Corfu Travel Guide
Corfu, the Grand Lady of the Ionian islands, is characterized by a series of mythical 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 the island of 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 birthplace of Prince Philip of Greece, husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II; and the Kaiser’s Observatory, from where Wilhelm II looked out upon the iridescent Ionian.
Equally majestic are the iconic city mansions, the Liston Arcade and Spianada Square – the largest in the Balkans. Venetians, English, French, Russians, Greeks all lived and flourished there, and left their mark on the island’s numerous sights and attractions. They composed a diverse culture that one will discover 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 "Kerkira" in Greek – will certainly seduce you.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Corfu (called Kerkira in Greek) is the second largest of the Ionian islands and part of the Corfu regional unit, which consists of Corfu, Paxoi, Antipaxoi and the Diapontia islands (which are located in the northwest of Corfu - 6 km away - and about 40 km away from Italian coasts) with Othonoi, Ereikousa and Mathraki being the main. Corfu with the Diapontia islands form the northwesternmost part of Greece.
Two high and well-defined ranges divide the island into three districts, of which the northern is mountainous, the central undulating, and the southern low-lying. The more important of the two ranges, that of Pantokrator, stretches east and west from Cape Falacro to Cape Psaromita, and attains its greatest elevation in the summit of the same name. The second range culminates in the mountain of Agii Deka (which means "the Ten Saints"). The whole island, composed as it is of various limestone formations, presents great diversity of surface, and views from more elevated spots are magnificent. Corfu's coastline spans 217 kilometres including capes. Its highest point is Mount Pantokrator (911 metres) and the second is Stravoskiadi, at 849 m.
The climate of the prefecture could be characterized as Mediterranean, with mild winters and cool summer, as well as being particularly wet, with its frequent rainfall during autumn and winter, which usually lasts a long time. After all, the abundant vegetation of the island is due to that fact of having mild climate and high percentage of humidity for the Greek standards. The summer heat is moderated by humidity (the highest temperature is usually in July and it would be around 33°C). The summer afternoons a north-western wind, "maistros", blows, which rarely exceeds the 4 beaufort power scale. The winters are unexpectedly mild for a such northern place in Greece (the lowest temperature is in January and it would be around 10°C). During winter time, southern winds prevail and their intensity is higher than 8 beaufort power scale.
Although the northern part of the island is more famous, with its beautiful, organized beaches with the distinctive blue-green color waters of the Ionian islands and the picturesque villages in the mountains, the southern part presents a very interesting landscape and offers distinct, very impressive images too. One of these beautiful landscapes, and probably the most important point of the south part of the island, is the Korissia lagoon.
The Korissia lagoon
The Korissia lagoon is located on the southwest coast of Corfu and has Halikouna beach on the west bank and Issos beach on the south. It is located in the wider area of the village of Agios Mattheos located to the north.
It is the largest lagoon in Corfu and the most important wetland that is a undisturbed natural ecosystem with rich flora and fauna. Over 120 species of birds are found there and there are hundreds of species of native vegetation.
It covers an area of about 6,000 acres and its water is salty, communicating with the sea through a narrow opening to the southern part of Halikouna beach. This opening is called the Tagus of the Lake.
There exactly one can find two buildings that shelter the fishing facilities of some fishermen who work daily in the lake with their characteristic boats, the "korito". They mainly fish small abundant shrimps, fish and some fish species that exist only there, such as Zabarola, Aphanius fasciatus and Valencia hispanica. The waters of the lake are always perfectly calm, regardless of the wild sea that lies a few dozen meters away.
The flora of the area is very rich; there are reeds and marshmallows, white lilies and 14 different species of orchid on the sand. The stunning scenery is complemented by a kind of thalassoccer that thrives on the northern shores of the Mediterranean. This tree is in such abundance that the beautiful cedar forest of Korissia Lake is created, just between the beaches of Halikouna and Issos. The Forest starts from the Lagoon's Mouth and after 3 km it is diluted in Issos beach. Moreover, there are many other plants such as Salicornia and other species found in muddy and sandy areas, Arthrocnemetalia fruticosae, rudimentary moving dunes, beach scrub and Juniperus, but also the beautiful lilies of the sea.
The creation of sandstone dunes and sand dunes that retain the sandy soil that separates it from the sea, according to geological surveys, has begun for 140 to 250 thousand years. Now this ground is over 17 meters high and is the land on which cedars thrive.
Other than the 120 species of birds such as flamingos, cormorants, whistles, silversmiths and ducks, thousands of butterflies and many turtle species such as Testudo hermanni, Mauremys caspica and European waterfowl (Emys orbicularis) can be found there.
The Korissia lagoon is a magical, tranquil and invaluable wildlife shelter and has joined the Natura 2000 Network to protect this rich fauna and flora, since many different ecosystems can be found there: the cedar tree, the lake, the dunes, the sea, the seabirds, and other rare species - a biodiversity that is not easily met elsewhere.
Additionally, this untouched natural paradise has also an archaeological value, since it has been proven that there was a settlement of the Early Paleolithic era, 400 years before its official chronological launch. More specifically, a stone tool has been found by French geologists, whose age was determined between 950 and 750 thousand years ago, as well as another 150 stone tools and about 60 human bone remains that prove that the area was the first to be inhabited in island. Along with these, there were also remnants from the right lower jaw of the hippopotamus - which means that hippopotamuses used to live in these waters once too..!
Therefore, as it is obvious, the Korissia Lagoon is an invaluable ecological, natural and archaeological treasure.
HISTORY OF CORFU
Corfu is mentioned frequently from the times of Greek mythology. The modern Greek name Kerkyra comes from the nymph Korkyra who was the daughter of the river-god Asopos. Posideon, the god of the sea, fell in love with her and made love to her on the island and gave it her name, giving birth to a child named Phaiax and, consequently, to the race of the Phaeacians (as the inhabitants of the island were called). Gradually, through the Doric dialect Korkyra changed to Kerkyra. The name is also possibly linked to the demonic deity Gorgyra or Gorgo, whose image was found on a pediment of the Archaic Artemis temple. The more recent name Corfu is a corruption of "koryphi", which means peak, after the summit on which the Byzantines began building a castle early in the 7th century, and where the main town was later re-established. The name Kerkyra is only used in Greece; to the rest of the world the island is known as Corfu, though the town is universally called Kérkyra by preference.
The ancient Corfiots were proud that they were the descendants of the mythical Phaeacians. In the "Odyssey", the shipwrecked hero Odysseus is washed ashore with the help of the goddess Athena and awakens to the laughter of princess Nausika and her friends washing clothes in a nearby stream (widely thought to be somewhere on the northwest coast, possibly at modern Érmones). They bring him to the Phaeacian Palace and after revealing his identity to King Alkinoös he is given a ship to take him safely back to Ithaka. However, during the return trip the Phaeacian ship is turned to stone by Posideon, still enraged because Odysseus’ men had blinded Poseidon’s son the Cylcops, in revenge for the Phaeacians helping Odysseus.
Apart from the "Odyssey", Apollonius of Rhodes is also referred to Phaeacians in the "Argonautica", where Jason and the Argonauts, having stolen the Golden Fleece and pursued by the inhabitants of Colchis, found refuge in the palace of King Alkinoos and Arete. There, in the cave Makris, the marriage of Jason and Medea took place.
