Corfu is a summer favourite for the rich and political. Business Secretary Peter Mandelson has just returned from the Corfu home of Nat Rothschild, the very place that got Shadow Chancellor George Osborne into trouble when he took his family there last summer. And summers before, they had idled their time away eating with friends David and Samantha Cameron at Taverna Galini in San Stefano or relaxing by the pool at the Rothschilds’ elegant family villa.
It was Osborne’s ill-fated visit on that holiday to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s 238ft super yacht the Queen K moored off the coast that caused a political storm. Whatever Osborne did or didn’t discuss with Deripaska, the meeting turned the spotlight on the exclusive north-east of Corfu, an area far removed from the drinking and clubbing fever of the south.
‘There is a charming lack of pretension. People go to the north-east to blend in’
This is the childhood home naturalist Gerald Durrell wrote about in My Family and Other Animals 70 years ago, and there are peaceful bays that he would still recognise today. The north-east coast attracts upmarket visitors looking for discreet villas hidden among the olive groves, where the best properties can rent for £7,000 a week. Little wonder that the coast north of Corfu Town from Nissaki up to Kassiopi is known as Kensington-on-Sea for its appeal to a certain London set.
There’s certainly money in the steep green hills but there’s also a charming lack of pretentiousness. There are no designer shops or glitzy restaurants. Pleasures revolve around simple food, family and friends and dazzling white pebbly beaches by the Ionian Sea.
"People come here to blend in," says Marcus Gondolo-Gordon. "Corfu is understated and that’s how its fans like it." Marcus, 34, and his wife Mia, 31, left London in 2004 to live in Corfu. Marcus, a film and advertising producer, initially travelled back to London for work but now lives full time in Corfu with their 22-month-old daughter Phaedra. The couple, who are expecting another baby this month, run a magazine called Island while Mia, once the manager of Selfridges’ food hall and owner of a Battersea deli, caters for parties. Marcus also works as a photographer.
"We couldn’t see ourselves bringing up a family in London," says Marcus. "Mia has family in Corfu, which made the move easier. They tried their best to dissuade us, though, worried that the move from city life to a Greek village would be a shock. However, we have loved every minute."
The family bought land and built their own property, a popular option on Corfu. In rural areas you will need an acre of land. "It took us just six months to build our 1,700sq ft house in traditional Corfiot style. The cost in 2005 was £128 a square foot. We have just built a smaller house for my mother."
The couple have made a good network of like-minded friends locally. Weekdays are as hectic as in London, though without a tiring commute, but Sundays are time to relax. Marcus lists his favourite things about Corfu: "Lunch at a seaside taverna after a long swim as boats bob on the water, a bracing walk in the mountains, local food such as homemade feta cheese and fat olives and making orange juice from freshly picked oranges from our garden."
He adds: "Winters are wet, mild and quiet but Corfu Town is busy all year round. It is still warm enough to swim in November. I have a sea kayak and out of season I like to tour the empty beaches of west Corfu."
Villas in the north-east built from the pale Corfiot stone start from £429,000. A 3,200sq ft property in large grounds with pool and sea views costs from £686,400. Former fishing villages such as Agios Stefanos and Kassiopi are sought after and property by the sea is much in demand though very hard to find.
For good value, Piers Williams of Aylesford associates Ionian International tips Agios Markos, a heritage village set back from the sea - hence the lower prices - but with renovated Venetian houses and views to Corfu Town. Aylesford International has a three-bedroom Venetian manor house there for £342,300.
Ionian International through Aylesford International: 020 7351 2383; www.aylesford.com
Savills International: 020 7016 3740; www.savills.com/abroad
Island Magazine: www.islandmagazine.gr