Who are we anyway?
I guess you ought to know what you are dealing with! I retired from the Metropolitan Police Service during April 2002 after 30 years service. Four days later, my wife Tricia and I were residing in Corfu
We had been regularly visiting the island for many years and prior to retirement we had got to the point where we were visiting three times a year. We are not alone there for Corfu is one of those places that many people, particularly the British, find difficult to keep away from. It is also very popular with Germans, Dutch and Italians, the latter arriving in droves during August.
We had made the decision to move to Corfu about six years prior to retirement and began the planning process. This is all documented on our main website at www.thecorfiot.com. I won’t dwell on this part of our lives except to say that if anyone is considering joining the large numbers of foreigners on the island, plan ahead. Those that haven’t seem to be frequently encountering unanticipated problems.
This is a good question and one that is hard to pinpoint a specific answer to, in our case at least. I will try to be honest and constructive in explaining why we chose to come to live in Corfu but have to confess that the first time we visited on a charter holiday, both Tricia and I said, “Wow!” as the transfer coach got to the coast road around the island. In fairness, prior to that, we had often had flights of fancy about living abroad.
Some of the Corfu-related things that inspired our move were:-
The island is undeniably beautiful. It has a varied landscape encompassing mountains, flat plains, amazing coastal views, lakes and varied architecture ranging from ancient remains to Venetian.
The people. As with all Greeks, hospitality (filoxenia is almost a matter of personal pride and no more so than with Corfiots. Get away from the tourist spots and meet local people in a taverna, kafenion or local grocer’s shop (pantopolion) and you will soon discover the truth of this. If you have taken the trouble to learn a few words of what is undeniably not the easiest of languages, you will win new friends!
Generosity. In addition to their hospitality, we have found Corfiots to be very generous. It is not just with material things (we rarely have to buy eggs or lemons!) but with their friendship.
Again, as with all Greeks, Corfiots are very open to a point where most northern European’s find it slightly uncomfortable at first. The flip side of this is that you must be prepared to answer what might otherwise be considered ‘personal’ questions by Corfiots whom you have just met. “What job do you do?” and “How much do you earn,” often follow, “What’s your name?” Don’t let it throw you!
In fairness though, we must confess that we had become very unhappy about the way our own country was developing or should that be regressing? Granted, that my former profession almost certainly made me very cynical, but society in general within the UK and the general lack of respect in so many facets of everyday life were beginning to really annoy us. Even more alarming was that so many people were agreeing with us but there appeared, to us at least, to be a general state of apathy taking over. Crime rates were quite alarming.
This last paragraph may sound more than a little depressing. It is without a doubt, something of a simplification and before anyone gets the wrong idea, we do love our country. It is society in our opinion that stinks!
The prospect of moving to a country where the pace of life is similar to the country areas of the UK some 60 years ago and which is virtually (violent) crime free became very appealing as retirement loomed near.
In the first instance, Loutses did not figure in our plans other than the fact that it was a pleasant place to stop off for refreshment and a chat at the kafenion whilst on our way to Old Perithia.
It had always been our intention to rent a property when we first moved to Corfu. We had found a nice house in the village of Vlachatika overlooking Kalami Bay and Albania. The house was nice and the landlord and landlady were really kind to us. We remain friends to this day.
However, once we had got over the novelty of retirement we began to get frustrated by the lack of a project. We had been used to owning our own house which as any house owner will admit, meant that there were always things to do when not at work. Now we found ourselves with spare time. Yes, we did a lot of the tourist things. We swam almost daily during the summer and visited places that we had yet to see on the island but we really felt that something was lacking.
We had never intended coming to Corfu with the intention of being perpetual tourists. For a start, our stamina wouldn’t have sustained that sort of lifestyle! I had always intended indulging myself with my hobby of photography and also by attempting to write with the hope of one day getting published but to be truthful I have yet to be disciplined enough to get very far with either!
To Buy or not to Buy?
As we were limited as to what we could do in our rented home, we decided that we would try to find a place to buy. I have to confess that I do not have a high regard for estate agents. Sorry guys! The ones here are regarded even lower than the ones in the UK in this household. Again, I won’t dwell on this for fear that the libel laws may catch up with me!
