Package holidays were in their infancy in the Sixties and budget air travel was a distant dream. But Richard Cookson and his late wife, Patricia, splashed out on a trip to Corfu and fell for the undeveloped Ionian island.
Seeing its potential the London couple set up CV Villas in 1972, one of the first firms selling exclusive villa holidays to Britons.
They started by letting properties on Corfu’s prime north-east coast, including their own waterfront home, and the area was soon labelled Kensington-on-Sea, for its affluent fan club. Famous clients included actor Trevor Eve and pop star Bryan Ferry. David Cameron and family have also holidayed locally.
CV Villas was sold and renamed CV Travel, but Richard still lives in Corfu and works for the firm. Three of his sons co-own Villa Yeraki the six-bedroom family villa with two private jetties in Kassiopi. It rents for £6,500 to £25,000 a week.
One of the sons, Fulham-based Nick Cookson, 32, has set up Villa Collective, a rental marketplace for luxury villas, and aims to distinguish it from main competitors Airbnb and Owners Direct by charging an annual fee to list a villa — now £650 plus VAT — instead of commission, taking on only high-end properties with a local manager. Owners can test the site for free.
“Standard commission to an agent is typically 20 per cent,” says Nick. “Over the last five years the number of directly booked villas has steadily risen as people try to save money by cutting out the middleman.”
His site has 200 homes now and he aims to have a few thousand at most, priced from £4,000 a week in high season.
North-east Corfu is still a customer favourite, with smart homes hidden among olive groves. “Popular with a wealthy crowd, it remains unpretentious and unshowy,” says Nick.
FIVE MUST-DO TRIPS IN CORFU
Richard Cookson of CV Travel has known Corfu for over 50 years and lives there. Here are his top tips for anyone heading to the island this summer:
1 Lunch at Agni. There are three restaurants with tables spilling on to the waterfront and we always choose Toula’s, a favourite with the Greeks.
2 Take a hike up Mount Pantokrator where you get mind-blowing views over Corfu and Albania.
3 Visit the major archaeological dig at Butrint across the Ionian Sea in Albania. The town was formerly a Greek colony, a Roman city and then a Byzantine site.
4 Visit Corfu Town, a wonderfully preserved capital with elegant Venetian architecture. Eat at La Cucina, a smart restaurant and a family favourite.
5 Explore the coast. Corfu’s delightful north-east coastline is clean and mostly undeveloped. Hiring a boat is easy with no licence needed for vessels of less than 30 horsepower.
‘RENT THE ECO-VILLA WE BUILT, IN ONE OF THE MED’S LOVELIEST SPOTS’
Husband-and-wife architects Alithea Johns and Marcus Warren were among the first to sign up to Villa Collective.
They met when they lived in London but now live with daughters Mirsini, eight, and Xenia, four, in Villa Velanidi, which they designed and built, two minutes from Kassiopi in north-east Corfu, where their architecture practice, Skopos Design, is based.
The three-bedroom villa, 20 minutes by boat from Corfu Town, is Greece’s second ultra-low energy “passive house”. The couple spent £643,000 building and furnishing it and rent it out in summer from £1,900 a week, moving to a cottage nearby.
White ceiling beams, ceramic floor tiles and antiques, plus furniture from Swoon, Made and John Lewis keep interiors fresh. Outside, oak and olive trees encircle the pool and the terrace has terrific sea views.
“This is one of the most beautiful places in the Med,” says Marcus.