Mythology delivered the current emblem of city to the present-day Corfiots. The "Apidalos Naus" (Unhelmed Ship) remains the symbol of the naval virtuosity of Phaeacians.
Artifacts from the Paleolithic period (40,000 to 30,000 BC) have been found in a cave at Gardíki in the southwestern part of the island. There is also evidence of habitation during the Mesolithic period and several Neolithic ( 6000–2600 BC) settlements have been found including an important one near Sidári, as well as evidence of habitation in the Bronze Age. The great importance of the geographical position of Corfu, on the sea route to the shores of the Adriatic and Italy, caused, according to Diodorus Siculus, Strabo and Plutarch, the interest of the Eretrians (people from the island of Euboea) around 750 BC, when they established a colony there. In 734 BC the Eretrians were driven out by the Corinthians, who brought great wealth and culture to the island, and used it as a stepping-stone west for such ventures at the colonization of Kroton in southern Italy. But in 665 BC Corfu fought with Corinth, in what Thucydides described as the first sea battle in Greek history. It was not the last battle between the two cities, who remained at odds for centuries more. Corfu, now effectively independent, prospered with trade and by the 6th Century was minting its own coins, had constructed a fine Archaic temple of Artemis (source of the famous Gorgon pediment) and had a population of over 10,000 people. During the Persian Wars of the fifth century, Corfu had a fleet second only to that of Athens. They sent a fleet of 60 ships to the Battle of Salamis, but according to Herodotos, they took their time about getting there to avoid the battle and were criticized by the Athenians. In 433 BC, Corfu’s treaty of alliance with Athens against Sparta and Corinth set off the Peloponnesian Wars, which engulfed all of the Greek city-states, who were obliged to take the side of either Athens or Sparta. The island lost half its population in these wars and eventually fell to the Spartans.
In 229 BC, the Romans showed up and seized the island from Illyrian pirates, and for the next five-and-a-half centuries Corfu was a privileged Roman naval base. Nero, Tiberius, Cato, Cicero, Octavian (later Augustus) and Mark Anthony all visited the island, and many wealthy Romans had estates here. From 395 AD to 1267 Corfu was part of the Byzantine Empire and suffered raids by the Vandals and Ostrogoths, which prompted the gradual abandonment of the ancient capital at the site now known as Paleópolis. Starting in 1080, Norman raiders from Sicily attacked (and briefly held) Corfu several times, and when the forces of the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople in 1204, Corfu was nominally ceded to Venice. However, they failed to occupy the island, which by 1214 had passed to Mihaïl Angelos Komnenos II, head of the free Byzantine Despotate of Epiros, based in Arta in western mainland Greece. During his tenure, the previously existing fortresses at Angelókastro and Gardíki were refurbished to defend against pirates or Latin invaders approaching from the west. In 1259, Corfu was given to King Manfred of Sicily as the partial dowry of Helena, daughter of Mihaïl Komnenos. Just 8 years later, the island was formally annexed by Charles d’Anjou, the new King of Sicily and Naples, whose Angevin dynasty then ruled Corfu for over a century. They established Roman Catholicism as the official religion, displacing the Byzantine Orthodox clergy.
In 1386, viewing Angevin decline (and increasing pirate raids) with alarm, the island notables essentially invited the Venetians to assume control of Corfu, which they did until 1797. This was probably the most important period for the island, not only because of the economic progress – primarily the introduction of over 3 million olive trees – and the ongoing program of urban and military construction, but also because it was during this period that the rest of Greece fell under the domination of the Ottoman Turks. The main town became a fortress and an important base for the Venetian fleet, while Corfu overall served as a place of refuge for many Greek scholars and artists escaping Ottoman-conquered territory, in particular Crete after the mid-17th century, making the island one of the most culturally developed regions in the eastern Mediterranean.
In 1537 Hayreddin Barbarossa, a pirate-admiral in the service of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, laid siege to the town with artillery and 20,000 troops. The Corfiots managed to repel Barbarossa, but not before he carried off nearly half the population to be sold as slaves. After this, the Venetians decided to build the New Fortress, and dug a channel (the Contrafossa) to effectively make the Old Fortress an island. These all came in handy in summer 1716 when the Ottomans made their most determined effort yet to take Corfu, with a force of 30,000 poised to overwhelm just 8,000 defenders under the command of German mercenary Johan Matthias von der Schulenberg (whose statue now stands near the gate of the Old Fortress). The Ottomans suddenly abandoned their siege on 11 August, after an apparition of island patron saint Spyridon, and a ferocious storm (supposedly conjured by him) – the date is one of Spyridon’s several annual local celebrations.
When the Napoleonic French occupied the island in 1797, the Corfiots initially welcomed them with enthusiasm, believing that French revolutionary principles meant that the lower classes would be treated better than under Venetian rule. But this was not the case. The French imposed heavy taxes on the people, though they did introduce a system of primary education and a printing house. But two years later a combined Russian and Turkish fleet captured the island after four months of fighting, and Corfu became the capital of the puppet Septinsular Republic which included all the Ionian islands. Then in 1807 when Russia and France signed the Treaty of Tilsit, Corfu and the other Ionian islands once again reverted to Napoleon. This time around the French took more of an interest in local development, establishing the first Ionian Academy, importing printing presses and introducing new crops like potatoes and tomatoes.
When Napoleon fell in 1814 Corfu was placed under the protection of the British. The Corfiot Ioannis Kapodistrias, long a diplomat in the service of Russia (and an important figure in the Septinsular Republic), submitted a proposal at the Congress of Vienna for an independent Ionian state, but Britain, Austria and Prussia vetoed it. However, the 1815 Congress of Paris did set up a United States of the Ionian Islands with Corfu as its capital, administered under a British High Commissioner. Kapodistrias became the first president of independent Greece in 1827, though he was assassinated in 1831. In 1824 the second Ionian Academy, essentially the first Greek university, was established. After years of autocratic British rule, 1848 saw a revised local constitution that granted freedom of the press, recognized Greek as the official language and introduced educational reform. Despite ongoing tension between British administrators and the Corfiots – the first high commissioner, Tom Maitland, was nicknamed “The Abortion” locally for his rudeness to petitioners and refusal to wash – status as a British colony was responsible for the building of the roads and the creation of the island's water supply. The Ionian islands did not become a part of Greece until 1864, as a primary condition for George I (born the young Danish prince William Glucksberg) to ascend the Greek throne.
Early years as a Greek province were uneventful for Corfu, other than being a favourite resort for European royalty such as Empress Elisabeth of Austria and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Although royalist Greece was neutral during the first three years of World War I, Corfu declared for the Venizelist Republicans in the civil war which effectively divided the country from 1916 onwards. Early that year, the exiled government of Serbia and its retreating army, having been driven into Albania by the Bulgarians and Austrians, found shelter on the island, the beginning of a long love affair between Serbia and Greece; within several months, 130,000 Serbian soldiers were well enough to be sent on British and French ships to fight the Bulgarians and Germans on the Salonika Front, but almost 20,000 more died of wounds or disease on the island, or stayed to marry local women. Corfu was bombarded and briefly occupied by the Italians in September 1923, in reprisal for the Greek murder of an Italian general on the Greek-Albanian frontier; the Italians returned as occupiers during World War II, until displaced in September 1943 by the Germans, who not only bombed much of Kerkyra Town flat in the process, but deported most of the 1900 local Jews to their deaths in June 1944 before the Allied victory in Greece four months later.
