Caro's Corfu Trail
On my hike across the Greek island Corfu, I followed yellow marks that connected form the official Corfu Trail. I did not walk every meter of the official trail. Either I couldn’t find the trail because of missing markings or I didn’t want to find the trail because of offside attractions. So I created my own Corfu Trail, Caro’s Corfu Trail, which took me 178 km/111 miles from the southern cape of Agia Ekaterini to the beach of Agios Spiridon in the north. Within 10 days, I hiked along beautiful coastlines, climbed the island’s two highest mountains, visited the sweetest mountain villages, saw countless olive trees, and ate lots of Greek salad.
With an area of 585 km², Corfu is the seventh-largest Greek island and the second-largest island in the Ionian Sea.
The highest elevations are Pantokrator (906 m/2.970 ft) in the north and Agii Deka (576 m/1.890 ft) in the center of the island.
The Corfu Trail leads for about 180 km/112 miles from Cape Agia Ekaterini near Kavos in the south to Agios Spiridon Beach in the north. The walking direction can be varied according to preferences.
“Agia” or “Agios” means „holy”.
At the southern end of Corfu, in Kavos, my hike northwards starts at the beginning of November after the end of the summer season. When the first trail marker confirms that I am at the right place, immediate joy arises, as I have heard that markers on the Corfu Trail are not to be found too often. To explore the southern tip of Corfu, I deviate from the official trail and follow the Arkoudilas Path instead. The southern cape delights with a first magnificent view of the sea and the coastline. A monastery ruin, the Monastery of Panagia Arkoudila, adds a mystical atmosphere to the hike. From the beach of Arkoudilas I walk partly through olive forests and partly along the road to Lefkimmi. After a little grocery shopping I leave the town to look for a place for my tent. On a small clearing with a small abandoned shed and a large smoking pile of ash I believe to have found a good place for the night. The darkness setting in and the crowd of mosquitoes drive me early into the tent. As I’m getting ready for bed, I notice a light flickering outside that I assume to be headlights or a flashlight. I peek through the tent entrance and see flames and sparks on the previously not further noted pile of ashes. Shit! As I’m getting ready for bed, I notice a light flickering outside that I assume to be headlights or a flashlight. I peek through the tent entrance and see flames and sparks on the previously not further noted pile of ashes. Shit. The wind isn’t blowing the sparks in my direction, but I can’t be sure that won’t change overnight. It’s already dark and I don’t like to move the tent again. While brushing my teeth, I start an attempt to extinguish the pile of ash and embers, which reaches at least to my waist, with half a liter of water. The embers laugh at this with a few spraying sparks. Before I try to sleep, I read on the Internet that the wind direction is not expected to change overnight. With half-closed eyes and the hope not to go up in flames, I face an unpleasant, almost sleepless, night.
Contrary to a well-planned and well-marked hiking system, there is “anarchy” on Corfu’s hiking trails in terms of route guidance and markings, as a Greek described it to me. The Corfu Trail is marked with yellow markings and occasionally with C.T. signs. These are sometimes good and sometimes less easy to find. This does not diminish the joy, because there are beautiful spots of the island to see everywhere. I used the app Komoot during the hike, where almost all paths are mapped, so I never felt lost and could quickly find my way back to the trail if necessary.
After surviving the night unscathed, I catch up on some sleep in the morning. During the day I follow the trail through olive groves and along the coast. Before a small headland, the beach narrows and it is not visible whether the trail continues behind it. I’m too curious to find out and too lazy to turn back. So I take off my shoes and meander along the cliff around the tip. I get a little wet from the waves crashing against the cliff, but shortly after the beach widens again. After a lunch break at Santa Barbara Beach, the path leads past a small river mouth. There the beach gives way under me and I sink up to the thigh in the sand. A dog comes to give assistance, but I manage to free myself alone. In Agios Georgios South I return to the family caravan after 13 km of hiking, because tonight we have a party.
One year older, I’m back on the trail around noon – half hung over and in full birthday gear with crown, balloons and a birthday walking stick. From Agios Georgios South I walk along the beach towards Lake Korission. From there I get an involuntary companion by a Greek man, who wants to help as a hiking guide. On the narrow stretch of land between Lake Korission and the sea he leads me to the best viewpoints and to his favorite places. I have a queasy feeling about following the foreign man, but I also want to be open-minded and not immediately dismiss his hospitality as obtrusiveness. When we reach a fisherman’s cottage, I thank him and let him know that I prefer to continue walking alone. From there I follow the trail on a wide gravel road until I call it a day after 10 km at a beach bar. The bar is closed, but under a pavilion I can put up my tent without cover and spend the night in the first row at the sea. Before going to bed I am surprised by a couple from Germany, whose camper I passed a few kilometers before. My decorations told them it was my birthday and they wanted to come over to give me a hug and ice cream.
