Paxos, Antipaxos & Corfu Town
The lull that descends when the kids finally crash, exhausted from the discovery of the new and hypnotised by the early evening’s Disney offering, is always a lovely moment for the Christmas day host. The dishwasher is loaded, the are relatives snoozing or topped up with sherry and the is fire glowing. That’s the moment to kick back and if you’re anything like us, reach for your stack of Sunday travel supplements and Conde Nast Travellers (we can dream) to start planning next year’s adventures. Except this year, for the first time ever, we’ll be wondering whether we shouldn’t just head straight back to last year’s holiday spot. Unusual, given our constant wanderlust for exploring new horizons, but these small but perfectly formed islands, unexpectedly stole both our hearts.
Paxos is a veritable Greek beauty and an assault on the senses. From the beautiful, pastel-hued Venetian-era architecture of the harbour front in Gaios, to chic, atmospheric Loggos, best experienced during lantern-lit, after-dinner strolls. From the incredible taste of the peaches, tomatoes, honey and yoghurt to the delicious home cooking in waterside tavernas. The quality and incredible flavour of the local produce raises simple rustic recipes, handed down through the generations, to another level. From pootling about on boats, snorkelling in secret coves and discovering beaches only accessible by sea, to the thrill of speeding through choppy breakers across to the secluded, neighbouring isle of Anti-Paxos – divine Voutoumi beach is practically Caribbean (and make sure you head up the steps to the cliff-top taverna). For a lover of all things Mediterranean, we were indeed smitten.
The island’s interior is formed of steeply terraced olive groves, peppered with ancient stone dwellings, many of which afford breath-taking glimpses of water that is azure defined. Browsing estate agents’ windows is a guilty pleasure of both mine and my husband’s wherever we travel but, despite some astronomically out of reach price tags, perhaps one day, a tumble-down cottage will be mine to renovate. I’m that taken by the place.
Sure it’s seasonal – albeit a long one (and Spring is by all accounts a glorious time to visit for walking and experiencing the island’s renowned flora). Sure it’s already a firm favourite of the Greek island sailing fraternity – although watching the many and varied super yachts, cruisers and sailing vessels jostle for position quayside (not to mention the opportunities for people-watching) is part of the fun. And yes, you do get boats discharging day trippers from package-haven Corfu but somehow the place never seems overrun. Paxos feels like it’s your own (semi) private idyll.
The people seem genuinely welcoming and react with great warmth when you proffer a word or two in their own language. We had an incident with a lost wallet (not to mention lost luggage by a certain budget airline but that’s another story) and the ensuing panic and frantic efforts to find said wallet (as well as the first two days of our trip spent shopping for clothes, shoes and underwear for a family of four – an interesting challenge on a tiny island populated with only a handful of high end boutiques and dive/swimwear shops) gave us some insight into the kindness, helpfulness and generosity of the locals.
And then that’s that particular quality of light that invigorates and calms by turns. Early dawn, up alone and reading quietly on the stone terrace each morning as the sun rose across our little olive grove, the sea twinkling in the distance, was how I think I really, truly dropped my shoulders and de-stressed. For the kids it was the late afternoons spent swinging and singing in the hammock, winding down after a day of boats and beaches.
Batteries re-charged, husband and kids eagerly off to explore another hidden cove, and keen to investigate the Greek cultural aesthetic in this corner of the Ionian, I happily put my creative and sourcing hats on and headed across the water to busy, bustling Corfu old town. A place I had previously visited a number of years back on a shoot for House & Garden magazine, I knew that amongst the many tourist shops, there were some fascinating boutiques and artisans making and selling all manner of ceramics, jewellery and contemporary Greek designer wares.
Given that our Telescope Style USP is destination-inspired design, when I’m on the hunt for suppliers in a previously un-explored (by TS!) location or even just shopping for wonderful souvenirs or fashion to bring back home, I always focus on what is indigenous and authentic to the region. Readily available materials handmade into products with a history of craftsmanship or stylish reinterpretations thereof, showcasing traditional colours, motifs and patterns.
Best to seek out in Corfu Town are leather sandals and saddle bags – immediately identifiable as Greek in style and with perennial summer appeal. The secret is to visit as many vendors along the narrow streets of the old town as possible to gauge quality and the wide variety of styles on offer. Of the high end brands available in the smart boutiques, Kouros and Ancient Greek Sandals are good names to look out for. The patterned slides (or sandals) pictured above represent the design collaboration between the latter and Kridemnon, a specialist Greek headscarf maker, whose elegant Greek-inspired designs in silk, are beautiful enough to rival any Hermès purchase.
Another great product to shop for in Corfu Town is the intricately patterned, hand-painted pottery in traditional blue and white – the colours of the Greek eye motif, as shown above. This pottery is also available in chic black and white or a bright, riot of multi-colour. There are a number of ceramics specialists selling these across Corfu Town. I see a piece such as this traditional blue and white, statement, serving platter, found at pottery retailer Odysseus, as the single decorative element on a chic, Mediterranean-inspired, summer table with white table linen, tall-stemmed wine glasses, blue, glass, water tumblers and turquoise, linen napkins.
Stylish resort wear from Greek designers whose clothing embodies the Greek spirit and cultural heritage is another thing to look out for when shopping in Corfu Town. I visited various boutiques all located in the old town, including the fabulous Mezzo Mezzo. Amongst the international designer brands, check out lesser known brands such as Zeus & Dione and Ancient Kallos.
Greek heritage-inspired jewellery is also a wonderful fashion accessory to bring home from your island holiday. Museum quality reproductions of bejewelled and intricately hand-crafted Byzantine crosses, rings and pendants are the preserve of Gerochristo and are available through boutique SB Jewellery. Next door at Ariadne you can find elegant, Greek key design rings and bracelets and as well as work from similarly heritage-focussed design houses such as Zolotas. Sophia Kokosalaki is a more familiar, high end named brand with an elegant range of ‘Greek-with-a-twist’ jewellery as well as a jaw-droppingly beautiful, modern bridal range.
For the home check out Tomy K prints rendered on cushions, bags and a variety of other lifestyle items (see the ‘Glafka’ black and white fabric pouch bag above, top left) sold through various boutiques in the old town. It’s All Greek On Me is another great brand that traverses fashion and lifestyle – their reinterpretation of Greek motifs and patterns is illustrated by the rather chic embroidered, raffia clutch bags (also depicted above). As a gift for the kids, a charming pair of traditional Greek woollen slippers by the likes of Minas S. A. are hard to beat.
Check back in the Spring for the launch of a number of Greek-inspired designs from a small collection of makers and artisans available to buy through us! In the meantime, happy holiday shopping and Happy New Year!!
Author: Annabel Smith, Telescope Style