As far as Greek islands go Corfu (kerkyra) as it is known in Greece is an absolute gem. I visited many of the islands during my years living in Greece and I would definitely rank it in my top 5. Corfu is situated off the north west coast of Greece in the Ioanian sea. It is part of the Ioanian island chain which is comprised of 12 islands, the largest of which are Corfu, Paxi, Lefkada, Ithaca, Kefalionia and Zakynthos.
Travelling to Corfu is extremely easy as it has an international airport as well as an excellent ferry service. For the more intrepid travellers you can also get a bus from the KTEL (the Greek long distance bus service) from Thessaloniki to Igoumenitsa which will give you the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful scenic views in northern Greece. This route does take in excess of five hours and then you have the ferry ride, but if you’re not in a hurry it is worthwhile. Be aware that if you do decide to use the KTEL service you must buy your tickets before you get on the bus. The same service is also available from Athens to Igoumenitsa.
Without doubt one of the highlights of Corfu is the stunning old town, which in 2007 was designated a UNESCO world heritage site. The most dominant aspect of the town is the 16th century Venetian fortress, which was erected to protect the town from invasions by sea. Built on a rocky peninsula, it has two peaks and is a source of great pride for the locals.
This historic centre is utterly dazzling. It was occupied by the Venetians for 400 years and their legacy is evident in the stunning architecture. Napoleon defeated the Venetian Republic in 1797 and so began a period of French rule during which time the Liston was built. A large, imposing building with vaulted galleries which runs alongside the famous esplanade and is one of the most beautiful buildings in Corfu town.
In 1815 Napoleon was defeated and it became a British protectorate resulting in 50 years of British rule. During this time the city underwent a period of significant development which saw the construction of some of the city’s most amazing buildings such as the Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George and the Mon Repos estate. This is the birthplace of HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. It was constructed in 1831 for the British High Commissioner and was later used as the summer home of the Greek royal family.
The old town is a maze of narrow streets and there is so much to explore. Some of the highlights would have to be Spianada Square, which is one of the most important monuments in the city. Also the Town Hall Square, the Square of the Saints, the Ionian Academy and the Church of St. Spyridon (Áyios Spyrídon). Saint Spyridon is the patron saint of Corfu and the church can be found just near the Liston arcade. The skyline of the town is dominated by its red-domed bell-tower.
Moving out of the town, the Achilleion is another of Corfu’s main attractions. This was the palace of Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary. It was the place she sought solace after her son Rudolph’s suicide. It is a stunning Pompeian-style building set in beautiful gardens where you can view the famous statue of the dying Achilles.
Another site well worth visiting is Paleokastritsa Monastery. Although it was originally founded in the 13th century the present buildings date from the 18th century. It is a wonderful example of Greek monastic architecture. From the monastery you can enjoy spectacular views of the sea and Paleokastritsa beach below. Inside the monastery is an impressive carved wooden ceiling and there is also a small ecclesiastical museum which houses some very rare Byzantine icons. If, like me you arrive wearing shorts, ladies will be asked to wear clothing provided and be warned it’s not stylish. My advice is to wear something long and take a large scarf with you, so that you can cover up bare skin.
There are plenty of gorgeous beaches to visit on Corfu and Paleokastritsa is probably the most famous on the island. Although quite small, it is thought to be one of the best and it is surrounded by plenty of tavernas and bars.
Without doubt the most famous picture postcard view of Corfu has to be Kanoni and Pontikonisi (Mouse Island). From the beautiful and panoramic location of Kanoni you can take in the view of the church of Panagia Vlacherna, which is connected to the island by a 300 metre long, narrow passageway. This is a very pretty little red-roofed chapel which has wooden carved icons and some beautiful frescoes inside. On Pontikonisi island itself stands the Byzatine church of Pantokrator. During the summer months the island can be reached by boat but walking around the island or the church is not permitted. The only day of the year it is open to visitors is 6th August which is a feast day called ‘The Transfiguration of Jesus’ and pilgrims.