Before the trail takes me further along Lake Korission, I jump into the sea and eat breakfast on the beach. On the lake, I can spot many flamingos in the far distance. After initially missing the trail by only a few kilometers, I miss the trail later in the day by several kilometers and end up in the small traditional mountain village of Pentati. Due to the finished summer season, many restaurants and stores have closed, but here there is an open taverna. Since I am very hungry, I have ended up in exactly the right place. After lunch I get back on the trail on a serpentine road. Between the mountains of the east and west coast I spend the night in an olive grove.
After hiking uphill to Dafnata, I leave the Corfu Trail towards Benitses, where I recharge my batteries for a few hours in a restaurant. From there I make my way to the Achilleion Palace, the Sissi Castle, which is not located directly on the Corfu Trail, but which I do not want to miss as a tourist attraction. The castle is unfortunately not a highlight for me, but the fact that I still make it to the second highest elevation of Corfu that day, the Agii Deka (576 m/1.890 ft), is. Before dark, at 6 p.m., I pitch my tent next to an abandoned monastery on top of the mountain. A man, who is checking on things in the monastery, wants to drive me to the viewpoint on the top of Agii Deka. Despite feeling queasy again, I show faith and keep this representative conversation with him in my memory: “And you bring me back after?” –“Money? No money!”
Due to a lack of choice and great hunger, I have dried beef stew for breakfast. I then follow the trail down from Agii Deka to Ano Garouna, another of these beautiful mountain villages of Corfu. With a great view of the coast, I continue north via Sinarades to Pelekas, today’s destination. Here I climb the Kaiser’s Throne, a viewing platform with a 360° view over Corfu, before I check into an AirBnB for the night. The family comes to visit me and together we visit the beach of Pelekas. In the evening I sit excitedly in my accommodation, because it is Permit Day for the Pacific Crest Trail. After an hour in the ” queue” I get a start permit for the end of May, which I am not at all satisfied with. (This story continues here: Pacific Crest Trail – Kilometers before the start)
Unfortunately, my mood is not very good this morning, I feel alone and I question my entire undertaking. Shortly after I leave Pelekas, the search for trail markers distracts me and my mind calms down for the rest of the day. The path leads down to the coast and directly up again, more and more up. Instead through olive groves, today the path leads across fields to Giannades. There I run in circles in search of food. With Greek salad in my stomach I finally continue towards Liapades, where I set up my camp for the night on a mountain in an olive grove.
In the morning I stand between olive trees and brush my teeth as a Fata Morgana appears to me. After not having met another hiker for a week, the three Dutch people seem unreal to me. We have a short conversation and they advise me to buy plenty of supplies before the last stages, because there are hardly any open supermarkets. Then they continue walking south and I am incredibly happy to have met peers.
The condition of today’s trail provide a brief change of pace. From the coast, a narrow path leads over rocks and up a ladder to the mountain village of Lakones. There I find an ice cream shop with a beautiful view over Paleokastritsa. A few kilometers further, the view extends over Agios Georgios Beach, small islands to the north, and the mainland of Albania.
After the touristic town of Agios Georgios is completely extinct and I don’t find an open supermarket, I directly move on and can finally buy water in the next town. With the advice of the Dutch in mind I buy two 1.5-liter bottles and something to eat. I already have 23 km in my legs and the sunset is close, so I want to find a place to camp as soon as possible. The first grassy spot that seems appealing to me belongs to a parking lot next to the women’s monastery in Agios Athanasios. My spontaneous “Jassas” (hello), which I throw to a woman in a black robe behind the monastery walls, remains unnoticed. It is only when I press the bell at the entrance gate that I notice the prayers coming over the loudspeakers and I am immediately embarrassed that I am disturbing the ongoing mass. A nun opens the gate and I ask, articulating with hands and feet, if I may camp in the parking lot. She doesn’t seem very fond of my visit and asks me to wait 5 minutes outside the monastery. Accompanied by another nun, she comes back. Now they seem to be much more open-minded and interested in me, but the communication in English is still difficult. They invite me into the monastery, show me the toilet and explain that I should wait another 20 minutes. I pass the waiting time, in which I would have pitched my tent five times a kilometer further, just with a Tzaziski-sandwich, when a sister brings me cookies, cake, Fanta and a big bottle of water. Ashamed, I look down at my sandwich and sincerely thank her for her hospitality. In the remaining time, I grab my knitting, also with the ulterior motive of not wasting possible sympathy points through common hobbies. Half an hour later two nuns come, bring me dinner in a doggie bag, escort me in the dark to the parking lot and invite me for breakfast the next morning. In the tent I unpack the doggie bag and find in it bread, two boiled eggs, which I can not even break open on my head, a cup of natural yogurt as well as two slices of toast wrapped in aluminum foil. Of course, I am grateful for the kind gesture. But the composition also makes me laugh. The thought that this is the everyday food of the nuns makes me feel pity and awe for their lives and for this doggie bag full of modesty.
