THE GRAND LADY OF THE IONIAN ISLANDS
A majestic fort, romantic trails and beaches where the vegetation merges with the sapphire sea
Corfu, the Grand Lady of the Ionian, 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 19thcentury summer residence built for the British High Commissioner 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 here, and left their mark on the island’s numerous sights and attractions. They composed a diverse culture that you 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 Kerkyra as it is known in Greek – will certainly seduce you.
Things to do in Corfu
Corfu’shistoriccentre:asceneoutofaclassicfilm Unesco has declared the island’s historic centre a world heritage site. The stately buildings with neoclassical influences will dazzle you. Who could not be moved by the Palace of St Michael and St Georgiou, the Liston Arcade, the Reading Society, the Catholic cathedral, the Maitland rotunda, the Ionian Parliament and the Kapodistrias family mansion. In the famous alleyways of Campiello, with washing lines hanging above you, and in the opulent hotels with their VIP guests, you will feel like a star in a period movie.
On the eastern side of the city, the rocky shore crowned by two low peaks gave the name Koryfo (Κορυφώ) – Corfu (meaning peak) to the island. You enter the Old Fort (Palaio 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.
The trademark of Corfu island are actually other islands! They are the diminutive Pontikonisi, 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.
If you swim in the Canal d’Amour, the myth says 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 sand beaches with sandstone formations.
In the island’s most famous tourist resort, a lush blanket of green is draped across six rocky coves. Some scholars maintain 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.
The island’s imperial past could be the reason that it is considered one of the most glamorous and luxurious 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.
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 all the way from the British colonies.
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 watersports. Many beaches boast luxury hotels as well.
Hidden gems of Corfu
Sailaway…totheDiapontiaislands A favourite destination for mariners, the Diapontia islands north of Corfu are ideal for diving and fishing.
Pastitsada (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.
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.