Modern tourism began with the opening of a Club Méditerranée premises near Ipsos in 1952, followed by the arrival of the first charters from overseas in 1972 – and the construction of the first mega-hotels by those with good connections in the ruling military junta. Tourism, and more recently real estate sales, have long displaced agriculture as the main economic activity of the Corfiots.
CULTURE AND FOOD
Culturally Corfu is very different from the rest of Greece, as whilst they had to suffer the Turkish occupation, Corfu was a vital part of the powerful maritime state of Venice. This was the era that shaped and fundamentally influenced the cultural character of the island and its residents.
On one side the authoritarian attitude of the feudal ruling class of nobles created continual opposition and popular movements on the part of the poor people, whilst on the other side the development of arts and culture, in general, differentiate the landscape in complete contrast to the rest of Greece as Corfu was influenced by the west, while the rest of the country was forced to look east.
The Venetian period was followed by the French dependencies, first the democratic French and later the imperial rule of Napoleon followed briefly by the Russians and finally the English protectorate period until 1864 when together with the rest of the Ionian Islands Corfu was unified with Greece. All these influences have left their marks, so on the island there are now buildings and monuments from the ancient Greek and Roman times onwards, especially in the old town which is actually an extremely beautiful miniature of Venice without the canals.
Corfu has many museums, monuments and cultural centers, the first modern Greek university which was established there, and by 1850 there was a power plant on Corfu which moved to Piraeus after the union with Greece.
One can see the old and the new fortresses, the Esplanade square, perhaps the biggest in Europe, the Liston, a meeting place for the nobles of the past is now a social hub for all Corfiots and the Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George (known as the old palace) which today houses many museums and exhibitions. The Ionian Academy, the first university of Greece was founded in 1824 there, the Ionian parliament building which is nearby, as is the town hall which was built in 1663 initially as the Hall of Nobles (Loggia dei Nobili) and later became the Theatre of San Giacomo.
Just outside the modern town are the ancient remains of Paleopolis, the ancient city of Corfu on the peninsula of Kanoni near to the summer palace of Mon Repos. There are numerous other places of cultural interest, museums and monuments outside Corfu town, such as the Byzantine fortress north of Paleokastritsa called Aggelokastro and the Venetian shipyard at Gouvia. The Achilleion Palace is in the village of Gastouri 3 kilometers north of Benitses and was built by the Empress of Austro-Hungary Elizabeth, also known as Sissi. The palace was named in honor of the legendary hero Achilles and reflects her love for classical Greece. Kaiser’s bridge on the beach of Achilleion was built by the German Kaiser Wilhelm the second, the owner of the Achilleion after Elizabeth’s death. The sea museum in Benitses, the museum of olives at the village of Kynopiastes, old houses of all sizes, small museums, fascinating collections and ancient remains can be seen in many villages.
Moreover, apart from great buildings, monuments and museums, Corfu's culture can be easily found - or "heard" to be more specific - in its tradition in music. There is a huge musical tradition in the island. Corfu town has three main philharmonic societies, the Old Philharmonic, the Philharmonic of Mantzaros and Philharmonic of Kapodistrias, whose orchestras regularly give excellent concerts. In many villages, there are also bands, and on certain days they all play in Corfu Town, to loud cheers from their supporters.
The musical tradition influenced mainly by the West had many artists who created their own music school with mainly classical influences. The so-called Ionian School of music is divided into two generations or periods, the first until 1870 and the second until the early 20th century, when it was systematically overthrown by the so-called National School created by the “Germanists” musicians Georgios Nazos and Manolis Kalomiris which school finally prevailed in Greece.
Additionally, the Ionian Islands have created their own Ionian School in literature, with writers and mainly poets such as the prominent figure of Dionysios Solomos from Zakynthos (1798-1857) who lived for 30 years in Corfu and many others such as Aristotelis Valaoritis from Lefkada, Andreas Laskaratos and Ioulios Typaldos from Lixouri, Gerasimos Markoras from Kefalonia, Iakovos Polylas from Corfu, and Georgios Terchetis and Andreas Kalvos from Zakynthos. The term “Eptanissian School” was given by the great Greek poet Kostis Palamas, who thus inadvertently introduced the literary consciousness and the rivalry of the Dimotiki and Katharevousa, two forms of the modern Greek language, since one of the main features of the Ionian School was the use of Dimotiki in Poetry.
As for local gastronomy, Corfu's local cuisine is a mixture of the island's influences too - apart from very delicious of course! Since Corfu was a Venetian harbor for 411 years, the "key" of the Adriatic as it was proudly named, it was expected that the passing ships would "leave to the Corfiots many and teach them even more". During the century of Renaissance, Venice was the European centre of the trading of spices and sugar and distributed luxury and wealth all around Europe. As a consequence of the Venetian domination, the Venetian cuisine and Venetian way of cooking was imposed to the Corfiots. The Venetians brought new products and taught the Corfiots how to eat them. Corn, tomatoes, beans, pepper, but also coffee, chocolate and many other products were brought to Corfu. In a very short time, however, these new products were appreciated by the locals and were thus incorporated in their daily diet, reaching our days almost inalterably.
Nowadays, Corfiot cuisine has the typical Mediterranean characteristics (the common base is the olive oil, the vegetables, fish, herbs etc) exhibiting the different influences that the island was under (use of spices, garlic, lots of pasta etc). The cuisine of the city is clearly venetian. The cuisine of the countryside is based on the agricultural products that were cultivated simultaneously with the cultivation of the olives, which was imposed by the Venetians. The food and particularly the bread, was always and still is well salted, because Corfu has many saltworks and, as a consequence, the salt was never absent from the household. After so many centuries the names of the Corfiot traditional dishes remain almost unchanged. The emigrations of the Greeks from the mainland Greece, even after the Union, left almost no stamp in the local cuisine. The mass spreading of classic Greek cuisine took place after the Second World War.
One should try all the famous Corfiot traditional dishes such as pastitsada, sofrito and mpourdeto. Pastitsada is basically pasta with roasted wine, red sauce and various herbs, sofrito has very thin slices of meat simmering with thick sauce and bourdeto is made with fish (cod, cuttlefish or scorpion), tomatoes, potatoes and onions, cooked in a saucepan. Apart from these, it should be stated that pizza in Corfu is like the Italian pizza with its very thin dough (in contrast with most of places in Greece that have thicker dough). For those who like having a dessert, remember to have ice-cream from the gelaterias all over the island (Papagiorgis Patisserie-Gelateria in Corfu Town is one good example with its variety of flavours). And, of course, don't forget to get Corfu's traditional koum kouat, in liquer or in sweet dessert (for chocolate lovers there is also koum-kouat bars with chocolate, which are really delicious to accompany one's coffee with).
