Today, Corfu is loved for its beaches, its crystalline waters and its picturesque seafront towns and villages. Life on the coast wasn’t always so attractive, however, as the Ionian’s tides brought with them a constant stream of unwelcome visitors, from marauding pirates to disease-carrying mosquitos. To avoid such dangers, many islanders headed for the hills, where they used the plentiful local stone to build agricultural villages at a safe distance from the turbulent shores below. One such, practically the only surviving example, is Old Perithia.
The village, which was built in the 14th century while the island was under Byzantine rule, is located on the northern flanks of Mount Pantokrator at about 400m above sea level. The surrounding land was ideal both for sheep farming and the cultivation of olives and vines, and Old Perithia was soon relatively prosperous. Times were harder by the 20th century, however, and as tourism began to bring wealth and jobs to Corfu’s coastal areas, the village’s residents were drawn back down the mountain in search of work. Today, the village is a protected heritage site whose 130 houses, many built in a Venetian style, lie abandoned in varying states of dereliction. A few civic buildings also survive, including a school that remained in use until the middle of the 20th century. Surrounding the village are eight churches, one for every 150 of the village’s 1,200 former residents.
Old Perithia is no ghost town, however, thanks to the presence of a bed and breakfast and a handful of tavernas serving excellent mountain fare. Apart from good food, the village offers visitors a fascinating insight into Corfu’s history, jaw-dropping views, and an ideal “base camp” for anyone wishing to hike up to the summit of Mount Pantokrator, which takes about an hour.