Are you deciding on your 2019 travel destinations? This is why Corfu should be on your list.
Corfu, an island off Greece’s northwest coast in the Ionian Sea, is known for its rugged mountains and a resort-studded shoreline. Its cultural heritage reflects years spent under Venetian, French and British rule before it was united with Greece in 1864. Corfu Town, flanked by 2 imposing Venetian fortresses, features winding medieval lanes, a French-style arcade and the grand Palace of St. Michael and St. George. Corfu’s old town has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in a bid to preserve this history.
To help you plan ahead for your Corfu vacation by reading about, read about some of the amazing things that you can see and do in this truly unique place.
1. Old Town elegance
Corfu Town, known to locals as Kerkyra, is the island’s capital, and its old quarter is a Unesco-listed beauty. The Venetians ruled Corfu between 1386 and 1797, and it is here in Kerkyra old town that you can clearly see their influence. Cobbled alleys and streets that invite leisurely strolling are lined with tall, elegant, pastel-colored buildings, two imposing 16th-century fortresses standing guard above them all. The Paleo Frourio (Old Fort) and Neo Frourio (New Fort) were used for more than 400 years to defend the Republic of Venice from the Ottoman Empire, but are now some of the best places in Kerkyra for spectacular views across the town and out to sea. Head to the vast green space known as the Spianada (Esplanade) – the largest town square in Greece – for a bite to eat or a drink in one of its many restaurants and bistros. Laid out by the French in the 19th century during their brief period of occupation, the carefully tended lawns are the perfect spot for some people watching – you might even catch a game of cricket, a legacy of British rule.
2. Old Fortress (Citadel)
This Old Fortress lies on a little, rough landmass, east of the old town. It was built by the Venetians in 1546 on a site that once housed a mansion. Walk around the battlements to discover historic landmarks showcasing a range of architectural styles. Visit a museum of historic Byzantine objects and enjoy impressive views over the Old Town of Corfu Town. The history of the Old Fortress dates back to the 6th century when the Goths forced residents of an ancient city to settle on a promontory. The Byzantines began the construction of a fortification, which was finished by the Venetians between the 1400s and 1700s. If you travel to Corfu by ferry, look for the fortress as your first and last images of the island.
3. Mon Repos
This Neoclassical royal residence of Mon Repos Palace is situated on top of Analipsis hill, near Kanoni area, in the middle of a beautiful setting full of greenery. It was built in 1826 by the British Commissioner Frederic Adams as a gift to his Corfiot wife, Nina Palatianou. It is a small but very beautiful palace with colonial architectural elements. Later on, the palace became the summer residence of all British governors of Corfu and when the Ionian Islands were united to Greece, in 1864, it was given as a gift to King George I of Greece. This is also the house where Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elisabeth II, was born into on June, 10th, 1921. Other than being a royal vacation destination, the castle is additionally used to have meetings.
4. The Achilleion
The Achilleion is one of the most famous royal mansions in Europe and perhaps the most important architectural landmark in Corfu. Located in Gastouri, approximately 10 km from Corfu Town, it was designed by the Italian architects Raffaele Caritto and Antonio Lanti, in the Pompeian order and built-in 1890 for the Empress Elisabeth of Austria (also known as Sissy), who, because of her delicate health condition, hoped to holiday there. The villa was dedicated to Achilles and the courtyard is filled with statues of ancient Greek mythology, the most famous works being the Seven Muses and the Dying Achilles, by the German sculptor Ernst Herter.
Elisabeth, the “melancholy queen”, was murdered in 1898 and Emperor of Germany Wilhelm II bought the Achilleion Palace, where he lived during his regular spring visits to Corfu. On your visit enjoy the impressive garden and staggering perspectives toward the ocean. A sound guide is available in different dialects, to bring the place and its history to life.
5. Church of St. Spyridon (Áyios Spyrídon)
The Saint Spyridon Church is a Greek Orthodox church that was built in the 1580s. It houses the relics of Saint Spyridon and it is located in the old town of Corfu. It is a single-nave basilica and its bell tower is the highest in the Ionian Islands, making it the most famous church in Corfu. According to traditional accounts, in 1489, after the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the relics of St. Spyridon were brought to Corfu from Constantinople by Greek monk Georgios Kalochairetis, and the church was later built to house them. Local people believe that his presence has spared their island from disaster over the years, and his relics are kept in a silver coffin that is marched around town during high religious holidays. As a tribute to Spyridon, one of the most popular names on the island is Spiros.
