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      March 2012 > Walking in Corfu in the footsteps of Gerald Durrell
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Walking in Corfu in the footsteps of Gerald Durrell

Spring flowers on CorfuIf you love reading about wildlife, look out this year for the launch of naturalist and conservationist Gerald Durrell’s back catalogue – fifteen titles – as e-books. Among them is his most famous work, My Family and Other Animals, a delightful memoir of his eccentric childhood in Corfu, which has been translated into 31 languages over the years.

I remember my elder brother avidly devouring Durrell’s work when we were boys, though I never got round to reading any of them - until now.

The books chart his childhood on Corfu where the young Gerald developed his passion for wildlife and nature under the guiding eye of his mentor, Dr Theodore Stephanides. This led Durrell into a lifetime of animal conservation, culminating in the foundation of the Jersey Zoological Park in 1959. He became a leading expert and activist in the breeding of animals in danger of extinction in their natural habitat.

Walking through olive groves, CorfuAlthough born in India, Durrell moved to Corfu with his mother, younger brother Leslie and sister Margo, after the death of their father in 1928. The family home was a villa on the island’s north-east coast, with views over the sea to the mountains of Albania. Durrell’s elder brother Lawrence (author of The Alexandria Quartet and travel book Prospero’s Cell - a guide to the landscape and manners of the island of Korkyra) had already made his home on the island.

The young Gerald loved this island life from the very start, exploring the immediate surroundings of the house in search of beetles and bugs, lizards and tortoises, butterflies and bees:

"We returned through the sun-striped olive groves where the chaffinches were pinking like a hundred tiny coins among the leaves. Yani, the shepherd, was driving his herd of goats out to graze, the leader’s bell clonking rhythmically. A robin puffed out his chest like a tangerine among the myrtles and gave a trickle of song. The island was drenched with dew, radiant with early morning sun, full of stirring life. Be happy. How could anyone be anything else in such a season?”

Spyros Spathas, FundanaHe used his humorous writing style to popularize his work with books such as A Zoo in my Luggage (1960), while his aforementioned account of growing up in Corfu, My Family and Other Animals (1956) later became the subject of a BBC series in the 1980s and a feature film in 2005.

Durrell’s childhood home is now a private house surrounded by more recent buildings and so a substitute villa had to be found for the dramatizations. For both the 1980s series and the 2005 film, the same house was chosen: the secluded Fundana Villa, set amid lush gardens of bougainvillea, hibiscus, plumbago, almond and olive-groves, overlooking an orchid-rich nature reserve in the heart of the island and close to Corfu’s West Coast. Owned by ebullient Corfiot, Spyros Spathas (left), this unspoiled 17th century Venetian mansion (below) was seen as the ideal setting for the series, evoking the look and feel of the pre-War years perfectly. (I’m sure Durrell heartily approved.)

Indeed, Spyros has many mementos of those times and is happy to regale a tall tale or two of life with the actors and film crew – Fundana Villa is now a charming rural hotel, a tranquil retreat amid some of Corfu’s prettiest countryside where wildlife abounds. Take a leisurely walk around the small lake and you will soon understand why the young Gerald Durrell was so taken with this magical island:

I found many creatures which I now regard as old friends: the rose beetles, the blue carpenter bees, the ladybirds and the trapdoor spiders. In the fig and lemon trees, just below the garden were quantities of emerald-green tree frogs, like delicious satiny sweets among the leaves; up on the hillsides lived brilliant lizards and tortoises, while in the fruit orchards there were many kinds of birds: goldfinches, greenfinches, redstarts, wagtails, orioles and the occasional hoophoe, salmon-pink, black and white, probing the soft ground with long curved beaks, erecting their crests in astonishment when they saw me, and flying off.”

Fundana Villa, Corfu
Posted: 19/03/2012 09:10:04 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: Greece, media, nature, wildlife


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