Sinarades walk 19-04-2014 (3)I must confess that when a local man approached me to design and lead a programme of around 20 walks for Corfiots, my first reaction was a mental double-take: Huh? Corfiots?? Walking???
Which was rather unfair, for on our regular winter walks, which take place every Saturday from late September to early May, plenty of locals enthusiastically join the ‘hard core’ of foreign residents; indeed, on a few walks, almost half the group has been comprised of Corfiots, thoroughly enjoying themselves.
I am a firm believer in the concept that a walk should have a geographical destination, or aim. When I was a kid, my parents’
favourite Sunday walk was called ‘The Pepperpot (actually a Jubilee
Tower) and Arnside Tower’, so our little legs had TWO locations to aim for. A destination can be a mountaintop, a viewpoint, a sight like a traditional village, monastery or just a beautiful location, or even a very special footpath, for example one through a forest or alongside a river.
We are very lucky in Corfu to have uncounted locations that can serve as the aim of a walk. Over a hundred villages, some dating from the early years of the Eastern Roman Empire; monasteries, many of which sit on mountain summits, doubling the value of the destination; fantastic viewpoints where you would love to drag people who claim that Corfu is ‘spoiled’; plus some real surprises tucked away in the olive groves and forests; and even some ‘mystical’ sites. Even in a programme of thirty walks, and restricted to three of Corfu’s municipal regions, it was never hard to find a point of interest to aim for, one that could transform the walk into an experience that goes beyond mere physical activity. I hoped that the participants would learn something about Corfu, as well as discovering that walking could be a pleasure and not always a chore.
So we began, with walks of an hour or two on two weekday evenings, and joining the ‘foreign’ group on Saturday mornings to make best use of my time at the busiest period of the year. Walk number three, on the first Saturday of the programme, was a tough one – a long ascent from Nimfes to the hilltop Holy Trinity Monastery, and a scary zig-zag descent down an almost vertical slope, ending in a scramble down a cliff. Though my foreign regulars knew what to expect, I deliberately withheld information about the existence of the cliff from the less experienced walkers, on the basis that, once we got there, the thought of having to climb the path again might prevent rebellion! But I was happy to see that no-one chickened out, and once we got down onto the track that would return us to Nimfes, many of the newbies strode out, leaving some of the regulars well behind.
As the walks continued, we soon got to know who would be in the lead, and whom we would have to wait for. But fast or slow, everyone walked as if they’d been hiking for years.
We walked to Angelokastro, explored the Marmaro Hills, circled the Theotoki Estate, climbed Mount Saint George at Vatos, pottered in the valleys between Agios Ioannis and Evropouli, cuddled donkeys at the Rescue Shelter near Poulades (now near Doukades), reached Corfu’s northernmost point on Cape Agia Ekaterini, trod in the footsteps of Empress Sissi on an ascent of Mount Agia Kyriaki, and discovered possible ley lines in the Ropa Valley and near Strinilas.
The best experiences? Hearing spontaneous applause from the group as they breasted the forested ridge above the little chapel of Saint Simeon near Doukades, to suddenly see half of Corfu laid out below them. Being able to explain about ley lines in the snug warmth of a Strinilas taverna with a glass of tsipouro in hand, instead of in the open air at the ‘Dragon Church’, for an impending storm curtailed the walk that day. Tasting the lovely food which the locals contributed to the pot-luck picnic on the Aloni at Krini, following our visit to Angelokastro. And watching a big group of mostly youngish Greeks discover that there’s more to walking than… just walking.

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