Legend has it that it was on the coast of Corfu that Odysseus, Homer’s cunning hero, shipwrecked right before he finally reached Ithaca. Sailing on nothing but a mere makeshift raft trying to make his way home, his journey was abruptly interrupted when Poseidon, God of the sea and other waters, brought a terrible storm upon him. Washed ashore by the sea, allegedly in the bay of Paleokastritsa, Odysseus meets princess Nausicaa, whose help is what finally gets him home.
Summers in Corfu are brimming with festivals and time-honored traditional celebrations. But Varkarola in Paleokastritsa is one of the most enchanting festival experiences you will get to have on the island, during which this very legend comes alive right before your eyes.
Varkarola, in general, is not a strictly Corfiot tradition, nor does it take place only in Paleokastritsa. A varkarola is any festival held within a bay involving boats. It is celebrated in various places across Corfu, but also other Ionian islands, on different occasions, usually during the first week of August. Some of these celebrations may be themed, such as the one in Paleokastritsa, the most popular of its kind, which reenacts Odysseus’s arrival in Corfu, while others commemorate a local anniversary, celebrate a religious event or just summer’s last full moon. But each and every one tells its own story.
On this day, within Paleokastritsa’s splendid natural setting, against a backdrop of sheer cliffs dotted with pines and olive trees, locals and visitors gather up by the sea as the sun sets. Soon after, the bay bursts with colors and light, reflecting the fire that brightens up the night sky. After admiring the show and boat parade, those attending the festival, dancers, musicians and actors together have fun with traditional music, under the firework-lit sky.
This year’s Varkarola in Paleokastritsa will take place on August 4th. This is not just another must-do for tourists. It is a truly unforgettable experience, filled with colors and music, a long-lasting tradition that continues to make the bay of Paleokastritsa light up year after year.
Photo by: Nils Steen