Achilleion Estate

Achilleion Estate

Published on 04/03/2013

Zip / City:
49100 CORFU
Ionian Islands
Square Meters:
720 sqm




This wine-producing estate originally belonged to the noble Mantzaros family, whose most famous member, Nikolaos (1795-1872), composed the music of the Greek national anthem. Following a family bankruptcy, the estate was placed on the market and acquired by Ioannis Dousmanis in 1873. At the time, in addition to the vineyards it included an orchard of 600 olive trees. The Dousmanis brothers, one a general and one an admiral, sons of the original buyer, played an active part in the historical events of the late 19th and early 20th century assuming important posts in the Royalist camp. Sophie Atkinson, one of their English house guests at the turn of the century published a book called An Artist in Corfu, with accounts of her stay in the house and watercolours of the landscape. The brothers were childless, and in the mid 20th century, the estate, diminished in size and run-down after many years of abandonment and some misuse by the Italian occupiers during WW II, was inherited by the grandson of the Dousmanis’ only sister. It was he who in the late 1960s first rented, then sold the property to an English couple Michael and Mirabel Osler who lived there with their two daughters for 9 years till their return to England in 1976.  Mirabel, who subsequently became a well known garden writer, recently published a memoir called The Rain Tree, in which a chapter is devoted to the family’s life in Gastouri. The present owner bought it from the Oslers in 1976.

The Land

The estate covers 52 stremmas and extends (roughly North to South) along a hilltop facing the sea and the Greek mainland to the East and the inland rolling hills of the island to the West. It consists of the main manor house, a restored former olive press, several ruined secondary buildings, an olive orchard, a vineyard, a citrus grove and a mixed fruit orchard, a large vegetable garden and several ornamental gardens surrounding the two main buildings. There are also wild wooded areas of cypress and oak as well as uncleared maquis.

The Main House

The house is a typical Corfiot country manor of the kind usually identified with the Italian countryside.  The first floor, entered from an exterior staircase, provided living quarters for the absentee landlords’ summer holidays, and the ground floor served as stable, wine-press and storage barn. The original house had four rooms on the residential floor and was probably built in the early 18th century. In 1780, an extension was added with two large extra rooms on the residential floor and a stable on the ground floor. A more stately double stone entry staircase was built at that time. Undated secondary buildings—kitchen, laundry, keeper’s cottage and the ruins of what had probably been an earlier main house, were on the North side.

By the time the Oslers arrived most of these side-buildings were in ruined condition, except for a lean-to kitchen against the N side.   Once they had bought the house they installed electricity and running water, converted one of the upstairs rooms into a bathroom and made some necessary repairs.

The present owner bought it in 1976 and by 1979 the restoration was complete, with no exterior alterations to the old building, but complete modernization of the interior with new electrical and plumbing systems, three new bathrooms, new floors with added insulation and an interior staircase. A central heating system that uses inexpensive industrial electrical current was installed.

The upper floor was divided to form four bedrooms and a sitting-room library with a small fireplace. The ground floor of the main building was paved with local stone from Sinies and turned into a large summer family-room opening onto a walled entry-garden (W) and to the large veranda with built-in benches (E). The former stable became a winter living/dining room with a large stone fireplace and a picture- window with a view of the walled garden.

A whole new wing was built, designed in the traditional style by Athenian architect Panaghis Psomopoulos. This connected the main house with the smaller ruins which were rebuilt to house a laundry, a storeroom and a small flat for staff. The main space is a large open-plan kitchen/winter family-room with a large fireplace and many mullioned windows facing W and E. A loft area lined with book-cases leads off the main staircase.

In 2005 two new guestrooms and a bathroom were constructed over the laundry/storage room/staff flat. They are large and airy with beautiful views and accessible from the main staircase and the loft.

The Olive Press

The old press with the land it stands on was acquired in 1979. The building predates the main house by at least a century. It had been used continuously to produce the oil of the estate until the 1940s. Except for a few years as a rental it remained uninhabited until the mid 1990s when it was restored. The exterior shape of the building was retained except for glassed-in alcoves, one at each end, to let in light. The handsome stone arches of the interior were uncovered and many of the stones of the old press were used to form a fireplace, a kitchen counter and a seating area. The main space was remodeled as an open plan living/dining/kitchen area. There are also two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a laundry/pantry. A central heating system (oil) was installed. A small pergola forms a secluded outdoor dining area to the W, and a long roof supported by traditional brick columns added to the E façade provides a sheltered outdoor living space. The building is surrounded by a landscaped area of traditional cobble-paving and mediterrananean shrubs.

Additional Buildings

In the first decade of 2000 two additional pieces of land were bought, extending the estate towards the South and containing two separate adjoining village-style houses in ruined condition.

Recreational Facilities

In the 1980s a large (15X8m) swimming pool was added on the S side of the house and a hard-top tennis court was built to the W near the entrance of the estate.

Vineyard, Olive Orchard and Vegetable Garden

The vines of the small vineyard, on the E side of the house are of the local variety Kakotrygi, and produce  a demi-sec amber wine.  Most of the ancient olive trees have never been farmed intensively because they are valued for their appearance, but they still produce enough decent quality oil as well as table olives. The vegetable garden is productive all year round, and the citrus orchard produces large quantities of oranges and lemons.  The wine, oil and produce are enough for the needs of family, employees and friends.

Ornamental Gardens

The gardens surrounding the house were developed gradually over the years. Gardening is a particular interest of the present owner, who is a past president of the Mediterranean Garden Society, and she has concentrated on applying the principles of water conservation and using plants (mostly shrubs and bulbs) appropriate to the local climate and the aesthetics of the landscape, always careful to merge the cultivated with the wild. For the hardscape she’s used local stones, as well as architectural remnants from the wine-press, the olive press and the house restoration. Several articles about the garden have been published in important English language magazines.

Property Location




%d bloggers like this: