Corfu is the northernmost of the Greek islands in the Ionian Sea, and one of the most picturesque winter holiday destinations in Europe. Originally named Kerkyra, Corfu’s history blends into myth with the tale of how Poseidon, the God of the Sea, fell in love with a nymph and offered her the island as a gift.
Corfu has certainly seduced many tourists over the years, and will continue to do so thanks to her myriad charms. Particularly when the dark days of winter settle on Northern Europe, the island, which is set like a jewel in the sparkling sea, reveals itself as a true paradise on earth. From a compelling list of reasons, here are the top five best things about Corfu:
1. Bring out your inner artist in Corfu Town
The island’s main settlement is a higglety-pigglety arrangement of pastel-coloured buildings that will awake anyone’s artist spirit. With architecture heavily influenced by the Venetians who controlled Corfu through the Renaissance, every street offers a new archway or suggestive window that draws the eye around the next corner. The best way to explore it is on foot, stopping frequently at one of the numerous chic cafes for a typically light Greek-style snack or two.
2. Comb the coastal road to Kassiopi
Go north out of Corfu town on this winding coast road, to the village of Kassiopi which is dominated by an atmospheric Roman fortress. Stop on the way back for dinner at one of the seafood tavernas near the port where you can eat fish freshly caught by one of the local fishermen. Tuck into kalamarakia (baby squid) or garlicky king prawns and look out at the sun setting over the ocean.
3. Get a golden tan on Paleokastritsa Beach
The island’s most popular and well-appointed beach resort town is located in the north-west part of Corfu, only 15 miles from Corfu town. It is ideal for family holidays, including many sporting and entertainment facilities, as well as all the cafes, bars and supermarkets needed to cater for the independent traveller. The turquoise waters of the lagoon in this undulating coast contain caves, some of which can be explored on guided expeditions. The 15 beaches have umbrellas, deck chairs and small canoes for hire, while the crystal waters are excellent for swimming.
4. Get historical at the Achilleion Palace
This magnificent palace in the village of Gastouri was home to the Empress Sissy of Austria, until her death in 1890 when it passed to Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. Visitors can marvel at the opulence of the décor, including a mural depicting Greek hero Achilles, of whom the Empress was a particular fan. The glamorous reputation of the palace (which now operates as a museum) is sealed by the fact that it was the location for a scene in a James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only.
5. Escape to Mouse Island
A visit to Corfu wouldn’t be complete without seeing Mouse Island. The little island, out in the bay of Corfu Town near the Haliopoulos Lagoon, is coated in lush Mediterranean vegetation which hides its greatest treasure – a small, perfectly preserved Byzantine monastery. Reachable only by boat, Mouse Island has the feel of a gem hidden away from the world. For that reason, it is a perfect symbol for Corfu itself, a relaxing holiday destination quite unlike any other.