Travel-weary but effortlessly chic, Mrs Durrell strides purposefully through customs in Corfu, dragging two large suitcases behind her. A taxi driver awaits her and her children holding up a sign that reads: “The Durrell Family.” “Mrs Durrell. Welcome home,” shouts someone from the huddle waiting in the arrivals area. “Why, thank you,” she replies with a smile and a gracious bow, before she sashays out into the balmy evening air. It could be a scene from the sleepy port of the 1930s, when the literary English family lived on the Greek island for four years before the outbreak of war, an adventure later immortalised in a 1956 book by Louisa Durrell’s youngest son, Gerald: My Family and Other Animals . But this is late summer 2018 – and the modern-day Mrs Durrell is 42-year-old actress Keeley Hawes, who has brought the family back to life for a new generation of followers in hit television series The Durrells . Rather than by boat, Hawes has arrived in Corfu on a flight with budget carrier easyJet from London’s Gatwick airport to spend a fortnight basking in the Ionian sunshine with her real family before she starts filming the fourth and final series of the gentle drama. Gerald Durrell’s bestselling book was blamed for transforming Corfu from an idyllic backwater into the first mass-tourism destination for British package-holidaymakers from the 1960s, a phenomenon the writer – who died in 1995 – never quite forgave himself for. Corfu became a byword for the worst excesses of the English abroad, with resorts such as Benitses, Kassiopi and Ipsos witnessing more than their fair share of boorish behaviour, bared bottoms and boozed-up Brits*. Sleepy seaside villages morphed into garish resorts with thudding discos, high streets were converted into strips of bars interspersed with medical centres, and tavernas ditched their traditional menus to serve up reheated moussaka and chips, and all-day full English breakfasts. Today, however, Corfu is in the throes of a gradual makeover. Marauding youths have been confined to the rowdy resort town of Kavos, at the isolated southern tip of the island, and the former party towns have gone upmarket. The north-east of the island, where the Durrell family lived, is now frequented by British politicians and nobility and Russian oligarchs, and is dotted with expensive villas and trendy restaurants. By reviving its picturesque past and filming its gorgeous coastline without a karaoke bar or a gyros stall in sight, The Durrells has been gleefully co-opted into the Corfu makeover, presenting a rose-tinted Sunday night spectacle of rustic life in the southern Mediterranean to a TV audience of millions. As much as Hawes and her eclectic rabble of on-screen offspring are the stars of the show, so, too, are Corfu’s architecture and scenery. Corfu Town is a showcase of Italian neoclassical architecture – the island having been a Venetian protectorate for nearly 400 years – and a Unesco World Heritage site. Uniquely for Greece, its main square is home to a cricket ground, created during its 40 years as a British protectorate, in the 19th century. Local teams still use it. The town and the island’s hamlets have been used for scenes, but a far greater number are filmed in Danilia Village – a full-scale reproduction of Corfu Town as it was in the 1930s, built by a wealthy Greek businessman in the 1970s as a tribute to the island’s architectural heritage. The quirky theme park never took off and the businessman went bankrupt, leaving Danilia Village deserted and in decay before it was bought by the Grecotel hotel group, owners of the Corfu Imperial Hotel, at the turn of the century and used for weddings and banquets. The success of The Durrells has now made it one of the island’s must-see destinations. “It all started two years ago, with one guest asking for a tour,” says Maria Theodoraki, who shows visitors around the replica village. “Now I take up to 80 guests at a time. Most of them are from the UK but we have Russian guests asking to visit, too. Russian people like English literature and most of them know about Lawrence and Gerald Durrell.” The Durrells has not yet been shown on Greek TV. “Most of the locals don’t know anything about the series,” says Theodoraki. “They just know about the filming and they don’t like it when the streets are closed and it’s difficult for them to find parking spaces.” So Hawes – one of Britain’s most recognisable stars – passes unnoticed on the island while the same cannot be said for Alexis Georgoulis, who plays family friend