You discover its uniqueness as you wander about the narrow lanes of the Campillo, accompanied by a chorus of swallows. Enjoy the air of a Paris cafe under the Liston arcade. Lean on the parapets of the Old Fort and drink in the endless blue. Beloved of princes, artists, and visitors by their thousands, Corfu enchants you with its cosmopolitan lifestyle and aristocratic atmosphere.
It beckons you to follow the footsteps of Odysseus and Nausicaa across Homer’s golden sands or hearkens to the serenity of the verdant hinterland in a Venetian mansion. However many years may have passed since the mythical age of Homer and the fairytale years of Princess Sissy, however many bars and restaurants open in the medieval lanes and squares, however many Venetian mansions are converted into luxury guesthouses, however many changes to the lifestyle of the island are recorded by the Corfu Guide, a holiday on the Isle of the Phaeacians will always take you back into another era.
If we had to compress the vacation feeling of Corfu into a single image, it would be summer afternoon on the Spianada, the city’s loveliest and best-loved square, the legacy of its English heritage. Lovers entwined in the cafes under the Liston arcade, the scent of fresh grass, a band playing in the Englishstyle bandstand, people passing by on bicycles: a hypnotic scene, like a sequence from an Italian neo-realist film.
Whether you choose to stay in one of the boutique hotels in the Old Town or a luxury beach resort nearby, this is where you will come for your first coffee, this is where you will spread out your map and plan your days. The pine-fringed beaches will monopolize your time, the olive-dotted interior will beckon you to explore it, the dozens of villages with their Venetian mansions and picturesque coffee shops will tempt you to order one more ginger beer. But it won’t be long before you’re back on the Spianada and the Campielo, most Italian of Greece’s cities.
You will spend hours exploring and losing your way around its kantounia (narrow lanes): washing strung out to dry, hidden squares, skalinades (broad stairways), carved fountains, escutcheons, swallow’s nests – a magical labyrinth that transports you right back into the past. You will look for Venetian chests in the antique shops in Porto Remounta, discover dozens of churches with unique frescoes in the lanes of the Campielo, enjoy candle-lit dinners in the restaurants of Dimarcheiou.
Square and Kremasti, linger over your first drink in a bar on the Spianada while debating which of the clubs on the Straight (aka the waterfront boulevard) to go to. Until recently, early morning always found the Campielo asleep, since the Straight had a monopoly on the city’s night-life. Since summer 2002, however, the Morrison Cafe in the New Fort has offered an atmospheric alternative to the clubs on the Straight. There have also been changes on the Straight itself, with a number of older clubs – including the historic Coca – closing and new ones opening: for example, the trendy local Privilege.
But the general profile of the Straight remains the same: this is where you’ll find the biggest mainstream clubs, this is where you’ll catch the most famous guest DJs doing their stuff, this is the hottest and liveliest Greek scene (call me Ekoti), and this is where you can relax in a smaller rock bar, like Rondo. If the night time map of the Straight is somewhat fluid, the hotel landscape of the island offers no particular surprises, although every year we see new confirmations of the prevailing trends.
The contemporary quality standards of the large units meet the patrician Corfu of the past in small personal ventures, while private villas remain one of the island’s trump cards. Although unfortunately huge impersonal hotels are still being built on Corfu’s beaches to cater for the charter trade, the particularly successful renovation of the Louis Kerkyra Golf allows us to be optimistic about the future of the island’s larger hotels.
The romantic continue to prefer the boutique hotels occupying restored mansions in the Old Town and the countryside, while those who want to be completely independent find the villa of their dreams among the dozens available to let from foreign tourist agencies in northern Corfu.
We are eagerly awaiting the new (due to open this summer) municipal guesthouse in the Venetian village of Palia Peritheia (currently being redeveloped), which is intended to provide a different type of accommodation, while business plans have been filed for the abandoned village of Palies Sinies as well.
There are water sports, like waterskiing and paragliding, a diving center, tennis courts and swimming pools. Horse back riding and bird watching are also worth it.
Are you looking for fine golden sand and water sports? A pine-fringed bay with a pebble beach? Do you want to see and be seen, or is an empty, secluded beach more suitable for you and your friends? For you, does the perfect swim end on the wooden benches of a little fish taverna or on the crowded deck of the trendiest beach bar? Whatever your style of the beach, Corfu is the island for you.
The natural beauty and the variety of landscape and facilities are unique, and they shape the lifestyle of the beaches, which has remained largely unchanged for the past several years. The golden sands, fame, and facilities of Glyfada continue to attar the social set, nudists find their place in the sun in beautiful Myrtiotissa, while charming little Agni bay, with its excellent fish tavernas, is the number one choice of the yachting fraternity. The northern and eastern shores are largely monopolized by beach hotels and their guests: for a more off-road experience, hire a jeep or put on your trekking boots and head for the quieter beaches in the south, like Chalikounas and Megas Choros, which keep their sand dunes for the few.
But there is more to the magic of Corfu than golden beaches and the Venetian city. One of the less familiar elements that help make this island unique is the verdant interior. If you don’t get lost in the endless olive groves that cover so much of the island, if you don’t peek through the gates of a splendid Venetian mansion, if you don’t stroll down the stone lanes of the doll’s house village of Sinarades, if you don’t pick wild orchids in Lake Korissia, if you don’t take a jeep up to abandoned Palies Sinies or sample Kyria Elizobeta’s pastitsada in Doukades, you will certainly have missed something of the magic of Corfu.
In the villages of the island’s midsection, you’ll meet tourist buses, on Pantokrator jeeps and mountain bikes, and in the south grannies leading laden donkeys. If the Achilleion and Pontikonissi monopolized the interest of visitors in the ’60s, today there are many ways to experience “the other Corfu”: from a “jeep-safari” through the olive groves to mountain biking on Mount Pantokrator, and from the Corfu Trail (the chain of footpaths that runs the length of the island) to the new municipal guesthouse that is expected to bring Palia Peritheia back to life.
Hidden among the olives and cypresses outside the village of Afra we found one of the nicest surprises that the island’s gastronomic scene reserved for us in the summer of 2002: the very attractive La Nonna restaurant, with a menu of local and imaginative international dishes prepared from their own produce, and an absolutely idyllic setting. For the rest, although Corfiot cuisine is not one of the country’s most varied, the situation appears to be unchanged. The Etrusco, better than ever, is still the island’s best restaurant and one of the best Italian restaurants in Greece.
In the town of Corfu the choice is between sophisticated restaurants for romantic evenings, like the Venetsianiko Pigadi in Kremasti Square, the Dimarchio and La Rovine in Dimarchiou Square and the popular Italian restaurants La Cucina and II Muro, classic restaurants that will serve respectable versions of local specialties, like the Rex and Aigli, and the popular cook-shops, of which Rouvas is definitely the best. Seafood lovers will prefer the fish tavernas in Gouvia and Kontokali, places like Gorgona, Gerekos and Roula, those with a penchant for the classic will say oui to the French specialties served by Spyros & Vasilis in their olive grove in Agios Ioannis, while those with a taste for something different will head for Symposio, in Agios Stefanos Avlioton, which offers experimental new versions of ancient dishes. Efkalyptos in Agios Stefanos Kassiopi, Nikolas in Agni, the Rock in Paleokastritsa, are just some of the eating places that give us a reason to linger on the coast after quitting the beach.