Corfu has some exquisite restaurants, such as Etrusco, which has been awarded with more than one Golden chef's cup for more than 15 years and the Award for Best Restaurant in Greece from 2013 until today, and the Venetian Well Bistro-Wine Restaurant, an amazing, historic restaurant at one of the most romantic spots of Corfu Town, in front of the historic venetian well. However, for those who want something more similar to a Greek Tavern, there are always the Gerekos Fish Taverna in Kontokali, Klimataria Fish Tavern in Benitses and Scalinada in Corfu town's little alleys called "kantounia" by the Ionians, for traditional Greek and Corfian dishes when tired of walking in town.
ACTIVITIES - LEISURE
In the beautifully preserved Old Town of Corfu, an UNESCO world heritage site, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical “repertoire” came to be successfully applied to local artistic traditions. Palaces, fortresses, austere public buildings of the Venetian rule uniquely blend with lines of drying washing in tiny alleyways and small secluded squares. Strolling through a complex of narrow cobbled streets with stairways and vaulted passages, the so-called “kantounia” by the locals of the Ionian islands, will make one feel as if one has travelled to Genoa or Naples. Walking through the Old Town of Corfu one will discover many interesting spots, some of which are:
Spianada, the largest square in the Balkans which takes its name from the Italian spianare (“to flatten”) is the centre of the life of the town, adorned with 19th-century remarkable works of French architecture. There, one can watch cricket games or attend in musical concerts organized throughout the year. Standing in the center, there is an ornate Victorian bandstand and, just south of it, the Maitland Rotunda, a circular Ionic memorial built in honor of Sir Thomas Maitland, the first British lord high commissioner. At the southernmost tip of the Esplanade a statue of Ioannis Kapodistrias, a Corfu resident and the first president of modern Greece, looks out over Garitsa bay. Spianada is also surrounded by the Old Fortress, the Palace of Saints Michael and George, and the French arcades on the Venetian palace, known as the Liston.
A walk in the Old town of Corfu always starts or ends at the Liston. A plethora of cafes, boutiques and restaurants is housed under the big arcades next to Spianada square, attracting both locals and visitors. This complex was meant to become a landmark of the island and a symbol of the aristocratic society of Old Corfu and it still remains the most cosmopolitan spot of the island. The name "Liston" came after the fact that when the island was run by aristocrats there was a special List and only people whose names were included on that List were allowed to walk there.
Constructed in 1807 during the Napoleonic French rule, it was designed as a copy in miniature of the rue de Rivoli in Paris and, like its namesake, buzzes day and night with local people meeting friends, reading newspapers, chattering on phones or simply having a coffee. Your drink will cost a bit more than elsewhere in town, but it is worth it for the romantic, elegant atmosphere.
Palaio Frourio (The Old Fortress)
Quite apart from their particular importance in the development of the town, the defense works, the supreme examples of which are the Old and New Fortress, are in themselves notable examples of the military defensive art and building techniques of their time (from the 15th to the 18th c.). Built by eminent architects and engineers, they are amongst the finest examples of defensive complexes built in the Mediterranean, their effectiveness well demonstrated by the many occasions on which they withstood Turkish attack. To construct them, human ingenuity was exploited to its maximum through art and science, in an organized endeavor on the part of the “mighty and beautiful” to predominate over nature. Mountains were levelled, harbours dredged, islands created, fortification walls and fortresses erected, and the art of the builder triumphed. As the Venetian senator Nicolo Zeno said, ”The place is exceedingly strong naturally; we have used our art and financial resources to make it impregnable."
The Palaio Frourio (which means "Old Fortress") was built by the Venetians on the 14th century. Before that, already enclosed within massive stone walls, it cradled the entire Byzantine city. A solitary bridge crosses its seawater moat. Only parts of this huge site, which also holds later structures from the British era, are accessible to visitors; wander up to the lighthouse on the larger of the two hills for superb, panoramic views of the Old Town, the historical suburbs, the countryside and the sea. The Old Fortress also contains, in its former Latin chapel near the entrance, a fine collection of Byzantine icons and mosaics rescued from various monuments around the island.
The interior has been restored and maintained and it is used for cultural events such as concerts, and it also hosts the Music Department of the Ionian University. At the foot of the observatory, St. George's church, in classical Greek architectural style with six Doric columns, as opposed to the Byzantine architectural style of most Eastern Orthodox churches, is quite an imposing sight. Taking in a concert or other event at night in such a place under the moonlight while surrounded by the sea, immersed in this history steeped environment with all its diverse and unexpected architectural elements, is an experience that even the most discriminating connoisseur of life would appreciate.
Neo Frourio (The New Fortress)
The new fortress (Neo Frourio) is a huge complex of fortifications that dominates the northeastern part of the city. The huge walls of the fortress dominate the landscape as one makes the trip from Neo Limani (New Port) to the town, taking the road that passes through the fishmarket. Built in 1577-78 by the Venetians, the New Fortress was constructed to strengthen town defenses—only three decades after the construction of Venetian fortifications on the "Old" Fortress. For its construction materials from Paleopolis, the ancient city, were used. In order to free space for the construction of the walls, 2.000 houses were demolished and thousands of golden Venetian ducats were spent. A part of it was destroyed after an order given by the Great Powers during World War II. Today one can wander through the maze of tunnels and fortifications; the dry moat is the site of the town's fish-and-vegetable marketplace. A classic British citadel stands at its heart. At the top, there is an exhibition center. The winged lion, the symbol of Venice, can be seen at regular intervals adorning the fortifications. It is worth noting that at the feet of the lion lies an open book, symbolizing that the Venetians came to Corfu not to conquer but to defend. The New Fortress is architecturally very interesting and affords superb views over the tiled roofs of the old town.
St Michael & St George Palace
Beyond the northern end of the Spianada, the smart Regency-style Palace of St Michael & St George was built by the British from 1819 onwards, to house the High Commissioner and the Ionian Parliament. It’s now home to the prestigious Corfu Museum of Asian Art. Two municipal art galleries are housed in one annex, and its small formal gardens make a pleasant refuge.
As for Corfu Museum of Asian Art itself, it is the home to stunning artefacts ranging from prehistoric bronzes to works in onyx and ivory and it is truly magnificent. One gallery provides a chronological overview of Chinese ceramics, while showcasing remarkable jade carvings and snuff bottles. The India section opens with Alexander the Great, "When Greece Met India", and displays fascinating Greek-Buddhist figures, including a blue-grey schist Buddha. Moreover, there is a Japanese section that incorporates magnificent samurai armours, swords and knives, Noh masks and superb woodblock prints, as well as sections with artefacts from Tibet, the Gandhara kingdom (today’s eastern Afghanistan plus northern Pakistan), Cambodia and Thailand.
St. Spyridon Church
Corfu Town has a considerable number of churches. The most imposing one is the city’s Cathedral, the Church of St. Spyridon, the island’s patron Saint, whose relics are kept here. St Spyridon Church was built in the Venetrian style in the 1580s and the Saint himself is credited with saving the island four times from grave dangers, thus his designation as patron. The church’s immensely tall bell tower certainly reminds everyone of that of San Giorgio dei Greci in Venice. Four processions are held every year during which the body of Saint Spyridon is carried around the streets of the city (on Palm and Easter Sunday, on April 11th and the first Sunday in November). All the philharmonic bands of the city accompany the processions creating a remarkable awe-inspiring spectacle.