Spiros. “Everyone knows Alexis because he’s so famous and when he was younger all the ladies were in love with him,” says Theodoraki. “He had to put on a lot of weight for The Durrells so he could look like the original Spiros.” The island’s reinvention as a destination more akin to that enjoyed by the wide-eyed young naturist would surely be of some consolation to Gerald Durrell, who wrote: “My childhood in Corfu shaped my life. If I had the craft of Merlin, I would give every child the gift of my childhood.” In search of The Durrells: literary locations in Corfu Imagine a middle-class British family coming to Hong Kong, living in the city for just four years, and then leaving a legacy that would define the territory to the world for generations through the prism of their expatriate existence. That’s pretty much what the Durrell family did to Corfu with their 1935-1939 stay, and if it seems terribly colonial and condescending, that’s because that is exactly what it was. Do the Corfiots mind? Most of them are blissfully unaware of Gerald’s My Family and Other Animals and old brother’s Lawrence’s Prospero’s Cell (1945), except for those working in Corfu Town bookshops selling a steady stream of paperback copies. For those not shy of cultural appropriation, here are the key remaining Durrell landmarks on the island: The Strawberry Pink Villa One of three homes the real Durrells lived in during their time in Corfu, this three-bedroom Venetian-style villa in Pérama, south of Corfu Town, is being advertised on Airbnb by its Greek owner (who confusingly misspells the family name as Durrel) for HK$3,100 a night, with a minimum five-night stay. Their other two houses – the Snow White Villa, in the nearby village of Cressida, and the Daffodil-Yellow Villa, north of Corfu Town – are private homes. The White House, Kalami Bay This is the best known and most visited Durrell location but, in fact, it was home only to Lawrence Durrell and his wife, Nancy, who scandalised locals with their naked sunbathing, hedonistic lifestyles and colourful friends (visitors included the American writer Henry Miller, who described his visit in his 1941 book The Colossus of Maroussi ). The rest of the family were placed in the same house as Lawrence in both Gerald’s book and the TV series for dramatic effect. Today the White House is a popular restaurant and guest house with a Durrells museum. Its website boasts that the cast of The Durrells have had “countless dinners” here and makes the somewhat unsettling claim: “Here you can some days still hear the laughter of Nancy and Lawrence Durrell enjoying their morning bath in the deep blue sea.” It’s fortunate you can only hear them and not see them. The Liston, Corfu Town With its Venetian architecture and fort, Corfu Town is arguably the most impressive of the Greek island capitals. The Liston, the main promenade, features often in the show, as has, to a lesser extend, the town’s quirkiest feature, the cricket pitch. Lawrence Durrell described cricket in Corfu as “a mysterious and satisfying ritual the islanders have refused to relinquish”. Danilia Village Near Gouviá, in central Corfu, the replica village also made an appearance in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981). Tours cost € 15 (HK$135) a head and can be booked at the Corfu Imperial Hotel, where the cast stay during filming. The hotel also offers a three-hour Durrells Tour for € 30 a head, with a boat ride to the White House, in Kalami, and spots along the northeast coast where the TV series is filmed, including the privately owned Venetian-era house overlooking the sea just north of Corfu that features as the family home in the TV show. The countryside is the real star of The Durrells, though, and was the Corfu that shaped young Gerald’s life. Away from the coast, the land is not too different from the halcyon days of his childhood: lush hillsides, quiet villages, sleepy tavernas, millions of chattering insects, braying donkeys, bent widows dressed in black and spectacular views across the Ionian Sea to mainland Greece and Albania. Come out of season, in May or October, when the flowers are in bloom, and you’ll be mesmerised. So much so you may even decide to stay four years or so … * Simon Parry has owned a summer home in Corfu with his family since 2004 and may have been occasionally complicit in some of the boorish drunken behaviour by holidaying Brits referred to in this article. The fourth and final series of The Durrells should be available in Hong Kong on BBC First sometime this spring.