We looked all around the island in areas that we liked and found nothing that fitted our price range or my abilities at house renovation. (In many cases, this meant rebuilding!) The crunch came when a Greek friend took us to see a house that he assured us could be obtained for £30,000.
How can I adequately describe this ‘house’? I will try. It had two rooms, no roof and oh yes, the front wall was missing … completely. It had no land, a public footpath ran past the missing front wall, the main road around the island was about 10 metres in front of this and to top it all, I have seen larger dog kennels! (Okay, so that last bit was a slight exaggeration!) We were disappointed in our friend, to say the least.
We became quite disconsolate. The fact that prices had risen to alarming levels didn’t help. Then one day, a possible solution appeared from an unexpected source.
An unexpected twist!
We called in at the kafenion in Loutses for a drink. As we walked in, Philipos, the owner looked up and said, “I wondered what had happened to you!” He had previously suggested that it might not be too expensive to have a house built from scratch and had promised to check out the build cost on a modest sized house with a friend who was an architect. He had kept his word and had a whole series of figures written on a scrap of paper.
He suggested that there should be no trouble trying to find a piece of land that was suitable nearby. In fact he pointed out two pieces nearby, that he was convinced were available. We were suddenly lifted from our depressed state and went home to await a phone call with news of the land.
Eventually, the long awaited phone call came. He had found three pieces of land. We were elated and hastily went to see Philipos. Two of the plots were near the kafenion and although they had nice country and mountain views, the sea was not visible. This had been something of a definite requirement from our point of view. “What about the other piece?” we asked. “I think that it will be too big for you,” came the reply. “But there is a lady who may want to buy a piece. Perhaps you could buy it between the two of you,” he added. We weren’t convinced but agreed to have a look at the land.
Not quite ‘The Promised Land’ … but close!
We drove a short distance and got out of the car. Philipos showed us the land and took us around the boundaries. We returned to our car and just stood there looking at this gently terraced piece of land with a small olive grove and stunning views across the Corfu Straits into Albania and its snow topped mountains. We were stunned into silence … but only temporarily! There was a brief muttered conversation between Tricia and I. We turned to Philipos and said, “We want it all!” I think that he was as surprised at our reaction as we were
We returned home to contemplate our finances and think about what we may have been about to get ourselves into. There was no denying it, we were hooked. We REALLY wanted this piece of land … All 4,372.76 square metres of it!
This is not the place to bore you with the trials and tribulations (of which there were many) leading to our ownership of this land. Suffice to say that by May 2003, the deal had gone through and we now own a part of a Greek mountainside.
Yet again, fate takes a hand!
We will both tell you that after the initial euphoria of purchasing our land, a feeling of deflation set in. There we were with our land and not the first idea of how to go about getting a house built! The one thing that we both knew was that Greek builders work better if they think that they are being supervised! We had learned this from an acquaintance, Nikos who was having a large property built. Every time we drove past, he was standing there on-site. We decided that we needed to be near the land so that we could emulate him!
Then fate took a hand. We called into Mitsos Taverna in Nisaki for a meal and to say “Hello” to the owners who have been friends for a few years. We told them of our recent acquisition and pointed out that we would be looking for a house in Loutses so that we would be close to the land when we started to build. We also asked them to let us know if they heard of somewhere.
Without prompting, Dimitris, the son of one of the owners said, “We have a house that you can rent there!” We quickly realised that this wasn’t a sick joke and before we knew it, we had the whole family telling us about this wonderful house in Loutses.
We arranged to see the house and a rent was agreed. We checked it out and fell in love with the place. Granted that a lot of work was needed but nothing that was insurmountable. We started work on the house, rent-free for three months before moving in and anticipate being here until the proposed house is built.
Since then, our house has been built. That, in itself is another story which we have chronicled in a further site at www.thehelm.co.uk. If you are considering building in Greece we would suggest that this is essential reading!
That, dear reader, is briefly how we have come to be living in the village of Loutses which we now call home!