“ Address: Pelekas 49100 / Corfu / Greece. „
You can see the Levant Hotel from a long way off, if you know where to look for it. My wife and I knew from our Inntravel walking notes: 'ahead along the coast watch out for a village clustering just below the summit of a conical hill. Right at the very top is a small white dot. The village is Pelekas; the dot is the Levant Hotel.' Our first sighting was from about fifteen kilometres to the south, but I dare say it can be similarly sighted from the east or north, or from out to sea in the west for that matter, since the hilltop on which it is perched is the highest in the vicinity. The only puzzling aspect is that, whilst it appears white or grey from a distance, closer inspection reveals it to be painted deep mustard yellow.
We discovered this when we finally trudged up the final hairpin bends to the entrance, at the same time discovering the beneficial corollary of being so visible: that there are great views in all directions from the Levant. Admittedly, for the full panorama including the north-east one has to walk a few extra yards beyond a clump of trees to a viewing platform known as 'the Kaiser's throne', but the eye has plenty to feast on whether from the hotel's south-east frontage or from the mostly westward-facing bar, restaurant and terraces. Perhaps the landscape-dominating location, together what we had read about the hotel in the Inntravel notes, plus the association with Kaiser Wilhelm II and other royalty who apparently enjoyed holidays here a century or so ago, raised our expectations as high as the hill-top, unrealistically high, and some degree of disappointment was bound to ensue.
* First impressions...*
...were, it has to be said, mixed. We liked the appearance of its two-storey neo-classical exterior, its location, and the ambience of the reception area, uncluttered but tastefully traditional in its décor and furnishings. However, there was no one at the desk or responding to the bell there, so eventually I had to track down the barman - apparently the only member of staff on duty - and persuade him to attend to us, which he consented to do with something less than a good grace. On other occasions, we later found, he proved to be helpful and friendly, as were the other staff, so perhaps our arrival just caught him at a bad moment. One positive sign was that our luggage had already been taken to our room. Readers of my review of Corfu's West Coast* will know that we were on a walking holiday, the organisers of which (Inntravel) arrange for luggage to be transported between stopping points so the walkers are not encumbered. Where the luggage is found on arrival always reveals something about a hotel: in a heap by the front door - bad; neatly stored behind reception - okay; in the bedroom - good. So the Levant earned points for that.
* Our bedroom...*
...proved to be well-furnished enough, though hardly luxurious. Pale blue emulsion walls, white paintwork, chintzy curtains, their pattern matched on the headboards of the bed, a double bed of the kind that reverts to twin beds at the adjustment of a bolt or two, made up with sheets and blankets under a coverlet. Just one pillow per side, but after harassing Reception a few times my wife eventually drummed up two more. A pair of curtains of fine mesh formed a kind of canopy over the bedhead and tucked behind the wall-mounted reading lights to either side; decorative but impractical, being not voluminous enough for use as mosquito nets, but looking alarmingly like a fire hazard where they touched the lights. A wooden floor, not quite even-patterned or highly-polished enough to be properly called parquet, and scratched where the not-quite fitting French windows opened inwards for access to a tiny balcony, its elegant marble-paved base and wrought-iron railings an incongruous contrast with its wobbly folding table and pressed plastic chairs. Still the view, straight out to sea and up the coast, was sensational.
The room also offered a built-in wardrobe, a rather uncomfortable armchair and even less comfortable upright chair clad in a white dust-cover, bedside tables, and a mini-bar empty except for a couple of bottles of water, which suited us very well since we only ever use hotel mini-bars for keeping our own shop-bought booze chilled. High in one corner was mounted a TV showing a range of channels, but on a small screen and slightly dodgy reception; if we'd really wanted to watch Greek television we would have been better off going down to the lounge which has a big modern flat-screen set. Similarly wall-mounted was one of those retro-fitted air conditioning units that I can never persuade to work properly, my fault probably, but in any case my wife finds them too noisy and prefers to leave the window open, the drawback of her policy being that it lets insects in. So it was slightly irritating to find that, although one of those plug-in mosquito-repellent devices was provided, there were no pellets to fuel it.
* The en suite bathroom...*
...was clean and well-equipped, with everything working: bath with in-built shower, loo, wash-basin set into a broad marble-topped surface, with plenty of room for sponge-bags, tooth-mugs and so forth, and for our travelling-kettle tea-point. A basket of complementary shampoos and bath-gels was provided. The towels provided were adequate, though we had a bit of trouble obtaining extra towels for use at...
*...the swimming-pool (and outdoor facilities) *
The pool is set into the hill-side just below the hotel, surrounded by a rough-mown lawn and shrubbery. The shrubbery provides not just seclusion but plenty of shade under with to lounge on the loungers provided, though for most of the day you could find sunny spots if you were hell-bent on sun-bathing. The pool is about 20 metres long, and thus suitable for serious swimming as practised by my wife, though a little narrow; if the hotel were full it might become too crowded with less serious bathers such as me who are content to splash around a bit and get in the way of those counting out their lengths. The water appeared at first sight clean enough, but there were some stains on the bottom that proved to rub off on the feet, from which they could be cleaned off easily in turn, but this aspect of the experience was a touch unsettling. Also in the pool area were a jacuzzi and a treadmill exercise machine, neither of which appeared to be working - not that I tried very hard to persuade them to do so.
Mostly, for me, the pool area was a pleasant place to loiter on a lounger, relaxing, reading and watching the swallows diving down to skim the surface of the water. One of the hotel cats - of which there are four or five - would come down too, to take a drink from the pool and keep us company.
