Corfu’s Not-So-Ghostly Ghost Village
Palia (old) Peritheia is reputedly Corfu’s oldest village. The guides will tell you it’s a ‘ghost village’. The oldest it may well be, but a ghost village? Not really. Here’s the story.
Go back to the 14th century. The island’s inhabitants, the corfiotes, were suffering regular pirate attacks, and many sought refuge away from the coast. Hidden in the wild and mountainous landscape of northern Corfu, Palia Peritheia was a safe haven.
Fast forward to the mid-20th century. With some 1,500 inhabitants, the village is flourishing. Fertile land produces excellent grapes and wine by the barrel. But, with no more pirates to fear, and plenty of opportunities elsewhere, people start moving away. One family after the other leaves until they are all gone.
All? Not exactly.
Stamatella and Makis stay behind, to look after their goats and sheep, and tend to their beehives. And where there’s people, there’s got to be a kafeneion: a little shop selling a few essentials, and serving coffee, tsipouro (a fiery spirit) and some food. Over the years, while houses crumble and nature invades, the kafeneion turns into a proper taverna (called, you guessed it, Old Peritheia) and a second one (re)opens. Good food, and cheaper than the restaurants by the sea, so happy lunchers and diners don’t mind the drive up the mountain. Soon three more tavernas start working again as well. And eventually, a bed and breakfast enters the scene. Not bad for what is still considered to be a ghost village.
And yet, nobody else actually moves to the village. Stamatella and Makis continue to be the only two permanent residents. Until, a few years back, the population increases dramatically – to be precise, it doubles – when the owners of one of the tavernas decide to come and live in the village again. Not long after, however, Stamatella and Makis sadly pass away, so we’re back at two again. Not counting two donkeys, a few cats and some other friendly animal creatures keeping the ghosts away.
I drove over to Palia Peritheia to try out that bed and breakfast, the Merchant’s House. Owners Mark and Saskia are a British/Dutch couple, who, while vacationing on Corfu, had made the trek to Palia Peritheia to see what a ghost village looked like. Far from ghostly, they thought, and ended up buying and restoring a 17th century ruined building. It is a lovely place to stay, with five elegant suites, a pleasant contrast to the charmingly unpolished surroundings. And as for the village, I too fell under its spell. I went for long walks, enjoyed several copious meals, and fell shamelessly behind schedule. I couldn’t care less. This is the place to come with a few good books, a pair of walking boots, and of course, a healthy appetite. Try local snails, wild greens and homemade ginger beer at the Old Peritheia; feast on piles of barbecued lamb at Capricorn; taste traditional dolmades in egg and lemon sauce at Foros, grilled sardines at Gabriel’s Steps, eggplant balls stuffed with feta and neratzosalata – a slightly spicy orange salad – at Ognistra. And then go for another walk. Or a snooze.
It takes someone as peripatetic as Jacoline Vinke, Trufflepig’s new Greece planner, to find somewhere as peripheral as Peritheia. Can you tell we’ve been mugging up on our Greek? Email Jacoline here if you’d like her help putting together your own Greek peregrination.