Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Is there anywhere more beautiful than Corfu on a sunny April day?

Sitting at the computer this morning, window wide open, with the mouse hovering over the Jango Music Radio connection, I suddenly heard a bird singing and there was just no further competition. Who would choose a random selection of electronically transmitted sounds when the pure, clear, unassisted, unenhanced notes of a bird singing could be the accompaniment to my thoughts?
Corfu in winter is largely silent when it comes to birdsong. Hawks fly on silent wings, magpies quarrel from time to time, woodpigeons call mournfully, but those trilling cadences of real birdsong do not appear until Spring.

I don’t know enough about birds to say which ones serenade me so sweetly in the morning and evening. Just to know that it could be any one of these lyrically named creatures is sufficient pleasure in itself – Blue Rock Thrush, Sardinian and other  Warblers,  Common Blackbird, Bunting, Cisticola, Black-eared Wheatear, Oriole, Wryneck, and of course the Nightingale. Counterpointing the true song is the conversational chatter of the swallows, recently returned and busy building nests and repairing old ones.

The island of Corfu is surprisingly rich in birdlife – surprisingly, because people assume that birds have been hunted into extinction here. In the past, the inhabitants of places such as Corfu were very poor and their diet very limited. Birds were trapped and shot as a necessary source of food. Today, in spite of the current difficulties of life in Greece, the hunting of birds is strictly controlled and the season restricted. Corfu and neighbouring Paxos lie on important migratory routes and the resident bird population is thus regularly augmented by visitors pausing to rest on their long and exhausting  journeys between the northern Europe and Africa. Around 277 species have been recorded in Corfu alone, where the diversity of environments attracts avifauna of all kinds from water birds to song birds, from voracious raptors to gentle doves.
A friend told me that she had seen a hoopoe walking with a certain insouciance down the middle of the country road on which she lives – exotic looking birds, they would not look out of place in a Disney cartoon. Now I can hear a wood pigeon, and a buzzard has just flown over.

A Hoopoe

Flamingoes were sighted a week or so ago in the south of the island; eagles patrol the crags of Pantocrator; Golden Orioles flash like sunbeams through the olive groves.
A ‘birding’ or ‘twitching’ holiday in Corfu is just one of the many forms of ‘alternative’ holiday that has proved remarkably successful here. I led such a group years ago, and while half the group spent the days on hands and knees photographing the unbelievable variety of wild flowers, the other half passed their time with noses in the air and binoculars following the movements of the equally amazing variety of birds.

Entranced by the beauty of the birdsong, I waste time without regret, just allowing the music of Nature to waft across my senses. Bees are humming too in the jasmine and the wisteria blooms – the working bees hum quietly and industriously, stealing the nectar from the orange blossom, the louder, deeper buzz of a solitary bumble bee emerges from deep within the creamy throat of an arum lily – does it sound just a little drunk?

But it is not just the sounds and sights of Spring in Corfu that are so intoxicating. Now my window is the portal for great waves of perfume – the kind of perfume that used to engulf me as I wandered the aisles of grand London stores like Harrods and Harvey Nichols. I used to think that no perfume could truly capture the natural scent of flowers, no matter how many petals of rose, jasmine or violet went into their creation, but at this moment I am wondering how it is that the scent of orange blossom and jasmine in my garden can so truly evoke the names of Coty,  Houbigant and Guerlain.

Spring is not a cliché in Corfu – or if it is, if you feel that no words of your own can describe its beauties, that it has all been said and written and depicted before, in paintings and photos, then don’t be disheartened. There is always room for an original perspective on what almost defies description – the  magic of the Spring revival on this blessed island.

Even the Greek TV weather forecasters get carried away by it all. Men dapper in suits, raffish in distressed jeans and tweed jackets, women discreet in power suits or bright in over-the-top bling, they allow Spring to open a crack in their professional blandness. Last night, one waved an excited hand over the temperature chart and announced that the weather was ‘flirting’ with higher temperatures. It seems that in the Spring even a weatherman’s fancy turns to thoughts of….

We are now in the middle of Holy Week with its peculiarly exciting atmosphere of anticipation.

 Under starter's orders!

Moreover, it is the First of May. This year the traditional celebration of Mayday has been banished to next week, the 8th May to be precise.
Traditional Easter preparations are now underway – cleaning and painting, baking Easter biscuits, buying the lampades (fancy candles) for godchildren, dyeing the red eggs on Thursday, buying new clothes and shoes. Then there are the gardens to be tidied in preparation for the setting up of the spit, which should have been cleaned and oiled after its last outing but will no doubt need a few cobwebs removed.More chairs will be needed to accommodate the visitors - - a little paiting and repair may be needed after the wet winter we have endured.

I remember seeing women in the Cyclades one Easter painting the lines between the paving stones of the alleys, as well as the steps and lintels of their homes, not to mention all the quaint receptacles, from old saucepans to retired chamber pots, from recycled feta tins to old sinks and other sanitary ware , that find a new life as plant pots.

Easter is celebrated in Corfu with great passion and devotion. Centuries-old traditions merge with modern customs, and the message and meaning of Easter is unmistakable and hopeful.
The rearrangement of dates means that we shall see two kinds of floral wreath within the space of days.

Mayday wreath

Nothing, however, will interrupt the spectacular pot-smashing event on Easter Saturday!

So yes, Corfu Springs to Mind, for a Spring holiday. You will be rewarded with banks of wild flowers on every side, sweet birdsong carried on every gentle breeze and all the pomp and ceremony of Greek Easter.
This year, providing the weather remains as warm as it is now, you will even have the chance of an early season dip from a distinctly uncrowded beach!. But above all, you will see Corfu in bloom.

Photos by me, Joanna, Frosso, Katy, Julie and Aleka.

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