CORFU ISLAND: Princess of the Ionian
General info about Corfu Island
Corfu or Kerkyra, is a Greek island, part of the Ionian Islands in the Ionian Sea; it lies in the northwestern corner of Greece and is among the greenest and the most beautiful islands in the country. The island is part of the Corfu regional unit, and is administered by three municipalities with the islands of Othonoi, Ereikoussa, and Mathraki.
Corfu lies only a few hours by ferry from Brindisi or Bari in Italy and for many tourists it’s the first part of Greece they see. On the eastern side of the island, facing Albania and Greek region of Epirus, the land slopes gently to the sea, though most coves and beaches are short and pebbly. But the western side is much steeper, with many coastal cliffs ending in secluded bays or more open, sandy stretches lapped by the Ionian Sea. Off the far northwest tip are three inhabited satellite islets, again with excellent sandy beaches.
Cooler than most Greek islands in the summer, Corfu is a nice choice for people who are afraid of the heat of southern Greece. Corfu’s six-month olive season is the longest of any island in Greece and lush vineyards cover the island. With more rainfall than any other Greek island, there is a variety and abundance of plant life like few other places in Greece.
The northeastern edge of Corfu lies off the coast of Sarandë, Albania, separated by straits varying in width from 3 to 23 km. The southeast side of the island lies off the coast of Thesprotia, Greece. Its shape resembles a sickle, to which it was compared by the ancients: the concave side, with the city and harbour of Corfu in the centre, lies toward the Albanian coast. With the island’s area estimated at 593 km2, it runs approximately 64 km long, with greatest breadth at around 32 km. Two high and well-defined ranges divide the island into three zones (districts), of which the northern is mountainous, the central undulating, and the southern low-lying. The more important of the two ranges, that of Pantokrator, stretches east and west from Cape Falacro to Cape Psaromita, and attains its greatest elevation in the summit of the same name (914m).
Corfu’s coastline spans 217 km (135 mi) including many capes; its highest point is Mount Pantokrator (906 m). The full extent of capes and promontories take in Agia Aikaterini, Drastis to the north, Lefkimmi and Asprokavos to the southeast, and Megachoro to the south.
The earliest reference to Corfu is the Mycenaean Greek word ko-ro-ku-ra-i-jo (“man from Kerkyra“), c. 1300 BC. According to Strabo, Corcyra was the Homeric island of Scheria and its earliest inhabitants were the Phaeacians, as described in Homer’s Odyssey. At a date no doubt previous to the foundation of Syracuse, Corfu was peopled by settlers from Corinth, probably 730 BC, but it appears to have previously received a stream of emigrants from Eretria. The commercially advantageous location of Corcyra on the way between Greece and Magna Grecia, and its fertile lowlands in the southern section of the island favoured its growth.
Three times on the space of a century Corfu was the first target and served as a staging area for the Norman invasions of Byzantium. From 1386, Corfu was controlled by the Republic of Venice, which in 1401 acquired formal sovereignty and retained it until the French Occupation of 1797. From medieval times and into the 17th century, the island was recognised as a bulwark of the European States against the Ottoman Empire and became one of the most fortified places in Europe. The fortifications of the island were used by the Venetians to defend against Ottoman intrusion into the Adriatic. Corfu repulsed several Ottoman sieges, before passing under British rule following the Napoleonic Wars. The period of British rule led to investment in new roads, an improved water supply system, and the expansion of the Ionian Academy into a university. During this period the Greek language became the official language. On the 21st of May, 1864, the Ionian Islands were donated by the British to the new King of Greece, George I, annexed to the modern Greek state and have been an official part of it ever since.
Corfu is a combination of myths, history and heritage, a mosaic of cultures and images from the past and the present, which gaze the future. A meeting place of scholars, artists and personalities from all over the world. As the meeting point of three civilizations, Corfu has seen their imprint on the island, from the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, followed by Venetians, the Ottomans, the British and the Italians; this is clearly evident is the numerous monuments, many castles and archaeological sites.
Cultural and architectural signs, are also very important part of the island’s character. To start with, Corfu has also a long musical, theatrical, and operatic tradition, as it is reflected on its cultural legacy, composed of Museums and libraries, the Patron Saint Spyridon, the three Philharmonics, theatres and operas.
Corfu’s urban architecture differs from that of other major Greek cities, because of Corfu’s unique history. From 1386 to 1797, Corfu was ruled by Venetian nobility; much of the city reflects this era, with multi-storeyed buildings on narrow lanes. The Old Town of Corfu has clear Venetian influence and is amongst the World Heritage Sites in Greece. It was in the Venetian period that the city saw the erection of the first opera house (Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo di Corfù) in Greece. The architectural legacy contains also Achilleion (summer palace of Princess Sissi), Kaiser’s Bridge and urban landscape developments including Palaia Anaktora and its gardens, many churches, the famous Pontikonisi and more.
