Greece has captured travellers’ hearts for years with her history, beauty and mythology. Additionally Corfu offers superb beaches, spectacular mountain scenery and a wealth of outdoor activities.
The island of Corfu lies within the Ionian Sea and offers a rich and varied culture thanks to previous rule by the British and Venetians. The north of the island is more mountainous and is generally quieter and more laidback, the center is home to traditional Corfiot villages and the south has sandy beaches and is livelier.
Explore the Venetian heritage of Corfu
Corfu Town, aka Kerkyra offers a myriad of bars, clubs and eateries and it’s also the center of the former Venetian empire. The town itself is dominated by the fortress looking out over the maze of sidestreets. Almost every corner seems to yield a historic chapel, secret garden or secret mansion. Wander the Old Fortress (Paleo Frourio) which was built between the 6th and 9th centuries by the Venetians, which remains cut off from the town by its iconic moat. The fort offers views over the UNESCO listed Old Town and as far as the Albanian coast in the north.
Don’t miss the mummified patron saint of Corfu at St. Spiridon’s Church. And explore the British built Palace of St. Michael and Church of St. George (built to resemble a Doric Temple) which served as the official residence of the Governor and where Prince Philip was actually born! Corfu Town is also the best place for choice of local gifts such as fig cakes, wild honey and handmade Greek lace.
Also make a point of visiting the exquisite Hellenic temple at Garitsa on the east coast. The Temple of Artemis was constructed in 580 BC and dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of childbirth and wild animals. It’s one of the finest Doric architecture examples in Europe.
Discover the former fishing village of Benitses
Benitses in central Corfu is a traditional sleepy fishing village with a good selection of tavernas and things to do during the day. Explore the site of an ancient Roman bath and hike up into the hills in search of the natural water springs where there is also an onsite shell museum. The beaches are largely pebble and stone and visitors can hire pedaloes, canoes and speedboats to explore the Ionian Sea.
Wander the beautiful Achillion Palace
Just 2km north of Benitses is the stunning Achilleon Palace which was built in 1890 for the Empress of Austria Elisabeth of Bavaria, who was also known as Sissy. Located in the village of Gastouri, this was used as Elisabeth’s retreat after losing her only son. The Palace was later owned by Kaiser Wilhelm and takes its name from Achilles, the mythical hero.
Climb Mount Pantokrator
Corfu is the perfect Greek island for walking and hiking, thanks to the stunning mountain scenery in the north and at 906 meters tall, this is the highest point on the island. Set off from Ano Perithia, which is Corfu’s oldest village and follow the track up to the summit. On a clear day the views are stupendous: Paxos and Anti Paxos to the south and Othondi, Mathraki and Erracusa islands to the north. And those with eagle eyes may even spot the very tip of Italy, which is over 80 miles away. There is a monastery at the very top of Pantokrator which is somewhat overshadowed by a large antennae!
Enjoy the beaches and watersports on offer
As well as being a budget-friedly destination, I can’t not mention the myriad of family-friendly beaches across Corfu – in fact there are a total of 35 blue flag recognised beaches across the island! Typically further north the beaches tend to be shingle and pebble, and golden sand in the south. The laidback village resort of Roda has a superb sandy beach, as does the relaxed resort of Kassiopi. Glifada beach has rough waters which are perfect for surfing and windsurfing. Many of the larger resort beaches offer a myriad of watersports activities such as waterskiing, parasailing, kayaking and pedalo trips. Yachts and boats can be chartered for a day trip into the Ionian Sea or join an organised tour to explore the surrounding islets and hidden bays and coves. And of course you can also swim and snorkel in the shallow and calm waters of Lefkimmi beach, Chalikounas beach and Messonghi beach.
Spend a day in Paleokastritsa
The beautiful Corfiot town of Paleokastritsa is set around three natural bays and is widely considered to be the island’s crowning glory. This locally treasured beauty spot gets busy with visiting day trippers and during the summer season the bays are filled with luxury yachts. Stroll the seafront and admire the beautiful green hills surrounding Paleokastritsa. Head up to the 17th century monastery (Moni Theotokou) on the headland and admire the beautiful ‘Tree of Life’ ceiling motif. Take a trip out into the bay on a small boat to discover the mysterious sea caves.
By Julie Bowman