Island of Phaeacians
Finally managed to find a great deal to another Greek island, something that usually is “mission impossible” due to the sky-high flight fares all around. Does not really matter when in the year we look to any Greek destination other than Athens or Thessaloniki where prices to both are acceptable; for anywhere else it seems to always be high season somehow. That’s the only reason why our trips to Greece are coming slower than we wished for, where there are so, so many destination in our bucket list that it’s our big challenge. Perhaps a cruise through the Aegean Sea would be the most appropriate, but for now let’s keep jet-setting.
Although Corfu was not in our agenda at first instance, it is always a great welcome to be able to get somewhere not been before now that incredibly, we are starting to kind of run out of flight routes across Europe! As crazy as it sounds, but it’s a truth. Nevertheless, with that countless cities across 5o countries that form the continent, it is always difficult to run out, especially when returning to plenty others eager to see more.
The city of Corfu has been inscribed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old Town clearly gives you the idea on why, with the beautiful Venetian Italianate buildings; clear reminder of the past when the island formed part of the Venetian Empire. But this is not all, the British when they took control of the island also left their legacy with Georgian and Victorian constructions. After the first impressions in the island you will not feel this is part of Greece after all, only because of the language.
Should you be coming here with the only intention of visiting the city, then a weekend is well enough, yet there are many other places probably more worth to visit around the island, some of which I mention in the section below. One that cannot be missed is really next door to the Corfu Town, and is the Achilleion Palace, summer residence of Sisi the Empress. And perhaps, the most beautiful views along the coast, mountains and sea is at Angelokastro. From the top of Byzantine castle you will have the entire Palaiokastritsa Bay at your foot. Then, beaches. Out of question during summer months this is the major attractive to the thousands of tourists visiting, but do not expect those to be that great or all sandy beaches; it is the fact that majority are rocky. In any case and even that the island does not seem (at first look) big, there is a great choice of activities and places to visit that deserve more time than just a weekend. Our case, as usual, was a bit special that we were able to see most of the key places in just 2 days, but having a rental car helped us to achieve this.
Food… Smile you are in Greece! Great choice anywhere, at very reasonable prices. Quite a surprise that even prime locations were not any higher in cost than more local places. Now mind something and remember this, portions are large, some, very large. When ordering a Greek salad then make sure you share it between 2 of you, and if you want to order one per person, then do not go for a main course but a starter instead. Believe me when I tell you won’t be able to eat it all otherwise.
For more information about Corfu check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Greece’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Corfu
- Corfu Town The capital and largest city in the island, listed since 2007 as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
-New Fortress Known is Greek as Neo Frourio is a complex of fortifications located on the north eastern side of the city. You will see the Lion of Saint Mark, symbol of Venice, adorning many walls. The current buildings inside the fortress date from the British rule of the island (1815-1863).
-Contra-Fossa The area between the fortress and the city is an artificial fossa, with a salt water ditch that in turn is used as a marina.
-Old Fortress Known as Palaio Frourio in Greek was built during the Venetian rule on an artificial islet with fortification surrounding the entire perimeter. From the top you will get the finest views of the entire city of Corfu below and the sea.
-Spianada In English, the Esplanade is the largest square and open area and park between the Old Fortress and the Old Town. To the north side of it is the famous Liston.
-Liston This is the name that in Venetian language is given to a part of the city, or section, or square. In this case, this is the largest square in the city, surrounded by beautiful buildings creating a continuous arched gallery towards the square.
-Panagia Mandrakina Church Built in the 18th century.
-Maitland Monument Is the Roman style rotunda from the era of British Administration, built to commemorate Sir Thomas Maitland.
-Palaia Anaktora This large complex of palaces used to be the residence of the British Governors and then the King of Greece. Built in 1819 designed in Roman style, the palatial complex is now part exhibition halls, part museum. The gardens are also a must see for their exotic trees, beautiful Venetian fountains and landscaping.
-City Hall Housed in the former Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo di Corfu. It is an extraordinary beautiful building in a nice little square.
-Ionian Academy Was the first Greek academic institution established in modern times in 1824, and considered the precursor of the Ionian University having Law, Medicine and Philology. It was moved in 1864 to the newly formed in Athens.
