We’ve been to Corfu twice and had good family holidays. If this sounds as if I’m damning it with faint praise then I probably am. Both holidays were in the north-east part of the island near the town of Nissaki.
I love watching the TV series The Durrells, with its sunbaked, gently rolling countryside and the beautiful seascapes. But hardly any of what I’ve seen of Corfu on screen has looked like any part of Corfu that I’ve ever visited.
That’s not to say the north-east part of Corfu isn’t picturesque: there are lots of quiet, wooded bays with lovely views over to the mainland. We had self-catering places on our two previous trips, which meant we had to drive up the east coast, both times in the dark, which isn’t the best start to any holiday (locals certainly didn’t appreciate me knocking on their door at midnight in search of directions).
Little marvel: Mouse Island, near Corfu Town
This time, however, we booked an inclusive hotel package.
When you want a relaxing holiday, you need someone else to do the hard work: you need to be driven to your accommodation and then, after check-in, wander down to the restaurant for a wonderful dinner followed by a moonlit walk on the beach while sweet music wafts into the night (and drowns out the sound of someone else doing the washing-up).
As we gazed up into a black sky lit with a million stars, I was infused with a sense of wellbeing. This was more like The Durrells, I thought. Our hotel – the excellent Athina – was in the north-west of Corfu, opposite the area we’d stayed on our previous two trips.
The west and the east of Corfu are quite different: the area around Agios Stefanos, where we were staying, felt more spacious. And best of all, being on the west side we had some corking sunsets to study over our evening gin and tonics.
When you hear the words ‘package holiday hotel’ your expectations are of tower-block properties, not the Athina which vastly exceeded our hopes. It’s small – just 17 rooms – and is rated by our travel agents Manos as one of their best-value hotels in Corfu.
There was a great beach, an excellent pool and good food (we were on half-board, which I would strongly recommend).
If you have children, there are lots of activities happening and the hotel can arrange babysitting. What impressed me were the thoughtful extras: free internet, for example, and our hotel room had a fridge where we could stow drinks and snacks (it can be a long time between lunch and dinner).
But better almost than all the facilities and the extras were the hotel’s staff. Nothing was too much trouble.
After a few days on the beach we decided we were ready for some light sightseeing.
Manos offers an eclectic range of excursions. We were invited to ‘roam around Mount Pantocrator on a Jeep safari’ and discover the traditional villages tucked between its slopes. Apparently there are magnificent 360-degree views of the whole of Corfu. I was tempted but my other half thought it might be a little too energetic.
Instead we signed up for a day tour, which allowed us to breeze around the island drinking in the highlights. We saw Corfu Town’s Venetian Old Fortress with its maze of tunnels, bridges and secret passage.
My highlight was visiting Mon Repos Palace in Kanoni, which has two claims to fame.
Star Style: Mon Repos Palace is one of the sets for The Durrells (right). It was the home of Leslie Caron’s mischievous Countess Mavrodaki
It is Prince Philip’s birthplace but, if it looks very familiar, this is because it was used in The Durrells as the home of Leslie Caron’s mischievous Countess Mavrodaki.
Younger fellow guests were keen for us to visit Corfu’s legendary nightlife on Kavos’s long strip of clubs and bars. The brochure invited us to ‘dance the night away at a buzzing UV-paint glow party’; the problem is that we have to be in bed by 9pm – by which time I imagine the UV-paint hasn’t even started to glow.
We decided to head to Sidari, lured by the promise of karaoke, bingo, quizzes and films on outdoor screens concluding with a traditional Greek feast with plenty of plate-smashing (a convenient way of avoiding the washing-up).
Our trip to Corfu was a stunning success. It just goes to show that there are more sides to a destination than you might experience on previous holidays. One thing we learnt was that it pays to trust an expert. Manos has been offering holidays to Greece for decades and comes up with some amazing deals.
We’ve already decided that next year we’ll try Manos again and choose another Greek destination. We like the look of Mykonos. My neighbour assures me that is a favourite of the Kardashians. Are they like the Durrells, I asked? Um, not quite, she replied.
Manos by Thomas Cook offers seven nights’ half board at the Athina Hotel from £450pp including return flights from Gatwick on May 18, 2018.
Visit thomascook.com or telephone 0844 412 5970.