In 2006 Mark & Saskia were staying in an apartment in Agios Stephanos in the north east corner of the island. They had heard and were curious about Old Perithia, the so-called 'abandoned village' a short drive away in the nearby mountains, and quickly found themselves winding their way through beautiful countryside to what turned out to be the oldest permanently inhabited village on Corfu.
When they arrived, their first impression was that they had 'stepped back in time.' They soon discovered that there were four traditional Greek tavernas and a small village community. The locals informed us that just over 35 years earlier the village was alive, and there had been 130 houses surrounded by eight churches. It became clear that this village had a great deal of history and the word 'abandoned' was far from Mark & Saskia's thoughts as they began to walk around and were drawn by the spirit of the place.
It was peaceful, de-stressing, and seemed a unique and extraordinary location in which to stay. Near the sea, but away from the crowds with the village all to yourself at night. Had it been possible, Mark & Saskia wished they could have lingered for a few nights, but there was no hotel nor b&b.
What also struck them, was that we were standing in Corfu’s oldest and last remaining heritage protected village but, there was something that didn't quite fit with our surroundings. The village, so popular with locals and visitors alike needed a great deal of care and attention to stop it falling into ruins, or it would soon reach a point of no return.
On their third visit in 2009, it was clear that their affection for the village was no passing whim and so began the plan for a few restorations, in the hope of gently bringing it all back to life. Their idea was to restore three tumbled down houses as a small bed & breakfast to act as a catalyst for the future restoration of this historic village, in the hope that it would encourage locals, and visitors alike to restore the old houses. They worked closely with the archaeological department to reconstruct their three houses exactly as they were circa. 1650.
Using original building methods and skilled craftsmen the properties were restored entirely by hand with local stone and materials, using the same methods as they had all those years ago.
They took care to maintain the original features; a traditional exterior, handmade furniture, fixtures and fittings that reflect a strong Venetian influence, but added a contemporary twist to the interiors for our 21st century guests.
Two years after dreaming up their plans, with the help of our architect, engineers, accountant, father and daughter legal team, and the interest and curiosity of the locals, Mark & Saskia opened The Merchant’s House Boutique Bed & Breakfast for our first season in May 2012 and have since continued to received top reviews from guests, and the travel press like, year after year.
Today, the gradual restoration of the village continues. Churches have being renovated, a number of the old houses have been bought, by locals and visitors alike, and the village is thriving once again. Mark & Saskia have project managed key restorations and improvements to the village, and are also working on a piece of land by the iconic Skordilis arch and noble house, with traditional dry stone walls and an historic 'pirate look out tower' which they hope to restore between 2017 & 2018. Additionally, they recently restored a villa (originally purchased, but then soon deserted by its current owners around 15 years ago) and, after persuading them just ahead of its dereliction, managed to painstakingly bring it back to its former glory. The village continues its revival with each passing year.
About us: Mark & Saskia also have a home in London. Saskia is a Dutch voice-over working both independently and for the BBC & History Channel. She speaks five languages including Greek. Mark published The Official Souvenir Guide to Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum & Grounds, and also wrote the Official Guide to the Village of Old Perithia incl. its history and a walking a tour. He is currently working on the ABC of Opera with Mark Llewelyn Evans & i-Shakespeare with Adam Smethurst. They have two children, Christiaan is working at Permutive & Gemma at Momentum, both based in London.