Discover the quieter side of Corfu

HERE'S a joke for you.

A Greek priest and Greek bus driver died on the same day and found themselves knocking on heaven's door together.

St Peter opened the door and said the house was almost full and he had room for only one of them.

He chose the bus driver.

Understandably the priest was affronted.

"Why a bus driver?" he asked, outraged. "I am a priest. I have lived by God's rule. I pray every day."

"I know," St Peter said. "But you are only one man praying. When a Greek bus driver is at the wheel he has 45 others praying behind him."

Our guide told us this joke while 45 of us on the bus prayed and held on to hand rails with white knuckles as our driver inched his giant vehicle around tight bends at terrifying heights. There were no guard rails between us and a messy long-drop death.

We were on a shore excursion to a village on the Greek island of Corfu from the cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam during a 12-night Romantic Mediterranean cruise sailing from Venice to Barcelona with glamorous ports of call in between.

We chose this shore excursion because it was different to a wander around the old town or a visit to the better known village of Paleokastritsa, one of the most beautiful of all Corfu's villages and a renowned Greek beauty spot.

We were driven high up into the mountains on an alarmingly steep and tightly winding route to visit the tiny village of Lakones.

All of us were wobbly with relief to reach the top safely.

Corfu is known as a beach holiday destination rather than for its small mountain villages.

It is home to glamorous resorts, lively clubs and bars, high-end and budget restaurants and tavernas.

But up on the green mountain it was another world, one of serenity and leafy charm, light years away from sand, sea and sunburnt holiday crowds.

"Because of the Greek financial crises many people from Athens have returned to their holidays homes in Corfu to live," our guide told us. "They now live a simple life here in this village, growing vegetables and fruit trees, maybe an olive tree, keeping a couple of chickens, living simply like their forebears."

Looking around the sunny village with its altitude of 182m and breath-sapping views over the mountains to the glittering sea, we appreciated its reputation for having one of the top 10 views in Europe.

An air of well-preserved charm prevailed, a tranquility of yesteryear. Every house and building had stunning mountain and ocean views.

I am sure it made most of us on the bus yearn for an easy life like that of the returning Greeks from Athens.

Living in a small house with the sea sparkling way below, stepping outside to feed chickens, collect eggs, examine tomatoes, inspect basil, dig up a few potatoes for lunch... could it be any more idyllic?

Well, yes... later in the day meeting mates in the taverna for a glass of locally made plonk, looking forward to another day in paradise.

But the other side to Corfu is also appealing: glamorous hotels, sun-soaked beaches, non-stop parties, the old town with its fortress and monuments.

Corfu is appealing on many levels. Just make sure you choose the right bus driver.

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