There is a tiny island in the Ionian Sea where time stands still. Home to just 30 people, four taverns and one hotel, this little slice of heaven is Mathraki, one of three islands just off the coast of Corfu called the Diapontia Islands. I discovered this tiny gem two years ago when travelling around Greece, fell head over heels in love with it, and now head back there for an escape from the hustle and bustle of reality every summer.
Spending time on Mathraki requires absolute relaxation and a desire to do very little, except sleep, eat, swim, and repeat. The Corfu Paradise Hotel is run by the lovely Argyros family with Mama Nora making delicious home cooked Greek food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, young Giorgos running the restaurant and bar, and Giannis tinkering in the workshop at the back. They welcomed me with open arms, and I fast became part of the family, feeling right at home within a few days, as they do with every guest. Mama Nora’s cuisine is simply to die for – fresh Greek salads of bright red tomatoes, and vibrant green cucumbers, creamy feta cheese, and big black olives picked from the olive groves at the top of the island; homemade spanakopita of melt-in-your-mouth flaky pastry filled fresh spinach and feta and served in giant triangles; and beautifully grilled fish fresh the ocean and cooked to perfection.
I am a swimmer and have an inordinate love of the water and spent hours swimming around the island in the most beautiful, gin-clear warm Mediterranean waters. While there isn’t much to see in terms of marine life – Greece has sadly been overfished, leaving the sea fairly barren – the underwater topography is impressive with massive boulders, and plenty of caverns, and coves to explore. The island is three kilometres long with a circumference of close to 10 kilometres, which makes for an amazing swim!
Exploring the island on foot, I discovered there are four taverns on the island, which is home to just 30 people in the winter, a number that swells significantly in the summer when the residents’ families come to visit. The island has two little villages – Ano Mathraki and Kato Mathraki (literally meaning bottom and top village), and each has its own church, taverns, and communities. The beautiful Greek Orthodox church of St. Spiridon is in Ano Mathraki and is lovingly maintained with polished pews, magnificent gold-leaf detailing and a striking chandelier, all of which have been donated by the Islanders. Well worth a visit!
Next to the church is the traditional local Kafenion “Kentro” run by Christos and his lovely wife and a good place to stop if you want to meet the locals who sit outside beneath the trellised grapevines playing cards. Many summer evenings were spent there sipping ice-cold Mythos beer and eating mouthwatering charcoal grilled souvlaki hot off the fire while catching up on all the local gossip.
Kato Mathraki, the second little village on the island, also has a small church and tavern called Levante, which boasts breathtaking views over the Ionian Sea to Albania, which is just 18 kilometres away. Run by Jimmy and Tasoula, Levante Taverna attracts a crowd when there is a football match on, and the vibe is nothing less than rambunctious – the Greeks love their football!
Heading down to the port which is dotted with traditional fishing boats, you’ll find Dolphin Taverna, a charming, tranquil spot overlooking the harbour and run by the charismatic Kostas. Open all day, this is a great spot for sipping good Greek coffee and watching the boats make their way in and out of the harbour.
Mathraki has one road that winds its way around the island, passing through both villages and their tavernas, meandering past olive groves, and lovingly maintained gardens with pecking chickens and crowing roosters, and can easily be explored on foot or bicycle.
After a week of sleeping, eating, swimming and not doing much else, I felt refreshed and ready to head back into the real world. Packed and ready to go, sipping my last Greek coffee before heading down to the port to get the ferry back to Corfu, I took one last look at the shimmering azure waters, and thought, “maybe one more week,” and dived right back in.
Image courtesy: The images have been contributed by the author of the blog, Mia Russell