Byzantine Museum of Antivouniotissa
Home to an outstanding collection of Byzantine and post-Byzantine icons and artefacts, the exquisite, timber-roofed Church of Virgin Mary Antivouniotissa doubles as both church and museum. It stands atop a short, broad stairway that climbs from shore-front Arseniou, and frames views out towards the wooded Vidos island. Belying the plain facade, the ornate and intricately decorated interior holds an interesting collection of icons and ecclesiastic items dating from the 15th century onwards, when the church itself was built.
After leaving the Byzantine Museum of Antivouniotissa and on the way to the Old Fortress, one can find Faliraki, where locals living in town could have a quick swim or have a coffee. The cafe bars there stay open until the early morning due to the amazing view, the relaxed, quiet atmosphere and the exquisite sun-risings and sunsets.
Dionysios Solomos Museum
It is known that the National Poet of Greece Dionysios Solomos, after leaving his hometown in Zakyntos, spent the biggest part of his life (1798-1857) in Corfu, where he wrote the largest and most important part of his work, his masterpiece "Free Besieged" included. The house where the poet lived, worked and died was destroyed by the German bombs during the Second World War. Some years later the house was restored by the Corfiot Studies Society and today is functioning as a Museum and Center of Solomos Studies. The poet's writing-table is kept in the Museum together with other personal items from his life. There is also an extensive collection of photographs referring to the places, the people and the evens connected to the life, the work and the age of Solomos. In addition there is a rich library dedicated to Solomos, constantly enriched, containing, among other things, all the old editions of "Hymn to Freedom" and a number of portraits of the poet and the other representatives of the so-called Solomos School.
The Archaeological Museum
The Archaeological Museum located at Armeni Vraila 1 was inaugurated in 1967. It was constructed to house the exhibit of the huge Gorgon pediment of the Artemis temple that was excavated at Palaiopolis in early 20th century. In 1994 two more halls were added to the museum, where new discoveries from the excavations of the ancient town and the Garitsa cemetery are exhibited.
The Banknote Museum
The Banknote Museum, located in Agios Spyridon square, showcases a collection of Greek coinage from 1822 to the present day. The most remarkable exhibits are the banknotes that the Ionian Bank issued from 1839 until 1920, the banknotes that Capodistrias issued and the first banknotes of the National Bank of Greece, a collection of postwar banknotes from various countries and the Chinese banknote of 1300 A.D, one of the oldest worldwide. Moreover, the collection includes many seals, documents, books, coins, stamps etc that refer to the history of the Ionian Bank and the history of the Ionian Islands.
In another room of the Museum the several stages of the manufacturing process of the banknotes are shown, while special interest presents the part of the manufacture of the watermark, which is incorporated on the banknote. In the same place a small workshop is hosted, where the visitor can follow the procedure of the engraving of the model on the metal plates.
The Serbian Museum
The Serbian Museum (19 Moustoxydou St.) houses rare exhibits about the Serbian soldiers' tragic fate during the First World War. The remnants of the Serbian Army of about 150,000 soldiers together with their government in exile, found refuge and shelter in Corfu, following the collapse of the Serbian Front as a result of the Austro-Hungarian attack of the 6th October 1915. Exhibits include photographs from the three years stay of the Serbians in Corfu, together with other exhibits such as uniforms, arms and ammunition of the Serbian army, Serbian regimental flags, religious artefacts, surgical tools used in triage by Serbian doctors on Vido island in 1916, war medals and other decorations of the Kingdom of Serbia etc.
The Ionian Academy
The Ionian Academy on Kapodistriou str. served multiple purposes through the centuries. During the Venetian domination the facilities were the army quarters of Grimani, while in the times of English domination (1840) the Ionian Academy became the first Greek university in modern times. After the union of the Ionian islands with Greece in 1864, the building was used as the Municipal Library of Corfu. On 14 September 1943 it was burnt by an Italian air raid. Today it has been restored and it is used as the deanery of the Ionian University.
Last but not least, don't forget to have a walk from Garitsa to the Windmill (called Anemomilos in Greek), where there are some nice cafes to rest, while watching the view by the sea. Have a look in the Windmill too, where there are plenty of free exhibitions, as the Windmill is used as a free Gallery!
Apart from all the sites, fortresses, museums and galleries that one can visit in Corfu Town, there are some other very important and interesting sites located around Corfu Town that one should visit - and which used to be the aristocracy's favourites:
Mon Repos Estate
This park-like wooded estate 2km around the bay south of the Old Town was the site of Corfu’s most important ancient settlement, Palaeopolis. The neoclassical mansion was built in 1831 A.D. by the Corfiot architect John Chronis for the British Commissioner Adams, or more specifically for his Corfiot wife (nee Palatianos), as a summer residence. More recently, in 1921, the secluded neoclassical villa that now holds the Museum of Paleopolis was the birthplace of Prince Philip of Greece, who went on to marry Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. During the Occupation (1940-1944) it was a resort of the Italian political governor of the Ionian islands, Parini. Footpaths lead through the woods to ancient ruins, including those of a Doric temple atop a small coastal cliff. It takes half an hour to walk to Mon Repos from town, or you can catch bus 2a from the Spianada.
Kanoni, Pontikonissi and Vlacherna
The trademark of Corfu island are actually other islands! They are the diminutive Pontikonissi, which translates as Mouse Island, just large enough to hold the Pantokrator monastery, and right next to it, the famous islet Vlacherna, 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.
The postcard view from Kanoni to Vlaherna islet and Pondikonísi is cliched, but still not-to-be missed. The belvedere, once defended by a canon (thus the name), now with handy cafés, is served by no. 2 city bus, or point a bike there (car-parking space is rare in season). Vlahérna, tethered to the main island with a causeway, is completely covered by the Venetian-era white monastery of Panagía Vlahernón. From the base of the jetty, excursion boats chug out to Pondikonissi (Mouse Island). Pontikonissi is the home to dense stands of trees and a tiny Byzantine chapel, the monastery of Pantokrator. The white stone staircase of the monastery, viewed from afar, gives the impression of a (mouse) tail, which lent the island its name. Along with several other islets around Corfu, this claims to be the petrified, ancient Phaecian ship, returning from ferrying Odysseus home to Ithaca, so rendered by Poseidon in revenge for Odysseus’ blinding of his son Polyphemos the Cyclops.
The Achilleion: Beauty, Power and Tragedy
Empress of Austria Elisabeth of Bavaria, also known as Sissi, was a woman obsessed with beauty and very powerful but tragically vulnerable since the loss of her only son, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria in the Mayerling affair in 1889. A year later in 1890 she built a summer palace in the region of Gastouri to the south of the city, with the powerful mythical hero Achilles as its central theme. Achilles was considered the most handsome of the heroes assembled at Troy, but he was tragically vulnerable at his heel.
Corfu is an island associated with beauty that historically proved to be very powerfully defended, mainly against the Turks, an enemy the Austrians faced many times in their past also. Corfu was tragically vulnerable as well since the local population outside its fortified walls was decimated and repeatedly suffered many hardships during the numerous invasions. The island therefore, on many levels, provided the perfect ambience match to the Empress and her Hero.
