Live like a Durrell: The White House Experience
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Built on the verdant Gulf of Kalami, just a few steps from the beach, the former residence of the Durrells family combines the tranquility of nature with the leisure of a modern resort. The trips with the skipper boat to the coasts of the island and Paxi-Antipaxi complete the summery scenery.
The life of the Durrells in Corfu was not only an inspiration for Lawrence and Gerald, who depicted their experience in many of their books. Today, the famous White House, the only one of the three buildings that housed the British family during its 4-year stay in the island which is open to the public, offers a unique experience of escape in the same paradise scenery that enchanted the Durrells 80 years ago. In 1980 it opened its doors as a hotel, and the same time the restaurant opened in the ground floor. But its history starts in 1900, when it was built. It was the only house in the area made exclusively from stone. Before it started operating as a hotel it was a coffee shop, the first in all the surrounding area. The Athinaios family, the owners of the house from the beginning, tried during the renovations to maintain the same layout, without changing the space at all. Damaged places were replaced and modern devices are installed to make easier the contemporary way of life, but the house has not lost any of its finesse, evident through many personal objects of the Durrells, such as the typewriter, the rock chair and the paintings.
THE WHITE HOUSE'S SOUL
What is the feeling of living to the beloved house of the Durrells? / It is very beautiful. I was enchanted from the moment I saw the house. Lawrence Durrell does it justice in his novels. Living here I had the chance to meet remarkable people related to the Durrells, such as Richard Pine and the contributors of the ITV series. I had the honour to meet Gerald’s wife, Lee Durrell, and many good writers who were inspired by the White House, like Deborah Lawrenson.
For how many years now the White House operates as a hotel? / In 1980 it opened its doors as a hotel, and the same time the restaurant opened in the ground floor. But its history starts in 1900, when it was built. It was the only house in the area made exclusively from stone. The owners have not changed all the years of its existence. Before it started operating as a hotel it was a coffee shop, the first in all the surrounding area.
What were the requirements to keep the place in the same state as when the British family was leaving in? / We tried to change nothing in the space and the layout of the building remains the same. Damaged places were replaced and modern devices are installed to make easier the contemporary way of life, but the house has not lost any of its finesse, evident through many personal objects of the Durrells, such as the typewriter, the rock chair and the paintings.
Which is your favourite corner in the house and why? / Unarguably the armchair of Lawrence Durrell. When you sit on it looking outside the blue of the sea, it is enough to give you the tranquility and the relaxation you seek!
What have you heard from clients who see the house and have read about it in Lawrence’s books? / The clients are reading about the house in the books, but only when they come to visit they get a complete idea about the place that inspired Lawrence Durrell to stay with his wife and the insights he took from the surroundings, the people, the tranquility and the relaxed nature of Kalami in order to form his character as a writer.
In your opinion, what is it that still holds alive the aura of the Durrells not only in the White House, but in the whole island of Corfu? / Certainly, the 2005 BBC series My family and other animals, and now the ITV series The Durrells has played major role in recognizing the island of Corfu. Nevertheless, it is not the only thing that keeps the Durrells’ aura alive. Many events are often hold by many institutions of the island, in which one can see and study the life of that British family. We in the White House are trying to give the visitor the opportunity to live, even for a few days, the majestic times the Durrells experienced here, but also to feel the freedom they felt.
Beside accommodation in this famous house, what else is included in the experience of The White House? / The visitor has the ability to rent a boat for a tour in the small caves and the wonderful coasts of the area, which are not accessible by any other way. Besides, this was one of the beloved habits of the family. There is also a beautiful walking tour with a guide, called The Durrell’s Trail, addressed to all ages. It is a mapped track Gerald Durrell followed when he was discovering the flora and the fauna of the area. With often stops the visitor can enjoy the nature in all of its splendor. But even if someone does not stay here, there are certain dates when the house is open to the public, so everyone can get an idea of how Lawrence Durrell lived.
Do you think the house can take the inner writer out of you? / I think that not only the White House but also the landscape, the rocks, the simplicity and the majesty of nature, which has played significant role in the location of the house, are enough to give every visitor a stimulus to discover his writing talent.
Which do you consider the best period to enjoy the greatness of the Corfian land? / In May and September. They are the best months, in my opinion, because there is not so much heat, and the visitor can easily enjoy walks, do activities and marvel the nature with its beautiful colours.
What do you love in the island? / There are many things to love in Corfu. It is the island of history and music. It has the sun, it combines mountain and sea, and its architecture is magnificent. So many architectural styles in such a tiny island.