An Ancient Footpath to Erimitis Spring

Paxos has three ports and the central village of Magazia. Magazia means “shops” and was once the main shopping centre of the island (it even had a ginger beer maker!). In surrounding valleys and on olive-clad hilltops are family hamlets consisting of a cluster of houses and a family church or two.

When the island was more self-sufficient (important when winter bad weather could prevent any supplies reaching Paxos for weeks on end) and the olive was king, a well-trodden network of pathways connected villages and hamlets with olive groves, vineyards, pasture land, terraces of wheat, schools, shops, friends and a supply of water.    

During the British occupation of the Ionian islands in the early 19th Century, tracks (wider than the goat paths) connecting the three island ports were turned into a central road – donkey tracks became a donkey road!

During the earlier, four centuries of Venetian rule, cisterns to collect rainwater were introduced to island house building. River and stream beds still traverse the island with fast flowing waters in the winter but the only source of natural spring water was and still is just above Erimitis beach on the west coast.

A series of stone-floored pathways, bordered by dry stone walls, lead from the hamlet of Boikatika (the hamlet of the Boikos family) down a wild valley of untended olive groves to a point above Erimitis Bay where soaring limestone cliffs look down onto a chalky turquoise sea.

A steep, stepped path winds down to the spring’s source and a well, enclosed by stone. Even in the heat of summer, water oozes and seeps through the rock face to give life to a variety of small wild plants, just above the sea.

In 2008 a large chunk of limestone cliff broke away and slid into the sea. What was a rocky inlet beneath the cliffs suddenly became a beautiful beach of limestone and pulverized stone – now turning into golden sand.

Look carefully at the surrounding hillsides of maquis and myrtle and you will see the remains of stone houses and overgrown terraces, which were once cultivated – a perfect place to live with fresh water on your doorstep. Prime position is now given to two modern villas at the top of the last flight of steps to the beach but there is still a dominant feeling of a rich, green wilderness, framed by the Erimitis cliffs.    

First glimpse of Erimitis cliffs

There is now a road down to the last flight of steps but parking is nigh impossible so choosing one of the ancient footpaths is the advisable (and more interesting) alternative. Tall olive and cypress trees provide a canopy of shade and the first views of the cliffs and blue sea are breathtaking. A good path to choose starts close to the cat feeding station on the track leading from Magazia to Erimitis Sunset Bar.

Old untended olives
Start of the last section
Final flight of steps to the spring

Take a stick to carefully detach spider webs and a non-plastic container to drink from the Erimitis well (you will find a bucket & rope attached to the well’s lid). On my last visit I saw “I was here” styled graffiti on the rock face close to the well – resist the urge to leave any mark of having been there and enjoy its natural beauty – one of Paxos’ many treasures.

Remember to take a spider stick
Descent to the beach
Erimitis Spring

On Paxos there are 2 organisations dedicated to the preservation of the island’s heritage and culture Volunteers of Paxos and Friends of Paxos – they work with the Paxos Municipality to open, clear and maintain the network of ancient footpaths on the island.

Paxos Ferries Over The Years

The only way of getting from Corfu to Paxos in 1965, my first visit, was aboard a weather-worn, wooden caique called “Aspasia”. A central deckhouse cum cockpit provided hard bench seating for around 40 passengers. The Aspasia’s crossing time varied between 5 and 7 hours depending on the weather.

The journey south from Corfu Town, hugging Corfu’s eastern coastline until Cavos at the island’s most southerly point, is along a channel, sheltered by the coastline of the Greek mainland, and is usually comparatively calm.

In those days, Cavos was a small fishing village with just a few houses above the beach and a simple taverna run by the Roussos family. The Roussos taverna is still there but engulfed by a confloption of holiday accommodation. 

Photo from google images of Corfu Town in the 1970’s

If anyone missed the Aspasia’s departure from Corfu Town’s port there was the opportunity to take a taxi to Cavos and wait for the caique to arrive there. Quite often there would be passengers plus barrels of wine waiting to board at Cavos – and on one occasion, I saw a donkey plus boxes of chickens waiting their turn.

When the Aspasia could be seen from the Cavos jetty, one or two small boats containing people, animals and provisions would be rowed out and helped up on to the waiting caique. A small man-powered winch would hoist up donkeys and barrels.

Photo from Pinterest of a 1963 Hydra Island transfer with a donkey

From Cavos to Paxos (around 9 miles) an afternoon swell could make the 3 – 5 hour journey seem even longer. A sudden winter storm would either cause the caique to turn back or would test the stomachs of even the hardened crew.

Despite the possibility of a rough crossing it was important to bring adequate food and drink to help you through a good part of a day. Many of the crew felt that a pack of cigarettes was ample. 

The Aspasia’s single loo was a small hut on the bow deck. Facing the entrance to the hut was a wobbly bench, where 2 or 3 Paxiots would sit (usually men with worry beads while the women sat inside crossing themselves as each wave hit). I once watched an unsuspecting female passenger (a non-Paxiot like me) enter the hut just as the Aspasia left the sheltered tip of Corfu’s south east coastline and the first waves of the open sea hit the caique’s prow. The hut door swung open to the hut’s side – out of reach of the enthroned lady, with her skirt around her ankles – and in full view of the audience on the bench.

During the summer months the Aspasia would make the return journey about 3 times per week but in the winter, Paxos could be cut off for several weeks.

