You have to see it to understand…









Leaving Corfu Town behind, you will find 600 sq. kms of countryside to explore. Here you will encounter natural beauty characterised by lush vegetation, pristine beaches, traditional villages and unpretentious people, as well as tourist resorts with luxury hotels, restaurants, small tavernas and bars suitable for every occasion. Wander around this countryside and you may well lose yourself on the roads and tracks which lead to Corfu's past as well as its future.

From ancient times…

On an island which has constantly been inhabited from ancient times to the present day, the type of vegetation has not been determined purely by soil and climate, but has also been influenced by human factors. The mild climate, the low average altitude, the relatively high humidity, the high rainfall as well as the remaining examples of primeval flora, help us to compose a picture of the original vegetation of Corfu. Coastal forests of pine trees, wild cedar, deciduous oak; wetland forest of black and white poplar, white willow, and oriental plane. The lower hillsides, up to a height of 400 metres, were covered with typical Mediterranean forest: kermes or holly oak, common oak, holm oak, wild olive, and with many shrubs such as laurel, strawberry tree, lentisk, wild apple and others. Higher up, on the mountain peaks, there were forests of Valonia oak.

Three thousand years of civilisation, however, has transformed the appearance of the island. Plains forest was burned and thinned for agriculture and the trees were used for shipbuilding. Hills were denuded and steep slopes terraced with hundreds of kilometres of dry-stone walls to facilitate cultivation. The less fertile and mountainous regions were given over to grazing. Since the people occupied themselves mainly with the cultivation of vines and less so with cereals and maize, the indigenous plant life was disregarded, and was viewed only as a means of covering local energy needs, mostly to make charcoal. Thus, in 1402, in order to make repairs to the fortress, the Venetians were forced to import wood.

In 1623, following a decision by the Venetian Senate, money was offered as an incentive for the planting of olive trees and the replacement of the wild variety with the cultivated one. Tens of thousands of trees were grafted and even more planted. A century later, the number of olive trees surpassed two million and continued to grow, to the extent that the cultivation of the olive has become one with the psyche of the Corfiot farmer. Today Corfu, Paxos and the Diapontian islands are one endless olive grove.

The combination of the various factors which make up the microclimate of Corfu favours the growth of wild flowers. Without exaggerating we can say that Corfu blooms during all four seasons of the year. A typical example of the variety of flora are the 36 species of self-sown orchid, complex and very sensitive plants, which have been catalogued in Corfu. It should be noted that Orchis palustris is a very rare orchid which in Corfu is found only around Lake Korission. The water-loving vegetation of the lakeshore is lush, with reeds and cane, glasswort, poplar, walnut, willow, plane and many other plants and trees which thrive on wetland shores.

The dramatic changes in types of natural habitat influenced the fauna of the region. Historic sources mention Corfu as a hunting paradise. Deer, wild boar, roebuck and wildfowl found food and shelter in the shady forests of the island. Elianos confirmed that deer would swim from the mainland shore across the narrow channel at Agios Stefanos.


.…to the present day

By British times it was obvious that Corfu's wildlife, even the wild hare, was in danger of disappearance. The English, fanatical hunters, were forced to limit their activities to shooting the wild birds which found refuge on the lakes and in the stagnant hollows of the Ropa Valley. Today the natural fauna is just as limited. The strong contours of the landscape, the extent of olive cultivation and the small but important pockets of forest remaining protect several species by allowing them to avoid our prying eyes.

Wildlife still gathers in the wetland areas of Corfu. The most important assembly points are in the centre of Corfu in the lake formations of the Ropa Valley, in the rivers and their estuaries (Messongi, Ropa, Potamos, Tyflos etc.) and on lagoons (Korission, Halikiopoulos, Agios Stefanos and Antinioti). Numbered amongst the fauna in these areas are also many kinds of small mammal such as weasels, foxes, hedgehogs and otters.

Among Corfu's rich reptile fauna, we must mention the freshwater terrapins, of which the species Mayremys caspica is the rarest. Several other kinds of amphibians live and multiply in the freshwater areas.

As for bird life, over 150 species, many of them rare, have been sighted, either as residents or as migrants. The glossy ibis, the spoonbill, the gull-billed tern, the great white egret and the pygmy cormorant are some of the birds which are in immediate danger of disappearance. But for now they still find refuge in the wetlands of Corfu, in company with cormorants, widgeons, coots and kingfishers.





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