“Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen.” Gerald Durrell
Having already visited the Greek Islands of Santorini, Mykonos and Ios I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the Ionian island of Corfu. I had heard varying reports of a lush green island with stunning beaches, crystal clear waters, and fishing villages as well as tacky beach resorts, and a less charming side. As always I decided to try to set those aside and form my own opinion when I got there – which I am so glad I did.
We visited in May right at the start of the season, which meant long sunny days without the scorching heat of summer, and cool breezy evenings. Without the full onslaught of tourists, it still had that laid back ‘island paced’ feel and the locals were relaxed and friendly. We based ourselves in the North of the island on the outskirts of the village of Sidari – about 45km from the airport. Truth be told, if it had been peak season we would have stayed elsewhere, but we were concerned about having enough facilities open for business in some of the less frequented villages at that time of year.
In the interest of transparency I will say that our first impression of Sidari was mixed – it seemed to be a little run down in parts. It was evident that the tough economic climate had hit hard, however there was a steely determination amongst the locals that it certainly wouldn’t stop them and they would pick back up. Putting all of that to one side our location on the outskirts of the village was quiet and peaceful yet a short ten minute stroll had us on the main strip with a huge choice of tavernas, cafes, bars and restaurants, along with various shops and travel booking offices.
Most of the beach side tavernas offer a great breakfast selection, and sitting in the sunshine, overlooking the sea every morning we really did have to pinch ourselves. A stroll through town past the famous Canal d’Amour and into the countryside was the perfect way to work off breakfast and blow away the cobwebs – especially if you’d overindulged in the widely available 3 euro cocktails the night before. Walking down the rural lanes you really see the traditional Corfiot way of life – farmers with sun lined faces and toothy grins full of character would wave as we passed, and women sat gathered in the shade of olive trees going about their morning chores. Farm houses – their terraces draped with bougainvillea, fragrant orange and lemon groves, peaceful country tavernas and endless blue skies all worked their magic and the distant pressures of home soon seemed to fade away. On the way back into town there are several sandy paths winding their way down towards the limestone cliffs which drop into the turquoise waters of the Ionian sea. Steep trails take you down to small secluded coves which are perfect for a refreshing dip as the heat of the day starts to settle in.
If like me, you’re not content to sit by a pool for your entire holiday there are plenty of excursions which are well worth doing and offer really good value for money. A day trip into charming Corfu Town is in my humble opinion a must do. Also know as Kerkyra, UNESCO world heritage listed Corfu Town is enchanting with its Old Fortress, historic cobbled streets lined with faded pastel Venetian mansions, old churches and sun-dappled squares. There are plenty of shops selling ceramics, leather goods, clothing, jewellery, local crafts and produce. If shopping isn’t your thing relax in the gardens of the Esplanade (Spianada Square), or visit one of the many cafes in the Parisian influenced Liston building with its arched terraces – a great spot for people watching. With a huge variety of restaurants to choose from you can easily spend the evening here and enjoy the cosmopolitan atmosphere as the sun starts to dip.
Also a must do is the idyllic village of Paleokastritsa. Start with a visit to the 13th century Byzantine Monastery, perched high on the hills above the village. With a beautiful bell tower, stunning ocean views and tranquil terraced gardens complete with sunbathing cats, it is well worth the effort. In the village itself there are several turquoise bays to cool off in, boat trips out to explore the caves along the coastline and plenty of options for lunch and refreshments. About 4km from Paleokastritsa is the traditional mountain village of Lakones. Its narrow roads are lined with 18th and 19th century stone houses, and if you are travelling through by bus you will find yourself involuntarily holding your breath while the driver navigates the road. From the vantage point of Bella Vista, a little further along, there are endless views down to the bays of Paleokastritsa and out across the Ionian Sea. For me standing there soaking up the views in the afternoon sunshine with Greek accordion music gently wafting on the breeze will be one of those memories that stays with me forever.
In summing up Corfu, like most destinations is what you make of it. Yes, it is true, times are tough in Greece and you can see this in areas. However, for me the positives far out-weighed any negatives. With only a week to explore we barely scratched the surface of what the island has to offer. The true test is always ‘would you go back’ and for me the answer is ‘in a heartbeat’.
Talk to the locals – the Corfiots are genuinely some of the friendliest people I have ever come across. If you need advice on what to do and see, how to get there, where to eat, etc. they are happy to help. Their warmth, sense of humour and generosity of spirit made our trip and we left feeling as though we had friends in Corfu.
Eating out – there are a huge variety of places to eat with something to suit everyone. Family run Greek Tavernas are well priced and I have to say serve some of my favourite food on the planet. Greek salads, tzatziki, saganaki, calamari, kebabs, moussaka, fresh seafood – I could go on forever. My personal favourite, and a first for me was the ‘baked feta’ which I will try to replicate on the blog in the future. If, however Greek food isn’t your thing there are plenty of other options from steakhouses and American style diners to Mexican and Italian restaurants.
Self catering – Most accommodation also has limited self catering facilities – great for lighter meals and snacks on a budget. The local stores sell a wide variety of lovely fresh fruit and vegetables, freshly baked bread and pastries, yoghurt, deli meats, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and of course feta cheese all of which are great to have on hand.
Vegetarians – As a vegetarian, I sometimes struggle when eating out abroad. However, in Corfu there were plenty of options and I felt spoilt for choice.
Visit out of peak season – I would highly recommend visiting in May, or late September to October if you can. From June – August it can be very crowded and the temperatures also soar. If you are visiting in Spring or Autumn pack some warmer items for the evening as it does get chilly, especially by the sea. A light waterproof jacket and decent walking shoes are also a good idea.
Departing Corfu – when leaving Corfu the queues to pass through customs can actually get so long they go outside of the terminal itself. This can mean long periods of standing in the sun waiting, so make sure you apply sunscreen before you go and take water with you. You will thank yourself for it believe me. Apart from a small stall across the road from the terminal, there are limited places to eat until you get through customs, so it pays to have a small snack in your bag to keep you going as well.
Sunset or Logas Beach – if you are staying in the Sidari area it is definitely worth a visit to Panorama Restaurant/7th Heaven Bar in Logas Beach on a clear evening to watch the sunset. A taxi from Sidari will cost you around 10 euro. Try to arrive a bit early to get a seat with a view in the bar/restaurant. It is a bit pricier than some other places but the views and chill out music are worth the premium. When you’re ready to return to Sidari the bar staff will call you a taxi.
Day trips – at the time of our visit a day trip to Corfu Town was around 10 euro per person. Paleokastritsa and Bella Vista was around 15 euro per person. There are a large selection of other trips on offer, including a day trip to Albania, water parks, horse riding and various cruises.
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