Ancient fortresses meet secluded beaches
Having greatly inspired the Durrells, Corfu continues to beguile writers and other visitors today. The second largest of the Ionian Islands, Corfu has its fair share of package holiday destinations of course, but you don’t have to wander far to discover the island’s quieter, more refined side. This is best exemplified by the stretch of north east coast between the villages of Nissaki and Kassiopi where rugged, pebbly coves and delicious tavernas beckon you. The island benefits from a strong Venetian influence evidenced in the weathered buildings. Charming seaside villages, family-friendly beaches and captivating coastal walks all await discovery, too.
Wander the pedestrianised streets of UNESCO-listed Corfu Town past the 14th Century Old Fortress and up the Tower of the Land to take in views of terracotta roofs and neoclassical buildings shining against the shimmering backdrop of the Ionian. Pause for lunch at Marina’s Tavern in the old Jewish Quarter – try the spicy aubergine casserole – before getting lost in the tangle of narrow alleyways of the Campiello neighbourhood. Cool off with a pistachio gelato at the near century old Papagiorgis patisserie. For a late-night tipple head to Cafe Bristol where the cool set kick back to a Latin jazz soundtrack. Go diving off the Colovri islet to witness schools of tuna, jacks, anthia and nudibranch amid reefs, caves and canyons. Make the pilgrimage to Paleokastritsa’s Theotokos Monastery and its tiny 13th Century church adorned with rare relics. Then drink in the spectacular view from the monastery of the town’s turquoise seascape. Gourmands will want to drop in on the village of Agni, renowned as a culinary hotspot on the north east coast with a trio of tempting tavernas to try. Wrap up your night with a cocktail and a movie with your toes in the sand at former hippy haunt Kontogialos Beach. Why wait? Book your flights to Corfu today.
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Make the most of your Corfu holiday
Hit the west coast where the hills are studded with olive and pine trees and hire a boat to explore some deserted beaches only accessible by water. Drop anchor in hidden hotspots such as Giali, Limni, Paradise, Stelari and Iliodoros, to name just a handful.
What are the best things to do in Corfu?
- Crowning the rocky eastern headland of Corfu Town sits the 14th Century Venetian fortress Palaio Frourio. The colossal structure once held the entire Byzantine city within its thick stone walls. Today you can visit part of the sprawling complex. Cross the seawater moat and make the climb up to the lighthouse for sublime views and check out the gatehouse holding the Byzantine Collection of Corfu.
- Perched high on a clifftop eight miles from Corfu Town sits the majestic Achilleion Palace built during the 1890s as the summer residence of Austria's empress Elisabeth, the niece of King Otto of Greece. Its twin charms are the ornately decorated central staircase and the sweeping garden terraces which afford fantastic views. Free audio guides enrich the visitor experience.
- The Corfu Museum of Asian Art is well worth a look – you can browse prehistoric bronzes, works in ivory and onyx, and much more in its extensive collection. One room tells the chronological story of Chinese ceramics with extraordinary jade carvings and snuff bottles, while another showcases Japanese artefacts, such as splendid samurai armour and Noh theatre masks.
- The writer Lawrence Durrell described Myrtiotissa Beach as ‘perhaps the most beautiful in the world’ and you might be inclined to agree when you reach it. This sandy beach popular with nudists is fringed by high cliffs bursting with thick trees and greenery. It remains relatively untouched due to its remote location down a steep and narrow kilometre-long dirt track. There’s a handful of recliners and umbrellas, plus a small canteen.
- Just a 10-minute boat ride from the Old Port lies Vidos Island, a tiny, idyllic, densely wooded spot. Vidos has its fair share of history being the final resting place for thousands of Serbian soldiers who perished during World War I – they’re commemorated by a mausoleum on the island. There are several hiking trails, caves to explore and three pristine beaches, plus one good value taverna on the jetty.
- On a remote, green hill sits the Paleokastritsa Monastery, a vast 18th Century complex built on the site of a Byzantine monastery dating back to 1228. A small museum houses relics including holy books and rare Byzantine icons, while you can also see a working olive press inside the monastery.
- The monumental Angelokastro castle was built in the 13th Century to withstand attacks from pirates. You can’t miss the impressive domed gates at the entrance or the building’s grand storage rooms. Another interesting feature is an ancient church dedicated to the angels Gabriel and Michael built inside a cave.
Where to visit in Corfu
The quiet seaside town of Alykes Potamos is situated on the island’s east coast. Sleepy and secluded, with a dramatic pine forest backdrop, Alykes Potamos is ideal for relaxing holidays in Corfu. This peaceful oasis lies just 10 minutes from Corfu Town – so you can easily combine its low-key charm with the bustle of the capital. With its tranquil sandy beach and humble family-run tavernas, this is the perfect place to get away from it all.
Corfu Town, the island’s capital, blends the elegance of the past with the cosmopolitan flavour of the present. Mazes of cobbled streets meander from the UNESCO World Heritage Site Old Town to the esplanade, revealing weathered architecture, hidden squares and churches. The historic centre is enclosed by two coastal fortresses, with Mon Repos beach a little over a mile away.
On the east coast, Dassia strikes the perfect balance between quiet days and evenings that are just the right side of lively. It’s low-key and friendly – you’ll find shops, bars and restaurants strung along the coastal road of this small town. There’s a shingle beach that invites you to either relax or try your hand at a variety of water sports. In the evening lively tavernas provide the setting for cosy candle-lit dinners or lengthy Greek meals with traditional mezes.
The tiny village of Glyfada epitomises quiet Corfu holidays. Keeping things simple, it has a glorious sandy beach, a handful of tavernas – and that’s about it. Half an hour’s drive from lively Corfu Town, Glyfada is tucked away on Corfu’s west coast, framed by spectacular pine forests. Nearby, the ever-changing scenery of the Corfu Trail weaves its way across the island, passing inland villages and historic ruins.
Once a Venetian naval base, Gouvia now boasts a sophisticated waterfront and a marina adorned by luxury yachts. Dine harbour-side at waterfront cafes and restaurants or head to the centre for traditional Greek restaurants and lively bars. You’ll find several beaches in this area, the main stretch being a half-moon shingle bay which is a hotspot for water sports.
Sidari is a popular holiday resort on Corfu’s north coast packed with hotels, restaurants, bars, supermarkets and souvenir shops. The main attraction is the town's vast sandy beach, which has shallow waters and is chock full of amenities such as shops, bars, tavernas, water sports, and boat and pedalo hire. There’s a lively nightlife scene and other attractions nearby include a scuba diving school, the impressive rock formations of Cape Drastis and the Sidari Water Park, which is attached to a hotel of the same name.
Which holiday type in Corfu is right for me?
Perhaps you’re searching for a cheap holiday to Corfu? Look no further than the Mareblue Beach with three swimming pools to relax in, a kids’ club, a spa, regular evening entertainment and a choice of three restaurants all offering sea views. For a five-star break plump for Domes of Corfu, Autograph Collection, which offers a family pool, an adults-only pool, a kids’ pool and a kids’ club. For a luxury stay consider the MarBella Nido Suite Hotel & Villas, which offers stunning suites, an outdoor swimming pool and a spa. Maybe you’re looking for more of a boutique feel? If so, book into The Olivar Suites set in a former 18th Century olive mill on the east coast of Corfu.