Still recognisable as the idyllic refuge where the shipwrecked Odysseus was soothed and sent on his way home, Corfu continues to welcome weary travellers with its lush scenery, bountiful produce and pristine beaches.
Since the 8th century BC the island the Greeks call Kerkyra has been prized for its untamed beauty and strategic location. Ancient armies fought to possess it, while in the early days of modern Greece it was a beacon of learning. Corfiots remain proud of their intellectual and artistic roots, with vestiges of the past ranging from Corfu Town’s Venetian architecture to British legacies such as cricket and ginger beer.
While certain regions of the island have succumbed to overdevelopment, particularly those close to Corfu Town, Corfu is large enough to make it possible to escape the crowds. Venture across cypress-studded hills to find vertiginous villages in the fertile interior, and sandy coves lapped by cobalt-blue waters.
Imbued with Venetian grace and elegance, historic Corfu Town (also known as Kerkyra) stands halfway down the island’s east coast. The name Corfu, meaning ‘peaks’, refers to its twin hills, each topped by a massive fortress built to withstand Ottoman sieges. Sitting between the two, the Old Town is a tight-packed warren of winding lanes, some bursting with fine restaurants, lively bars and intriguing shops, others timeless back alleys where washing lines stretch from balcony to balcony. It also holds some majestic architecture, including the splendid Liston arcade, and high-class museums, along with no fewer than 39 churches.
During the day, cruise passengers and day trippers bustle through the streets; come evening, everyone settles down to enjoy themselves. When it comes to drinking, dining and dancing, this is the hottest spot in the Ionian Islands.
Corfu’s western shoreline boasts some of the island’s most spectacular scenery, its prettiest villages and finest beaches. No coastal road connects the many sandy coves that nibble into the towering cliffs along its central stretch, so sightseers have to choose their targets wisely. Paleokastritsa in the north has a great beach, a beautiful monastery and fine hiking; Pelekas is a delightful hilltop village; and Agios Gordios in the south is a backpackers’ haven with a superb beach.
Immediately north of Corfu Town, the coastline consists of an all-but-continuous strip of busy beach resorts, including Gouvia, Dasia, Ipsos and Pyrgi. These offer all you need for a family holiday, but are otherwise unremarkable.
Continue north, though, and the coast road begins to wind and undulate around the massif formed by the island’s highest peak, Mt Pantokrator (906m). The scenery becomes much more attractive, and each of the pretty little coves that pepper the seafront seems to hold a delightful village, or at least a taverna.