A large car ferry (called the “Kefalonia”), connecting Patras and Corfu and calling in at Kefalonia, would appear about half a mile offshore from Gaios on a Friday night. Small fishing boats would take Paxiots, wanting a faster journey to Corfu, out to the ferry. A large net was hung over the side of the ship and passengers would climb up and on board.

The arrival of the Kefalonia, with its lights splaying across the calm night sea, was often the highlight of the week.

I cannot remember when the first car appeared on Paxos. There were no car ferries between Corfu and Paxos in the 1960’s so island transport was boat, donkey, foot and the odd scooter.

A Paxiot with his donkey

The Aspasia (and future ferries until the age of the internet) brought newspapers to Paxos to keep islanders abreast of outside news. The islanders thronged at the port when the ferry arrived – a dockers’ union (6 burly fishermen) reserved the right to offload all items (if I was carrying a suitcase, it would be snatched away and a charge made for carrying it all of 20 feet to the quayside). A bag containing the newspapers would be taken to the village’s two “periptero” (kiosks) in the main square.

Local fisherman & Periptero in background

Greece was under the rule of a military junta from 1967 to 1974. All news was fervently censored to the extent that often the pages would only have a few small columns of print, leaving large empty white spaces.  

In the event of bad weather and no ferry from Corfu, Paxos winters could be hard. The electricity supply (powered by diesel at the station in Gaios) would cut off sporadically if the diesel ran out. I remember fridges run on gas but no freezers (the first fridge on Paxos was bought by Peter Bull, the actor who lived on the hillside above Lakka Bay). As nothing could be frozen, the island’s staple winter diet tended to be fresh sardines and squid; soups of bean and lentil; salted cod stored in large wooden barrels and feta stored in brine. Occasionally a caique from Parga on the mainland would bring fresh fruit and vegetables to be sold on the village waterfronts.

Fruit & Veg Caique

In the 1970’s and 1980’s the ferry boat “Kamelia” started taking passengers, donkeys and cars between Paxos and Corfu. There was also the smaller “Aetos” which was just for passengers and provisions. The two ferries would depart at exactly the same time, despite being only half full, and would race each other to reach their destination. Journey time was around 2.5 hours and their rounded boat bottoms usually meant adding extra time to avoid uncomfortable rolling. The Aetos’ bottom was the roundest and would usually limp in second to the Kamelia.

Kamelia

The Kamelia had room on its deck for 3 small cars, wedged in so that any late arriving passengers would have to climb over the cars. Repainting of the ferry, when there was more rust than metal, was done in spurts so that its appearance took on an oddly camouflaged look. The ship’s bar served thick Greek coffee, ouzo and cognac (recognised medicinal remedies for bad weather – together with pungent cigarettes called Stukas) and Tam-Tam (a sickly Greek version of Coca Cola).  

Greece’s version of Coca Cola

The present day hydrofoils, fast boats and speedboats (and who knows, a possible return of the 10-minute seaplane hop) have introduced speedier communications between Paxos and Corfu. For most visitors however, life on Paxos is still led at a comparatively slow pace and long may that continue. 

IONIAN ESCAPES ON LAND & SEA

The Ionian islands of Greece have some of the most beautiful, natural coastlines and crystal clear waters in southern Europe.

The islands offer a diverse playground for both explorer and cushioned deckchair enthusiast.

Say you are the one responsible for planning the family holiday or for trying to get a party of friends together – say Sally wants to escape city pressures and read a book in the shade of an olive tree; Malcolm only has a week off and wants to experience a different island coastline each day; Isobel just wants everyone else to be happy (especially Malcolm as he just won’t sit still); twins Frank & Fiona can’t do boats as they fear sea sickness; Pops and Granma want to be pampered. The Huddlestones and the Brinkmans don’t yet know if they can join the party.

How do you choose the right compromise for everyone’s holiday enjoyment?

A more conventional decision might be to either book one Greek island villa for all or one crewed yacht for all. But why not mix the two and satisfy everyone?

Fleewinter Yacht Lunous

Ionian Villas offers a wide selection of Ionian island properties for parties of 2 to 20. Fleewinter offer luxury crewed yachts in the Ionian for up to 10 people.

Why not spend a week in a comfy Ionian island villa to keep everyone except Malcolm happy, followed by a week on a Fleewinter yacht exploring the other Ionian islands. If Sally and the twins don’t want to join the yacht party, they can fly back home or extend their villa stay. In any case there’ll be plenty of room on board for the Huddlestones and Brinkmans.

Villa Marina Paxos

Fleewinter’s yachts have from 3 to 5 cabins taking up to 10 and each one has a skipper and private chef.  You can get involved in the sailing or just take it easy and let the crew do the work. Each day you decide with the crew whether to take it easy in a beautiful bay or explore some of the villages and tavernas.

Fleewinter Yacht Lunous

It’s a bit like having a floating luxury villa, and like all great houses each yacht has a garage full of toys:  waterskis, wakeboards, paddleboards, windsurfers and inflatable toys that are towed behind the private speedboat.  All meals are included except dinner where you have the option to dine onboard or head ashore to explore.

If you book a 2019 Fleewinter yacht charter through us before the end of March, a 10% price reduction will apply.

Call us on 01243 820928 to get more information.

© 2018 Ionian Villas Limited

Call us on: +44 (0) 1243 820928    ..or email enquiries@ionian-villas.co.uk

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