Saturday, 10 June 2017

Postcards from Corfu: Kouloura

Madame Gennatas' Venetian manor house still stands at Kouloura today.
The following is adapted from The Durrells of Corfu by Michael Haag which again this Saturday, for the sixth week in a row, is The Times number one bestseller among paperback non-fiction titles.

On a beautiful spring day in 1936, Spiro drove Theodore Stephanides and Larry and Nancy Durrell from the Daffodil Yellow Villa at Kontokali north along the coast road, a difficult journey during rainy weather and impossible when it was stormy. Here the ridges of Mount Pantocrator drove straight into the sea, creating a succession of coves but allowing little workable land, only the olive trees clinging to the slopes of the mountain in steep steps of terraces.

Normally the journey was done by the daily caique which set out from Corfu Town for Kouloura across the narrow strait from Albania. In each direction the caique put in, when requested, at the little villages along this remote coast – exposed to the northern winter winds, parched in summer, a wilder Corfu, so different from the gentler, almost Italian lower half of the island. But today was fine, and as the big car bounced north along the broken road the afternoon sun struck obliquely through the olives, dappling the occasional colour-washed houses of ochre, of white, of mulberry, with light and shade.

Theodore had been invited to tea by Madame Gennatas and was asked to bring his new friends. The old widow lived in a fortified Venetian manor house at the port of Kouloura, the most beautiful of all the little coves along this coast, where a horseshoe jetty sheltered red and blue fishing boats, and where waving pale green eucalyptus and dark jets of cypress rose above the sound of water faintly lapping at a pebble beach. The immensely thick walls of the manor house, originally pierced by loopholes, was now opened up by several French windows, which let out onto a wide stone terrace overlooking the sea. Here the visitors were served afternoon tea and listened to Madame Gennatas recall the Corfu she had known when she was a girl – and how to this day the King of Greece always arrived aboard his yacht at Kouloura to visit her in summer.

It was dark by the time Theodore, Larry and Nancy departed, but the bright moonlight helped Spiro navigate the Dodge back to Kontakali. Along the way the talk was of the beauty of Kouloura and the dramatic landscape of the surrounding countryside. Nancy had long wanted to get away from the south of Corfu, away from the villas near town. ‘I felt we’d been living too near the crowds – too tame. I was terribly keen on being in the wildest place I could find – most untamed.’

Come morning, and Larry and Nancy decided to find some rooms in a peasant cottage up that way. Their thoughts were put into immediate effect by Spiro, who knew everyone: ‘Don’t you worries, Larry, I’ll soon fixes it.’ Ten days later, and against the wishes of his mother Louisa, who wanted him to remain at her villa in Kontokali, Larry was moving with Nancy into two rooms in a white-painted house overhanging the sea at Kalami, a sprinkling of four or five cottages round the headland to the south of Kouloura.

Aerial view of Kouloura, below, and Kalami beyond.  The White House,
home of Lawrence and Nancy Durrell, is the large house at the left-most
end of Kalami's crescent beach.