The village of Giannades is located in the central west of Corfu, 20 kilometres from Corfu Town. It is the southernmost of three villages which lie on the west coast hills between Ermones and Liapades (the other two being Marmaro and Kanakades), facing away from the sea and towards the Ropa Plain. The village was originally established closer to the coast on a ridge above the sea, but because of constant pirate raids, the residents relocated around the 16th century to the present location. An old white church with stone defensive walls and gunslits is situated between the sites of the old settlement and ‘new’ one, and provided a refuge for the folk when the pirates attacked.
The present village sits on an east-reaching spur of the west coast hills, between two deep gorges whose strong seasonal streams feed the Ropa River. The oldest section of the village is on the southern end of the spur, nearest the original settlement (of which only the base of a few walls remains in the grounds of an estate). From its centre just south of today’s village square, this section still boasts many of the picturesque old houses dating from the foundation of the settlement. A paved alley leads to a beautiful mansion and two intricately carved arches, before dropping to the village access road in a maze of tiny, steep alleyways. To explore this area, start from the main square (if your visit is going to be in anyway extended, leave your vehicle in the spacious parking area below the square). Carry on past the kiosk and supermarket, then turn left in a smaller square. Here you can admire the arches and mansion mentioned above. To make a circuit of the village, go through the main square and then right, then just follow the main lane, bearing right at junctions at the rear of the village. When the houses stop, you reach a larger crossing lane. Here go straight on, downhill, then bear right uphill until you come to a point where the road runs out in a small parking area, and the Ropa Plain is laid out like a map below – truly spectacular. Onwards, you are back in a maze of alleys – just follow your nose and you will reach the village road. Go straight on back to the square.
Giannades has a healthy population of between 700 and 800 (760 at the 2001 census). Many of the people emigrated to Germany during the years of poverty in the 50s and 60s, and German is widely spoken as a second language, especially by the younger generation which was born and raised in Germany and who returned with their parents in the 1980s and later. Due to this thriving population which makes it the largest settlement in the area, the village supports a good-sized, well-stocked supermarket (though you’re not going to find exotics!) with basic fruit and vegetables, local olive oil, fresh eggs and a freezer cabinet. There’s also a kiosk and two other smaller shops. A school caters for the younger children of the entire area. The main village square is one of the most dramatic in Corfu, being set directly above the view of the Ropa Plain. It has been nicely landscaped, with seating areas, and provides a lovely venue for the village’s panegiri (fiesta) on 14 and 15 August. In the square, the old kafenion – closed for a couple of years – has just been refurbished, with reopening due imminently at the time of writing. Previously known as ‘Mandouki’s Place’, it’s been renamed ‘Odeon Bar’. For refreshment and to meet friends, many of the younger generation head a kilometre downhill to Tristrato Bar, set in a lovely breezy place at the Marmaro/Ermones/Giannades crossroads. Shaded by tall trees, Tristrato was an old way-station which has been beautifully restored to preserve its original features. On Saturdays in high summer, the proprietor hosts alternative music bands in concert. Back in the main square, a perfect ending to the day is at Marangos Grill Room, conveniently located next to Odeon Bar, where you can enjoy charcoal grilled meats while watching the darkness fall over the Ropa Plain.
In its location between the olive-clad hills and the fertile plain,Giannades has always had a strong agricultural tradition. In a 1918 survey, it has a population of 1,200, which lived on large crops of maize (mainly for polenta-style porridge and cornbread), wheat and barley. It had 25 acres under potatoes and no less than 120 acres under vines. 35,000 olive trees produced 280,000 kilos of oil. In addition, the villagers possessed 150 cattle, 200 sheep and 400 goats. They exported 200,000 kilos of animal feed. These days, prosaically, the area is a major producer of hay. Still today you can see this tradition at work, with tractors rumbling about their business of ploughing and clearing land. Large herds of sheep wander the plain, under the control of their shepherds. Many of the inhabitants have plots of land where they intensively grow
vegetables, from seeds passed down from their grandfathers. One such is Alekos Armenis, who with his parents farms five acres near the Ropa Estate. His produce is as close to being ecological as it can be, and he sells at it unbelievable cheap prices from a market stall in Corfu Town. From trees growing on the low hills between the village and the Plain, the local family of Christos Eleftheriotis produces and bottles an ecological olive oil, which is for sale exclusively at the supermarket in Giannades Square.
Next to Alekos’ land, the Theotoky Estate also continues in the region’s agricultural tradition, producing extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oil from its 4,100 ecologically managed trees, plus the famed Theotoky wine (dry white and red) from 30 acres of vineyards. The estate is open to visitors. Giannades offers such a lot to do, you can easily spend a pleasant day in the area, immersing yourself in the traditions of one of Corfu’s most congenial villages.
This article was published in The Corfiot Magazine in September 2010. The Corfiot was published from 1990 to 2010, initially for ex-pats, though it later had a huge readership amongst summer visitors. You can download and read pdf copies of back numbers from 2007 to 2010 free of charge at the site www.thecorfiotmagazine.com