Corfiot Gastronomy & local products
Corfu’s cuisine is a delightful blend of Greek, Italian, and Venetian influences, resulting in a unique and delicious culinary experience. Here are some must-try dishes when exploring the flavors of Corfu:
- Sofrito – This is a signature dish of Corfu made with thin slices of beef or veal marinated in garlic, vinegar, and a blend of spices, then fried to perfection. It is often served with a side of rice or potatoes, and the tangy flavors make it a true gastronomic delight. Sofrito is believed to have been introduced by the Venetians.
- A staple of local cuisine, Pastitsada is a robust meat stew consisting of beef or veal slowly cooked in a tomato-based sauce that’s been seasoned with aromatic spices like cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. It’s often accompanied by pasta, with thick spaghetti or bucatini being the preferred choice, and is a much-loved comfort food in the area. Spetseriko, the basic ingredient of the cuisine of Corfu, is the mixture of spices for pastitsada and has a deep brick color and a rich texture; a fiery 12-spice blend whose secret recipe dates back centuries
- Bourdeto – A traditional Corfiot fish stew, is a gastronomic delight for seafood lovers. The dish comprises fresh scorpionfish or cod, slowly cooked in a mouth-watering tomato sauce infused with garlic, onion, and red pepper, producing flavors in every bite. Served with crusty bread, Bourdeto is a must-try for anyone visiting the island.
- Noumboulo, a traditional charcuterie product of Corfu; it is made from whole pork tenderloin, cured with salt and spices and marinated in wine, it is then encased in natural intestine, usually together with a strip of fat, and smoked over a mixture of herbs
- Porpetes – A cherished Venetian dish that has been passed down for generations in Corfu. These mouthwatering meatballs are elevated to new heights when cooked in a luscious red sauce imbued with the delicate tastes of anchovies, pancetta, cheese, and nutmeg.
- Kumquat liqueur – Corfu is famous for its kumquats, small citrus fruits that are used to make a unique liqueur. The kumquats are soaked in alcohol with sugar and spices, resulting in a sweet and tangy liqueur that is perfect for sipping after a meal or as a souvenir to take home.
Corfu is also renowned for its rich and vibrant culture of sweets and desserts, offering a delightful array of local delicacies to indulge in. From the luscious pasteli, a tempting treat made of honey and sesame seeds, to the tantalizing kumquat spoon sweet, a fragrant preserve crafted from the island’s own kumquats, and the mouthwatering mandoles, crunchy roasted almonds enrobed in caramelized sugar, the island’s culinary scene is a treasure trove of unique and irresistible flavors.
Corfu’s gastronomy is an ode to the island’s natural abundance, where the fertile soil and temperate climate conspire to yield a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables. The culinary scene is an embodiment of the island’s identity, with local products and ingredients taking center stage. Tomatoes, olives, figs, and citrus are among the many treasures of the land, imbuing each dish with a distinct and unforgettable flavor that captures the essence of Corfu.
Wine and Wineries
Corfu is particularly famous for its wines which have become a tradition for the island. No heavy industry is producing wines; they are all made from private vineyards owned by families or small associations. Corfiot wines have no chemical additives and the most popular are:
– Kakotrigis – A white wine that can be either sweet or dry
– Petrokoritho – A dry, crimson wine
– Skopelitiko – A red, dry wine
** Source: Ultimate guide to Corfu, Greece 2023
Corfu boasts an impressive array of beaches, ranging from busy, well-maintained sandy shores to serene, isolated spots perfect for those seeking tranquility, including thirty Blue Flag-awarded beaches.
At the east coast you can find:
– Dassia (Bay), a pebbled beach, with calm waters and views of the Albanian mountains opposite.
– Kerasia, with high quality infrastructure and cosmopolitan atmosphere, on a beach famous for its pebbles and blue waters.
– Kontokali, a long sandy beach in the same bay as Kerasia, but a little further south.
– Syki Bay, an enchanting beach known for its lush greenery
– Agios Stefanos Sinias, with sandy pebbles, and a lot of people
– Benitses, well known sandy-pebble beaches,.
– Moraitika, with sand, pebbles and shallow waters near the tourist area of the same name; managed and busy
– Ypsometro, with shallow crystal clear waters and a fairly long sandy beach
The north coast has also a collection of beautiful beaches:
– Porto Timoni, a double beach near Afionas village on the west part of the north coast; a remote and secluded cove, known for its stunning scenery, including turquoise seas and towering green hills,
– Kassiopi Beach,situated on the northeast coast of Corfu, is a preferred destination for families looking for an exciting day by the sea
– Almyros, a superb 7 km long sandy beach after Agios Spyridonas; the first part of the beach is called Almyros and it is known for its sand dunes and shallow waters that offer a perfect, safe environment for young children
– Avlaki, an extensive beach, with white pebbles, just 2.5 km from Kassiopi
– Acharavi, an extension of Avlaki beach, with equally shallow waters; a mix of fine sand and a few pebbles
– Rhoda, a busy, well-known, managed beach after Acharavi, with water sports, restaurants, and beach bars. At the foot of Pantokrator,Roda has grown from a fishing village to be a cosmopolitan resort with plenty of amenities and a lively nightscene.
