spend the night there, in the local kafeneion and tavernas... Meanwhile back at our house we were eating Merlin oranges from the Merlin estate, basking in the sunshine! Talk about a microclimate!

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  3. "Νιοράντες" A Corfiot word that menas someone who is new at something and a show off...

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  4. Always loved Corfu winters. Reading your post brought back many great memories Angela. Still miss that stunning view across to the mountains in Albania. Different every day!

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  5. Wonderful. I always love reading what this Grandma writes. Keep it up please.

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  6. This is beautifully written. Thank you for this. I am going to share with all my author friends from around the world.

    Viviane
    http://www.vivianebrentanos.com/

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  7. Lovely, flowing descriptions of winter. i have never experienced a Corfu winter, only a humid wet October once, walking around in a bikini and under an umbrella! And of course, many,many summers.

    My Canadian winter has yet to materilise; we have had no snow, mild temps - well, for us they are mild - and too many still, grey days.

    But your word pictures are a treat, keep it up!

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  8. tracey Tagg-KotsiaJanuary 10, 2012 at 9:57 PM

    I'm so glad someone else also enjoys our Corfiot winters!! Lovely piece you've written there and smashing pics to go with it. Even Kavos, the Southern tip of the island, is beautiful in the winter!! I know hard to believe but it's true.xx

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  9. That was lovely to read and as a resident of the island myself I know all the wonderful 'winter secrets' of the island you mentioned are true:)

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  10. An enjoyable read and good to know that there are ex-pats out there who truly appreciate our beautiful island. Refreshing to see that not everybody negatively compares us to our European cousins and appreciates and respects the way of life. May you enjoy many more winters (and summers) on the 'Emerald Isle'

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  11. Always loved the winter. Your story brought back many happy memories.

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  12. I've just discovered your blog, and I think it's wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences on living on the wonderful island. One day, my wife and I will be looking to move over there ourselves. So many fantastic memories of the place. In fact, we are heading back to Acharavi next month (May 24th).

    Thank you for the lovely insight into winter :-)

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  13. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this,
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    ReplyDelete

Feedback welcome-at least I'll know somebody's reading this!