The palace, with the classic Greek statues that surround it, is a monument to platonic romanticism as well as escapism and was, naturally, named after Achilles: Achilleion. This elegant structure abounds with paintings and statues of Achilles, both in the main hall and in the lavish gardens depicting the heroic and tragic scenes of the Trojan war.
The Imperial gardens on top of the hill provide a majestic view of the surrounding green hill crests and valleys as the Ionian sea gleams in the background.
The centerpiece of the gardens is an imposing marble statue on a high pedestal, of the mortally wounded Achilles ("Achilleas Thniskon" translated as dying Achilles) without hubris and wearing only a simple cloth and an ancient Greek hoplite helmet. This statue was created by distinguished German sculptor Ernst Gustav Herter.
The hero is presented devoid of any accoutrements of rank or status and thus seems very human although heroic as he is forever trying to pull Paris's arrow from his heel, with pain and agony etched on his classic face. He is also gazing skyward as if to seek help from Olympus. According to Greek mythology, his mother Thetis was a goddess. The parallels to the grieving Empress recuperating from the painful loss of her only son by trying to extract it from her memory, but never quite being able to do so, are compelling.
In contrast, a giant painting of the triumphant Achilles full of pride, dressed in full royal military regalia on his racing chariot, pulling the lifeless body of Hector of Troy and parading it in front of the stunned crowd watching helplessly from inside the walls of the Trojan citadel, greets the visitor at the top of the great staircase of the main hall.
In 1898 Empress Sissi was assassinated in Geneva, Switzerland, at the age of 60. After her death the palace was sold to the Kaiser of Germany and eventually it was acquired by the Greek State. The Achilleion was used until recently as a Casino, and later on and until today it is used as a museum; the myth however lives on.
After visiting the Achilleion, one could have a coffee or beverage at the coffee shop out of the museum, exactly after the exit on the left-hand side, to rest and watch the spectacular view.
German Kaiser Wilhelm II was also fond of vacationing in Corfu. Having purchased Achilleion in 1907 after Sissi's death, he built a bridge named by the locals after him: "Kaiser's bridge" (Greek: η γέφυρα του Κάιζερ transliterated as: i yefyra tou Kaizer), to access the beach without having to cross the road that is the island's main artery to the south. The bridge, arching over the road, spanned the distance between the lower gardens of Achilleion and the nearby beach. The ruins of that great bridge, a monument to imperial vanity as well as impracticality, are an important landmark of this highway. Ironically, the bridge's central section was demolished by Wehrmacht during the German occupation in WWII to allow for the free movement of its vehicles.
As stated above, Corfu has plenty of interesting places to see and things to do that can please all kinds of interests. One should not forget to visit the villages of the mountains, with the village of Old Peritheia being one of the must-sees.
The out-of-this-world village of Palia Perithia (Old Perithia) lies on the slopes of Mount Pantokrator, on the astonishing north-east side of Corfu Island. Having nine churches that survived in the village, each one belonging to different families that lived there, the name of the village means "Surrounded by Gods" and it refers to these churches (Peri that means "around" + Thia that means "Gods"). This settlement constitutes an example of how Corfu’s first villages were like. Solid evidence reveals that this settlement was inhabited during the 14th century, however, some researchers claim that there are some indications that this village was first established during the late Geometric - early Archaic era. The settlement of Palia Perithia was Corfu’s wealthiest village in the 17th century and it counted about 130 houses. Nowadays, around 100 houses from this period remain standing, partly thanks to the restoration that took place in the 19th century. As the years passed by, the villagers preferred to move closer to sea, since there was no longer the threat of being plundered by the pirates.
The settlement of Palia Perithia is now a preserved village and a representative example of Venetian architecture with houses made of stone. This village is now a “Designated Area of Natural Beauty” and has been established as “A Protected Heritage Site”; it is allowed to inhabit in there, however no change can take place. Palia Perithia seems to remain indistinguishable over the course of time. When you wander around its cobblestone alleys and houses of Venetian architecture, it is as if you’ve travelled with a time-machine. One is absolutely bound to experience nothing less than a great sense of wonderment. As one approaches Palia Perithia, there is a map depicting the village, along with a guide that helps visitors to walk around and also incorporates the highlights of the village as well as a brief history of it. Keep in mind that the vehicles are parked outside of the village and that wearing trainers is advised in order to be able to walk around comfortably. There are some taverns in the area that serve traditional dishes mainly made of Corfu’s local products. One of these is "Taverna The Old Peritheia", located at the center of the square and it’s the only one that lasted from the times when villagers would still live there, as it’s been running since 1863. The family has always been the same and the tavern passes from the grandfather to the grandchild. At first it was serving the locals and the villagers and later the tourists. Visitors should really taste traditional dishes and local ginger beer produced in this area.
Ioannis Kapodistrias Museum
The Kapodistrias Museum is the only museum dedicated to the life, work and legacy of Count Ioannis Kapodistrias, the great Corfiot diplomat, politician and first Governor of Greece. The Museum offers to its visitors a unique opportunity to become acquainted with the history of Corfu, 19th century Europe and Greece. The Museum is housed in the family’s rural estate in Koukouritsa, surrounded by a beautiful garden that offers the most amazing view.
Kapodistrias Museum offers its visitors the opportunity to see:
- The country home of the Capodistrias Family
- Personal items of Ioannis Capodistrias, along with books, maps, etc.
- Honorary gifts given to the Governor, such as medals, religious icons, and items from his time in the Court of Czar Alexander I
- Works of art, furniture and household items of the Governor and his family
- The rich digital archive gathering evidence concerning Capodistrias’s life and work, by accessing historical documents from throughout Europe.
Ano Korakiana Village - Horse Riding
Ano Korakiana is a historic settlement located 19km north of Corfu Town. The village was first inhabited during the medieval times and today it maintains a lot of traditional aspects of that time. Ano Korakiana was mainly populated by noble families who still give a dynamic presence with the well-preserved houses and the fine details from the 18th century. It flourished economically during the British occupation where the majority of the local residents worked in trade contributing to the cultural development of the region. Today, 900 people live permanently in Ano Korakiana, most of them working at the local shops. The terrain is rough with narrow paved streets, surrounded by emerald trees and a couple of nice taverns. The village is known for the considerable number of churches, 37 in total, the long tradition in folklore music and ceramic art. Ano Korakiana keeps a great balance among the rich spiritual life and the natural environment overlooking the island's eastern side filled with olive groves and fruit orchards. Just over 1km southeast is the village of Kato Korakiana and 3 km away are the beaches of Ipsos and Barbati. For horse riding fans, there is Sally-Ann Lewis’ well-established Trailriders stable outside Ano Korakiána village (trailriderscorfu.com) where you can book a horse trek through the lush foothills of Mt Pantokrator.
