Since last summer, my brother and his wife, Ger, had been planning a family trip to Corfu to celebrate her 40th birthday. Tim and I had politely declined the invitation to join, but once we knew for sure that we were going to be traveling for a year, it became a no brainer for us to rethink our decision. And what a good idea that was. We were due for a vacation from the vacation.
For the first 6 months of our travels, despite having no real route planned, we had only one goal: to get to Corfu for mid-July to spend some quality family time at the now infamous Del Cielo, the luxury villa where everyone else was staying perched atop a mountain.
After dropping our bags off at our hostel in the once renowned party town, Ipsos, we headed up hill to the Del Cielo. We said our hellos, finally got to see my nephews, got a tour of the amazing grounds, and started drinking. What was weird is that it suddenly didn’t feel like it had been 6 months since I’d seen my family.
That night, we had our first of many great dinners and met Ger’s friends and their family from Corfu. It was apparent after just one night that the next two weeks were going to be all about good food, good drinks, and good company. I couldn’t think of a better way to get away from the hard nomadic life we’ve been leading.
Tim and I rented a moped to get us between our hostel and the house. We weren’t sure at first if the bike had enough juice to even get us up the hill, but it was surprisingly easy. The 15 minute drives up and down became part of our routine, and was a fun way to start and finish each day.
On our second day in Corfu, we went on a road trip around the island, stopping at different places to take photos of the stunning views. There was something nice about having the freedom to just pull over whenever we wanted. It was a nice change from seeing the countryside by bus, as we’ve become accustomed to. We spent the afternoon on a beautiful sandy beach, and then drove through small villages to get back home, but not before stopping for a pre-dinner drink and some appetizers at a local restaurant overlooking the sea just in time to watch the sunset.
The third day, we were treated to a boat ride on a private boat. Yes, you read that correctly…backpackers on a private boat. We explored various inlets, saw a few different beaches, and even explored a couple caves. The booze was flowing like water, and we were served a delicious Greek lunch, prepared by the captain. This meal was way better than any restaurant meal we had in all of Greece. We definitely felt really lucky to be able to join everyone on the boat. Life was good!
The fourth day was the star attraction, the point of the “Grosjeans in Greece” trip: Ger’s 40th birthday party. We roasted a whole lamb on a spit. There was a full spread of delicious home cooked Greek food, more than we could imagine, and a seemingly unlimited supply of wine, beer, and Ouzo. The day turned into night and then the guitars came out for a little bit of traditional music, and of course there was some dancing. Sadly, no plates were smashed. This felt like we had a genuine local experience, very far removed from anything touristy, which is ultimately what all backpackers strive to find on the road. The people of Corfu definitely know how to have a good time. This set the bar pretty high as far as 40th birthday parties are concerned.
It had been a busy week, but what is a vacation without a little bit of hiking? So, off we went to hike up Corfu’s highest peak Mt Pantokrater.
We woke up really early in order to beat the heat, and set off by car. At this point we realised that nobody actually knew where to go, so we kind of just winged it. After an hour’s drive we arrived in, Old Perithia, Corfu’s oldest settlement and started hiking. After 2 hours it was apparent that we were likely not on the right path. We could see the mountain, but just couldn’t get to it. My brother Patrick and his girlfriend decided to turn back, but my other brother, Cyril, and I were not ready to give up just yet. However, the problem with Patrick leaving was that he was our ride back home and we didn’t know how long the hike would take. We insisted that they should not wait for us and told them that we would figure out a way home, insisting that we had figured our way around for the last 6 months. How hard could it be to get back to the Del Cielo?
So we walked and we walked. There were a couple of wrong turns and dead ends along the way, but eventually we made it to the top. The views were stunning.
We could see an almost 360 degree view of the whole island. While we had some lunch, we met a couple who had also just hiked up and as it turned out, they had hiked up there directly from Spartylas, the village where the Del Cielo is located, and they had done it in 3 hours. Limited transport options led us to decide that we were up to the challenge of walking back to the house. We started making our way back, trying to find the path that was supposed to lead us to Spartylas. We never found the path, but kept walking along the side of the narrow windy road, following the general direction we assumed was right.
It was mid-afternoon by now, and the heat was getting pretty unbearable, but we just kept walking. We stopped in a village along the way to take a break to ingest some liquid courage. We knew we were all really tired, but still we weren’t ready to give up yet, so we got back up and kept walking. At this point, we really had no idea whether or not we were going the right way, and how we were going to get home. It seemed like we were in the middle of nowhere. The breaking point was near and we were getting worse for wear.
Then the unthinkable happened and it wasn’t a mirage. A random public bus appeared in the distance. We had no idea where it was going, but we knew it was better to just get on it than to keep walking. So we got on and the driver told us he was going to Ipsos, which is right where our hostel was. Perfect we thought, we’d get off there and take a taxi up to the house.
We were saved.
Within less than 5 minutes of being on the bus, we passed a road sign that stated that Spartylas was 1 KM away. We were actually pretty close! And as the bus kept going down the road, it became clear to us, that not only was the bus going through Spartylas, but it was actually going to pass right in front of the road to the house. 10 minutes later we were getting off the bus and walking down the dirt road to the house.
We couldn’t stop laughing at how lucky we had been, the day had been so full of poorly planned decisions, yet had worked out so beautifully. That is, if you discount the fact that we walked for about 7 hours in 35 degree weather.
The rest of the vacation away from vacation was filled with sightseeing in Corfu Town, sitting at the beach, and hanging out at the house and enjoying the facilities. The place even had a built in firewood pizza oven, so not once but twice we got busy and made some pizzas.
Since Patrick left a couple days before everyone else, Tim and I were able to spend the last 2 nights sleeping at the house, in his room, which just happened to be the entire tower. I can confidently say that we are for sure the first backpackers to have set foot on the Del Cielo, and likely the last. We cherished every moment of it, knowing fully well that it was going to be hard to go back to the reality of budget hotels and hostels.
By the end of the 2 weeks, it was really hard to say goodbye to everyone. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left, the extreme generosity of my family, contributed to a wonderful “vacation” from our trip. We experienced so many things that wouldn’t have been possible without them, and all the amazing friendly people we met over the course of the 2 weeks.
Of course, all good things must come to an end; it was time for us to continue on and make it to our next destination: Athens.
Photos of Corfu, Greece:
Next stop: Athens…