– Canal D’Amour, in Sidari; cluster of three main beaches interspersed with fjords of soft sandstone, distinctive for its striking rock formations that have been slowly eroded over time to create canals and coves.
– Sidari, small, and easily overcrowded, neighbouring to Canal D’Amour,
– Cape Drastis, a hidden coastal gem on the northernmost corner of Corfu Island
At the west coast, which is largely wild and unspoilt, there are a few beaches, such as:
– Agios Georgios Pagon, a busy beach with coves surrounded by craggy cliffs, set in the mouth of a valley.
– Agios Gordios, a very popular beach, surrounded by lush, green mountain cliffs and backed by olive groves and vineyards
– Glyfada, one of the best beaches with golden sands and sparkling green waters, surrounded by wooded hills
– Myrtiotissa, one of the most beautiful beaches on the island, a sandy paradise amid green cliffs and azure waters; characterized by British writer Lawrence Durrellas ‘the loveliest beach in the world’,
– Arillas, the first beach after the northwestern Kavokefali cape, a long sandy shoreline that stretches for a couple of kilometres.
– Paleokastritsa, a coveted destination, arguably the most picturesque village on the island; the landscape has a unique beauty with impressive cliffs amongst olive and pine forests, and six coves scattered around. All of them have sand or sand and shingle shores, brilliant green waters and are well organised with beach bars and tavernas.
– La Grotta, a rocky seaside destination located close to Paleokastritsa, is renowned for its extraordinary rock configurations and pristine waters that are crystal-clear
The beaches in the south of the island have also much to offer:
– Issos, sandy beach on which scenes from the James Bond film “For your eyes only” were filmed.
– Agios Georgios, a sandy beach of 8 km long, with clear shallow waters,
– Kavos, one of the island’s most popular tourist destinations for young people, as it combines sun and sea with a lively nightlife.
– Chalikounas, a beach over 3 km long with only sand and fine pebbles, ideal for wave, windsurf and kite surf lovers (as long as you can get here with your own equipment); separated from the Korissia Lagoon by a narrow strip of land.
A map with Corfu Beaches by Type is available, while an excellent list of 58 beaches in Corfu Island can be found here. and further analysis of 28 main beaches is given at the VisitCorfu Official guide
Except for Corfu Town, the architectural gem of the island that is reminiscent of a Venetian settlement, several villages are part of the island’s profile. Many seaside ones comprise beachfront resorts featuring modern tourist infrastructure; on the other hand, most mountain villages remain off the beaten track with residents keeping customs alive and following a more traditional and laid-back way of life.
- Of particular interest on the northern slopes of Mount Pantokrator is Old Perithia, a virtually uninhabited village that has been preserved as a kind of open-air museum
- The village of Kassiopi features an impressive castle and a quiet marina
- Lakones is a traditional-like village, featuring awe-inspiring views of the nearby area, fascinating building designs, and a handful of tourist facilities
- Pelekas, boasting the ideal location for admiring a jaw-dropping sunset, is a traditional-like destination for a peaceful and entertaining vacation time.
- The well-known village of Benitses combines the calmness of a fishing village with an upbeat and tourist-filled summertime.
- Lefkimi houses a port of high importance, retro-style architecture, modern facilities, and stunning views.
- Sidari is possibly the most popular tourist resort on the island, housing the gem of a cove, Canal d’Amour, as well as other seashores and a multitude of entertainment options.
- Ano Korakiana is a settlement that boasts a plethora of churches, olive groves, olive production, and some rooms for rent
- Liapades, the third largest village of Corfu, is situated toward the western side of the island; a traditional settlement that has not been affected by mass tourism, while it also hosts plenty of picturesque seashores.
- Perivoli, a quaint village that still keeps its traditional character and architecture in a peaceful natural setting with olive trees and vineyards, stone houses and narrow alleys.
- The small fishing village of Petriti serves perfectly as a quiet, relaxed holiday destination, featuring a handful of taverns and a wonderful sand-filled beach.
- Vatos is a small village known for its greenery, rich forests, cobblestone streets, and limited tourist facilities.
More info about Corfu island can be found in a number of (official) sources:
- Official Page Visit.corfu
- Wikipedia (Corfu)
- Union of Licensed Tourist Guides of Ionian Islands & Western Greece
Accomodation / Hotels
Hundrends of hotels, Villas and Rooms to Rent are available in Corfu, providing all types and levels of hospitality. We can provide a range of suggestions, but here we would like to introduce just a few:
** For more choices of hotels, please visit the Members list of the Corfu Hoteliers Association, our official patner in the area of Corfu, participating in our Project “Local and Branded“, promoting the innovative Greek.food.tour certification mark
DO NOT MISS:
Old Corfu Town