* Bar, lounge and restaurant...*
...are all comfortably furnished and more than adequate for their purposes. Possibly, in adverse weather, one might want to make use of them, but unless it's freezing or pouring with rain the whole idea is to be outside enjoying the views from the terraces. Dinner in particular should be eaten al fresco to derive full benefit from the sunset which, when we were there in May, descended behind the hills to the north-west rather than directly out to sea, but was possibly all the more interesting for it. We would occupy a ringside seat throughout the evening, enjoying first a leisurely game of cards and pre-dinner drink. A full-flavoured lager called Kaiser - clearly chosen to be in keeping with the branding of the hotel - is served here, which I saw nowhere else on Corfu. On the first evening my wife asked if fizzy wine was available by the glass and was told they had run out, something about which we were slightly sceptical, since we know bars don't like to offer it by the glass in case the remainder goes flat before it is can be used. But on the second night they assured her that a fresh supply had come in, and showed no hesitation in opening a bottle to pour a glass for her. Nor was it expensively priced. To accompany the meals we drank the hotel's own home-grown house white, which was very palatable and inexpensive at 7Euro the half-litre carafe.
The menu was á la carte and included a good range of mainly Greek dishes. Portions were very plentiful and on neither night did we need more than two courses, especially as the meal proved to be preceded by a buckshee amuse-bouche in the form of bruschetta (or the Greek equivalent). Starters and puds alike were priced in single figures of euros, main courses in the teens; you could thus order a filling meal for about 20Euro a head. On the first night we started with salads and went on to souvlaki (pork kebabs), which were delicious, enormous and amply accompanied with well-cooked vegetables. On the second we were quite satisfied with large meze starters, from which we went straight on to baklava for pudding - very good baklava they were too, nutty and dripping with honey.
* The buffet breakfast...*
...looked a magnificent spread when we first entered the breakfast room, but didn't quite stand up to closer scrutiny. For a continental style breakfast there were any number of breads, rolls, croissants and cakes - most of which were fresh, tasty and went well with the honey and home-made jam on offer. There was also yoghurt, cereal, cheese and ham. But fruit and fruit juice were in short supply. So were cooked options. Possibly we could have tracked down a member of staff to ask for something cooked, but we don't generally like a cooked breakfast, so we never found out whether those who do would be disappointed. Coffee from a heated urn was rather on the thin side for those like me who need a serious dose of caffeine to kick-start their morning.
Seating in the breakfast room also looked a little cramped, though needless to say we took ours out on the adjacent terrace, where were kept company by two of the hotel cats, the placid black female that we had met at the swimming-pool and a roguish young white-and-tabby tom both of whom in their different ways charmed my wife into feeding them scraps.
* The village and environs *
If you didn't want to eat in the hotel, the village of Pelekas that clings to the hillside below offers several other options. We walked down to inspect them during the day we were there, but decided that none was likely to improve on what was available at the Levant. It's a characteristically Corfiot village, with some quaint and charming narrow alleys, two Orthodox churches, and some neglected, garish and half-finished buildings. One or two of these have obviously been intended for tourist accommodation or entertainment, and not quite made the grade. The Levant seems all the more attractive and luxurious by contrast.
As the crow flies, the sea is only a kilometre or so away, but it's an exceedingly steep kilometre, with over 350 metres of arduous ascent to find your way back up again. Easy by car, of course, though I don't know what the parking at the beach is like. In the high season, I understand, there's a shuttle service to take guests down and bring them up again, but we saw no sign of that during our Spring visit.
* Rating and value *
Officially, the Levant seems to be rated 4-star (out of 5 possible), but I'm never very sure how much such star ratings mean, since the associated standards can vary widely in different places. In one of the reception rooms at the Levant we found a French travel guidebook to Corfu; listed in it were local hotels, classified into the inimitably French categories of: 'Prix Moyens' (average prices); 'Chic' (stylish); 'Plus Chic' (more stylish); and 'Encore Plus Chic' (even more stylish still). Presumably hotels of below 'Prix Moyens' standard were considered unworthy of inclusion. The Levant itself was rated as 'Plus Chic', so pretty highly, a rating that it lived up to in many ways but for which it still might be considered just a touch shabby around the edges. Its mistake, perhaps, is to present itself as 'Encore Plus Chic' without living up to the expectations that arouses.
On the other hand, for a hotel of its class it's very good value. We were there on an inclusive package so I don't know exactly what we paid, but a quick look on the internet hotel booking sites suggests a nightly rate for a double room of £45-70, depending on season. You could easily pay much more than that for a less interesting and pleasant stay in many places I could mention. The restaurant is also very good value, considering the quality of the food and the splendid location. Finally, the hotel is independently owned and reassuringly small - just 25 rooms - which always helps a place to retain an individual touch and is much to be preferred to being processed through some outsize identikit chain monolith.
* Overall assessment *
In many ways we really liked the Levant Hotel. Let me count the ways: location, style, cuisine, charm, resident cats. For the most part, we liked the facilities and the service too, though in both cases the hotel let itself down on trivial, unnecessary details. Perhaps in this respect it is simply typically Greek; I do not have enough experience of Greece to say this for certain, though the suspicion did grow on me during the course of our holiday. If one wanted to nit-pick - as I may well have done in this review - it's easy to find nits to pick, but the overall experience is enjoyable enough to make it equally easy, and much more congenial, to overlook them. That, and the excellent value for money, makes me give the Levant the benefit of the doubt. And the views really are wonderful
© Also published with photographs under the name torr on Ciao UK, 2012
* For a review of Corfu's west coast generally, see: