At the edge of the northwestern frontier of Greece, Corfu is probably the imperial jewel in the Ionian crown. Lush with greenery and olive trees and splashed by turquoise waters, it is the second largest of the Ionian Islands. Corfu’s Venetian, French and British past makes for a fascinating cultural, historical, even architectural trajectory, while Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, was washed ashore in its emerald waters before finally returning to Ithaki. Once a preferred holiday destination for the aristocracy of Europe, Corfu remains today one of the most sought-after destinations for sophisticated international vacationers.
An air steeped in history surrounds Corfu’s Old Town, an UNESCO designated world heritage site. Authentic towns, picturesque villages, traditional settlements make Corfu’s countryside equally fascinating, whether visiting the Folkloric Museum in Siranades, checking out the churches in Lefkimmi or taking in the vista from Makrades. With beaches to match all this splendor, Corfu is a Greek summer’s dream. Green-covered cliffs and olive tree forests surround the coast of Paleokastritsa, where sea caves of striking beauty wait to be explored. Rock formations create an attractive backdrop in Agios Gordios, while Pelekas’s golden sand is always a major attraction. Here, in the hilltop village, Kaiser Willhelm II marveled at the sunset, his lookout point called Kaiser’s Throne. Glyfada remains the most popular beach, gathering quite a big crowd with its crystalline waters. Nissaki resembles a blue lagoon, while Issos appears to be one with the horizon.
The Old Fortress, built on the site of a Byzantine castle, spreads majestically to the sea and cannot be missed. Dating from the 10th century, it truly is a part of living history. Enter the grounds and stop to enjoy the picturesque sea moat, lined with small fishing boats. Further inside, the Byzantine Museum displays an interesting collection of mosaics and Byzantine frescoes. Breathe in the sea air and start for the climb past the Venetian clock tower and up to the lighthouse at the very top. Enjoy the simply stunning views of Corfu Town, the harbor and Mountain Pantokrator to the North. Back down, the church of Saint George, built in 1840, resembles an ancient Doric temple. Now compare notes with the New Fortress built three decades after the ‘Old’. Wander through the maze of tunnels, moats and fortifications and transfer yourself back in time.
The Royal Tour
1. The Achilleion, the palace that Empress Elizabeth of Austria, the legendary Sissy, built as a summer retreat in Gastouri retains it grandeur and splendor. Named after Achilles, her favourite Greek hero, the Palace showcases royal rooms and Sissy’s personal objects, allowing for more than a glimpse into her world. After her death, Kaiser Wilhelm bought it, the jetty that he built for his royal cruises still intact. Get out to the terrace or walk around the majestic and landscaped gardens for a dose of imperial air. For those who prefer their martini shaken and not stirred, you should know that this was also the setting for the casino scene in the James Bond film ‘For your Eyes Only’.
2. Another Palace, another exploration in the royal world and decorum. Up on a hill in the Kanoni area, Mon Repos stands tranquil, the sea breeze blowing in its magnificent gardens, where ruins from the 7th and 6th centuries BC can still be seen. Built by the British High Commissioner for his Corfiot wife, it was subsequently the summer residence of the Greek royal family. The exterior blends a colonial rhythm with neoclassical elements, while in the interior, drawing rooms and state rooms have retained their haute ambience. Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elisabeth II, was born in this palace in June 1921.
Play a game of golf at the Corfu Golf Club, in the lovely Ropa Valley. It is featured in the âEncyclopedia of Golfâ as one of the greatest championship courses in continental Europe. As much enjoyable for the scratch player as the long handicap one, the golf course was designed by the famous Swiss based architect, Donald Harradine.
Go horse trekking, through numerous olive groves, small villages and hilly terrain. This is the best way to see the island’s spectacular countryside. Be cultured. Enjoy an opera evening in Corfu’s Chamber Opera. Don’t be boring. Snorkel around the sea cliffs and the caves in Paleokastritsa or go up the green hill to the pious Monastery and visit the small ecclesiastical Museum with rare Byzantine icons and holy books.
Hire a private boat and explore. In Corfu you will enjoy some of the most picturesque beaches of the Ionian. Hope on a sailboat and enjoy the amazing beauty of the small Ionian islands of Paxi and Antipaxi, with theirturquoise waters, picturesque villages, and unique fjords with the sea caves. Go even further to the coast of Epirus and immerse in the outstanding natural landscape of Sivota.
Maria Nikolakaki is Managing Partner at Beyond Spaces Villas.