Scuba - Diving
Corfu regional unit, with the Diapontia islands and Paxoi and Antipaxoi, has a reputation for being one of the better scuba venues in Greece. The best dive sites are around Paleokastrítsa, Othoní or Paxí islets and the northeast coast, with visibility on good days in the 25–30-metre range; the sea lapping the island's eastern shoreline is relatively murky and thus little explored. Water temperatures reach a maximum of 24° in summer, but can plunge abruptly to 16° owing to numerous fresh-water seeps; reputable dive centres provide hood and booties as standard practice. There are many diving centres on the island, such as Achilleion Diving ( www.diving-corfu.com ), Dive Easy ( http://divecorfu.com ) and Apollo Dive Centre (https://apollosub.com ).
Daily Cruises to Othonoi, Mathraki and Ereikoussa
The tiny harbour of Agios Stefanos Gyrou, at Corfu’s westernmost point, can be an excellent starting point for daily cruises to the beautiful Diapontia islands of Othonoi (Greece's northwesternmost territory), Mathraki and Ereikousa.
Eríkoussa islet has become more famous since the successful 2014 novel "When the Cypress Whispers", by New York-based Erikoussan Yvette Manessis Corporon, being its setting. The islet has the best sandy beaches of the Diapóndia islets: Porto, extending 1km east from the new anchorage and ending in a sand dune; Fyki, about 15 minutes' walk beyond the main little two-street village; and remoter Bragini beyond Paliokályva hamlet but only accessible to those who elect to overnight here.
Othoni and Mathraki islets are both beautiful, with nice beaches, walking opportunities and a range of tavernas.
The Corfu Club`s beautiful golf course has been praised by many as one of golf`s best kept secrets in Europe. It was designed by the famous Swiss based architect, Donald Harradine and he has blended the natural resources of the lovely Ropa Valley with manmade hazards to make the course a good but fair test. It is as enjoyable for the scratch player, as it is for the long handicap one. From March to November and sometimes beyond, there is warm sunshine and blue skies in Corfu but even in high summer on the golf course there is almost always a cooling breeze blowing in from the sea. Golf is also played throughout the winter in Corfu, so anytime is golf time. There are three sets of tees thus providing enjoyment for all categories of players. The turf is very good and easy to walk on and every hole on the course provides infinite variety - and it`s own problems. The course is open 7 days a week - for more info check out: https://corfugolfclub.com .
No matter what one would wish for as an activity, from cycling to hiking and yoga, Corfu probably has it, since the touristic development of the island has been huge.
BEST BEACHES OF CORFU
Corfu has many beautiful beaches, almost all of which are well-organised, since the island is a cosmopolitan island. From the famous Paleokastritsa and Canal d' Amour in Sidari, located in the northern part of the island, to the exotic Halikounas Beach, located in the south part, one can't be but satisfied. Some of these beaches are listed below.
The north part of the island:
Paleokastritsa is arguably the most famous village of the island of Corfu located 25 km northwest of Corfu Town. The word "Paleokastritsa" literally means old fortress, witnessing the existence of such a castle on the rocky cave where now stands the Monastery of the Virgin Mary (Moni Theotokou, as it is called in Greek). The village of Paleokastritsa offers a plethora of local taverns overlooking the blue bay and six sandy and pebbled beaches which are scattered all around the area. Those beaches are surrounded by olive tree forests creating a dramatic yet beautiful scenery. This cosmopolitan resort stretches along a coastal road around stunning bays and a picturesque harbor where the excursion boats depart for the nearby and isolated beaches. At the end of the road, right after the main harbor is the Monastery of the Virgin that dominates the village. The monastery hosts an interesting collection of post Byzantine icons, books and other objects. The main beach of Paleokastritsa is quite small but extremely known for its extremely cold waters and delightful environment. It is considered as one of the best beaches of the island. It is surrounded by many bars and taverns therefore it is rarely quiet during the day. The area offers some excellent sea views, especially from Moni Theotokou (the monastery).
Moni Theotokou is on the headland above Paleokastritsa's western end. This Orthodox monastery dates from the 13th century, although the current buildings are more recent. An easy 10-minute walk (or even easier drive) up from the beach, it's a lovely spot, set amid colourful gardens, patrolled by contented cats, and blessed with bountiful views.
The six beaches in Paleokastritsa are equipped with all the necessary facilities and are ideal for swimming, doing water sports and, for the really active, this is the perfect setting for diving and snorkelling. More specifically:
- Agia Triada: Deep waters with a sometimes rocky, sometimes sandy sea bed. Water skiing, parasailing, boat rentals, bars and restaurants are just some of the facilities and activities you’ll find here.
- Alipa: A sandy beach, with big rocks along its northern part. Clean and crystal clear waters. Here you’ll find umbrellas, sun beds, boat rentals and a restaurant, as well as a fishing port.
- Agios Spyridonas: The most picturesque and popular of all the beaches in Paleokastritsa, since it looks out at the cliffs. It is fully-organised, and offers all sorts of water sports.
- Agios Petros: A beach with both sand and pebbles, it’s ideal for water sports.
- Ambelaki: A quiet beach with deep waters and a rocky sea bed. It is fully-equipped with umbrellas, sun beds and boat rentals.
- Platakia: Two neighbouring beaches with pebbles, umbrellas, sun beds and a restaurant.
The beaches of Sidari and the Canal d'Amour: the miracle of Nature
Canal d' Amour
The village of Sidari is quite known as one of the best tourist resorts in Corfu located 36 km from the main town. The village is surrounded by a charming landscape full of lush green forests. Nearby, to the west is the famous Canal d' Amour, which means "Channel of Love", an idyllic area with unique rock formations that form a series of wonderful coves and canals. The rocks run in different shades of yellow and lots of greenery at the top. One can reach these stunning coves through several paths and steps. With beautiful crystalline waters, the Channel of Love is one of the most unique spots in Corfu. According to the myth, if one swims in the Canal d'Amour, one will find one's soul mate and eternal love. That is why, couples who swim through the narrow canal will get married soon, according to the tradition. This beach is not recommended when it is windy though.
Apart from Canal D' Amour, in Sidari one can enjoy two more spectacular sand beaches with sandstone formations. The main beach is a two mile curve of sand, with shallow cold waters ideal for swimming and water sports. In Sidari there is also a water park that’s fun for all ages. The resort's main street is packed with shops and a wide choice of restaurants, tavernas, bars and nightclubs that stay open until early morning.
Longas Beach (or Loggas)
Being listed in the "Top 100 beaches of the World", Longas Beach is a must visit, although not so famous on the island. It is one of the most special and different beaches on the whole island and is located under the village of Peroulades. Slipped, vertical cliffs end up on a very narrow sandy beach, so narrow that when the sea is troubled the beach disappears. The layers of rocks above the beach consist mainly of clay sludge with sand layers separating them, creating an impressive scenery. So do not hesitate to polish all your body and face with the clay from the rocks. It is the best beauty product for natural exfoliation. The waters of Longa beach are clear, turquoise and shallow. The best time to visit Longa Beach is late afternoon to enjoy the sunset. The sun is right in front of the beach when it's lost in the sea. To get to Longa beach one has to cross the village of Peroulades. Signs will take visitors to a large car park next to a snack bar at the top of the cliff. From there, there is a short descent from stairs. Within a short distance from Longa there is the cape of Distra, a wonderful natural scenery for swimming, with scattered sedimentary islets in blue waters. After having a swim and do your natural spa treatment, or even if you are unlucky and the weather is windy there, don' t forget to have a coffee or snack at the snack-bar on the edge of the cliff. The view from there in combination with the glass bottom put at the edge of the cliff by the owners is absolutely stunning and an unforgettable experience!
