Corfu lies at the very north of the Ionian Islands in the middle of the Adriatic Sea. This unassuming island is renowned as a luxury travel destination for its beautiful beaches and unique history. Its wind-swept beauty was the inspiration for Prospero’s island in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In the past Corfu has been influenced by the Venetians, the French and the British, to name but a few, giving it a varied and interesting culture. Corfu has been an exotic luxury destination in the public imagination, ever since Edward Lear visited during British rule. In the late 1930s it became even more relevant in worldwide consciousness when Henry Miller stayed here for several sojourns, and wrote about this fascinating island. To this day Corfu continues to draw in the celebrities with Jacob and Nat Rothschild, who famously have a home on the north-eat coast, which has been dubiously dubbed “Kensington on Sea” for its elite community of the well-heeled who own and rent villas there. Beyond the glitz and glam of the coastline is the remote and quiet side of Corfu. In the center of the island lies a verdant green landscape of olive trees and sleepy little villages perched in the hills, where you could also fool yourself into thinking that you have stepped back in time.
The stunning coastline of Corfu.
Corfu has been drawing in the British tourists for over two hundred years. The Duke of Edinburgh was born in Corfu, in Mon Repos, a stunning historical house from 1824. There is much to see and do on this lusciously leafy island, from the sophistication of the north, with its mountainous landscape and pebbly beaches, to the secluded inland and the decadent south, with its golden sand beaches and its ‘off the beaten track’ atmosphere below Messonghi. The locals are very proud of the capital, called Corfu Town or Kerkira, and it is easy to see why. The fascinating architecture in Corfu Town is the legacy of the French, British and Venetians, all oh who occupied Corfu at one time or another. Take a day to wander around the beautiful parks, old fortifications, elegant arcades, splendid monuments, interesting boutiques and quaint sidewalk cafes. Some of the building might need a little T.L.C, like the Venetian mansions on the shorefront in the Old Harbour, but their slight shabbiness only adds to the charm of the city. Make sure that you don’t miss the spectacular Achillion Palace, which overlooks the sea.
The Old Town in Corfu Town's intriguing historic streets.
The Old Town is so stunning that it was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 2007. Get happily lost while exploring the labyrinth of winding cobblestone streets, and walking past tourist shops selling everything from olive-wood carvings to homemade soap and richly embroidered fabrics. Make sure that you sample the specialty kumquat liquor that the island has been growing since the introduction of Kumquats from Asia in the 1860s. Then discover the beautiful promenade that runs the length of the seashore towards Garitsa Bay. Then between the town and the Venetian citadel is the esplanade known as the Spianadha. To the west of the Spianadha is Liston, a beautiful French-inspired arcade of shops and cafes. There is also the former cricket field that the British built to have a cricket match between the Royal Navy and the British Garrison.
The colorful old buildings of historic Corfu Town.
Inland you will find a whole new side to Corfu. Development has been restricted to the coastal areas, and the little roads inland are a challenge to drive, but rent a luxury vehicle and make the effort to discover the remoteness of this area. You will drive past villages like Corfiot, where the villagers still celebrate panigyria, huge festive events with live music. Keep an eye out for posters advertising the event in Greek, they usually appear nailed to an olive tree in the village. These festivities kick off after 8pm and go on late into the warm Mediterranean night. Corfiot is also home to some interesting olive harvesting laws made by the local patron saint Spyridon, who forbade the practice of pruning after having a religious vision. Now this village is overflowing with hundreds, if not thousands, of unkempt trees, giving the area a wild and mysterious look. Another village worth a visit is Benitses, an ancient town at the mouth of the Emerald Valley, just south of Corfu Town. This unique fishing village has attracted tourists for decades, with its temperate climate and incredible beauty. Perithia is an intriguing deserted village. Located between Kassiopi and Acharavi, it is well worth the hair-raising drive to see. For breath-taking natural beauty, drive to Paleokastritsa, one of the island’s greatest natural treasures, or better yet charter a yacht to take you there for unparalleled views.
Some of the Ancient ruins that are dotted along Corfu's coastline.
For food, find yourself in the fashionable little town of Agni, which can only be reached by braving the narrow road north of Nissaki. This tiny town is home to three incredible restaurants that have put it on the map as a “foodie’s paradise”. The restaurant named after the town Agni, is the best. It was the locale of the famous meeting between George Osborne and Peter Mandelson and serves up sophisticated local cuisine. The other restaurants are both fantastic. Toula’s serves up refined food to the British Sloane crowd and other foreign tourists in an elegant atmosphere. And Nikolas is the final restaurant that serves excellent food.
For contrast you could also head south to Kavos, where Europeans go to get plastered and party. As sophisticated as the north of the island is, with its reputation for attracting the super-rich and famous, it pales in comparison to the lively spirit of Kavos, where dignity goes out the window. There are many different sides to Corfu from which you can pick and choose your favourite vacation.
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