According to the sisters’ warning, the monastery bells ring for the first time at 4:30 am. The previous evening I was told to just go back to sleep. They didn’t mention the music lesson that immediately follows, though, where the nuns make music with bells, chants and sticks. A few hours later, I finished packing and followed the invitation to breakfast through the open gate into the monastery. As I sit down in the calm and empty courtyard under the pavilion I knew from the night before, I am immediately unsure how to let the sisters know that I have come for breakfast as agreed. I go to the house from where the nuns came with the food the night before and hesitantly press a bell. A penetratingly persistent sound, similar to a fire alarm, resounds and I sink into the ground for shame. A nurse opens the door, presses the bell again to interrupt the noise, and greets me with a quiet, modest, and probably annoyed, “Carolin…please sit.“ Ashamed, I crawl back under my pavilion. As the nun brings the breakfast tray, she mentions “sugar” in connection with the Greek coffee. I understand her explanation that Greek coffee contains sugar as a question, to which I reply, “No. No sugar, please.” She shrugs and gives me to understand that there is already sugar in the coffee. This is the last incident that makes me blush in front of the sisters. After breakfast, I thank them and get a blessing on the way. This is desperately needed, because with three large water bottles and the remaining food I have loaded a lot of extra weight.
As I tell a man during my lunch break in Sokraki that I want to make it to the 9 km/5.6 mi distant mountain Pantokrator (906 m) today, he is rather skeptical about this undertaking. At 2 p.m. I reach the village of Spartilas at the foot of the mountain. I try not to be intimidated by the words of the skeptic man and follow the path up the highest mountain of Corfu. An hour later I am standing in an old church ruin above the city and the sea. Without any further significant elevation gain, the trail leads from here across huge green spaces that invite to camp. At 15:30 I can not resist any longer and settle down after 19 km/11.8 mi just before the top of Pantokrator. I cook pasta, which I refine with a can of giant beans in tomato sauce and a green bell pepper. In the evening, clouds settle over the mountain and sporadic drops of water make their way through the tent wall. Nevertheless, I spend a well protected night between grazing cows.
Full of joy and nostalgia I start the last section of the Corfu Trail. I skip the highest point of the Pantokrator, because the antennas and fences on the summit have a deterrent effect on me. With a view over the sea to the Albanian coast, the trail leads through the traditional mountain village of Old Perithia and other villages to the beach. In Agios Spiridon I walk the presumably last meters of the Corfu Trail. In a tavern I ask the manager if I have reached the end of the Corfu Trail at this point. He doesn’t know what I’m talking about, but assures me that this is Corfu, “This Corfu, yes“. So I decide by myself that this is the end of my Corfu trail. After a finish bath in the sea and a coffee in the tavern, I go to the bus stop. While I’m waiting, a German couple passes by in a car that I met two days earlier in Agios Georgios. I don’t believe that the bus is actually coming in this remote and abandoned place until I see it. Alone, the bus driver and I make our way along the partly narrow serpentine roads to Corfu Town. There I settle in an AirBnB and sit in a restaurant in the evening and watch the hustle and bustle of the city. While I spent yesterday evening in nature and complete silence, I now sit showered, but still in hiking clothes (because nothing else is at hand) between Greece’s stylish teenagers. Selfies are being taken around me and I laugh at the idea that my appearance in the background of these pictures must be a good photocrasher. Among the partying cliques, I feel a bit left out, but the feeling of joy, satisfaction and gratitude for the last few days clearly prevails. The Corfu Trail may not be the right destination for a thoroughly planned and predictable hiking trip. The hiking you can experience instead, is not least because of the beautiful nature and the relaxed Greek way of life, full of surprises and definitely worth a visit.