Acharavi beach is one of the biggest beaches in Corfu with approximately a 3km length. It comprises a mix of sand and shingle and its shallow waters that remain waist height for around fifty metres from the shore-line makes it ideal from small children and people who have difficulty swimming.
For the more adventurous, Acharavi beach is organised and fully equipped for water sports, games and scuba diving. Moreover, there are showers and sun-beds available for hire. There are a number of tavernas, bars and cafes by the beach. There are 2 lifeguards based on the Acharavi beach and a system of coloured flags is used to inform you of whether the sea is safe enough to swim in. Although Acharavi beach is generally considered a safe place to swim due to the shallow waters, strong currents can appear quite quickly so we advise you to take note of the colour of the flag flying, just to be on the safe side.
What makes Acharavi beach so unique is that although it is never too crowded and it can offer the much needed isolation some tourists crave, it is located in close proximity to the main town which means that all the necessary amenities, such as banks, post office, doctors and pharmacies are within walking distance. Last but not least, the scenery is stunning. From west to east you can admire the neighbouring resort of Roda, the island of Ereikousa, the breathtaking mountains of Albania and the resort of Almyros. So don't forget to have an afternoon coffee or drink to see the sunset while enjoying the view by the beach.
Agios Georgios Pagon
It is one of the largest and quieter beaches of Corfu, is a very laid back, relaxed resort, not overly commercial, and appealing to those wanting a quiet holiday, but with things going on that they can join in if they choose. It is also ideal for families as it provides endless fun for the children and a peaceful day for the adults. It consists of soft sand and large shiny pebbles. It is covered with plenty of umbrellas and sunbeds while beautiful cypress trees that grow along the bay give a smooth natural feel. Moreover, there are bars and tavernas along the length of the sand and shingle beach. At the northern end, at the top of the cliff, there is the village of Afionas, with some really nice taverns. However, it should be stated that Agios Georgios ton Pagon means "St George of Ice", which reveals that the water is chilling.
Agios Stefanos is a small port for fishing boats and yachts in close distance to the lovely village of Kassiopi. Located about 35 km north east of Corfu Town, Agios Stefanos is surrounded by lush greenery. It is also lined up with traditional taverns and seaside cafeterias. Right next to the port, there is a small pebbled beach to swim. The coastline of Agios Stefanos and generally the coasts of north eastern Corfu have popular diving spots.
In general, all the way from Pyrgi to Kassiopi have many really beautiful beaches where one could have a great swim. For those who want as much privacy as possible Kouloura (a picturesque fishing village), Kerasia, Kanoni and Avlaki Kassiopis would be great choices.
The south part of the island:
A thin strip of land separates the beach from the protected Korission lagoon. Leave the sand dunes and walk across the wooden bridge to a rare forest with cedars and orchids (for more info check out "Korissia Lagoon" in the "Geography and Climate" section). The wind and waves in the area make Halikounas an ideal kite surfing destination.
Issos Beach lies adjacent to the famous Korission wetlands lake. It is also surrounded by sand dunes and unique flora, which separate the lake from the shoreline. Issos is a great family beach and offers amenities like sunbeds, umbrellas, and a watersports centre. Due to the high winds on this coastline, Issos is a popular place for kitesurfing and windboarding.
Travelling down south until Lefkimi, the second largest town in Corfu and a very picturesque village, one can find great beaches apart from Halikounas and Issos, such as Marathias, a long beach which is highly recommended by the locals for its crystal clear waters and the golden sand, and Agios Georgios Argyradon beach, which has won a Blue Flag for its cleanness. There, in Agios Georgios Argyradon, one can have a great meal in one of the tavernas, like the "Kafesas Tavern" for fish. The south, more traditional and less touristic than the north side of the island, is waiting for nature lovers and tourists who want peaceful swims to discover it and it is definitely going to reward them!
Even though Corfu has really nice beaches, it is an amazing experience to be there on two other parts of the year: during Greek Orthodox Easter and during Carnaval.
Greek Orthodox Easter
Easter celebration in Corfu is very special, and world-famous. On Holy Friday from the early afternoon the bands of the philharmonic societies, separated into squads, accompany the epitaphs of the town's churches. Late in the afternoon the squads come together to form the whole band in order to accompany the epitaph of the metropolitan church. The funeral marches that the bands play differ depending on the band. The Old Philharmonic plays Albinoni's Adagio, the Mantzaros plays Verdi's Marcia Funebre from Don Carlo, and the Kapodistria plays Chopin's Funeral March and Mariani's Sventura. On Holy Saturday morning the three town bands take part in the epitaph (Epitaphios) of St. Spyridon Cathedral in procession with the Saint's relics. This time the bands play different funeral marches, with Mantzaros playing de Miccheli's Calde Lacrime, the Palia playing Marcia Funebre from Faccio's opera Amleto, while the Kapodistria Philharmonic plays the Funeral March from Beethoven's Eroica. The custom dates from the 19th century, when the British banned the participation of the garrison's band in the traditional Holy Friday funeral cortege. The defiant Corfiotes held the litany the following morning, and paraded the relics of St. Spyridon as well, so that the British would not dare intervene.
The litany is followed by the most spectacular Corfiot celebration by far, the "Early Resurrection", when it rains "botides" as the tradition is called. Balconies in the old town are decked in bright red cloth, and Corfiotes throw down large clay pots full of water to smash on the street pavement, especially in wider areas of Liston and in an organised fashion. This is done in anticipation of the Resurrection of Jesus, which is to be celebrated that same night. Easter in Corfu is something you should experience at least once in your lifetime.
Another great Corfu tradition is the Carnival or Ta Karnavalia. Venetian in origin, the festivities include a parade featuring the main attraction of Karnavalos, a rather grotesque figure with a large head and a smiling face that leads a procession of many colourful floats. Corfiots, young and old, dress up in colourful costumes and follow the parade. They even spill into the narrow streets (kantounia), and spread the fun all over the city dancing and frolicking. At night, in more sophisticated social circles, dance and costume parties brighten up the nightlife.
HOW TO GET THERE
By plane: The airport of Corfu island "Ioannis Kapodistrias" is located very close to Corfu Town. It receives domestic flights from Athens and Thessaloniki. At summer it also receives direct flights and charters from abroad and it may have air connection with other Greek islands, such as Kefalonia and Zakynthos, operated by the small air companies.
By Ferry: Ferries to Corfu depart from Igoumenitsa and Patra. Ferries from Igoumenitsa need 1h30 to reach Corfu and run from early in the morning until midnight, every hour. Ferries to Corfu from Patra are usually overnight and need 7 hours. Moreover, Corfu is reachable by ferry from Italy, particularly from the ports of Venice, Bari and Ancona. These ferries are very convenient for Italian and central European passengers who want to travel with their car. There are also small ferries that connect Corfu with Lefkas (Vassiliki) and hydrofoils, carrying only passengers not cars, from Corfu to Paxi island. Corfu has two ports, one in Corfu Town and one in Lefkimi.