The Greek economy contracted by 4.5 per cent last year, unemployment is rising and a raft of spending cuts and tax rises have made many Greeks pessimistic about their future.
But luxury property on Corfu’s idyllic north-east coast is beginning to bounce back after the recession, according to agent Piers Williams of Ionian International. “The top end of the market hasn’t been too badly knocked,” he says. “I estimate that in the €1m-plus category sellers have reduced their prices by an average of 5 per cent over the last three years.”
Williams is upbeat about the prospects for this coveted corner of Corfu, especially since the island is now firmly on the radar of wealthy Russian homebuyers. He closed four deals in the first three months of this year, traditionally a slow period for agents in Corfu given the dearth of direct air connections to the UK and elsewhere during the winter season.
Corfu, one of the most northerly of the Ionian Islands, lies west of the Greek mainland. It has a permanent population of a little over 107,000. Nowhere is more in demand than the deep-blue coves and bays around the pretty waterside village of Kalami. Dense woods of cypress and olive and groves of orange and lemon trees give many properties on this stretch of coast a sense of seclusion. Kalami faces the rugged coast of Albania, just two miles from Corfu at its closest point, but otherwise a world away – and Kalami is a world away, too, from the cheap-and-cheerful resorts of the north-west and south of the island.
Although the area is popular with Germans, Dutch and Italians (a nearby 15th-century estate has been used as a holiday home by members of the Agnelli family of Italian industrialists), locals label this stretch of coast “Kensington-on-Sea” for its concentration of wealthy British second-home owners. The Rothschild family owns property here; members of the Sainsbury clan take their holidays in the area, as has prime minister David Cameron, and Prince Charles is an occasional visitor.
The British, of course, have form in Corfu. In Corfu Town (Kerkyra), the island’s only urban centre, you can enjoy a game of cricket on a pitch overlooking the marina and then retire to a local café for a glass of ginger ale – legacies of administration by the United Kingdom in the 19th century. Simpler, bohemian Kalami is closely associated with the poet and novelist Lawrence Durrell, who spent the latter part of the 1930s at the White House in the village, a home he described as “set like a dice on a rock already venerable with the scars of wind and water.” Durrell’s former home now functions as a restaurant.
At Kassiopi, an attractive old fishing port a short drive from Kalami, Ionian International is asking €3.85m for Villa Athina, a six-bedroom, six-bathroom mansion built on a headland. The property has air conditioning, a pool and direct access to a small beach. In the hills above Kassiopi – an area favoured for new-builds because of its panoramic views – a four-bedroom, four-bathroom villa built in 2009, with 250 sq m of living space and 5,000 sq m of private grounds, is available for €1.3m through local agent Jonathan Edward Dunn. According to Williams, the average cost of a high-end new-build is €1,800 per sq m. Plots range from €40-€75 per sq m, so buyers should expect to pay €200,000-€250,000 for a plot with enough space for a detached home.
Williams says that Corfu’s low crime rate – an attack by arsonists on a synagogue on the island in April notwithstanding – is a key draw. However, signs of Greece’s malaise are evident in the plethora of unoccupied business premises in Corfu Town.
Carole Langton, an interior designer from London, and her husband Andrew bought an old waterfront olive press (a stone structure once used to extract and bottle the oil) in north-east Corfu 18 years ago. “It was a unique opportunity, as you can no longer build right on the sea. I installed wooden ceilings, doors, flagstone floors and intricate brickwork,” says Langton. “We also managed to find three old Greek metal beds that I had restored and made larger to accommodate modern mattresses.” The room containing the olive press became a beamed drawing room. The Langtons also kept the original decorative and Greek lintels above the doorways.
Claudia Pollinger and Ben Philo, both chefs from London, also bought an old olive press, in the hilltop village of Pythos in 2002. The couple converted it into The Invisible Kitchen – a restaurant and catering service that runs year-round. They live in a renovated traditional stone house next door with their two young children. “When the locals accept you, they are tremendously friendly,” says Pollinger.
For family reasons, the couple are selling both their business and their home and returning to the UK. Their four-bedroom house, with underfloor heating, double glazing and a designer kitchen, is on sale for €245,000 (www.houseforsalecorfu.com).
Beyond the most privileged parts of north-east Corfu, simple demographics are impacting on the property market. Many of the British who bought on the island in the 1980s for retirement are now elderly. Some have preferred to cash in and spend their last years in the UK. Also, when a property abroad is inherited by more than one person it is often simpler to sell.
As a result, for the past five years there has been a glut of retirement homes entering the market, and some deep discounting. For example, Corfu Home Finders is selling a four-bedroom house in the Ropa Valley in central Corfu, with a small swimming pool and deck, for €170,000, discounted from €240,000 “due to ill health”.
● A beautiful island with clean beaches and wonderful views
● Varied architecture and building styles
● Corfu has a cosmopolitan feel and most people speak English
● The climate is often chilly in winter
● Direct international flights are limited between November and Easter
● Eating out is unadventurous and sometimes overpriced
What you can buy for …
€100,000 A simply built two-bedroom flat or a village house needing some renovation
€1m A villa with a pool away from the beach on the north-east coast
Ionian International, tel: +30 69420 54500, www.ionianinternational.com
Jonathan Edward Dunn, tel: +30 26610 36306, www.jonathanedunn.com
Corfu Homefinders, tel: +30 26610 33416, www.corfuhomefinders.com