Sparkling seas, sugar-cube villages, cliff-hanging hamlets, ancient temples, delicious Mediterranean food and mesmerising sunsets – the Greek Islands offer so much. Just ask Shirley Valentine.
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Destination guide for Corfu
Corfu, Greek Islands, Greece
The British have developed a deep connection to this fertile and fragrant island, whose dramatic landscape of sandy coastlines and turquoise waters sandwiched between wooded canyons feels like Britain in the Med: it’s greener than Kent, and even clocks the greatest rainfall in Greece.
Corfu and the Ionians feel Italian – more Bari than Paros – because they never experienced Ottoman occupation, moving from Byzantine control to rule from Venice. After a short French occupation, they passed to Great Britain and were gifted to Greece in 1864 upon the ascension to the throne of King George I.
Thus, along with the island’s Greek and Venetian aspect, it’s the vestiges of British culture (marching bands, cricket, ginger beer) that stand out.
Corfu is the westernmost point in Greece at the junction of the Adriatic and Ionian seas, only 35km from Albania, at its closest point.
Corfu Town lies on the east of the island and its Historic Centre, a UNESCO site, is a walker’s delight.
Hotel-resorts in Corfu tend to be self-contained and spread out all over, built on their own stretch of shoreline.
Food & Drink
As might be expected, Corfiot cuisine owes much to the Venetians and uses a base of tomatoes and garlic for most dishes.
Pride of place goes to pastitsio (minced meat with bugatini pasta under a topping of bechamel), the Greek answer to lasagne.
Try also the sofrito (veal in white wine), bordetto (scorpion fish in a tomato, garlic and hot pepper sauce) and tsigarelli (local mountain greens in a, yes, tomato and garlic sauce).
There’s no way you won’t be trying tzitzibira (a non-alcoholic ginger beer) which is drunk in cafes as an alternative to Coke or lemonade.
The other drink to order is kumquat liqueur; the kumquat tree native to South-East Asia was introduced to Corfu by Sidney Merlin, a member of a British landowning family and immediately won the hearts and minds of the locals.
Also see John’s round-up of the best traditional Greek foods you must try in Greece.
When to go
The best time to visit is spring when the flowers bloom, especially during Easter, when brass bands march around Corfu Town.
Unlike other islands, the high season in July and August does not feel that crammed – the capital excepted – because the island is large and resorts are spread around.
Beware the autumn rains that come sometime in September shortening the season; October is definitely out.
Getting there and away
Corfu’s Ioannis Kapodistrias International Airport lies 2km south of Corfu Town with good connections to the centre.
There are over 30 ferry crossings daily in season to Italy (Brindisi, Ancona, Bari and all the way to Venice), Albania (Saranda and Himare) and to Greece (Igoumenitsa) from Corfu’s two ferry ports: the main one 3km west of Corfu Town and a smaller one at Lefkimmi in the south operating only crossings to Igoumenitsa.
Buses are frequent and cheap connecting Corfu Town with every village of note on the island, as well as to Athens and Thessaloniki. Extra services operate in the summer to seasonal resorts.
Because of this, taxis are only worth hiring locally.
Where to stay
First-timers should definitely budget for 2-3 days sightseeing in and around Corfu Town. So maybe choose resorts close to the capital: Gouvia with its fish tavernas, Ypsos/Pyrgi with their wide selection of activities in the north or bougainvillaea-strewn Benitses in the south.
Leafy Palaiokastritsa on the west coast is also a great introduction to the island with good connections to the capital.
Kavos in the extreme southeast is Corfu’s youthful 24/7 party capital, so avoid if you are not into drunken antics.
Where to eat or drink
For the best restaurants head for Corfu Town. The Venetian Well is set in a 15th-century square riffing well on Corfiot/Italian fare while Mpakalogatos in Corfu Old Town is a traditional ouzeri where you order a glass of ouzo and a plate of meze.
For a fish feast, go to Toula’s at Agni Bay for crayfish moussaka and her own inimitable bourdetto.
Where to shop
You’ll find the jazziest shops under the arcades of Liston at Corfu Town, on the central avenue built by the French, modelled on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris and just as elegant.
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