-Saint John and Saint Sosipater Church Is the oldest in the entire island.
-Panagia Spiliotissa Cathedral Is the main Greek Orthodox church in the island. Located on top of a small hill with a narrow staircase leading from the old port.
-Saint Spyridon Church Dedicated to the patron saint of the island. The bell tower is the highest in the island. Built in 1589 is the holiest place in Corfu.
-Kantounias Is the name that received the narrow cobblestone streets around the old city, area listed as UNESCO site. In a city where space was since the beginning so limited, the streets could not be wide as every little space count.
- Around the island Corfu is not only about its capital city, but the beautiful Mediterranean flair villages and the impressive coastline, nature and beaches.
-Pontikonisi Island Literally meaning mouse island, located to the south of Corfu City meters away from the airport runway, and accessible by boat from Corfu’s harbour. It is because of the white staircase if seen from the distance, gives the impression of a mouse tail, hence the nickname mouse island.
-Vlacheraina Monastery Next to Pontokonisi and in another island is one of the most famous sights in Corfu.
-Achilleion Palace Located 10 kilometers to the south of Corfu City, was built upon the wishes of Empress Elisabeth of Bavaria (Sisi) since Corfu was her favourite holiday destination and her love for Greece. The entire palace and gardens are designed upon the idea of the mythical hero Achilles. From the Imperial Gardens you will get beautiful views over the Ionian Sean and in the distance Corfu City. The location, design and beauty make it one of the favourite tourist attractions in the island.
-Kynopiastes Located 10 kilometers from the airport to the southwest, is one of the most traditional and beautiful villages in the island. Completely preserved and restored with 17th and 18th century colourful houses.
-Lakones At 24 kilometers to the northwest, from here you will get the great views over the bay of Palaiokastritsa.
-Angelokastro Castle Located on the highest peak on the island’s shoreline near Palaiokastritsa port city, and next to Lakones. Byzantine castle, built in the 12th century AD. Although an apparently entrance fee of 2 Euros was written in a board at the entrance, by the time we went there the booth was closed and the entrance totally open to anyone. Probably because of the low demand in people during the low season months the site remains open and un-manned. In any case even if I have to pay 2 Euros or more, it’s well worth it for the incredible views at the top.
Ioannis Kapodistrias is the only airport in the island and main point of entry, following by boat on second place. The airport is few kilometers from the center of Corfu Town and therefore very convenient to reach its capital. Unfortunately in the other hand, there is no public transportation linking both. The only transport is then, taxis at around 17 euros fixed fare (will be displayed in a notice board or plaque in the taxi), of shared shuttle at 16 euros per person. As you see, it does not make sense to take a shared shuttle if you are more than one person.
Within the island you can count with few public buses linking the cities, though not very frequent especially on the farther routes. Local buses within Corfu Town cost 1.10 Euros if you buy your tickets at the machines in the bus stops, or 1.60 Euros if you buy it from the driver.
In any case and knowing about the limited transportation specially if you do not have too much time, the best option is to rent a car and be independent. It is perfectly possible to have a round in the island in a day because of the short distances, and visit the most important places easily in a weekend.
Corfu boats a huge amount of hotels everywhere in the island. From small to large resorts, for what will be quite easy to find a good deal to suit your needs. Also, bear in mind the high/low season months because prices extremely depend on those circumstances. I cannot imagine coming here anyway during high season although I understand majority of the tourists coming here would like to enjoy the beaches, something you cannot do in winter time. April, when we went, was still cold to be in the beach, not to mention the water was way cold, but what we paid in the other hand for the hotel was nuts compared to what would be in summer. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms, Ebookers or TUI.
We stayed at the Aquis Mon Repos Palace, in Dimokratias Avenue & Iasonos Sosipatrou. This was near the windmill at the southeastern edge of the city. Not quite in the city center, but a very nice 20 minutes walk and next to really good restaurants we had the chance to try both days. The hotel was really nice, modern, comfortable and with all the facilities you need. It does have a small pool too, yet meters away there is a small sandy beach. The staff dealt with all our requests and questions in very professional way, and was nice to receive while checking in a nice glass of chilled sparkling wine. The rooms are spacious, very clean and of simple but functional design, with a balcony with a table and some chairs at every room.