Corfu, the Grand Lady of the Ionian
, is characterised by a series of mythical and historic images: Nausica, the daughter of King Alkinoos, the man who saved Odysseus when he was shipwrecked in the country of Phaeacians (which many have identified as Corfu); Sissi, the sad empress of Austria and the Achilleion Palace she built; the majestic Mon Repos, the 19th-century summer residence built for the British High Commissioner; and the Kaiser’s Observatory, from where German Emperor Wilhelm II looked out upon the iridescent Ionian.
Equally memorable are Corfu town’s handsome mansions, Liston Arcade and Spianada Square. Venetians, English, French, Russians, Greeks all lived and flourished here, and left their mark on the island’s numerous sights and attractions. They composed a diverse culture that lives on in every musical note of Corfu’s marching bands, in each glass of kumquat liqueur, in the labyrinthine alleyways of Campiello, in every love affair that sparks up in the Canal d'Amour. Corfu – or Kerkyra as it is known in Greek – certainly knows how to seduce you.
Things to do in Corfu
The historic centre: A scene out of a classic film
Unesco has declared Corfu’s Old Town
a world heritage site. Who couldn’t be impressed by the stately buildings, with neoclassical influences, or fail to be moved by the likes of the Palace of St Michael and St George, Liston Arcade, Reading Society, Catholic Cathedral, Maitland Rotunda, Ionian Parliament and the Kapodistrias family’s mansion? In the famous alleyways of Campiello, with washing lines hanging above you, and in the opulent hotels, you will feel like a star in a period movie.
The city’s keepers
On the eastern side of town, the rocky shore crowned by two low peaks gave the name Koryfo (Κορυφώ or peak) to the island. You enter the Old Fort (Palio Frourio), built in the 13th century, via a bridge over a seawater moat. It includes the Porta Sopranza, the British barracks, two winged lions of St Mark, the Madonna del Carmine, the Savorgnan Bastion, the Tower of Sea and the Tower of the Land (Castel del Mar, Castel della Terra) and the British-built church of St George resembling a Doric temple.
It’s an open-air museum and each sight is a journey through time. Towering above the northwest border of the capital, the other guardian, the Neo Frourio (New Fort), is a masterpiece of military architecture built by the Venetians between 1572 and 1645. It is a fortress with planes and angles reminiscent of Picasso and Braque’s Cubist periods.
Photogenic attractions: Cannon and Mouse islands
The trademarks of Corfu are actually other islands - the diminutive Pontikonisi, which translates as Mouse Island
, just large enough to hold the Pantokrator Monastery, and right next to it, the famous Vlacherna islet, with its 17th-century monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary, connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway. Mass is held here on Easter Monday.
Miracles of nature: The beaches of Sidari and the Canal d'Amour
Legend says that if you swim in the Canal d'Amour, you'll find your soul mate. The natural passage created by the smooth rocks is like a tunnel. In Sidari, you’ll enjoy two more spectacular sandy beaches with sandstone formations.
Mythical resorts: Paleokastritsa and Angelokastro
By the village of Paleokastritsa, a lush blanket of green drapes across six rocky coves, with some scholars maintaining that this was the site of the mythical palace of King Alkinoos, where Odysseus stayed. The Monastery of Panagias was founded in 1225. It reaches as far as the famous Angelokastro, built early in the 12th century, with its church of Agia Kyriaki hidden in a small cave.
Easter in Corfu: One of a kind
Easter celebrations on Corfu are like no other. The island’s Philharmonic Society accompanies the procession of Christ’s epitaph on Good Friday, and crowds follow the remains of the island’s patron, St Spyridon, the following morning. And then, on Holy Saturday, it rains botides
– clay jars thrown into the streets from people’s balconies. (Just make sure you keep looking up!)
Achillion Palace: The consolation of an empress
The island’s imperial past could be the reason it is considered one of the most glamorous destinations in Greece. Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary, the legendary Sissi, chose Corfu to build her palace, a place where she found consolation after her son Rudolph’s suicide. It is an elegant Pompeian-style building with luxurious, neoclassical living rooms. In the beautiful gardens, you’ll admire the famous statue of Achilles in his death throes.
Mon Repos: The dream of an aristocrat
British High Commissioner Frederick Adam built this summer residence for his Corfiot wife, Nina Palatianou. Situated in a landscape of rare beauty, it occupies the site of ancient Corcyra, as the city was then called. The villa houses the Palaiopolis Museum and botanical gardens with more than 2,000 rare kinds of plants that came from the British colonies.
Beaches of all kinds
Glyfada, Dasia, Ermones, Paleokastritsa, Sidari, Kavos (famous for loud parties), Kontokali, Benitses, Halikounas... The list of beaches is endless
, from secluded picturesque coves to large, vibrant stretches of sand with beach bars, tavernas, shops and water sports.
A boat trip to Paradise beach in Corfu
Hidden gems of Corfu
Sail away … to the Diapontia islands
A favourite destination for mariners, the Diapontia islands north of Corfu are ideal for diving and fishing.
(beef in a rich tomato sauce with pasta), sofrito
(battered beef cooked in olive oil and wine) and bourdeto
(fish stew) are among the regional delicacies
you can enjoy in kitchens, traditional tavernas and restaurants. They will enrich your holidays with the aromas and flavours of the Ionian.
The footpaths of Corfu
Get to know the island’s rich flora and fauna and old settlements on foot or by bicycle. Among the hidden gems are Pantokratoras, a lovely spot next to the saltwater lake of Korission in the south and the area around the northern saltwater lake of Antinioti, where you can find wonderful routes that will fill your holidays with unique moments.