Get lost in the cobbled streets of Old Kerkyra
It’s easy to fall in love with Corfu Town (also known as Kerkyra), and yet it’s so often bypassed by travellers heading straight for the island’s coastal resorts. The town’s heritage is complex, with owndership dating back to the Corinthian, Roman and Byzantine empires, and yet there are also influences from the Russian, French, British and Italian occupations. The town’s Venetian days are perhaps most distinctly felt in its architecture, as historic three-storey townhouses create a picturesque skyline, their once bright pastel walls now weathered and aged, their grand balconettes looking out onto the piazzas and narrow, cobbled streets. Today, the town is a melting pot of cultural identities, and a great place to amble freely without plan or agenda; don’t try to navigate your way through the streets, instead, find yourself swept amongst a sea of people. Explore the markets and fruit stalls. Follow the smells of hot baklava and fresh olive bread which fill the air. Let yourself be talked into a free ouzo or two…
Visit the fortresses
Kerkyra’s fortresses are an important part of the town’s history; built upon natural vantage points, the forts were once designed to protect the town’s civillians and keep enemies at bay. Beautiful and imposing, the fortresses have seen their fair share of drama, from battles and sieges to Nazi occupation. Today, both are open to the public, serving as museums, but also providing some of the best panoramic views over both old and new parts of the city.
Watch the planes land over Pontikonisi Island
Pontikonisi is an island just south of Corfu Town. Its name comes from the Greek ‘Pontikos’, which means mouse; presumably, its name was given because of its tiny dimensions, rather than it being prone to rodent infestations! The island is home to an orthodox monastery, and isn’t open to visitors unless they happen to be taking part in a pilgrimage on August 6th, which is the annual celebration of the church and the “Transfiguration of Jesus.” You can, however, view the island from the nearby hilltops of Kanoni, which is an excellent place to check out the views of the surrounding coastline, and to watch as jumbo jets arrive at the nearby airport, whose runway extends out onto a nearby islet!
Wander the gardens at Archilleon
A short but winding drive from Corfu Town, in the sleepy hilltop of village of Gastouri, sits Archilleion, a building so grand and out-of-place it has become a visitor attraction in itself. The palace was built by Elisabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Austria, in 1890. Elisabeth, or Sissi, was a tragic figure, who spent much of her life in isolation after the death of her young son. She was also a woman obsessed with beauty and Greek mythology, and there are numerous impressive paintings and statues dedicated to her fascination with Archilles, hero of the Trojan war. The gardens are particularly impressive, with views out over the Corfiot mountains and Ionian Sea, and it’s easy to see why the empress was so determined to call this place her home.
Swim at Paleokastistra
Lawrence Durrell once described Paleokastistra as a bay lying in a trance, “drugged with its own extraordinary perfection – a conspiracy of light, air, blue sea and cypresses.” There is certainly something bewitching about the area, and though the town itself is becoming increasingly developed, its natural beauty shines through, as secluded beaches sit in the foreground of towering limestone cliffs and wooded headlands, and turquoise waters glisten beneath the afternoon sun. It’s an excellent place to swim and dive, and with mysterious sea caves to explore and beaches accessible only by boat, you’re sure to find somewhere to escape on even the busiest of summer days.
Admire the view from Bella Vista
Literally translated as “The Beautiful View”, this panoramic viewpoint as widely regarded as one of the most beautiful spots in Corfu – or, as the Durrell brothers argued, the entire Mediterranean. It’s a steep climb from the beach at Paleo (about an hour and a half’s walk/20 minutes by car or bus), and you have to pass through some pretty narrow villages to get there, but boy, is it worth the journey!
Take a drive through the northern mountain ranges
Looking for the best views the island has to offer? My advice is simple; hire a car and drive around the mountains! For the best route, start in Kerkyra before driving through the valley to Paleokastistra; here you’ll see rural Corfu at its best, passing through olive groves and unspoiled farmlands. From Paleo, head up the hill to Bella Vista, taking in the spectacular view, before following the hilltop roads to Roda on the island’s northern tip. Then, follow the coast back to the island’s capital, and watch as the sun dips behind mainland Greece and Albania. It’s a long drive, and pretty slow in places, but with views like this, who needs to rush?
Watch the sun set from Kassiopi harbour
Kassiopi is a gorgeous little fishing village on the north east coast of the island. With views out over mainland Greece and Albania, and a host of harbour-side tavernas to choose from, it’s the perfect place to spend an evening watching the sun go down.
Visit the Roman ruins of Albania
At its closest point, Albania is only a couple of nautical miles from Corfu, its mountains providing a stunning backdrop to many of the islands’ northern beaches. There’s a great day trip you can do from Corfu town, which takes you not only to the beautiful portside town of Saranda, but also to UNESCO heritage site, Butrint, where you can explore the ruins of an ancient city, complete with Roman amphitheatre and baths.
Sail around Paxos & Antipaxos
For complete, untouched beauty, jump on a ferry from Corfu harbour and head out to the southern islands of Paxos and Antipaxos. The islands are small but rich in natural beauty, with a dense covering of olive and Cyprus trees, and crystal clear waters surrounding their pebbled shores. Visit the blue caves of Antipaxos, which, according to Greek mythology, is where Poseidon hid Amphitrite while away protecting the Ionian Sea. Swim at the isolated and aptly named Paradise Beach at Voutoumi, before making your way back to the largest town on Paxos, Gaios. Enjoy fresh seafood in the historic town square, explore the local shops and galleries tucked away in the quaint, colourful myriad of closes, and spend time around the marina, watching as luxury yachts come and go. To see more photos from our sailing trip, check out my Photography post here.
Sample the local kumquat liquour
No trip to Corfu would be complete without sampling kumquat. Made from native kumquat oranges, this local tipple can be found throughout the island, and comes in all shapes and sizes, from bottled liquours to candied sweets and marmalades. It’s seriously yummy (think Greek version of limoncello), and well worth indulging in. Fancy learning how it’s made? Head to the Mavormatis Distillery, near Skripero, for demonstrations and samples!