6. The Esplanade
The biggest square in Greece can be found on Corfu island and is likely to be the first thing you see as you approach the Old Town, and very possibly the last if you use the adjacent car park. The Esplanade overlooks the heart of the Old Town, a short walk from Liston, and is surrounded by beautiful historic buildings. The name (in Greek, Spianada) came from the Italian word, spianare, meaning flatten and is connected with the Venetians’ decision to demolish the surrounding houses in 1576 to improve the island’s defences. The French also left their mark here over the years and today the square is divided into Upper and Lower and all the commercial and social activity on the island concentrates here. This is where the pulse of the centre beats, and from morning until late at night it is a lively meeting point.
7. The Royal Palace: Museum of Asian Art
At the top end of the ‘Spaniada’, Corfu Town’s central park area stands the neoclassical Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George. Based on findings, it was built by the British between 1819-1824 and was initially used as the home of the British Commissioners of the Ionian Islands. As the years progressed the building served a variety of purposes such as the seat of the Ionian State, the Chivalric Orders of Saint Michael and Saint George as well as the Ionian Parliament. Following the Ionian Islands union with Greece in 1864, the palace was used as a summer home by the Greek Royal Family. Today it is home to the Museum of Asian Art, the only museum in Greece dedicated to the art of Asia, it contains a wide collection of brilliant Chinese, Japanese and Indian artistic creations as well as porcelain figures dating from the Neolithic time.
8. The New Fortress
It is said that the best panoramic view of Corfu is from the New Fortress of the city, which dominates on the hill of Agios Markos, above the old port. Built in the 16th century by the Venetians in order to fortify the defence, as the Old Fortress was no longer enough. You are welcome to wander through the well maintained old emplacements, ammunition depots, water reservoirs and underground galleries of the New Fortress, all so well-maintained that they give a very clear picture of the defence methods of the Venetians at the time. The stone barrack, built during British rule, now hosts cultural events, and your entrance ticket entitles you to a free drink at the municipal cafeteria from where you can enjoy the views towards the ocean.
9. The Church of Saints Jason and Sosipater
This small Church of Saints Jason and Sosipater is found close to Mon Repos and is devoted to two of St. Paul’s followers. In AD 70, they conveyed the message of Christianity to the island. Its design is enlivened by Byzantine with the inside initially covered in frescoes. Sadly, these were whitewashed in 1820, however, a few parts of the works of art can still be seen.
10. Pontikonisi (Mouse Island)
Off the southern tip of Kanoni, settled these two little islets reach up from the ocean. The little seventeenth-century Monastery of Vlakhérna can be visited and beyond this, you’ll discover Mouse Island, known as Pontikonísi. It is delegated by a whitewashed Byzantine Chapel and a group of cypress trees. On the off chance that you need to get away from the city life, postcard-perfect Pontikonísi is the place to be. You have to get a vessel from Kanóni harbour to arrive.
11. Best of the beaches
Those seeking a spot on a gorgeous stretch of sand are spoilt for choice in Corfu. On the west coast, 10 miles from Corfu Town, the long, golden stretch of Glyfada beach is lined with sunbeds and umbrellas and backed by hillsides covered with pine woods. There are water sports facilities and a string of tavernas means you can settle in for the day without having to think about packing up the cooler. Also on the west coast but further north, Paleokastritsa, often considered one of the most beautiful villages in Greece, sits on a lengthy stretch of indented coast with a number of deep, curving bays sheltering gorgeous beaches that back onto olive groves and cypress trees.
12. A walk with a view
If walking is your thing, then you’ll want to know about the Corfu Trail, which covers 220 Kilometres from one end of the island to the other, and takes around 10 days to hike in its entirety. For those less physically inclined, the walk from the village of Perithia to the peak of Mount Pantokrator is a more manageable proposition. At almost 3,000ft, Pantokrator is the highest point on Corfu, and though you can drive to the top, the two-hour hike takes you through some lovely mountain scenery and allows you a certain amount of smugness when you reach its end. At the summit sits a Greek Orthodox monastery originally built in the 14th century, though rebuilt in both the 17th and 19th and the views down to Corfu’s satellite islands, across to Albania and even Italy on a clear day are magnificent. Make your way back down to pretty Venetian-era Perithia, nestled on the mountain’s northern slope, to enjoy a drink in one of the small tavernas and sample the local cuisine.
Getting Around the Island
The best way to get around Corfu is by bus or on foot. Renting a car is also an option if you’re wanting to explore the island and want more flexibility. Consider taking a Corfu Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour or a Shore Excursion: Corfu Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour during your visit. If you just plan on lounging by the beach your whole vacation or are staying central to Corfu Town, your own two feet should suffice.
** This post was made possible with the support of Luxury Retreats Corfu.